I bought this book in a second hand shop in Clitheroe. As its age spots and dilapidated cover attest, it has been around since 1944. If you ever see old dressmaking books do buy them. Much of the advice is just as valuable today as when it was written. But this book, published as it was during the Second World War, has a number of dated attitudes, which I will share with you. You will enjoy the advice a great deal more if you read it out loud in a “Mrs Chomondley-Warner” voice – or as if you are an old BBC type announcer.
“Home dressmaking is an enthralling hobby and a creative one. It satisfies the two-fold, deep-rooted feminine craving – to make something and to add to the beauty of the world. This craft is a personal service – and women are at their best in personal service. If you can make a cushion cover – and who can’t? – then, given a little courage and patience, you can make a dress. Still more easily can you make an undie.”
Once you have purchased your drugget and rearranged your bedroom thus, you can begin to make a dress or an undie, or a present for one’s mother or sister.
The first advice given, at the start of Chapter 2 Does Your Pattern Fit suggests you measure the pattern against you (or your measurements). Hurrah. Excellent advice. And as a debate on Mrs Mole’s marvellous blog attests something a number of young “sewists” fail to realise. She writes hilariously and gives amazingly useful fitting advice. Agnes tells us that professional dressmakers “take about twenty measurements, but that would muddle the home needlewoman” and suggests just ten. It gives simple and effective advice on how to alter a pattern – to my mind the most important aspect of making a garment. I can’t understand why anyone would want to make a garment with minimal chance of fitting. My figure is not extreme in any respect but I would normally, to achieve a good fit
- alter cross chest width
- back chest width
- tighten neckline
- lengthen torso
- on sleeveless dress drop arm hole
- shorten sleeve
- narrow wrist
- narrow waist
- increase hips
- shorten length.
Chapter 3 Cutting out made easy suggests you make a “bracelet pincushion”, and a second one, “which hangs round the neck to just below the bust” made from “Cheap flannel, wound into a roll then covered with ribbon ‘cracker-fashion'”. While I have the former I have never seen the latter, but maybe it’s worth a try.
The rest of this chapter gives sensible cutting out advice and provides suggestions on how to save fabric – “cutting to save coupons”. During the war when fabric was hard to come by ideas like facing the hem, or reducing the fullness in a nightie made sense. Chapter 4 takes us on to Tacking and Marking, advising us of the
“Dressmakers jingle” which goes “‘Well basted, No time wasted’, and these five pithy words should be memorised by every woman who makes her own clothes and is inclined to think that “tacking is really too much fag”‘.
Well, there you go. I happen to agree although sometimes marking with washable felt tip, and basting with pins is OK. I often find it “too much fag””, but always regret skipping marking and basting. I completely endorse her suggestion of marking the centre front on most garments as it is very useful in fitting, ensuring symmetry and keeping everything on grain. Agnes usefully gives us four tacking stitches
- tailors tacks
- even tacking (where there is strain on the join)
- uneven tacking (when there is no strain)
- diagonal tacking (used for holding interlinings)
A further (war time) tip offered is to save your used tacking treads on a used cotton reel and reuse them!
Chapter 5 covers A perfect fit, where Agnes suggests that “Home-made frocks look far better because they have been moulded to the person who will wear them. They also wear infinitely longer. No doubt this is because a perfect fit means a minimum of strain on the stuff.” I have found the same thing. In terms of fitting she advises that “all wrinkles, sags, and strains are caused by the weave hanging crooked” at the CF, CB, bust or hips – sage advice that makes fitting more straightforward. Again she has some golden rules that I find helpful and, in my experience, true.
- most dresses should fit closely from the bust-line upwards (getting a good fit at the shoulder and necklines is very important!)
- get the back length right to avoid pooling of fabric at the waist line, or the dress riding up
- a badly fitting sleeve is normally caused by poor sleeve insertion “a sleeve that puff up at the top of the armhole, instead of joining the shoulder nice and flat, is one of the commonest home-dressmaker faults – and one of the worst”.
Hear hear Agnes!