Sunday, September 20, 2020

Weekend Review: How to Make Clothes that Fit and Flatter


How to Make Clothes that Fit and Flatter:
Step-by-Step instructions for women who like to sew
by Adele Margolis
Garden City: Doubleday, c1969
296 p.

This week's review is another vintage sewing book but this one's a bit different. Rather than an overall guide to sewing, this book talks about fit and fit alterations. The title kinds of gives away the angle of the book, though -- that old question of "flattering", which in this case does indeed mean how to make yourself look thinner and taller, 

However, the fit information and the illustrations are top notch, and even if you aren't too keen on the obsession with thinness, you can use the techniques simply for fit purposes. The book opens with the statement that "fifty years ago, the fashionable American woman was size 16 going on size 18. Today she is size 12 going on size 10". Hmm. Fifty years after this book's publication we've returned to the 16 going on 18 normality, and completely reversed her maxim in this opening chapter that says "it is better to fit the clothes that you would like to wear than to make the clothes fit what you are". Today we know that sewing is the superpower that indeed allows us to make our clothes fit what we are today, and to love it! 

There are nine chapters, all focused on an area of size and fitting. The first chapter, as noted, is a bit egregious in its insistence that you must fit the youthful ideal, but it does include useful information on grading patterns. 

The second chapter deals with the visual -- colour, textures, design lines, proportion -- and is fairly useful as an investigation of how those elements affect the final garment. The third chapter is about flat pattern shaping; darts and control seams and how to manipulate them. The fourth examines how to take measurements and make basic adjustments to the pattern, truing it, where to add to it and so on. 

Chapter Five is the meat of things, a lengthy look at ease, draglines, seam and dart control changes, necklines and gaping, how to change a basic pattern to extend its use, allowing for fluctuating weight and so forth. Lots of information and delightful line drawings to illustrate it all (most of very thin women of course).

Chapter Six goes over how to make a basic pattern (or sloper) and how to create a dress form for yourself using this sloper; the seventh chapter is all about construction and how that plays a role in fitting a pattern to yourself.  Basting, underlinings, steaming, pressing, tailoring, trimming, blocking -- it all plays a role. 

In the eighth chapter, size appears again, since the topic is choosing patterns with an eye to fit. However, it also gives tons of examples of different kinds of style lines and what kind of fitting can be done with each. So you know if you choose a set in sleeve or a raglan sleeve, the fitting adjustments will be tackled differently. From sleeves to yokes, necklines to ease, each particular area of a pattern is looked at in terms of the way fitting techniques interact with the design lines.

The final chapter goes over the muslining process as well as adding in any general fitting tips that weren't covered earlier. 

So as you can see, this is full of useful information on fitting, from a very particular viewpoint. I really like Adele Margolis' detailed technical books but of course it is very 60s. The illustrations of the various styles are charmingly retro if you don't mind a very limited set of silhouettes. But there are also plentiful drawings of pattern pieces and alteration lines which are really helpful. Of course, modern fitting books have tons of photos which might suit you better in this area. But I enjoyed the sketches of the designs and the simplicity of the lines. 

Because this book is older, there are some design concepts that I haven't seen explained in newer books -- styles that are no longer en vogue, but are still intriguing to look at. If you can look past the 60s focus on youth and skinniness, this is an interesting read. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Literary Sewing Circle: The Night Watchman

Fall has arrived, and with it our new round of the Literary Sewing Circle. I'm so thrilled to announce our new title for our group read is:

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich


Based on the extraordinary life of National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich’s  grandfather who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C.

Thomas Wazhashk is the night watchman at the jewel bearing plant, the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a Chippewa Council member who is trying to understand the consequences of a new “emancipation” bill on its way to the floor of the United States Congress. It is 1953 and he and the other council members know the bill isn’t about freedom; Congress is fed up with Indians. The bill is a “termination” that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land and their very identity. How can the government abandon treaties made in good faith with Native Americans “for as long as the grasses shall grow, and the rivers run”?

Since graduating high school, Pixie Paranteau has insisted that everyone call her Patrice. Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Patrice, the class valedictorian, has no desire to wear herself down with a husband and kids.

Thomas and Patrice live in this impoverished reservation community along with young Chippewa boxer Wood Mountain and his mother Juggie Blue, her niece and Patrice’s best friend Valentine, and Stack Barnes, the white high school math teacher and boxing coach who is hopelessly in love with Patrice.

In the Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich creates a fictional world populated with memorable characters who are forced to grapple with the worst and best impulses of human nature.

(via publisher)

photo by Alessio Jacona

About Louise Erdrich:

Louise Erdrich is an American author, writer of novels, poetry, and children's books featuring Native American characters and settings. She is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, a federally recognized tribe of the Anishinaabe (also known as Ojibwe and Chippewa).

Erdrich is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant writers of the second wave of the Native American Renaissance. In 1982, Erdrich's story, "The World's Greatest Fisherman," won $5,000 in the Nelson Algren fiction competition. She expanded the story into the novel Love Medicine (1984), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. It is the only debut novel ever to receive that honor. Erdrich later turned Love Medicine into a tetralogy that includes The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988), and The Bingo Palace (1994). She has written 28 books in all, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children's books. Her latest novel, The Night Watchman, was published in 2020 and was inspired by her maternal grandfather's life.

She is also the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis that focuses on Native American literature and the Native community in the Twin Cities.

(via Wikipedia)

This book is available for purchase in both hard copy and ebook formats, as well as in audiobook format.

You can find many formats at all of these locations:

Book Depository

Chapters Indigo


Barnes and Noble


ABE Books

Or, of course, check your local library!


How does the Literary Sewing Circle work? We read a book together, discuss it, and then make something inspired by our reading. As long as you can point out what inspired you from your reading, even if just a sentence, you can share your makes in our final roundup!

Anyone can join, and you can sew, knit, quilt or embroider - any textile art that you like doing - to participate. This is a reading/sewing circle, very low-key; no competitions here, just reading and sewing for fun. 

There is no official sign-up to worry about; just start reading along if you wish, and leave your thoughts on the book or your project on any of the Literary Sewing Circle posts. We do have a dedicated book discussion post halfway through and again at the end, but leave your thoughts anytime. And you can follow along on Instagram too if you like: look for #LiterarySewingCircle and you'll find us.

And when the final post goes up, so does the project linkup -- you can leave a link to your finished project there, whether it is on your blog, a pattern site, or even Instagram. It's easy :)

So, join in, and share!

Literary Sewing Circle Schedule

Sept 18 - Announcement & Introduction
Sept 25 - Inspiration post 

Oct 2
 - Author feature
Oct 9  
- Halfway mark: book talk
Oct 16
 - Inspiration post
Oct 23
 - Final Post: book discussion wrap up & posting of project linkup

(The project linkup will be live until Nov 15 - three & a bit more weeks - so you have enough time to get your project posted)

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Waistcoats, Vests, and 90s style

I ran across a discussion of the revival of 90s style on PatternReview lately. Apparently the 90s are back! I don't remember 90s style very much, probably because I was in university in the first half and working 3 jobs for the rest of that decade. All I recall are the grungy student outfits we'd wear, including my floral dresses with chunky black shoes. I checked out an article about 90s style and only really remembered one thing!

So I thought, nope, I'm not a 90s fan. (Definitely more of an 80s girl!) But then I realized that I do love a good waistcoat, and while that look was hot in the late 80s it carried over strongly into the 90s. I looked through my stash and found a handful of vest patterns from the early 90s. I chose two to try out. 

McCalls 8940 is my favourite -- there are at least 3 of these views that I'd like to try! But I started with view C, the short over-vest. That's the silhouette I've been thinking about making for a while. I had a nice piece of leftover linen from my recent drapy vest project (also from the 90s!), just enough to cut this unlined vest and the facings. I started working on it (sewing the shoulder & side seams with french seams to keep it tidy) and attached the facings. But I haven't quite had the time to finish it, so perhaps I'll share it next week! The linen sews up nicely and I think the style adds a fun element to a dress or tunic. I'd like to try View G next, the one button brown view -- though not in brown for me.

The next one that caught my eye was this Simplicity 8621. It's handy having quite a large collection of thrifted patterns! That floral brocade is SO 90s, I'll be avoiding that, I think. But the leopard print view (#4) has a great shape. I'm going to try that in a suiting, not a leopard print. This one is a lined pattern so may be a little more flexible in wearing options. 

If I'm not sick of waistcoats by then, I may check out the options in these two new-to-me patterns that I just thrifted this week. The New Look 6113 has an interesting shawl collar version I haven't seen in any of my current patterns, and the McCalls is a great dress pattern with vest included. It's a classic style with faux welt pockets. I'll have to see how far this waistcoat obsession takes me. Maybe I'll even finish the Vogue 8987 I started for my husband last year ;)

Are you a fan of the waistcoat, traditional or not? Do you lean more toward the 80s or 90s in your retro pattern love?

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Weekend Review: The New Butterick Dressmaker

NY: Butterick Publishing Company, c1927
309 p.
This week we're heading back to the 20s to investigate a book of instruction for the home dressmaker. The New Butterick Dressmaker is a volume focused entirely on garment sewing, with no extra crafty stuff that many household compendiums contained at that time.

This book also has an introduction by Jacques Worth, who at that time was, with his brother, running the House of Worth in Paris. He talks about how to make smart clothing and highlights what he thinks is the keynote of French fashion: Fine Workmanship. It is very period and entertaining.

The book is broken into chapters that cover most of the details of dressmaking, from hems and buttonholes to fine finishes and fitting. There is a short section near the end on maternity, layette and boys & men's clothes, and another on clothing care, covering cleaning, mending, & restyling as well. But the bulk of the book is on the details of sewing. 

One of the things I found most interesting because it is so specific to Butterick patterns of the 20s, is the beginning chapters on selecting a pattern and making it work for you. They go into great detail about the Butterick Deltor, a new phenomenon and their unique selling point -- it was basically a set of pattern instructions telling you how to sew the garment, which was a change from the basic outlines of shapes with punched holes that made up most earlier patterns. But many of the step by step tips on how to use a pattern still apply, especially to newer sewists using pattern instruction guides for the first time. For example, they recommend reading it all through before beginning, circling your view on the instruction sheet, only taking the pieces you need out of the envelope, and even suggest tissue fitting. It was really interesting to read the process that a sewist of the time would have gone through when choosing and buying patterns and fabric as well. 

Their patterns had "Outlet" or "Let Out" seams -- wider seam allowances on the seams most likely to be used for fitting, and the fitting chapters cover this as well as many other common alterations like lengthening and shortening, adding width to the hips or sleeves, FBAs (by a different name) and so forth. You'll learn how to properly make buttonholes, facings, plackets, ruffles, seam finishes, hems and more. It's amazing how much is covered, actually, and can still be used today. The illustrations are line drawings and are charming, everyone in long straight 20s shifts & bobs. There is even clear information on how to lay out and cut your pattern, though if I had a cutting table as huge as the one in the illustration I'd be a happy person ;)

This book also suggests keeping a place for your sewing machine to always be out and available to make it likelier that you will sew, although there isn't as much detail on how to set up a sewing room as there was in the 1947 book I shared last week. 

My copy was .50 cents from the thrift store, and it was certainly worth it; I received hours of entertainment and solid info as well. My copy has tucked inside a Certificate of Warranty from Eatons department store for a sewing machine purchased by Mrs. Scranton of Hamilton, Ont in March of 1930. I'm assuming she also received this book at the same time. I love finding those kinds of ephemera, it's so evocative.

But, and you know there is a but, this book would be so much better if they'd just left out the chapter on colour when they were talking about choosing patterns and fabric. It is absolutely dreadful, reeking of racism, sexism and classism, as well as some very dubious scientific claims! There are absurd statements like the idea that "savages" prefer oranges and reds because they aren't as common in nature, while the "civilized" person prefers greens to suggest nature in their grey cities. Or that lower classes will like bright hues while the more educated and refined person prefers subtler shades. As to the objection that some highly educated people do use bright colours, it is stated confidently that this is because those particular cases are due to colour blindness, not a flaw in this reasoning! Seriously, stated flat out. 

The most bonkers part of this chapter lies in the claim that too much of the same colour causes physical damage to the eye tissues and thus the need for colours to change every fashion season, to allow the eyes to recover. What??

In any case, other than the distasteful opinions in this chapter, the rest of the book is factual, clearly outlined and informative, as well as being a really interesting period piece. If you come across a copy, it is worth exploring. Or, if you like reading online, the Hathi Trust has the full scanned volume available -- so check it out if this discussion has made you curious about this 93 year old sewing guide!

Friday, September 11, 2020

Fall Friday thoughts

This week I spent a lot of time doing sewing that doesn't make for blog posts -- finishing off a stack of masks, for one. I think I'm finally done with that, at least for a while. I have enough for myself and my husband now, so will take a break. I find mask sewing so boring! ;) 

A lot of masks!

I also went through some of my already cut projects and prepped them with the necessary interfacing and so forth. Now they are ready to tackle. And, PatternReview's Wardrobe Contest is starting next week so I took a look at the rules: 10 pieces that all go together. That's a lot, and in reality there is no way I'll do it, even in the 2 month contest period, but I couldn't help myself and went down a rabbithole of searching my fabric and pattern stash for ideas of what I would make *if* I was going to sew along. It was a fun evening but not very productive, lol!

Mostly though, I've been looking ahead at what I have coming up in September. 

The next round of the Literary Sewing Circle starts in a week, on Sept 18th! I'm excited to announce the new title next week, and think it will be a great choice to read together. I've been working on some posts and information for that, and am looking forward to another round. 

I've also finally signed up for the Burda Teaching Certification Course that I've been eyeing for a couple of years. I decided that I'm ready to give it a go this fall; it starts Sept 28 so I'll have a busy Burda autumn. Hoping that I'll enjoy the process; I do love a Burda pattern so think it will be interesting.

Other than planning, prepping and reading I haven't had time for much else. How's your sewing month going so far?

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Closet Core Cielo in Basic Black

This week I was working on a new dress, using the Closet Core Cielo pattern which I first tested in the top version this summer. I liked the fit so prepared the dress view in a solid black linen-rayon blend (a soft and beautifully smooth fabric).

I finally finished it, and it turned even nicer than I'd anticipated! It took a little longer to work through this project because I used French seams for all the interior seams, including the sleeve seams, since my fabric was very prone to fraying. I also sewed the cuff on in two steps to cover the seam allowances fully instead of the way shown in the directions.

Other than that, however, I didn't make many changes. I used the suggestion in the pattern to cover the seam allowances of the pockets with bias binding -- I used a scrap in my stash that was just long enough, and I love the extra bit of colour it brings. However, I tried to take a photo of the interior to show the binding and french seams and ended up just making myself laugh. Doesn't this dress look content?

I topstitched the back shoulder insert seams and finished the neckline with bias facings. And I hemmed it to just below the knee instead of just above, to make it a little more autumnal feeling. Since the fabric is fairly see-through against light, I am wearing a slip so will be able to add tights easily. I think this one will get a lot of use. It can look fairly dressy, like here, or with coloured tights and flats it might be much more casual.

This pattern also has the coolest front seam pockets, which is one feature that drew me to it in the first place.

The fabric is a dream to wear, and I love the fit. I cut shoulders at 12 and graded out to 14 at bust and 16 in the hips, and it is perfect for my tastes. Accessorized with shoes and necklace from the Goodwill, as usual ;)

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Weekend Review: The Standard Book of Sewing (1947)

The Standard Book of Sewing / Drucella Lowrie
Garden City, NY: Nelson Doubleday, c1947.
237 p.
I'm starting off this month's weekend reviews with a charmer: this 1947 guide to home sewing, which has pretty much everything you need to know in it. And who is it for? Well, everyone, really.

It was a joy to read this book -- full of 40s advice that is surprisingly current today (at least some of it) and lots of delightful illustrations too. I love the things covered in this small book; it ranges widely and I imagine was very useful to women setting up their sewing in the past. I found some good tips for today, as well! 

There are 14 chapters, starting with Sewing Equipment and Elementary sewing (covering basic stitches and techniques), and then moving to Practice Sewing, projects for rank beginners to get the skills down before moving on. In the introduction, there is something I haven't seen in other books of this kind -- a quick discussion of how your sewing space should be set up. Lowrie recommends that you have a space to leave your sewing machine and materials up and available so that you will sew more often and easily (doesn't that sound like something we hear on blogs today?). There is a very organized plan shared for this, but in 1947 they were definitely less focused on consumption and stash, as the space is very small and tidy. 

There is then a section in the middle on patterns -- how to use them, how to select them (and this is where the retro attitude comes through, with advice on how to select the right pattern for body shape and age), how to measure yourself, and an interesting inclusion of thinking practically about your lifestyle and location to choose the right patterns for your sewing. This is followed by a chapter of fabrics; different kinds with their properties and uses -- though of course in 1947 there weren't many of our everyday knit and performance fabrics we use now. There is advice on which fabrics suit which styles, with, again, a discussion of size and age in regard to clothing style -- but also fabrics that suit times of day and occasions. This middle section of the book finishes with a short chapter on colour; theory as well as matching colours suitably to age, size and style. 

Then the book really gets into the Dressmaking part of things, with a long section on sewing for yourself, covering the preparation of fabric and pattern, fitting, construction details and finishing touches. This starts with a quick nod to "Your Attitude to Sewing". I think we can still agree with Lowrie on this part! 

The style is succinct; she is giving an overview, with enough information and detail that someone who is vaguely familiar with sewing but hasn't done much can follow along and teach themselves. It is to the point and covers many areas of sewing. I really enjoyed seeing all the techniques that were considered modern and chic in 1947.

There are also chapters that follow on sewing for children and basic tailoring, I assume because the expectation was that a housewife would be sewing for her entire family. An additional short chapter briefly suggests ideas for items that can be usefully sewn for the home itself, many using scraps. 

But an element of this book that I think sewists today might be really interested in is the focus on renewing and maintaining your wardrobe to make it last, both functionally and stylistically. There are three chapters, Dress Decoration, Restyling and Remaking, and Miscellaneous Sewing, which all focus in some way on home sewing sustainability. 

Dress Decoration goes over ways to personalize your wardrobe through embroidery, applique, smocking, or trimming - whether ready made or made yourself. While this isn't necessarily about sustainability, these techniques can be used to personalize your wardrobe to make it reflect you better and also to freshen up older clothes if you want to change things up and get more wear out of an old dress. Replacing trims, adding embroidery, or refashioning with new panels could extend the usefulness of a dress you already have, or help to refashion a thrifted one. 

The chapter on Restyling and Remaking goes into this concept in more detail, talking about these kinds of restyling ideas and things like lengthening or shortening hems and sleeves, caring for your clothes and all sorts of darning or mending ideas. Lowrie does warn a sewist to do what is basically a cost-benefit analysis before embarking on remaking projects, though.

The book closes with a quick look at Miscellaneous Sewing -- ideas to use your scraps, from quilts with your basic cottons to ideas like braided rugs or table mats using your dressweight scraps. Fancy fabrics like velvets or silks can be used to make hats or bags, other pieces can go into children's accessories or doll clothes. She has many ideas to inspire a frugal sewist! 

You can probably tell that I really enjoyed this book. The 40s style, the illustrations and the surprising relevance of much (not all) of it was entertaining and even useful. I've discovered that Drucella Lowrie also published a book in the 50s called "Restyling your Hats" which I am sure has much of the same flavour as this one. If I ever come across it in my thrift store travels I'll be sure to pick it up too, even though I don't wear hats often and only own a handful. Her approach to sewing is too irresistible to pass by. If you get a chance to read this one, give it a try. Definitely a flavour of the past about it, but lots of practical and thrifty advice alongside of a focus on women sewing for themselves. Recommended :)