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. 

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