Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Someone up There is Smiling at Me!

I've often wished that there was a dressmaker in my family - within living memory anyway, as my great grandmother was one. I only met her a handful of times before she died, because she lived in France. My Nana, who is an accomplished seamstress but not a dressmaker, recently paid me the biggest compliment. I showed her a bag I had made, and after she had established that I really really had made it myself, and subjected it to some very close scrutiny, she quite reluctantly and almost noncholantly, said with half a hmph and a hint of surprise "better than me" ...

I feel a caption competition coming on

Many of the great couture masters of our time, learned dressmaking at their mothers' knee, and I can't help thinking that with all the technology available at our finger tips today, hours of searching the web, or trawling through patterns, modern sewing encyclopedias and craft manuals, would still not supply us with our grandmothers' in depth knowledge of how to make a dress from scratch or the practical and 'homely' way in which they would teach us.

Do you remember my Desperate Measures moment? Well a similar thing happened yesterday when the ever lovely and ever generous Miss T knocked on my door carrying a bag and a book. I had been expecting her but I was not expecting the wonder of what lay between those pages. And so here is a pictorial tour for you. Grandmother dressmaker in a book.

It's the Odhams Encyclopaedia of Needlecraft c. 1950 and has chapters on everything from "plain sewing" to dressmaking, accessories, bags, lace making, knitting, crotchet, mending and toy making!

Plain Sewing has information on binding, openings, closings, 3 pages on button holes! buttons, darts, facings, edges, loops, zips, flares, frills, gathers, godets, all kinds of hems, seams, stitches and tucks ... infact, anything you can think of and alot more besides!

This is a nightie! I would wear it as an evening dress and still feel a bit over covered!

The dressmaking chapter is a thorough and concise lesson with advice on cutting, making, pressing, and fitting with the introduction:

"There is some feeling of satisfaction to be got from taking a length of fine material and modelling it into a smart attractive garment. That is why dress-making is so popular as a hobby. The woman who makes clothes for herself and her family can, with continual practice and care, achieve the standard of perfection produced by haute couture dressmaking..... When finished a garment should be fresh, smooth and have the appearance of being unhandled. Above all, the garment should not be fussy and it should look as though it not only belongs to you but has grown on you"

Is it me, or did you just read that in a "Watch with Mother" voice.

This is the best bit. An entire chapter dedicated to constructing block patterns! .. is your voice ready? :

"Block patterns are simply cut and shaped patterns which form the foundations of more elaborate patterns. Upon foundation patterns all the many and varied styles of every sort of garment can be built up. A set of block patterns should comprise: waist and hip length bodices; close fitting sleve; two peice skirt"

Have you noticed the glaring ommission? There are no trouser patterns in this book.

nice dress shame about the gloves

There are a lorra lorra dress, blouse and skirt patterns though! All the dresses (and nightdress) on this page for starters! These 1950's women were not intimidated one jot about all those pleats, tucks and folds.

There are patterns and instructions for matching accessories.

And silk flowers to pin on dresses.

How to make a pressing mit and other practical advice on:

"Undoubtedly elecrtrically heated irons are the best to use unless pressing heavy coatings and cloths when a goose iron should be used. Steam irons heated by electricity can be recommended with confidence for all purposes"

"All maerials should be treated very carefully and not left rolled up in a non-descript fashion; if folded between layers of paper until required, the original freshness will be retained."

Work space:
"An easy sweep floor covering, such as linoleium in a neutral shade of brown or grey-blue is ideal" with "one or two comfortable chairs"

"The design of clothing of every sort is a very interesting and important subject. It can be viewed from many angles and has repercussions in the daily life of every individual"

There are diagrams and photo's for everything, all clear and well annotated.

You can find out how to mend your gloves

How to sew a leather belt with two threads (!) and two (!!) needles!

How to cover a buckle!

How to hold your crochet hook

to work yourself a "crazy pattern bedjacket"

How to arrange your bobbins

and make some lace

Even if it does sound like a Scottish town...

And when you've done all that and made some soft toys, curtains, sofa covers, worked some tapestry and embroidered a few (home-made ofcourse) tablecloths, you can learn how to knit!

"A comfortable, loosely fitting cardigan in fancy rib stitch, it can be worn with or without a short-sleeved jumper or over a summer frock"

"Designed for comfort, this sleevless pullover gives a neatness of appearance that cannot help but be popular. The stitch produces a firm fabric which will not be bulky when worn under a jacket. The low neckline helps it to slip over the head easily"

"This serviceable cardigan is knitted in an unusual block pattern which makes a firm but not too thick fabric. It is ideal for wearing out of doors without a coat"

And all in a book just over 5x8 inches! Handbag size!

Thank you Miss T, and Thank You Miss T's mum who found this book in a flea market and thought I might like it! The power of blogging. Thank you thank you thankyou. I shall treasure this treasure.

And tomorrow, I will write about what was in the bag. You better hold onto your hats, because it's even more exciting!


the flour loft said...

a fantastic find... does it tell you how paint perfect finger nails too?.. LOVE the 'how to hold your crochet hook' photo.
ginny x

solsticedreamer said...

thats great! they had such style then...reminds me of the assorted wedding photos in my mums suits, hats and gloves!

Primrose Corner said...

Lucky you... you could start a retro line. What lives they must have had all that cloth wrapped around them. I do love handbags from that era though gorgeous shapes.

Purpura said...

muy lindo tu blog.
un beso ..!

dottycookie said...

I think I'd have been expelled from their sewing school ;-)

Joleo said...

Top drawer!

But what in heavens is a goose iron? I have such lovely pictures in my head of a 50s housewife with a goose tucked under one arm, manipulating the beak over the fabric...

Kathi D said...

Oh, what a treasure!

I remember when I was taking home ec at school and we had to sew clothing, that Mom always had "cheater" ways of doing things, and that was at odds with the "school" way. I was so prissy that I insisted on doing it the "school" way, but today I remember and use Mom's way every time.

Gina said...

How wonderful! I enjoyed reading this post so much.

Daisie said...

I can't wait for tomorrow, there can be nothing more exciting than this book! Can there.....?

Lucky you!

CurlyPops said...

That's amazing. I have no idea how they ever had time back in the 50's to make any of that stuff!
I would love one of those glamarous dresses...

Anonymous said...

I bet they don't once mention the rotary cutters, yoyo makers, water soluble pens or fusible webbing that are absolute ESSENTIALS when I sew now...

melissa said...

What a find! This reminds me a lot of "The Complete Guide to Sewing" by Constance Talbot, from 1942. You can get it for pennies on and it really is the most complete sewing book I've ever seen!