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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Modern Needlework in 600 pictures

I couldn't go past this find at the local op shop this week. It is from the 1930's and is almost like an anthropological look at womens' role in the home providing soft furnishings and clothing right down to underwear.
It has a heavy board cover and fabric spine and....well, a LOT of pictures. This would have been a very expensive book in it's time to produce with all the photos over 220 pages.
At first glance through I am fascinated by the myriad of techniques for hemming, button holing, seam finishing...

seam finishing

Much of the sewing is by hand and I find myself marveling at the time and patience and love that would be needed to complete an outfit in the 1930's. Hand sewing is making a comeback in some households but I for one think being able to machine neaten a seam is up there with sliced bread.
But these garments were meant to be worn for years....maybe some modifications for changing fashions, but certainly not the lightening speeds of fads and fancy that our fashion world dictates. The mouse wheel of consumerism does not make money if we are not buying into the latest fashions every season.
I know there are a lot of you out there who are lovers of the vintage. It's about the fabric and the decoration but I also know it's because you love the quality. Because you hand make yourselves, (sewing, crotchet, knit or otherwise) you have a great respect for every hand placed stitch.

trims and notions
Not only am I struck by how many techniques we have slowly lost over the generations of mechanisation and it's availability in the home, but also by the accoutrement's that we would no longer dream of doing ourselves.
The ric-rac style trims, ruffles, latticework trims and cording. Sometimes we might still make bias binding but mostly notions are all purchased items now.
Next I am struck by the changes now in our buying. Linen, napery, pajamas, lingerie....are usually purchased.

corsets and stay bodices

 Not that I am in total mourning for the "old" ways. I love the new fabrics and ways with underwear. I remember when I was little and had to wear those pure cotton bloomer type knickers to school. By the end of the day there was very little elasticity in the material and heaven help you if the elastic went in the top because that was all that was holding them on!
This book also tells the story of an era when laundering was more time consuming and garments were cared for.

dress preservers
Now we want to throw everything in the washing machine and dryer. Then garments were worn until they needed cleaning and were hung to air before putting away and sponging of spots.
It's no wonder the fabrics now wear out so quickly.
I haven't seen a dress preserver in years!
So I couldn't pass this book by. It reminded me of lost techniques and times before modern machinery was commonplace in the home. A time when quality and care meant things lasted and were not disposable.
So think back....before automatic washing machines, before home sewing machines and before the wonderful world of retailing for everything......
....and we think we are busy now! We don't even know we are alive!
If the world of petrol and electricity ground to a halt tomorrow, at least we still have books of reference like these....just in case.


  1. oo oooh do they have any tips on fabric stiffening ?
    Just the right era to know about starch - these modern cans of spray starch just don't do the trick on my crochet christmas deco's !

  2. What a fantastic find. I'm showing my age - but what is a dress preserver?? I tried enlarging your pic to have a read but can't quite make out the letters.

  3. Ms. Lotti, a dress preserver is like a protective thin pad or liner type thingy that pretects your dress from....well...underarm perspiration. Isn't it charming.

  4. What a great find and lots of interesting information.

  5. Cheers Tanya! The things I didn't know that I didn't need to know!

  6. What a wonderful post Tanya. Such a great book, and such marvellous reflections to a time past.
    I often think back to how busy women were before all the mod-cons and I just wish I knew how they did it. Here I am in the modern age struggling to look after my family ... how on earth did they do it???


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