1896 – Suggestions for dressmakers

Along with looking at inspiration pictures (aka: too much pinterest), I’ve been doing some reading on the 1890’s. The website archive.org has a large collection of old dressmaker manuals. Most for the 1890’s are drafting guides, but I also found one book which goes into more aspects of dressmaking. It’s called ‘Suggestions for dressmakers’, from 1896, by Catherine Broughton, and it’s a gem.

It has a lot of tips for how to make stuff up, fitting, lining, etc. But it’s also very funny, although perhaps not intentionally. So in this post, some things I learned, and some funny quotes!

Firstly, this book is written for an American audience, and absolutely cannot get enough of praising Parisians. The author was particularly fond of Worth, though not so much of queen Victoria….

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And in case you were wondering how exactly something was done, she reassures us it’s more about general effect. As the Parisians know, of course:

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Although reading the following, I’d probably be a bit less inclined to go to Paris for my dress. About Parisian dressmakers:

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She also has some really good advice though, and describes some clever techniques in enough detail to be very helpful.

These are some comments on fitting I need to remember. The tip to also fit sitting down is one I want to try more. (I’m also definitely guilty of fitting inside out, despite knowing I’m not fully symmetrical…)

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Of course, in case you thought it was easy, here is a comment to put you back in your place.

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But she does have good tips! If you fit around a posture you normally don’t adopt, then as soon as you go back into your ‘regular’ posture it won’t fit as well.

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And a little note on skirts.

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On cutting on grain: (of course, including some snark)

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I found the section on linings particularly interesting.

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She also has some interesting tips on boning. In particular that the boning should really stretch the fabric, and how to achieve that.

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And for everyone who has ever struggled with hooks and eyes which come undone (including myself):

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And a little bit on skirt bands. I thought the idea of piping was quite interesting, it definitely makes sense if the bodice goes over anyway.

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She then has some chapters on color and style, and her main message is that a dressmaker can make a world of difference. Snarkily worded, of course, we cannot let it get too kind.

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I’d definitely recommend everyone to read this little book in full, it has a lot more good advice in it (and also some not so good). It can be found in full online here.

To conclude, some advice on trousers, just so you know.

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2 thoughts on “1896 – Suggestions for dressmakers

  1. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this post! The humor and snark are great, although now I wonder which suggestions are not so good.

    • Well, at least the ‘trousers will never happen’ thing was quite wrong ;). She also isn’t very inclusive body-type wise, there’s some remarks in the book itself which are about what people ‘should be allowed’ to wear which I don’t really agree with. But I indeed tried to include the ones which were most helpful here ;).

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