Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Spooky Basket: Timeless Tomes

I have many vintage books; you could say I am a collector of vintage texts.
It comes with the territory, I suppose-- being voraciously attracted to the aesthetics of the days of yore.

I don't just collect any type of book, however. I collect vintage sewing and craft books, with a splish splash of reference and factoid. Through the guidance and nurturing of these books, I have been taught everything I know, or have been introduced to new hobbies.
If I took the time to name and describe every single book in my library, this review post might end up taking hours to read and process... and sadly, I still don't have them with me in my new home away from home.

But if I did, then the ones I am about to show you would still be the treasures of my collection (minus 2 or 3 not present). These were all gifted to me by my wonderful younger brother and loving husband...

This rather small but fruitful collection of books deal with sewing; drafting patterns through draping and flat-pattern design, and professional finishing techniques. I recommend each one highly for the intermediate seamster.

5.) The Art of Dressmaking by Butterick Publishing Co. 1927

Probably the oldest and the smallest in size of the five, this book is rife with a myriad of brief but informative construction techniques. The thing that makes this book worthwhile, though, is the quaintness of the diagrams and imagery; it lends a peek at the procedures of clothing construction and silhouettes of the 1920's. 

4.) Practical Dress Design by Mabel D. Erwin 1954

This, along with two other of the books, was once used as a textbook in a college of design. Not as widely known as the other two, but this concise text does not disappoint. It offers and extensive variety of ideas for finishing and drafting techniques that are invariably timeless.

3.) Clothing Construction by Evelyn A. Mansfield 1953

As we near the end of the list, the quality is always surmounting. Another of the three textbooks, this one is quite the gem of vintage sewing photography. Rich with beautifully depicted black and white photos, and wonderfully complete instructions, page after page, you'll quickly see why Clothing Construction is one of my go-to drafting book picks!

2.) Modern Pattern Design by Harriet Pepin 1942

By far the rarest of this collection, this book was once (and probably still is) the paradigm of expert sewing knowledge-- old techniques that have become so hard to find, make this one of the most coveted vintage sewing books to date. I could easily spend hours absorbing the information on each page.

1.) Dress Design by Marion S. Hillhouse and Evelyn A. Mansfield 1948

Last and probably not least, the proverbial diamond of my collection. Let not the cover and the title fool you, for this book will give beginners a run for their money, and experts the final here-say of vintage clothing construction. This is the final and best textbook of the others, in regards to construction and drafting techniques. I pair this often with Modern Pattern Design, and together I feel I have all the knowledge I could ever use on the subject. Designs in this book range from simplistic, to the intricate. Worth every penny!

There you have it, my top vintage pattern drafting book picks. Five is likely to be the first to change in favoritism, as there are still so many other good vintage sewing books to be had! But 1,2, and 3 are likely to remain on the very top of my list.

Do any of you, dear readers, have a favorite vintage book you'd like to own or go back to all the time?


  1. I am extremely jealous! those are such beautiful books, I wish I could read them. I've been wanting to learn proper sewing techniques and pattern drafting, since I taught myself how to sew and I generally don't really know what I'm doing most of the time! haha And having design books from my favorite eras would just be amazing.

    1. Believe me, I feel your troubles. I was never able to afford proper classes either-- I fumbled through everything the hard way, as well: by myself. If you want to start collecting sewing books, the best place to start is a thrift store; I bought all of my sewing books from there that weren't gifted to me.

  2. I have a collection of very old leatherwork and embroidery books. One day I will go through them and learn every technique from start to finish. For now though, they are a lovely source of inspiration!

    I've always sucked at pattern drafting despite endless classes at SAIT, so I've never purchased any vintage books on the subject (surprising, I know!) But that Modern Pattern Design does sound very tempting!

    1. Oh I envy that, I have two vintage leatherwork books to my name-- I wish I could find more, but they are as rare as these pattern drafting books! I suppose now that I have these, I focus on finding some! What titles would you recommend?

      I never knew SAIT had classes like that! I feel like I am finding out more about Calgary in the one year I've lived away, than the 20+ years I've been living there... I suppose that is how it goes, right? lol

    2. My four favourites are: Practical Handbook on Leatherwork by Cecile Francis-Lewis (very small but has three very beautiful colour plates); Decorative Leatherwork by P. Wylie Davidson (B&W photos and line drawings of some amazing pieces); Artistic Leather Craft by Herbert Turner (B&W photos and line drawings - lots of Art Nouveau patterns!); and The Leathercraftsman by W.E. Snyder (B&W photos and line drawings).

      I found all the books on eBay at very good prices. But I had to wait a while for those good prices, mind you! ;o)

      The classes at SAIT were in their Extended Studies program, but that was probably 25 or 30 years ago. I don't think they've offered them for a while, so you probably didn't miss out while you were here! :D


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