I got a 1949 edition of The Singer Sewing Book at a library book sale (a treasure trove! I also got several Little House books, back issues of Cook’s Illustrated, FiberArts, and Interweave Knits, Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food, and How to Cook Everything).

The first chapter in the book is “To Sew Successfully,” which seems like a useful thing to know.

OK. So how do I sew successfully? The book advises:

“When you sew, make yourself as attractive as possible. Go through a beauty ritual of orderliness. Have on a clean dress… Have your hair in order, powder and lipstick put on with care. Looking attractive is a very important part of sewing…”

Maybe this is the real secret in producing professional-looking garments. More mascara, less ratty pajamas.

The book does have a lot of good information:

  • a burn chart for identifying fibers (though plenty of other new synthetics and weird cellulose fibers have come on the scene since it was published),
  • basic patterns for things like potholders, a tailor’s ham, baby bibs, book covers, seat covers for the car, ruffled aprons, kitten-shaped bean bags (how long have I been looking for a pattern for those!)
  • information on how to estimate required fabric yardage for various types of garments: “two lengths of 40″ fabric, shoulder to floor, will cut a straight sleeveless or short-sleeved dress. Allow 3/4 yard more for long sleeves, three lengths if skirt is full…”
  • information on basting, pinning, marking with chalked thread, tailor’s tacks, notching,
  • A proto-Color Me Beautiful insert about appropriate clothing colors for different varieties of white person (Light and True Blonde Types, Medium Blondes or Hazel Types, Gray-Haired Types, Red or Auburn, Medium Brunettes, and Dark Brunettes)
  • various stitches for hand sewing and embroidery,
  • a TON of different seam finishes, darts, tucks, gathers, ruffles, pleats, godets, hems, facings, etc., how to make them, and appropriate uses for each; also pockets, fastenings, neck openings, sleeve finishes, plackets, belts…
  • information on fitting and adjusting patterns for different body types,
  • and the following advice about “The Rule of Three”: “Remember this when you start to make anything: One third of the value of a garment lies in the cost of the fabric, one-third in the fashion-rightness of the style and its becomingness to you, and one-third in the workmanship you put into it–the cutting, fitting, stitching, finishing. For example, if your fabric costs $10, then you must add $10 worth of right style, and, through your best efforts in making, produce a dress worth $30.”

This seems like good advice for knitters as well, although I think the rule should also point out that your labor is very valuable, so your materials  must be of a certain quality in order to be worth as much as your labor in the equation. (And “Fashion-rightness” and “becomingness” frequently get left out of this equation altogether when it comes to knitting, in favor of how easy or interesting a garment is to make.)

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