Maud Humphrey

Maud Humphrey

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Vintage Sewing Books

I love books. All kinds. When I was a kid, my mom used to drop me off at the public library for an entire Saturday while she ran her errands. I'd even bring my lunch. Yeah, I was a little bit nerdy. Then, when I was first married, I worked at that same library for five years until I quit to stay home full time with my little ones. I love being a stay-at-home mom, but if I ever had to work again, the library would be my dream job. Well, either that or the fabric store!
I used to think that maybe I had too many books. But then I saw a recent episode of the show "Hoarders" and I felt much better about my two book shelves. The show profiled a couple who had an estimated 500,000 books piled everywhere in their home, with practically nowhere to walk or even sit without having a tower of books fall on top of them. I guess there is such a thing as having "too much of a good thing"!I love everything about books...the way they smell and the way the pages feel. I love vintage books even better. And if a vintage book happens to be about sewing and/or dolls, then I'm in love! The books above illustrate the vintage sewing books in my collection. The one on the top left is "The Mary Brooks Picken Method of Modern Dressmaking". It has a 1925 copyright. I forgot to get a close up of it, but below is a picture of two of it's pages.

Mary Brooks Pickens founded the Women's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences. Starting in 1915, she wrote 96 books on sewing and fashion! She offered correspondence courses, along with classroom instruction in dressmaking, millinery, cooking, fashion design, beauty, and homemaking. It attracted women from around the world, and enrollment in her courses climbed to almost 300,000, making it the largest school in history devoted solely to the education of women.

"The Mary Frances Sewing Book"--I hunted for this book for a long time before I finally found an acceptable copy that I could afford. This book can run well over a hundred dollars if found in good shape! It is a wonderful book, with a 1915 copyright, and it even has an inscription by the author on the first blank page! It says: "For all girls who love to make pretty things" and then is signed by the author, Jane Eayre Fryer. I didn't know the inscription was there until I received the book, and neither, apparently, did the bookseller who sold it to me, or it probably would have cost way more than what I paid for it! Anyway, the book is written for little girls, with patterns included for them to make all sorts of clothing for their 16" doll. It is simply delightful. This book has been reprinted and is available today, but I just had to have an antique copy. I love the way it smells and feels. Have I already mentioned that?!
Interior pages from the Mary Frances book:
One of the beautiful color illustrations:
Here's a little book I picked up for a just a couple of dollars at a local thrift store. I'm a sucker for anything baby, and this book has the cute, vintage illustrations that I love. It was published in 1944.
Interior pages from "Sewing for the Baby"
A sweet friend gave me this book just the other day. "Sue Sew-and Sew" is another delightful book written for little girls in 1931, to teach them how to sew pretty things for their dollies. It is written from a doll's perspective and almost reads like a story.

I picked this book up for pennies at the thrift store. It is a little bit more "modern", having been written in 1951, but it's full of wonderful information that's just as useful for today's seamstresses as it was back then.
Check out the sizing chart (below): Sizes have changed dramatically since then! According to this chart, I would have to sew myself a size 18 or 20 to fit my measurements! But today, the major pattern companies call me a size 12. Amazing, isn't it? I guess that's all part of our vanity issues, and the emphasis we put on being as tiny as possible.
The last book I want to show you isn't old at all. I bought it this past year at a local fabric store and have never regretted it. It's an inspirational guide to sewing, needlework, cooking and fashion. It is chock-full of vintage pictures and illustrations. The author takes you month-by-month throughout the book, with recipes to try and simple patterns to make. This would make a lovely gift for any seamstress who loves vintage things.
A glimpse of the inside, below:
I re-read my books all the time. Often times, I forget what I have until I pull it from the shelf, and then it's like visiting with an old friend. Aren't books wonderful?

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