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Books: The Art of Dressmaking, 1927

I have a small but growing collection of vintage sewing books. I treasure them not just because they showcase wonderful techniques that are less common today, but also because they give a glimpse back into the daily lives and skills of everyday women. I thought it would be nice to share some of these books with you.

The Art of Dressmaking was published by Butterick in 1927, and is aimed at both the “successful” home seamstress, and the beginner.

The first page says:

“It is not a book of current styles – those you will find in Delineator and the Butterick Quarterly – but it has been prepared with the hope that it will be useful and helpful all the time whenever and wherever clothes are being made.”

When the author wrote that, I doubt she imagined someone reading it and still gleaning hints and advice over 80 years into the future. It is really hard for me to believe sometimes how little garment sewing has changed in the last century. Nearly all of the advice given in this book would be useful to a home sewer today.

The illustrations are just gorgeous, showing lithe, deco women elegantly picking fabric and creating flowing garments.

I especially love these images of completely shapeless clothing being “fitted” on a narrow, androgynous body. It looks so simple! But of course the clothing of that decade was rich in detail if rather uniform in silhouette.

I do wonder what a woman naturally shaped like me would have thought looking at illustrations like this, and trying to apply them to her own sewing. The thin, 1920s ideal figure is so exaggerated here that it’s rather strange to my modern eyes. I suppose in the context of that decade though, it would have just seemed modern and chic, if not totally realistic.

The book covers a large range of topics, and seems a good introductory text. Chapters include everything from selecting a style and fabric to cutting to various seams and trimmings. There are even sections on maternity wear and men’s clothing. Above you can see wonderfully illustrated instructions for creating a welt pocket.

I’ll be sharing several more vintage sewing books over time, stay tuned!

Sarai Mitnick


Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.



January 7, 2010 #

Speaking of books, I’m wondering if you can recommend a good, basic sewing book. I’m just learning how to sew, and I want to own a book I can use as a reference when faced with new techniques, fabrics, etc. So far, “Vogue Sewing” has been my favorite, but I’m curious to know if there is a better one out there.

I really enjoy your blog and your beautiful patterns, thanks!

Sunni Standing

January 7, 2010 #

The illustrations are stunning, my favorite being the “selecting becoming colors as they do in paris.” Do they really do that in Paris? Its really nice to think that they do. So excited for more.


January 7, 2010 #

You have found my drug of choice. :)

I have a book from the 20’s about household management, no sewing or garmet recommends other than how to dress your maids.

I DO have a nice book from th 40’s that was my grandmothers. It has all kinds of needlework, but a good chunk on sewing and pattern drafting. Everything a modern woman woudl need to manage and take care of her home via needles. ;)


January 7, 2010 #

I love the illustrations in this book! I would have been banned from the 1920s though as I have Hips that are Considerably Larger than the Average. The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft is a book from the forties which I will often refer to before other sources.


January 7, 2010 #

Cameron, try the Reader’s Digest Complete Book of Sewing. You can buy the most recent edition, borrow an older edition from your local library, or buy one on Etsy or Ebay. It’s a must have and most sewers would also recommend it.


January 7, 2010 #

I have this same edition! Hooray for sentimental sewers… sew-ers? seamstresses! (p.s. Thanks for your blog! It’s a joy!)


January 7, 2010 #

First off, what a wonderful find, and what amazing condition it looks to be in! I have been checking out a wide array of vintage sewing books form interlibrary loan this year, and have to admit, some I don’t learn from so much as just lose myself in the artwork.

Secondly, the ladies on page 47 — uncanny: that’s me in a wiggle dress!! It’s too bad I’m not a huge fan of those drop-waisted, straight up & down dress shapes from that period (I’m crazy about art deco-y geometric piecework, but I mean the general dowdy-feeling columnar shape of day frocks and such), because they really were designed for my particular body shape.

It blows my mind to think of the lengths women went to to hide their natural curves to the degree they did during that era. I tend to think of these loose, post-corset era fashions as freeing, but the means to achieve that other shape couldn’t have been much of an improvement.


January 7, 2010 #

I’m glad you all liked it, I have a pile of vintage books I can’t wait to photograph and show you! They really make me feel linked to past generations of women, you know?

Cameron, I’d second the Reader’s Digest sewing book, and I’ve also heard great things about The Complete Book of Sewing. Maybe I can try to get a hold of those two books and do reviews soon!


January 7, 2010 #

Thanks for the suggestions! I will definitely check those out.


January 8, 2010 #

This is going to sound weird, but you didn’t by any chance buy that book at Powell’s recently, did you? I ask because I picked up that exact edition of that exact book at Powell’s awhile back and actually walked to the check-out line with it, but the line was really long and it was unusually chaotic in the store, so I put it back on the shelf and said to my husband, “Hopefully, someone snags that book who will really love it.” Anyway, maybe that someone was you!

Also, to the sewer looking for a sewing reference book, I too recommend the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing. It’s invaluable.


January 8, 2010 #

I love the illustrations in this book. And just look at the size of that cutting table!


January 8, 2010 #

Wow! What a book! Those illustrations are nuts, can you imagine how bizarre a woman would look if she had those dimensions in real life!


January 8, 2010 #

Sarah, I didn’t buy it at Powell’s… I’ve had it for quite a few years, I think I got it at a teeny used book shop in Berkeley. I think I might have seen it at Powell’s though!

Terri, I know! Someday I hope to have the space for such a huge cutting table.


January 8, 2010 #

Hi Sarai,
Love these old books!
The illustrations are great.
I was thinking the figures were surprisingly “thick” though obviously not curvy!
Hope you have a wonderful year!


January 9, 2010 #

That’s interesting Andrea, I didn’t read the figures that way, but obviously the clothes are rather shapeless. One thing I’ve noticed is that while androgynous bodies and hair were in fashion at this time, fuller faces still seemed to be the ideal. I’m guessing that’s because fuller faces signal youth.


January 10, 2010 #

These are amazing! Annie.


January 11, 2010 #

I have oftened wondered the same thing about fitting and body shape when looking through my 1910s and 20s sewing books: how would I have viewed these back in the day? In a way, looking at these illustrations is so foreign, since we no longer have such a non-natural ideal (well, okay, super skinny isn’t natural in everyone. But what I’m getting at is that we don’t have to wear corsets and girdles to be shaped into the ideal. It’s more of a natural body shape now.).

Can’t wait to see the others you are going to share! I absolutely love old sewing manuals!

♥ Casey
blog |


January 11, 2010 #

I had the privilege of checking this book out of the university library, and it was a treasure trove of sewing techniques, and of cultural history. I wish I could have kept it longer, but it was a special short term loan. How lucky you are to have it at your disposal at all times!


April 27, 2010 #

I have this book…would you like to buy it?


January 18, 2010 #

I have this same book too! I love it along with my other old sewing books. Not only do I use them for referencing techniques and gathering design inspiration, but I like the way they help me connect with women of the past and how they lived. My favorites–the wartime era books that showed women how to “make do and mend for victory!”
Thanks for this wonderful blog!