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The Collector: Woman’s Institute Library of Dressmaking: Sewing Materials

There are certain types of information that are very difficult to come by these days, unless you are a specialist of some kind. In-depth information about textiles is one of those, I think.

That is when hunting down vintage books can really come in handy. This particular book, a volume on sewing materials published by The Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences in 1923, is an incredible reference on all sorts of laces, fabric, embroidery, and findings.

My favorite section in the book is the lace. There are over 80 types of lace cataloged in this book, and the photos really get the creative juices flowing for a lace-hoarder like me. It’s funny, I only sew with lace occasionally, but I remain obsessed with it.

Other fabrics are described in great detail, with many types and weaves listed, each described in detail. There are literally hundreds of fabric types described.

The book wraps up with a section on economy and mending, demonstrating that despite the incredible level of detail, this was a book aimed at the average homemaker and dressmaker, not necessarily a professional. All of it is rounded out with a useful glossary of fashion and textile terms.

I highly recommend hunting down a copy as a reference if you’re at all interested in textiles! There are copies on Amazon, along with several other books from this publisher.

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.



September 6, 2012 #

I love the pictures of the lace. This day and age, we all look everything up on the internet first before even thinking to find a book on the subject. I recently started a sewing book collection (some old, some new), and I like just being able to sift through the pages finding new things I would never think to Google on my own. Also, I recently mended a hole in a cardigan for the first time. If you can catch the holes soon enough, it is a very useful skill!


September 6, 2012 #

I totally just went and bought a copy of that book. #imasewingnerd


September 6, 2012 #

Last week my daughter and I went to an exhibition of hand made lace in Caen detailing the history of lace from Venice through French point and Normandy lace. They had some of the most beautiful examples both in clothes and lace rolls and samples dating from the C17th until today.

For me the older lace was the most delicate and beautiful. I love the photos you have posted here. I have never sown with lace – its on my big ambition list.


September 6, 2012 #

If your are interested in the founder of the Women’s Institute for Domestic Arts which sponsored this series, you can read a little here: . Mary Brooks Picken was an amazing woman and a treasure for all of us who sew.


September 6, 2012 #

I think the best bits of these old sewing books are the mending sections – modern books miss that out completely! I like to be reminded that sewing was once a necessary skill rather than a hobby.


September 6, 2012 #

PS–many of Picken’s books, and other older books on dressmaking, are available on the Cornell University website Hearth:


September 6, 2012 #

I went looking for the book at my library and found that “Sewing Materials” is available online here:


September 6, 2012 #

Thank you so much for all of your book posts! I love reading them and being able to see inside old books. Plus, this particular post has helped me to find a good book on textiles for my next school semester! (I’ve been needing one for a while).



September 6, 2012 #

What a lovely book! I too have a lovely old needlecraft book. It’s The Goodhouskeeping Needlecraft Encyclopedia” copywright 1947. It has instructions for simple and advanced sewing, embroidery, knitting, lace, rug making, weaving, sewing for the home, etc., etc. It’s totally a gem. How lucky we are to still be able to find and use these books.


September 6, 2012 #

Thank you for reviewing this book. You’ve prompted me to review a local dressmaker text that I bought earlier this year on ebay.


September 7, 2012 #

I have a 9-volume set of these books that belonged to my grandmother. They were part of a correspondence course she took in the early ’40s. My mom said she would sew up samples for the course, send them, and they’d come back taken apart; there were notes that basically said, ‘do it again.’ I love these little books!

laura k

September 7, 2012 #

Yay to those of you who have pointed to the book at the HathiTrust website. Usually the things that are available at Hathi are also on Google Books, but this one wasn’t. It is in the public domain, so I’m not sure why not. BUT if you’re interested in other books like this Hathi and GB are great places to look. Anything pre-1923 is public domain and should be freely accessible.


September 8, 2012 #

my grandmother just sent me a box filled with a bunch of those books, to funny! The sketches in them are amazing! I am super excited about one of the books about lingerie, so fun!


September 10, 2012 #

Yeah, so I definitely just went and bought a copy- not only is it practical to know for sewing’s sake, but I’m training in digital cloth simulation, so I figure the more I know about the weave and behaviour of real cloth, the better I’ll be able to simulate fake cloth, and maybe even carry some seamstressing techniques into my work. It’s all really exciting!

Edilberto Durano

October 12, 2012 #

I highly recommend this book! This informative tome has it all. Look for copies at thrift stores and libraries.
Good luck,
Ed of

Karen Sykes

November 9, 2012 #

I came across this blog after searching online for books by the Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences.
After recently clearing my mothers house we found a set of 12 leather bound books by the institute that she apparently received as part of a correspondence course she did back in the 1940’s
If you know anyone who may be interested in the set please get in touch


January 26, 2013 #


I about fell over when you stated that you found 12 of the Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences. I am sure they are gone by now, but if not, would you be willing to still sell them? I am at home due to a spinal cord tumor and have turned to sewing to keep my mind busy :-) I think older books are sometimes better at instructing than the newer ones.

Thank you so much!

Karen Sykes

January 26, 2013 #

I certainly still have them and are happy to sell them to a good home. I would need to check the shipping cost to you (exactly where are you) and can come back to you with that and some pictures for you to make me an offer


March 28, 2013 #

Like Karen, I stumbled across this site while researching “Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences”. I came across a box of these books while cleaning. They are actually soft covered volumes of learning instructions. I have one which is the introduction to the Institute, last copyright of 1922. The inside cover has a picture of Mary Picken. I have part 1, 32 A-2 and part 2, 32 B. These are both 1st editions of 1916. There are 15 books from 1920 and 21 books from 1921. There are only 2 that have loose covers. The rest are in very good condition other than yellowing from age. I would like to sell them if there is any interest. I also have 57 “The Workbasket” dating from 1956 to 1961 if anyone is interested.


August 18, 2013 #

I have: Women’s Institute Library of Dress Making volumes listed here if anyone cares to buy them. SEWING MATERIALS, HARMONY IN DRESS, CARE OF CLOTHING, TAILORED GARMENTS. All in beautiful condition.. 1926 editions.


January 29, 2014 #

Joan, I know you posted this a while back, but are your books still available? If so, will you contact me at