Vintage Sewing 101: An Introduction

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Welcome to a new post series – Vintage Sewing 101 – here at Sew for Victory! I’ve been planning this out for a while and am super excited that it’s coming to fruition in 2018. As long-time followers of the blog may remember, a while ago I came across one of my best vintage finds to-date:

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This eight book set, published in 1953, is a complete sewing course intended to take you from clueless to crafty. The series is the most informative instruction guide I’ve seen when it comes to vintage sewing techniques and I’m still surprised by its comprehensiveness. For a while now, I’ve been using the book series as a curiosity. It became something that I would refer to for inspiration or simply to get back in touch with the vintage side of things. But I’ve barely scratched the surface of what these books have to offer.

In order to better understand the world of the vintage seamstress, I’ve decided to work my way through these books one-by-one and get to know every aspect of sewing in the 1950s. I’ll be teaching myself the techniques, applying them to my projects, and getting acquainted with a whole host of skills that have been lost to modernity. Aside from getting a better understanding of vintage garment making, I’m really hoping that this challenge will help me develop my own approach to sewing.

It’s always struck me how (relatively) simple sewing can be in today’s world. There’s virtually no need to learn to sew by hand – I’m living proof of that fact because I’m still absolutely terrible at hand stitching anything – or understand the hows-and-whys of the process of making clothes. I’m incredibly guilty of following pattern instructions without really considering the details behind what I’m doing or how everything comes together. While part of me would be perfectly happy to go on this way, I’m ambitious in my sewing and I want to expand my knowledge as much as possible.

I’m also hoping that this series of posts will help all of you reading them to learn alongside me. Having read through these manuals, there are a whole host of skills and techniques that I’ve not encountered before and certainly never considered integrating into my sewing. I want to see where our modern approach to sewing might benefit from a return to old methods. At the very least, I might finally learn how to do some hand stitching!

So, what better way to begin that at the beginning, with the promises made by the course itself:

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“Every woman – and man – admires the woman whose clothes are a perfect blend of individuality, good taste, and current fashion. Whether she wears expensive dresses with  famous couturiers’ labels, or is, herself, a clever stylist – the effect is the same. But it is all the more to her credit if her own nimble fingers and ingenious contrivings have stretched a small budget and touched with magic her own home fashioned ensembles.

You can be this woman. Your hands can create detail-perfect garments, accessories and home decorations which will add dollars to your savings. Besides, it’s fun! All that is required is willingness to learn – and determination to do.

This is the first of a series of eight books designed especially for the woman who wants to ‘sew with distinction’ – quickly and easily. The key to all of the ‘magic’ is here – in simple, completely illustrated, short and to-the-point instructions. Each book is a successive step towards your goal – and each is arranged for quick reference back to any forgotten topic, in years to come.”

Already this sewing course appeals to me. It promises the ability to “sew with distinction” (although whether this means I’ll sew well or distinctively, I’m not sure) in a way that is both quick and easy. Since I have both willingness and determination – which are apparently all that I need – I feel very prepared for everything that this vintage sewing journey will ask of me.

I hope that you’re all excited to join me. The first proper post is going to be a trip into the world of vintage sewing tools and I’ll be seeing whether I’m properly equipped by 1950s standards (*spoiler alert: I’m not*).

8 thoughts on “Vintage Sewing 101: An Introduction

  1. Elena says:

    Great project! I think you will find that many of the techniques described in those books are not so much “vintage” but rather “professional”. Although bespoke tailoring is not as widely taught any more as it used to be, it is not actually a dying art. 😉
    Good luck in learning to sew with distinction! 😀

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    • sewforvictory says:

      I think what’s interesting about this course is that it’s intended to teach readers how to sew from no previous knowledge or experience. You’re right, I think, in that many of the techniques taught would be considered ‘professional or even ‘couture’ skills today but, at the time the course was written, were considered basic and necessary sewing skills. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what I can learn!

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  2. Jane Askie says:

    I am 73 years old and was at school in the late 1940s and through the 50s. We learnt handsewing from the age of 7 and through Junior school.
    From the age of 11 the girls were taught dressmaking with the use of basic manual, hand and treadle machines as well as handsewing for things like buttonholes, collars and cuffs. We began with an apron and moved on to making a blouse, skirt and dress.
    These early lessons have remained with me and I still do all the basic preparation work, just like we were taught back then. Once you’ve learnt these basics, it’s easier to adapt the way you work.
    Your sewing course books look wonderful and so interesting to read, I’m sure. I look forward to following your progress Laura.

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    • sewforvictory says:

      This is so interesting! I’m really looking forward to learning some new techniques. It’s fascinating how little emphasis is placed on ‘crafting’ skills at schools now – certainly when I was at secondary school, we learnt very little about sewing (I remember one run in with a sewing machine that almost put me off for life). I’ll definitely be interested to hear your take on the different things I learn through this sewing course!

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