05 June 2013

Book Review: The Dressmaker's Guide

The Dressmaker's Guide, 1840-1865, Second Edition, by Elizabeth Stewart Clark, has not received many online reviews, so I thought I'd describe it a bit. I have not been asked to do this by the author.
This is a ladies-only post: any gentlemen are invited to excuse themselves.

The book is self-published, intended for the Civil War reenacting (“living history”) crowd. It doesn’t feel self-published: it is well laid-out and the font is appropriate. The drawings are clear.
A publisher would have given the text one more edit, to clear up minor annoyances like typos, then/than, and superfluous adverbs.

The book is not fluff: it is 300 pages of solid information. The first 70 are relevant only to reenactors, addressing matters like textile accuracy and class-specificity. The next 20 pages cover basic hand-sewing techniques in detail, with some suggestions of materials that sound intriguing (so that's what twist is!). And then comes the fun stuff: how to make 19th-century piping, how to make period-correct gathers and half a dozen different kinds of pleats, and finally how to draft (or rather drape) 19th-century garments, including nine kinds of sleeves and about as many bodices. I believe the selection of shapes is, with a few exceptions listed below, comprehensive.

The book does not elaborate on the many styles into which these shapes can be developed without further instruction (e.g., where you might put trim): it assumes that you have at your disposal a large collection of period images from which to derive inspiration.* It concerns only women’s clothing, though I assume the techniques for children’s clothes are similar.

What I love about the book is the level of detail: e.g., the author not only tells you how to make box pleats, she explains how to position them so that they look nice, and which parts of the pleat need to be precise and where you can fudge; and how to size and space the stitches that hold them together; and how many pleats “look well” per skirt.

Missing from the book (or at least I couldn't find them) are:
-pagoda sleeves
-ruched (etc.) trim
-blouses, as opposed to bodices: how to finish the bottoms, put in tucks, and make the high, ruffled collars of c. 1850
-where to insert the supports in – the gentlemen did clear out, right?
-internal cross-references
-a list of resources, and
-an index.

The book is costly, probably because it is a combination (and expansion) of two books that the author had previously published separately. But I do not know of another book that explains clearly how to draft, say, a 19th-century armscye or a fiddleback; and the technique for narrow hems made me very, very happy.

The author’s website is http://www.thesewingacademy.com/

*such as a public library, or the Internet; or, there are whole books of nothing but daguerreotypes, published expressly for this purpose.