American System of Dressmaking- updated

I had a lovely comment come through about a personal connection to the book (a relative who passed the course and gained their Diploma!)

The American system of dressmaking (1909)

So I have updated with a little more information to put the book in context. 

There are also a few more recent books that describe it as the largest successful dressmaking correspondence school at the time:

How I Learned The Secrets Of Success In Advertising
By Guy Lynn Sumner

And that lead to learning about Mary Brookes Picken as I realised I have probably skim read at least a few of her books through the archive.

Mary Brookes Picken on

sunburst update

So I have been as obsessed by the sunburst gown longer than the electric light gown but hey are in fact really interlinked!

After a little clarification that yes there were two Caroline Schermerhorn Astors. One Mrs one Miss and it is Miss Caroline Astor who wore the sunburst probably post marriage to Mr Orme Wilson.

Weirdly despite both ladies being the center of the very richest people at the time there are remarkably few pictures to be found of either.

But some brute searches in google after detangling the two has brought a very few written descriptions of the gowns of both.

So. The 1883 Vanderbilt ball. Ava Vanderbilt got to wear her electric light gown with working battery.
Daily Wabash Express,Terre Haute, Vigo County, 28 March 1883

Carrie Astor was in the Star Quadrille. These gowns were intended to be illuminated too.

The story of the missing invitationhas been retold several times. Usually that Mrs Vanderbilt claimed she had no idea Carrie was going.

Exactly how true the whole “I can’t invite you as you haven’t visited me” thing actually was is a bit obscured by lots of colourful retellings. 

It is hard to believe though that a formal part of the ball was unplanned. the quadrilles are a part of that formal element and the star quadrille was apparently devised by the hostess herself.
March 15
Indianapolis News,Indianapolis, Marion County, 19 March 1883

Either way she appeared as a star at this ball after all.
Daily Wabash Express,Terre Haute, Vigo County, 28 March 1883

Also of interest is this description of another gown at teh Vanderbilt ball, Light.
Daily Wabash Express,Terre Haute, Vigo County, 28 March 1883

The Mina

I have finally got really sewing again. Many reasons why I didn’t, but I am testing various therapy for fibro so have a few temporary options for pain. The daily stuff hasn’t really seemed to help for a full day.

Anyway. So I have been putting some of what I know works for me in other costumes to the test with The Mina and it’s working. It’s also offering a way for me to explain how my Northern Renaissance patterns work as they use the same basic engineering. The trick to shape is in specific curves.

The front of my bodice shows how the gussets are able to give a really crisp definition to under bust and hips while being very flat on the CF line.

The side view shows how the bodice basically has the straight of grain from shoulder down side and then is perpendicular to the waist. This is the same principle I use for my earlier patterns. 

Here though I have to use gussets over the bust for the idealised figure of the original. In the earlier patterns I just use the bias of the grain in the bust area to create support (not possible to mimic with a rigid mannequin though.) The key thing is that essentially the foundation is very stable vertical through the side and as far up from the waist as possible then allow ease over the bust. Some styles have that change a little further down some higher up (sort of starts very high in the lat 15thC then drops a bit and gets higher and flatter with the influence of Spanish style all over Europe.)

The back also shows some of my stabilising efforts. The V neck is prone to bagging both front and back so I’ll be using some stay tape along the edge later.

The hip gusset like the front one allows for the hip to hopefully be directed to the side rather than squished in.

This V shape of stitching follows some of the shapes seen in gusseted corsets especially. But as this is a bodice I was able to put in an angled side back seam to help smooth that out.

So speaking of smoothing out one of the dressmaking books I looked at again recently shows what I mean about how historical shaping is not just about the initial pattern being very different but the methods of fitting are also different. The post is here. Go straight to the book here (The elements of modern dressmaking for the amateur and professional dressmaker
by Davis, Jeanette E; Holahan, Cora M., ed, Publication date 1894)

1 to 1, 2 to 2, 3 to 3, Stretching for the hollows of the figure ; 5 to 5, Crossboning; 4 to 4, Extra bone in front.

I’m basically using the lines 3 and 4 to keep my fabric straight and thus most supportive. I will be using the methods of putting in vertical darts in the shell.

Here is the illustration showing where to add padding into that hollow for two variations (f for fuller, h for hollower). Also the darts at B and C are for lining fabrics only- this is likely that lining fabrics can’t be eased as easily as shell.

duchess of portland

Another image I have adored since I got a library card. I have the collated version of the book this was in, but this doesn’t appear in it. This is from the Visual History series of costume books.

Basically she just has this incredible gown and expression of total confidence that she absolutely nails it.

Clearly she had a thing for this collar as she wears another it in a portrait by Sargent!,_Duchess_of_Portland

The nineteenth century

by Foster, Vanda
Publication date 1984Topics Costume
Publisher London : Batsford
Collection printdisabledinlibraryinternetarchivebookschina
Digitizing sponsor Kahle/Austin Foundation
Contributor Internet Archive
Language English
Full catalog record MARCXML

mary of teck

I have had a poor photocopy of this image for a very long time. I love this particular style so very much and unusually for me I forgot to source it. But this is a style I have just loved so much. The heavy lace, the pleated and double neckline. I keep looking for more photos of this sitting.

But I remembered it was a book that included royal wedding fashions. And this is the book that has a selection I haven’t seen since.

A hundred years of royal style

by McDowell, Colin
Publication date 1985
Topics Elizabeth II, Queen of Great Britain, 1926-QueensCostumeCostume
Publisher London : Muller, Blond & White
Collection printdisabledinlibraryinternetarchivebooksamericana
Digitizing sponsor Internet Archive
Contributor Internet Archive
Language EnglishBibliography: p. 186-188
Full catalog record MARCXML

Instruction book for the French and English systems of cutting, fitting and basting

Instruction book for the French and English systems of cutting, fitting and basting

by McCall, James. [from old catalog]
Publication date 1881
Topics Dressmaking. [from old catalog]
Publisher [New York
Collection library_of_congressamericana
Digitizing sponsor Sloan Foundation
Contributor The Library of Congress
Language English
Call number 7753846
Openlibrary_edition OL23634383M
Openlibrary_work OL13841925W
Page-progression lrPages 110
Possible copyright status The Library of Congress is unaware of any copyright restrictions for this
Full catalog record MARCXML

Oh this is great! Note that the above image shows one way of reducing wrinkles at the waist. There are others also inside the book.

image showing seams taken in at the back and extra added at the side hip.
Image showing wrinkles at the waist of the left, on the right a solution by opening all seams from hem to waist and taking fabric away at the back and front and adding to the side.

Hecklinger’s ladies’ garments

Hecklinger’s ladies’ garments

by Hecklinger, Charles. [from old catalog]
Publication date 1886
Topics Dressmaking. [from old catalog]
Publisher New York
Collection library_of_congressamericana
Digitizing sponsor Sloan Foundation
Contributor The Library of Congress
Language English
Full catalog record MARCXML

Rarely, for this time, this book looks like it is indeed published within a year of cerating! The illustrations look like they are straight from the 1885 Butterick catalogue so this book is one I’d highly recommend along with articles from magazines of the same year.

It also has a lot of illustrations showing details such as facings, how to make all kinds of trimmings and what the pleated/kilted underskirts actually look like underneath the drapery.

lillie langtry and worth- part 2

Some time ago I bought a copy of People and Pearls which included a very large two page photo of Lillie reclining on a settee and I thought oh yes that dress.. nope. It’s not the same dress as appears in in Victorian and Edwardian Fashion A Photographic Survey as I thought but is a later dress but also by Lafayette.

This gown is of the same type as the infamous ironwork dress by the House of Worth. Here though the velvet is in an open and stylised “palmette” (as opposed to another velvet used in house which was a densely filled palmette style.)

These gowns often have the pattern mirrored around diagonal seams from waist to side seam and often the front is likewise mirrored and cut on the diagonal.

The bodice appears to fasten up the front and the front overlaps to her right side (our left) and closes under her arm.

The skirt appears to close at the CF line with an inverted pleat below knee level.

An extreme close up reveals that the bodice shaping is carefully created by centering one of the motiffes at front waist and the fabric carefully cut away from the top of the motiffe allowing the design to be the means of shaping over the bust. 

scan from People and Pearls.

By this stage many of Lillie’s bodices seem to be of a very similar shape, very conical and quite flat. This shape seems to also repeat in House of Worth bodices of the same sort of date range.

The pearl swags are repeated under her arm to the back of the bodice.

This gown was worn by Lillie as Mrs. Trevelyan in The Degenerates. Her gowns are described as: 

Mrs. Langtry in flesh-colored satin with sapphires, Mrs, Langtry in pale-blue satin with diamonds in dazzling array, Mrs, Langtry in white v/ith pearls,…


There are hand coloured photos of Lillie and one from this set has been tinted blue.

This fabric is also to be found in an extant House of Worth gown at the Metropolitan Museum of art:,+House+of$House+of+Worth&pg=7&rpp=20&pos=133

Tassinari & Chatel supplied Worth with many velvets in different colourways and it is likely this is a different colourway as there are some differences in how the pattern is handled in each example.

lillie langtry and worth- part 1

As per my prior post about Sarah Bernhardt I could not but help but have Lillie well represented in the research materials I collected on historic dress.

As a model and as an actress she appeared in paintings by Millais and in photographs.

One of my favourite ensembles she wore just recently came back to attention in House of Worth 1858-1952.,_1882.jpg

Pattern plates

They are done! The scanner is unplugged so the caster can use the plug so I’ll start scanning as soon as I am ready.

I just went for my daily walk so am stretching while I decide on the order these will be printed.

Six skirt patterns, four bodices, several sleeves from a simple block. Only haven’t managed to work in my Anna Meyer block which is sleeve with no shoulder strap. But I can get that.