I was recently delighted to discover the Internet Archive has scanned a lot of old dressmaking/tailoring manuals. I’ve started trying to catalogue exactly what they have so I can find it quickly in future.
This post rounds up the choices from 1920-1929, that could be found under the searches: tailoring, garment cutting, dressmaking, clothing and dress, sewing
. I’ve skimmed through all of them, and written some notes on what’s in there.
To find the books, go to Internet Archive and then search the title.
BEST OF THE BOOKS
Underwear and Lingerie (1925&6)
1920s slips are essentially decorated rectangles, very easy for beginners. This is a lovely book. 18 projects for different styles of combinations, drawers or chemises, with instructions for inserting lace, choosing materials and cutting out etc. Several lovely brassieres, including a bandeau bra and a bandeau corset. Very easy to understand. There is a 1925 and 1926 version. The second has a wrap around slip, foundation slip, shoulder dart slip; petticoats, night gowns, pajamas, kimonos, bath robes etc. Many of these garments require you to have some basic pattern making skills, as you will need to guess at the shapes required. However in the 20s this is not challenging.
Art in Dress (1922)This book is for aspiring fashion designers. It shows how to measure and draft simple shapes, but with a focus on creating fashionable lines and proportions, and designing. Lots of good images with gorgeous 20s women and images of their flat patterns, and then draft instructions. Blocks for kimonos, coats, basic shapes, corset cover, and all sorts of fashion dresses. Section on lingerie, children’s wear (“the Lilliputian Art”), sports/outdoor, CIRCULAR FASHION CAPES, tailored jackets, coats. Lots of comments on design and silhouette and line, and on colour combos. Swoony.
A Complete Course in Dressmaking (1922)
Not strongly recommended. On the internet archive, you can read book XII which is menswear. It does not include tailoring, but things such as shirts, pajamas, underwear which are easier to construct; and contains no patterns, except the smallest hints. Focus on construction. Bath robes, smoking jackets, caps, overalls. Fabric choices, cleaning stains, and then a whole section on upcycling womenswear.
Streiff’s Ideal System of Garment Cutting (1920)Tailoring drafts – trousers, waistcoats, coats. Unfussy instructions.
Hundreds of pages of adverts from every month of the year. Collections for 1923, 1922, 1921
Designing Boy’s and Juveniles garments (1922) Coats, suits, tuxes, trousers, bloomers, targeted at boys between 4 and 18. Lots of drafts.
Ribbon and Fabric Trimmings (1925)
Exactly what it sounds like: how to make fabric flowers, flounces, lace trims, plaits, etc to add to other projects.
Fitting Dresses and Blouses (1927)Entirely about how to solve fit problems, like sway backs and sloped shoulders. A good book for targeting those specific problems. Some photos.
Instructive Costume Design (1922)Curious book with images of historic and contemporary clothes. Fashion drawing, embroidery design, theatre costumes, designing hats, designing generally. More of a book to read for pleasure and interest than for use.
Dress and Look Slender
How lovely to find a reminder that toxic female beauty norms have existed as long as humans have had bodies. Still, this book has notes on fabrics and styles and other historic context stuff. It really is very reminiscent to magazines and books you can get now.
Intelligent Dressing (1921)
Short and sweet book of vague statements on colour and economy and harmony. Best for the list of appropriate clothes, and their costs, at different occasions. Not essential reading, but interesting for historic background for ie what ought to be worn when and with what.
NOT STRONGLY RECOMMENDED
I’ve written some notes on what struck me as so-so about these books, although of course YMMV.
Pattern Making (1922)
This is a tutorial book, as may be used in a school, for drafting. It shows how to understand drafting and measuring from scratch; however it is inelegant compared to a modern book like Aldrich.
Much of the book compares three different draft systems, to show how different their results can be; but they don’t give those draft systems in an easy to follow way. Only System A is shown. You can probably extrapolate the other systems from the comments, but it’s a bit of a faff. It shows sleeves, waists and skirt drafts, and then some patterns based on those techniques: Shirtwaist, corset cover, chemise, nightgown, kimono waist and bloomers. But it’s not really optimally laid out. The sleeve chapter is OK.
Efficiency in Dressmaking (1921)Odd book, focused on doing things swiftly and efficiently – instructions on what order to take measurements in to minimise movements. Some drafts, although no pictures – for a dress, a corset cover etc. However the instructions emphasise how to make them efficiently; lessons are laid out as suggested drills for practicing speed. I can only assume the target is maybe professional mass creators.
The A B C of Dress (1923)A style guide for 20s women. Comments on choice of materials, when to wear what. Interesting background stuff for additional details.
Textiles and Clothing (1925)I only skim read a few pages, but this is a general sewing guide with descriptors of different fabrics, how to sew a hem, you probably own a better modern version of a book like this.
USA home ec radio broadcastsLots of 8 page pink pamphlets which are the text of a home economics radio broadcasts. I skimmed some, and they were thin. You can spot them on the Archive – their titles all start with a volume number, and they have a magazine-style title like “Girl’s Dresses for Spring”
The Clothing Trades Industry (1920)
Mostly about the industry, but chapter on drafting vest, trousers, coats etc for men and women. Not great.
Colour Harmony in Dress (1922) What colours suit what complexions best, spread over 133 pages. No pictures.
The New Dressmaker (1921) By butterick; shows how to adjust patterns, fit pockets, fix things, turn hems etc. You’re supposed to buy Butterick patterns, so no patterns in here. A very good book on construction, but you likely already own something similar.