Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Best Patternmaking Book Ever

I love vintage sewing books. I used to only look for the most current books, until I had a light bulb moment: if you want to sew vintage patterns, you need vintage sewing books! Plus, they're filled with fabulous illustrations and photos for inspiration.

The one vintage book that I refer to time and time again is called Design Your Own Dress Patterns: a Primer in Pattern Making for Women Who Like to Sew by Adele P. Margolis.

It was originally published in 1959, but my edition is from 1971. There are a lot of expensive patternmaking text books out there, but for my money, this is really the best one for the home dressmaker. I found my copy for under $20 on Alibris! Also, I believe it has been reprinted by Dover in a new edition, but I'm not sure how it varies from the original.

This book tells you everything you need to know to make your own dress patterns. You can either start with a sloper, or adapt a pattern you already have. You want to change a straight skirt into a circle skirt? Add a midriff band? Turn darts into gathers? Yes!

Make leg o' mutton sleeves? (No? I didn't think so.)

Anyway, snatch up a copy if you can. Adele P. Margolis is (was?) one special lady. I especially love the dedication in my edition:

To my editor and very good friend,
Harold Kuebler, who has borne up nobly through a decade of darts

Can't you just see poor Harold Kuebler? In my mind, he's a tweed-wearing fellow who dreamt of editing the great American novel. Alas, that was not to be. It was Harold's lot in life to edit primers for ladies who like to sew. Did he indeed accept his burden nobly? Or did he drown his lost dreams in dry martinis on his lunch break? I suppose we'll never know. But thank you, Harold. This lady who likes to sew salutes you.


  1. HEY! Don't knock the leg o' mutton!

    But seriously, I agree - I have a shelf of old sewing books and they are as useful as they are gorgeous.

    Loving your blog and will watch eagerly as you transform from sewist to couturier under the kindly apprenticeship of VNBFBS!

  2. Ha! Every time I see a leg o' mutton illustration in an old sewing book, I think, when will THAT come back in style? Because I just can't imagine it.

    Thank you for the compliment; I visited your lovely blog also and will continue to do so!

  3. Hello there Gertie, found your blog thru a link you left on your parfait dress on flickr and I'm so glad I followed it :o) I've been a fan of your creations that you've posted on BurdaStyle too.
    Have a nice weekend, EmilyKate

  4. I have the Margolis re-edition from Dover and I love it too! I don't think they differ much, I recognized that illustration right away.

    Doesn't it make you want to slash and spread with a vengeance?

    Ok, maybe that's just me, LOL!

  5. Thank you for the pattern book tip, have not encountered this one before, I really like that skirt treatment on the dress (view b). And ditto on vintage sewing books, I have a few from the 40's and 50's and I still find them very useful, since they cover some stuff that newer books doesn't.

  6. I'm so glad that I'm not the only person out there that loves old sewing books. I don't think I have one that is more recent than 1962. Thanks for blogging - I love your style and just added you to my Google Reader. :)

  7. Hey, I'm waiting for my copy of Ms Margolis' book from, my favourite site (apart from yours and all the other yummy sewing sites!!).
    She sounds like a very special lady.

  8. Have just ordered this book AND her book on tailoring!

    You might be interested that she branched out into poetry at the age of 97:

    She sounds amazing. RIP, Adele!

  9. Actually, I just have to post this link to her obituary too:

    A poem by Adele to her best friend Alice:

    Telephone Conversation While Cleaning Refrigerator

    Listen, Alice.
    The hell with him.
    Give every part of your house
    a breath of fresh air.
    There are plenty more where he
    came from.
    Leave 1/2 cup of Mule Team
    Borax in a partially covered
    container where needed.
    Don't dwell on it.
    Change every two to three
    Ditto for him.

  10. I have that Vogue sewing book, 1972? It was my first sewing book and a gift from my former neighbor a woman who could sew anything. You're right it's wonderful for traditional techniques and how to do any handstitch.

  11. Ooh. Just found this old post. I will be getting this book!

  12. You never fail to have the answers I am looking for. In addition to the answers you also say it in such a clever way.

  13. Dear Gertie

    Been following your blog for about 6 months and I love it and am learning a lot despite being old enough to be your mum!

    I followed your link about sewing in literature and thought you might like to share a favourite bit in The Plague and I by Betty MacDonald which my daughter and I have giggled over more than once.

    Betty's mum is had written a letter to her in hospital where she is being treated for TB. She writes of Betty's sister, Dede, who is making a coat and won't take any advice,

    "It is very difficult for me to sit here quietly evening after evening, watching her trying to force the sleeves in upside down".

  14. I got the Dover reprint of the 1985 edition. Hope it's as good as the original.

  15. Actually leg-o-mutton sleeves were in fashion in those retro-colonial fashions of the seventies. Mostly inspired by the bicentennial.

    And my nomination for "if you could only have one sewing book" is "The Costume Technician's Handbook". It covers basic pattern making, a huge range of sewing techniques, dyeing, mask and moldmaking, millinary etc.
    I have this version:

  16. those are mt three most used sewing books!


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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