The Culture of Sewing, edited by Barbara Burman

by Erin on February 21, 2007

In my prowls through the library I came across this title, and I have to say I learned an enormous number of things from it, including:

  • Vogue, Butterick, and McCalls produced more than 600 patterns a year each in the 1930s and early 1940s, dropping to an average of 500 patterns a year thereafter. (And when you put it that way, I hardly have any patterns at all! Let's see, the 10 years of the 1950s times three pattern companies times 500 … and that doesn't even count Advance or the newspaper pattern companies … or modern patterns … )
  • McCalls were the first printed patterns, patenting them in 1919. When the patent expired in 1938, most of the other pattern companies started using them, except for Vogue, which continued to use hand-cut patterns until 1956. McCalls was also the first company to produce patterns that were licensed copies of Paris designs.
  • The price of a Singer sewing machine in the 1860s was $100 — $50 if you were the wife of a minister (which should tickle the writer of this funny and useful blog; thanks to Sendhil for the link!).

The Culture of Sewing also led me to this book (which I'll have to try to get from interlibrary loan), and this one, which I can't believe I didn't have, and will now have to buy.

All in all a successful read … although some of the essays (it's a collection) were much too theoretical for my enjoyment, most of them were very good reads. One even had a word I can't find anything else about: humby, in this context:

Household duties — worried over new poplin dress, bought last winter which is a perfect humby — looking as if it were rough dried. Pressed it.

This is from the diary of a Susan McManus, in Philadelphia, in 1869. There was an actress named Humby about that time (it's a commonish surname) but I can't make any links or find evidence of other uses like this. Yet.

Is there anything more pleasurable than reading a good book about a subject you're fascinated by? (If there is, don't tell me, I have enough trouble keeping up with all I have to do already.)

[No cover image, as it's NSFW. It's an arresting and beautiful image, but I have to say that one of the New Laws of the Internet should be that if you want people to blog about your book, it helps to not put nekkid people on the cover.]

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