Look what arrived in the mail yesterday! My very own copy of Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing by Gretchen Hirsch.
I've been following Gretchen's blog Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing since soon after she started it in 2009. She began the blog to share her experiences while making all the patterns in the 1952 book Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing.
I followed Gretchen as she found herself caught up in the wonderful world of tailors tacks and bound buttonholes, put up tutorials for couture techniques, and started interesting discussions on body image, feminism, and the pros and cons of foundation garments.
The book is illustrated by Sun Young Park and her gorgeous, delicate illustrations are modern with a vintage feel that perfectly suits the book.
Inside the front cover is a fat envelope stuffed with all the patterns in the book - there are ten basic patterns with thirteen variations - a whopping total of 23 different garments! The patterns each come in a US size 2 - 16, but for space saving reasons they are printed overlapping each other so you have to trace the pattern pieces rather than cut the pattern sheets that come with the book.
Chapter One is Sewing Retro 101. Gertie looks at what styles to look for in contemporary patterns to get a retro feel, where to source vintage patterns, how to work out your vintage size, tracing vintage patterns, what those pattern perforations mean in unprinted vintage patterns, and how to store your patterns.
Chapter Two is Prepping (Tools, Machines, Fabric). This goes over the tools you need for sewing. There's a section on fabric - how and where to find it, and what to take into consideration when choosing fabric for a garment. Gertie discusses drape vs. body, fabric weight, and tailoring, as well as how to wash and pre-treat fabrics.
Chapter Three covers Essential Techniques. Cutting, hand stitches, seam finishes, zippers, buttonholes and hems are all covered here, and each one has several different techniques. As well as the more basic ones covered in every how-to sewing book, Gertie's book looks at some lovely couture techniques such as pad stitching (for applying hair canvas on the collars and lapels of tailored coats/jackets), Hong Kong seams, bound buttonholes, covered buttons, and horsehair facing (for adding structure to circle skirts).
All the techniques are illustrated either with step-by-step photographs or diagrams, which are clear and easy to follow.
Chapter Four is Stabilizing and Tailoring. First there's an explanation of where to use stabilisers, and a breakdown of the different types of interfacing available. There's a section on using boning in garments, either to bone a bodice or a high-waisted skirt, and another on where and how to use stay stitching and stay tape to stablise the edges of garments.
The Tailoring section covers pad stitching on lapels and collars, setting in tailored sleeves, lining, and adding facings. There's also a handy Vintage-to-Modern Dictionary for tricky terms such as "straight of goods" or "buttonhole twist".
Chaper Five is Patternmaking. Here Gertie shows you how to customise your patterns by changing the neckline on a bodice, adding fullness in skirts in the form of ruffles or gathers, moving darts or splitting one dart into several smaller ones. This is all standard pattern drafting stuff covered in most vintage sewing books, but I'm thrilled to see it included in this book because Gertie makes it seem so useful and do-able! Next is a section on drafting skirts and collars from scratch.
There are detailed instructions on how to draft a dirndl (gathered skirt) pattern, and a circle skirt pattern from your own measurements, and also how to draft and sew several different collars.
Part Two includes instructions for all 23 patterns. Just like the original Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing, Gertie's book has several variations on each garment, so once you've adjusted the pattern and sewn it up perfectly, you can sew it again with slight changes and get a totally different piece!
First there's the Pencil Skirt. With two darts at the front, and a high curved waistband, this is wardrobe classic. There are instructions on lining your skirt, and also on adding boning to the waistband to stop it from buckling and scrunching down. I can't wait to try this!
The Portrait Blouse looks like a really useful wardrobe staple, and I can imagine it would be heavenly in silk. In fact, Gertie provides added tips on how to handle slippery silk for this blouse (the trick is to hand baste the seams first).
The Sultry Sheath uses the skirt from the Pencil Skirt, so you only have to fit the bodice if you've already made the skirt. I really like the dramatic v-neck. My only thought is that it would be nice to match up the two darts in the bodice with the two darts in the skirt. Maybe it is too difficult? I think it would look a lot neater.
Next pattern is the Scalloped-Waist Skirt. It's a full, gored skirt (Gertie describes it as half way between an A-line and a Circle skirt) which is lined in silk organza and has a horsehair hem for structure.
The Bow-Tied Blouse would be perfect to wear to work as a librarian, I've got to make one.
There's also a Peter Pan Blouse version.
And one with a keyhole neckline and gathers at the shoulder.
The same bodice pattern is used for the Tiki Dress, one of my favourites. The back is shirred for extra comfort and ease.
Or use it to make the Strapless Party Dress, with a full circle skirt and boning in the bodice. I love the fabric Gertie has chosen, an embroidered organdy.
The Wiggle Dress is so Joan Harris, isn't it? I'm really looking forward to making this one, so demure and sexy at the same time.
The Dropped-Waist Cocktail Dress is another variation on the pattern, and has cap sleeves and a dirndl skirt. So dramatic in leopard print.
There's also a 1940's style version with a zip down the front.
For those of us wanting a challenge, or itching to try some of the tailoring techniques, Gertie has included The Suit Jacket, based on Dior's Bar Suit from his 1947 New Look collection. So feminine, and perfect with the Straight Waistline Full Skirt.
Finally, there's The Coat Dress, which can be made unlined with Hong Kong seams for a neat interior.
What a great collection of patterns! If you made everything in the book, you'd have a whole wardrobe, and learnt enough sewing techniques to make pretty much anything you wanted. I'm hoping that over the next few months I can start working my way through these patterns, and sharing my experiences with you.