Dressmaking for the Obsessive

Sorting family possessions, unless you come from a particularly orderly family, is full of highs and lows. Icky, cockroach poop-filled lows of drawers that haven’t been opened since grandma died, but the highs of items unexpectedly saved. Things you never knew were kept, or never imagined were brought on the journeys that brought your people to the places you are now cleaning out.

There have been a number of remarkable finds in a recent packing up of a house that was my grandparents’, probably the largest my generation will have to do, and I want to share one of the most extraordinary with an audience that will gasp as I did. I found an 1895 book of dress patterns. In Russian. This is the title page:

Russian text, with embellishments, date 1895.

Around forty pages, it is clearly meant as a comprehensive covering of all the basics, including a riding habit, aprons, travelling cloaks, and outfits for a little boy and girl.

Did you ever wonder how to fit a blouse over a corset?

Dress patterns showing blouse, sleeve and corset treatments.

Or what the pattern would look like to cut a leg o’ mutton sleeve?

Dress patterns showing sailor-suit dress and sleeve treatments.

Or how to adjust a high collar pattern to a décolletage suitable for evening?

Dress pattern showing evening gown treatment.

This book may have travelled with my great-grandmother from Harbin, or may have been passed around among members of the sizeable Russian community that existed on the outskirts of Sydney in the early twentieth century. My costumier friends are going to love me forever.

Categories: history, work and family

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7 replies

  1. As soon as I saw the headline I went “Oooohhh!”
    That’s a stunning find, Orlando. It’s a reminder of how fantastic, how skilled, tailoring was by the late 19th century – and that’s anyone able to do it, not only professionals.

  2. That is just the most wonderful find!
    The pattern piece shapes are so clear – no wonder your costumier friends will love you.

  3. Oh wow, that’s an amazing thing to find. I have just sewn my first dress which I also drafted completely from scratch – this sort of book in a modern version looks like it would be extremely useful!

  4. How fantastic. Your costumier friends will indeed love you forever. I won’t tell mine because they would be consumed with envy.

  5. Avoid your friends no more, Mindy! I have scanned the whole thing, and will email you the file, once I’ve rotated/cropped/compressed the images. Same applies to everyone – get in touch and I’ll share the goodies.

  6. That is fantastic. I have several people who will be very excited by this! Thank you so much Orlando.

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