Today, I'm going to go in a little different direction than usual and do a book review. Anyone who has read a few posts on this blog knows that I am a history nut who loves to sew - thus my obsession with "vintage" sewing machines, patterns, and fabrics.
Imagine my delight when I stumbled across a book that combines these all into one beautiful, high quality volume. Sew Retro, by Judi Ketteler, traces the history of domestic sewing in the United States since the nineteenth century and the advent of the home sewing machine. For the fun factor, it includes easy, vintage-style patterns to make with today's retro prints or your own stash of vintage fabric.
Judi's blog (which is also where you can go to buy this book if you're interested) because it is a nicer picture than one I'd take myself. The book is larger than it seems in the picture, ring-bound with glossy pages and beautiful photos and illustrations.
|This is an example of some of the charming illustrations taken from vintage periodicals|
While Sew Retro has plenty of eye candy - or "sewing porn" - with the many pictures of vintage sewing machines and fabric swatches, it is also a little slice of women's history. It explores the ways home sewing evolved as a response to women's changing roles in society and vice versa. Judi begins the narrative in the 1800s with the "Cult of True Womanhood" and explains how femininity was defined in the ladylike pursuit of needlework. She continues throughout the twentieth century as women sewed for thrift and economy (during the Depression and World War II), and then later for relaxation and creativity as they became "liberated" and no longer had to sew to keep their family in clothing. We see how the industry kept pace with these changes, and offered women a chance to express themselves through fashion in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s.
Each chapter in the historical progression is accompanied by a pattern that represents the time period. This is truly an interactive history book in the sense that you can make these simple items that give you a feel for the women who would have made something similar years ago.
Here is one of the patterns from the Victorian Era when women kept their treasured sewing tools in dainty needle cases they made themselves.
And if all this wasn't enough, Judi introduces us to some of today's designers who produce retro fabrics and patterns, and/or upcycle second-hand textiles in interesting ways.
There is no end to the delights for a vintage sewing lover - an added value is the inclusion of a full sized pattern sheet for some of the projects in the book.
Judi has done a great job of giving us a history of domestic sewing and American womanhood with a fresh twist. If you like to collect vintage fabric like I do - or just appreciate vintage-inspired modern prints - then you'll certainly enjoy making some of the cute patterns in this book that are fun, updated versions of clothing and accessories that American women made in the past.