Spotlight: 1943 Singer Dressmaking Manual

Spotlight 6: Fun in Diagon Magpie Alley

I wasn’t thinking of returning this, but that stamp makes me wonder how many people have tried to do so! 😀

Welcome to Mukashi no Sewing’s sixth spotlight! A few weeks ago, I alluded to a gem that I found in an antique shop in Port Townsend, and I thought this week would be perfect to share it with you! I spent most of my trip enjoying the natural beauty of the area, but I did stop off in Port Townsend’s adorable waterfront district to peek into a few antique shops in the hopes of finding something fun. The first place I went was more what I would consider an older style of antique store — crowded, dusty, and not particularly well-organized. When I walked into the next store, though, I knew I was on home ground. Magpie Alley was well-lit, organized by both theme and item type, and the owner (and her sister, who happened to be at the shop while I was there) was incredibly friendly and kind. I honestly wish I could have bought more just to support them, but I was very happy to at least buy this!

I can’t even express how much I wish I could visit the Singer Sewing Center!

For ten whole dollars, I have acquired this incredible Singer Illustrated Dressmaking Guide from 1943! I would have been excited about any vintage sewing guide, honestly, but to find one that was specifically for my sewing machine was particularly thrilling. For example, it has all kinds of additional information on using attachments I own such as the ruffler and buttonholer:

True story – when I last got my machine serviced, the gal told me how these accessories are cheap because no one uses things like rufflers anymore. 😀
I still kind of have PTSD from the last go-’round with buttonholes…

Having more examples of how do things with these attachments beyond just the “how-to” in my manuals is really helpful because it’s not like I can pop down to a Singer Sewing Center anymore for assistance. Although this manual predates my machine by about 18 years, the attachments really didn’t change much in that time so the information is still really relevant.

The other reason this is so great is that it’s a primary source for how women were actually constructing their garments – and for what purposes. It’s all well and good to look at clothes from a particular era and design something that looks like them, but that’s not history. History is understanding how clothes were sewn and why. For example, in the 1940s zippers were hard to come by due to the war, so clothes tended to be fastened with buttons. Designs were plainer and used less fabric because of rationing as well. Primary sources are incredibly important to understanding the people, politics, and economics of an era. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making a 1940s dress with a zipper if that works better for you! I just urge everyone to first find out why and how clothes were originally made, so that modifications can be made thoughtfully and sensibly. 🙂

If you’ve got 25 minutes to spare, I can’t recommend this video enough! Abby Cox really explains the research process and how to improve yours!

Reading some of the later articles in my manual, you can really get a sense for what was important at the time – for example, prioritizing practicality and ease of laundering for children’s clothes:

What I really want to know is why six dresses and six pairs of panties is enough, and not seven? There is no explanation given, sadly…

I’m so happy with my new acquisition, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into the past with me! I have lots more exciting things coming up, so I look forward to seeing you back here with me next week! ❤

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