Lucille Rivers: Dressmaker, Educator, Entrepreneur

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Lucille Rivers, age 30

5 Sept. 1943, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, NY

A while back I was browsing for sewing books at the local charity thrift store. Most of their non-fiction books run about $1.50. I found one from the 1960’s with nice illustrations, brought it home, shelved it and forgot about it. During the process of researching V necklines, I cracked open the book and looked through it with fresh eyes.

Its cover looks like just another ho-hum, how-to sewing book. But inside the book are light and airy illustrations unique to the early 1960’s, and a matter-of-fact presentation of difficult techniques. The book is “Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book—Sewing How-To for Home and Family:  Quick, Easy Professional Ways to Simplify Home Sewing”, Hardcover—1961 by Lucille Rivers, Better Homes and Gardens Editors. Currently amazon.com has 28 used copies from $2.06. Two reviewers give it an overall rating of 5 stars.

I would definitely recommend this book for its lovely presentation on the topic of fashion sewing at home. The chapter, Making evening and cocktail fashions, treats the inner construction of a built-in slip, boned bodice, and strapless top, but in a way that just makes it seem very likely one will succeed.

The author, Lucille Rivers, was born in 1913 and lived in New Jersey, not far from New York City. There were seven children in her family and in 1920 her father was working  as a buyer of women’s hosiery. She began sewing at age 12 in the mid 1920’s during a very exciting time in fashion. She learned design and construction well enough to provide dressmaking services in her own neighborhood.  Her older sister produced fashion shows for McCall patterns in 1930. Seventeen  year old Lucille became a dressmaker for the shows. The fashion shows were held at department stores and Lucille became a lecturer at these events. In the middle of the Depression, she promoted the very necessary skill of home sewing while employed by McCall’s patterns.  Her enthusiasm for her topic was evident. By 1937 and at age 24 Miss Lucille Rivers had embarked on a career that would span decades.  She wrote a newspaper column,  hosted a sewing show on TV, and lectured in cities across the United States.

Here is an outline of a Lucille Rivers lecture from 1967. It was addressed to an auditorium-sized audience who attended her class for one week, Monday-Friday, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.

Monday: Basic Pattern Fitting

Tuesday: Interlining and Underlining

Wednesday: Professional Tailoring Details

Thursday: Professional Sewing Tips

Friday: Linings, Finishing Details, plus Fashion Show

A newspaper reporter of the time interviewed and described the 54 year old Miss Rivers:

“Miss Rivers is a dynamic and energetic personality with soft brown eyes and an enthusiasm for her profession that is quite contagious. She classifies herself not only as a seamstress, teacher, lecturer and writer but also as a promoter of fine fabrics and sewing accessories. She carries her show with her in three large suitcases and two hat boxes. The meticulous tailoring of the wine colored wool suit and long black coat in which she arrived confirmed better than words could her reputation as a seamstress. “

“Miss Rivers makes all of her own clothes as well as the ensembles she uses as demonstration pieces for her show. The 14 complete costumes for this spring lecture tour were made in a month’s time.

“I can complete easily a suit for myself in a day and a half,” she admitted.

Both Google books and the Brooklyn Newsstand at the Brooklyn Public Library have some  Lucille Rivers’ columns.

Here is an example of one of Miss River’s columns, “Sewing Tips”,  from 1977.

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Another excerpt from a 1974 column:

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An article in an Australian newspaper, where she traveled to speak, features a photo of a very lovely and composed Lucille Rivers at home in her NYC apartment. She sewed the slipcovers and curtains and her cat is named Squeaker.

http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/44023292

Lucille Rivers seemed to have discovered her passion early in life. She was actively engaged in the world of fashion dressmaking and home sewing for over 50 years at least. She began her dressmaking career in the 1920’s and the 1930’s. Throughout the war years of the 1940’s she was  an active teacher. She produced a few sewing patterns for Prominent Designer in the late 50’s and early 60’s that were very stylish and flattering. Her Fitting and Pattern Adjustment fact sheet from the 1960’s seems to have a basic pattern for bodice, skirt and sleeve that would then be closely fitted to the figure. The changes marked onto the fitting muslin would then be transferred to a purchased pattern. The pattern could be further modified to obtain a specific design.

4 thoughts on “Lucille Rivers: Dressmaker, Educator, Entrepreneur

    • I was only going to get her take on bias binding and V necklines, but now am reading the book, chapter by chapter. When Lucille Rivers wrote this book in 1961 she had about 36 years of experience in her field, sewing and teaching.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I enjoyed this so much, Carol. Thanks for your research. Ms. Rivers was an entrepreneur in every sense of the word as well as a successful dressmaker and teacher. I think that even though she grew up in an era where women were geared towards marriage, she made great progress because her family and environment supported the direction of her development and profession.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, EmilyAnn. I enjoyed learning about Ms. River’s life’s work. She said she sewed to relax. I read somewhere that she attributed her success not only to her early interest and preparation, but also to being in the right place at the right time–so that one opportunity led to another. When she became interested in sewing at age 12, her mother encouraged her. When she was 17, she worked with her sister in fashion show production. She had to wait until she was 21 to open her own dressmaking shop because the lease of a shop had legal restrictions as to age. I think her early exposure to public speaking at the fashion shows must have been very helpful to her.
    I just found another clip about her education that seems to suggest she attended classes at one of the fashion schools in NYC:
    “She prepared for her dressmaking career by studying art, anatomy, history of costumes, pattern making and draping (the ability to make a dress by draping fabric directly onto a body form, without benefit of a pre-cut pattern) either through study courses or learning by working for manufacturers.”

    Like

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