Bergdorf Goodman sketches


The Thomas J. Watson Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC is now a digital collection. Among its holdings are sketches from Bergdorf Goodman’s custom salon. The drawings are by famous designers of the 1930’s including Schiaparelli and Vionnet.

The image is from another digital collection, The New York Public Library. It is from 1937 and titled:

Robe du soir en cloqué noir, ornée de motifs de strass et d’arums.

1930’s Dress Details

“Seven new sleeves to update your last year’s frocks and bring them right up-to-date!”


In this Laura Baldt pattern, the skirt is part of a bodice/skirt combination. The bodice is concealed by the belted overblouse. It may be that the skirt is attached to a lining as shown in the “Linings” section of Clothing Construction by Brown, Gorham, and Keever (1928, revised 1934).





Sewing the 1930’s One Piece Dress

Hathitrust has a full copy of the 1933 edition of Practical Dress Design, A Laboratory Manual in Fitting and Free-hand Pattern Making by Mabel D. Erwin, Professor of Clothing and Textiles, Texas Technological College, Lubbock, Texas.

The author illustrates how she designs her One Piece Dress on page 176.;view=1up;seq=315

Here are three Laura Baldt patterns from the mid 1930’s for One Piece Dresses. The dresses are easy to make and use just one main piece. However the details make them unique and memorable. On the first dress, scallops accent the sleeves and call attention to the large buttons at the waist and on the pocket.

On the second dress the bow serves a few functions. It holds the cape on the shoulders and the bow provides an interesting color contrast. Its wide bands suggests a yoke at the neckline. The center front pleat and belt with contrasting buckle also add a nice touch.

I like the buttoned-back belt accent on the third dress and the pattern layout. “This slim cotton print dress is the softly tailored type favored by all smart women. It has the raglan shoulder effect so becoming to the average figure. Note the tricky flared sleeves–cool besides being new and smart. The easy-to-make one-piece dress is also fascinating in pastel linens or tub silks.”







Adapting to change


Laura Baldt was the author of Clothing For Women; Selection, Design, Construction; A Practical Manual for School and Home, by Laura I. Baldt. Published in 1916 and reprinted in 1917. Her book can be viewed online at$b103138;view=1up;seq=7

In the mid 1930’s in the midst of the Great Depression she was the editor for a newspaper pattern company. These few ads show a very current and chic outlook.

The first two are from 1934 and the last is from 1936.

Laura Baldt also authored pamphlets for the Department of Agriculture that were used in education programs during the Depression.


This “shirtmaker frock” is from 1936 and features the scalloped binding so popular at the time. Scalloped bindings are often seen in Depression era quilts. It’s possible that women in sewing groups sponsored by the federal government liked to show off their skills this way.


Online Historic Costume Collections



Available online  for day-dreaming or studying are two museum collections–one in Ohio and one in Kyoto. Their displays of garments, shoes and hats span the centuries.

I learned earlier that Ohio State University Historic Costume and Textiles Collection purchased the Ethel Traphagen School of Design’s costume collection. You can learn more about their Traphagan collection here:

Traphagen Collection

But OSU also has an extensive collection that is organized by decades from 1750-1999. The costumes are displayed from many angles so you can see the back and sides. There is also the option to view the objects within the context of an OSU museum exhibit.

Main entry portal:

Kyoto Costume Institute’s collection is lovely. The garments are displayed with the front and side view and the zoom feature allows close inspection. The collection spans the years 1750-1990.

The image of textile designs is from another online museum:

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Art & Architecture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1910). [Seven textile designs.] Retrieved from


Lucille Rivers: Dressmaker, Educator, Entrepreneur


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 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, 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.


Another excerpt from a 1974 column:


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.

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.

The Value of Videos

I once read a comment on a dressmaking blog from a young woman who lived in a mining camp in the middle of Australia. More than likely she had no local resources to help her learn how to be a tailor or dressmaker–no fabric stores, no sewing classes, no library–nothing but a desire to learn to be a tailor or dressmaking. For anyone living in a similarly isolated situation, videos can greatly help supplement reading material. I am a big fan of online libraries and low-cost used books. If you keep searching you will find the information you seek and then some. Be very wary about forking over the big bucks for a rare book, there is very likely little in it that could not be found in other more accessible sources. The nice thing about dressmaking and tailoring is that the basic construction techniques vary little over the years. In fact, some of the loveliest sewing surprises are found in the older books found in online libraries and book depositories.

Here are two tailoring videos I chanced upon today: How to make Handmade Button Holes and Making a collar. Both are by The Yorkshire Tailor, who began as a tailor’s apprentice on Savile Row in the early 1980’s. Although I prefer to work buttonholes in another direction, there is much to learn from here. The collar video is very interesting also. I don’t think I’ve seen this method of establishing the roll in the collar before. I’m also including the video by aluminumfish of Mr. Pasquale’s buttonholes showing the direction I prefer to work handmade buttonholes.