1904- Talks with the Girl Who Makes Her Own Holiday Clothes

Ladies Home Journal, December 1904.

Today I’m sharing a fun article with you that was originally published in the Ladies Home Journal in December 1904. This article is particularly interesting because it does not give specific pattern numbers, but the author has designed the clothing and suggests looking for, and adapting, patterns to create these designs. Just like today, in this way, the seamstress could have something that was unique- not the same as everyone else who made the same pattern. In these days we see a lot of people asking online for patterns to make specific dresses, but just like in the past, with our own ingenuity we can adapt some of what is already out there for our own purposes.

I also find it interesting that the author’s goal is to create each of these looks for ten dollars. That would be the equivalent of approximately $289.00 in monetary value today- before the work was even done to sew the outfit together. When we think of our goals as recreationists, this may seem like quite a hefty sum, but it’s a good reminder that it has always cost good money to make good quality clothing. When looking at the information provided, remember that the yardages were much shorter in width than we have now, so the large fabric amounts can be accounted for by the fact that looms were narrower. Piecing or larger widths was a normal part of clothing construction in days gone by, and would have to be done on large pieces, like skirts, before the pattern could be cut out. Also notice she recommends making a muslin. It’s always been a good practice!

“This month I am giving four models, any one of which may be reproduced at a cost of about ten dollars in the large Eastern cities.  Two of the models are for street suits.  To keep the expenditure within the limit I have set, a forty-four-inch material selling at seventy-five cents or less should be selected.  This can readily be found, and of a good quality, too.  Excellent mixed cheviots are always to be had at this price, as are also serges, some tweeds, attractive novelty suitings and homespuns.  Often the large shops offer a still greater variety at prices even less than seventy-five cents.”

Although simple in the extreme, the first model is really smart, with its plain skirt and well-cut coat.  The coat I have especially designed with a view to its proving serviceable as a separate wrap at odd times.  To begin with, select a coat pattern as nearly like my model as possible; and, before risking the material, cut and fit a good muslin pattern and make all necessary changes in it.  The coat as I show it in the illustration is a short three-quarter length.  This exact length will not be suited to all figures;  so, in fitting the dummy, try several lengths- some longer, some shorter than in the drawing- until a becoming length is found.

It will be observed that the coat, while suggesting the graceful outlines of the figure, is really quite loose:  loose all over- int eh bust, across the shoulders, and about the waist.

The sleeves are a moderate, comfortable bell shape, with smart upturned cuffs trimmed with straps, like the coat.  The strappings may be made of the material itself; or, if a rough-surfaced material be used for the suit, a smooth-faced material of the same tone may be employed for the straps.  If however, one intends the coat for occasional separate service it would be in better taste to have the strappings of the self material or of wide, silky-looking wool braid of the color of the goods.  I am not allowing for this brain in my calculations, or for the long coat, which will require an extra quantity of silk or farmer’s satin for lining, and each expenditure will count.

     In making the coat use a bit of soft canvas in the fronts to give it form and hold the edges well in shape.  The canvas may be used also to stiffen the cuffs.  Be sure to shrink the canvas between damp cloths before using it.  The shoulders should be cut wide, and the neck finished in the collarless way that is such a boon to the amateur dressmaker.  The back is cut in accord with the fronts-  that is, with a middle piece and with two side-backs, this forming two seams which will exactly join the front seams at the shoulder-line.  The closing of the jacket is invisible, with hooks and loops.

A narrow front gore arranged like a panel, and two wide circular portions are the three pieces in this plain skirt.  The simplicity of this model will appeal to many girls, I think;  but where it is not liked, and a fuller skirt is desired, any kilted or plaited model may be substituted, a good pattern of which can readily be found.  In the plain skirt the back fullness is arranged in an inverted box-plait, and the adjustments about the hips may be managed by the use of darts.  The skirt may be of any desired length, either a medium sweep or a round length.  As the hem finish is so narrow and will not afford much firmness, I suggest that a piece of bone-casing be inserted in the hem, the stitching to be placed through this as well as thought he material.  A drop skirt of percaline with a well-finished bottom flounce is quite necessary with this skirt.  If a seventy-five cent quality material can be employed for the suit the cost of a drop skirt can be included in the ten dollars.  This suit would be correct for a traveling gown, for church or afternoon wear, or for any general purpose.

Models suitable for general afternoon or evening wear will be found in the dressy gowns here shown.  Cashmere, voile, wool batiste or any of the soft and supple materials at inexpensive prices may be used in their development.  I have before me as I write samples of fine quality wool batiste thirty inches wide, at fifty cents a yard;  lovely soft cashmere, forty-three inches wide, at seventy five cents;  twenty-seven inch plain challis at twenty-five cents and forty-three-inch voile at seventy-five cents and less.  According to the width selected, one will require in the development of either of these models from twelve to sixteen or seventeen yards of material.

     The gown with shirred skirt, though looking intricate of construction, is really quite simple.  There is a five-gored short upper part, and on this there is a very deep flounce consisting of three gathered ruffles, one gathered on the bottom of another.  The gores of the foundation may be cut away beneath, thus saving material.  The waist closes at the back, and the yoke is made of bands of the material fagot-stitched together.  Below the yoke the material is shirred.  The only ornamentation is a band of effective ecru lace, arranged as a collar and a tab down the front.  This tab is sewed fast as far as the bottom of the yoke, from which place it falls gracefully free, and is finished with two pretty little tassels.

In the second street suit there is what one might almost call a gored jacket, while the skirt is a simple eleven-gored model with the addition of a plait at the bottom of each side seam.  Patterns can readily be obtained which will answer for this coat and skirt.  The jacket has a rather tight-fitting back and semi-fitted fronts, the shaping being done by means of the gores which take the place of darts.  There is a fly or invisible closing, though this may be altered to a closing of buttons and buttonholes when such is preferred.  The collar may be a real turned-down one, or it may be simulated, as most appeals to the maker.  The sleeve is comfortably full, with the extra fullness at top and bottom arranged in tucks.  The collar and chugs constitute the only elaboration, and they may be of a smooth cloth or of velvet of a darker tone than the material.  Buttons are employed on the collar and cuffs, and buttonholes are simulated by means of a thin silk cord of the color of the wool material.  The same button and cord arrangement is shown at the top of each plait in the skirt, but this may be omitted.

     No drop skirt is necessary with the model of this length, provided suitable petticoats of a proper length and flare are worn with the skirt.  Material may be selected from the list given above for the other street suit, though attractive developments are here suggested:  a black and white flecked tweed trimmed with gray velvet;  a light or dark gray mixed cheviot with collar and cuffs of dark gray or black velvet, or smooth cloth:  or a pretty Scotch plaid suiting trimmed with plaid green or blue.

The other dressy model has a skirt with a deep Spanish flounce, on which flounce there are stitched three wide false tucks.  These may be dispensed with if you choose.  The slight fullness at the top of the skirt may be disposed of by means of gathers.  The was it is a full, shirred one, opening slightly down the front, and laced with ribbon in a contrasting color.  The waist is piped with this ribbon.  The yoke is of inexpensive but effective all-over lace in ecru or coffee color.  The girdle is of silk to match the ribbon.

The waist of this gown, yoke and all, is made on a fitted and slightly boned lining, though the lining may be cut away beneath the yoke.  Do not cut the lining away under the opening of the V in front, as such proceeding would take away all support of the waist.  The closing is at the back.

If you want to compare values of the chart above, there are several inflation calculators online. This one goes back farther than some others, so you can plug in what you want and compare costs.

For example, for the first one, which I assume is wool, the total fabric cost was $162.71. It would take 1 3/8 yard of 44″ wide to 1 yard of 60″ wide fabric today, approximately. Let’s just say 5 1/2 yards today. So the cost of $0.75 ($21.69) per yard would be approximately $29.58 if the value of the yardage was the same. I might have my math wrong in there somewhere, but the point is, that good fabric could always be pricey. These were clothing to live life in and could last for several seasons after being remade or reworked- and since they owned less clothing in the past than we do today, it was very important that what they added to their wardrobe was of good quality so it could last without appearing worn out. With such a large rotation, our clothing will show less wear than if we had, perhaps, ten or twelve items in our wardrobe for one entire season.

Hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

4 Comments on 1904- Talks with the Girl Who Makes Her Own Holiday Clothes

  1. Charity
    December 24, 2019 at 8:00 am (5 years ago)

    What fun! Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Fanfickchick
    December 26, 2019 at 1:07 pm (5 years ago)

    How fantastic! Amazing what they considered easy and cheap compared to us. Very interesting. Thanks.

  3. Karen Mulkey
    December 27, 2019 at 6:42 am (5 years ago)

    I so enjoyed reading this post. I love how you stress that sewing with quality fabric was and is important to the avid sewist. When asked why I buy expensive fabric I reply that my time and expertise deserves the best!

  4. Quinn
    December 28, 2019 at 1:40 pm (5 years ago)

    This was a fun read! Thank you for sharing it. All the descriptions make each garment sound so straightforward, but of course they are still a lot of work to produce. :)

    Most especially, thank you for doing the math and including the calculator link at the end. It’s so helpful for putting the clothing of that past into perspective, in terms of the cost.


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