This blog post is meant to be an index for helping you to access free sewing books on Archive.org from the 1900-1910s. These sewing manuals would originally have been used in conjunction with paper sewing patterns of this period.
Why Sewing Books? Can’t I Just Read the Pattern?
Well, you can… kind of. If you have sewn with original sewing patterns, or reproductions of them, you know that they can be very vague. Sewing instructions of this period, if they existed at all, would have been a few short, written paragraphs with no illustrations. Butterick had the patent on the illustrated instructions, and patterns from about the mid-1910s on have a few simple illustrations but can still be quite vague. Short version: Don’t expect any patterns of this period to have in-depth instructions! They were mostly a suggestion rather than a walk-through. I always suggest in my patterns that readers reference the free period sewing books available online. There is a plethora of them!
Using these sewing books in conjunction with the antique patterns is how our predecessors would have approached their sewing projects. Sewing was also a technical skill that would have been passed down through the generations, or part of a home economics program. Since most students no longer have access to home economics, we are lucky to have a written record of techniques. Pre-20th century books would loosely explain technique, but not always illustrate. As printing technology advanced, so, too, did the practical sharing of knowledge. You may find books reaching towards the 1920s have more in-depth instruction, though I have not previewed each link.
Special note: don’t discount books that were addressed towards children. They have valuable information regardless of age, and sewing would have been a skill taught to girls as part of their education during this period. If you’re learning to sew from scratch, starting with the lessons in a girls’ sewing book could help walk you through the basics (and I say girl’s simply because that’s how the period addressed them- I obviously think sewing is open to anyone!)
Please keep in mind that I haven’t previewed all these books and the information and beliefs expressed within are indicative of the period in which they originated (true when viewing any historical primary source documents). Even sewing books can sneak in some cringeworthy content, so don’t be surprised…
Here are a selection of some sewing books available on Archive.org.
1901: Home and School Sewing
1905: Dressmaking Up to Date
1907: Textiles and Clothing
1909: Sewing Tablet: A New and Practical Course of Graded Sewing Texts for Public and Private Schools (this one is quite fun as it has scanned stitch and fabric swatches, too.)
1911: Sewing For Little Girls
1911: The Dressmaker (By Butterick)
1911: Educational Needlecraft
1913: Home Dressmaking
1915: A Handbook of Sewing
1918: Thrift Clothing
1918: Knitting and Sewing
1918: Alterations and How to Make Them (for menswear)
1919: A Manual of Home-Making
1919: Garments for Girls
1919: Dress-Making Made Easy