What she [the home sewer] creates must be worthy of close comparison with the work of a professional.”

The all-around, skilful designing hobbyist  . . . soon learns that when she wears her newly made dress into a room filled with her friends, it must seem to mingle confidently with other dresses from the hands of experienced, top-notch designers.  At this moment, comes the acid test.  In her heart she knows that her competitors, the top-notch professionals, are people like herself – just folks who like to “make things” from fabric.  And she knows that they have only two hands, as she has.  What gives that blue dress the beauty it seems to have?  How did the designer get the simple beauty in that seemingly “perfectly plain” plum-colored gown Jacqueline is wearing today?  How did the person who planned the sequin-trimmed cocktail suit decide just where to put that brilliant accent on the side front?  What is that certain something in the dress Annabelle wears – that certain deceiving something- that makers her appear to be the gracious, womanly, genteel person that everyone here knows she is not? Few are the women amateur designers who have not had a similar experience; who will not admit secretly, that most of the afternoon was spent in just such a frustrating comparison of their new dress with masterpieces in ready-to-wear worn by others.

Obviously such comparisons are neither just or fair.  The dabbler in oils can be content achieving a moderate degree of success.  The dabbler in music intends to cultivate her talent for her own pleasure and for her friends’ entertainment.  But not so with the amateur dabbling in dress design.  What she creates must be worthy of close comparison with the work of a professional.  It must be as “smart,” as “clever,” as “distinctive,” as the creations turned out by the nation’s leaders in that certain field.”

(Fundamentals of Apparel Design by Harriet Pepin @1948 Funk & Wagnalls Company, NY, page 7)

I am browsing Fundamentals of Apparel Design by Harriet Pepin, a primer for the home-sewer or beginning fashion design student.  Written in 1948 the work provides a surprisingly still somewhat current overview of the fashion industry along with the timeless artistry behind fashion design.  The illustrations are in simple black and white but drawn with a kind of refreshing joie de vivre that the modern reader is almost jolted, Pepin’s images of easygoing contentment contrasting so vastly from our own contemporary fashion photos of glaring adolescents adopting strange poses in bizarre setting.   The last chapter called “The Middle Twentieth Century Exhibit” is a compilation of photos that will delight any student of vintage fashion. 

So many sewing texts are dry affairs and given the aging yellowing pages and plain binding of my library copy I did not expect much in the way of entertainment. 

Well, this proves you can’t judge a book by its cover

Pepin foregoes an academic tone and writes in a forthright, almost chummy way reminiscent of other popular advice books from this period on manners, taste, clothing, household management,etc. that were directed at women.  Works which today we might find a tad bit condescending, but at the time I don’t believe they were read that way. 

Amidst this friendly encouraging tone Pepin offers a lot to unpack.

When reading the work of Pepin one wonders how the women of her generation, given their propensity for telling it like it is, ever came to be personified as wholly downtrodden and stifled. Raised by my great-aunt, I came into a lot of contact with older generations.  Though their life choices were certainly circumscribed, their tongues, as I remember, were not.  Today we might be excoriated by the Annabelle comment, but it is true – we all have known some Annabelle’s in our lives.  (And they always seem to come with an endless clothing allowance! So frustrating to behold.)

Not only has fashion changed, but also fashion modeling.  All of the models gracing the pages of Pepin’s work look as if they are enjoying life and are about to make pleasant conversation with the reader.  So unlike leafing through a contemporary fashion magazine where the models adopt strange postures in bizarre settings and glare aggressively leaving the reader to wonder if paper could speak would it telling me to f… off!?

And directly relating to the above quote and what spurred my own thinking – something I have felt but not articulated nearly so well as Pepin –  

What she [the home sewer] creates must be worthy of

 close comparison with the work of a professional.”


Do you as a modern home-sewer feel that others have unfairly judged your home-sewn clothes?

 That there is no room for “a moderate degree of success” and if your home-sewn clothes do not rival high-end RTW then your stuff is judged to be substandard? 

Have you endured some criticism or cattiness from other women about your sewing? 

That people who would accept wonkiness in say a hand-crocheted gift, become downright fierce in their judgment of your much more technically-difficult-to-achieve home-sewn garment? 

Have you spent endless amounts of time comparing your own garments with RTW and come up short in your own estimation, even if others made no comments?

I know that I have felt unfairly judged, and that I have unfairly judged myself.  I am wondering about the experience of other home-sewers.  Can you relate to any of this?

Next Post: Saturday, June 19, 2010; Simplicity 9825 Yoked Straight or A-Line Skirt: Pattern Review


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