Period Sewing Techniques – Butterick, Beeton’s and Beyond.

By British artist William Kay Blacklock, popular around the turn of the century (19th to 20th). Title not known.

By British artist William Kay Blacklock, popular around the turn of the century (19th to 20th). Title not known.

I have this thing about Edwardian fashion: the S-curve, pigeon-front waists, the whole shebang. Can’t put it into words, it’s just the way it is. I go especially gaga (no, not her) over the intricate lace inserts placed into unlined waists and those lovely, white lawn dresses. I know how I’d do it, but how did THEY do it? There must have been a correct order in which complex layouts were assembled. And I figured that if all that lace was The Style of the day, then the “how to” of sewing it in would have hardly been kept secret.

The information had to be somewhere, I just needed to find it. And then, while trolling through antique books on eBay, I found this – a 1916 original (second edition) copy of The Dressmaker, by The Butterick Sewing Company.1916 The Dressmaker

How should the inside of a boned waist look? No sweat.

1916 Boned lined waist

How should a correctly-made placket look like from the inside? Here, let me show you.

1916 Inside view of placket opening showing hooks and eyes

How does one re-size armholes with a flat-iron? See page 123.

1916 Shrinking the small sleeve

So now when I go all Edwardian, I have a period-correct reference to help me end up with a (more or less, depending on user error) correct-looking garment.

And what about those lovely Victorian embroidered patterns and tatted lace collars? Look no further than (Mrs. Isabella) Beeton’s Book of Needlework, published in 1870 in Great Britain. Full of detail and diagrams AND available to everyone, everywhere as an e-book, thanks to The Gutenberg Project. Find it at

Embroidery pattern from Beeton's

Embroidery pattern from Beeton’s

Lace edging pattern from Beeton's

Lace edging pattern from Beeton’s

But wait!, I hear you cry.

You’re supposedly in the midst of going all Regency. How are your nifty little Victorian and Edwardian guides gonna help you with 1810, smarty pants?

Excellent question (and a bit of an attitude, I must say).

For Regency techniques I have: absolutely nothing published in that time period. At least, not yet. I don’t know if such a thing exists, but I keep looking.

However, I do have many of the books mentioned on If, like me, you’re just starting out with sewing and fitting period-correct clothing you can find Jennifer’s recommendations here – My own library is growing (the rate being dependent upon the price of food and gas) so I’m developing a serious, solid resource base.

For Regency, I am finding these particularly helpful at the moment:

1) Costume in Detail 1730-1930, by Nancy Bradfield. No photographs, but her excellent drawings and text provide tons of details.

2) Fashions in the Era of Jane Austen, by Jody Gayle. To me it basically looks like a reproduction of Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, from January 1809 to December 1820. There is one fashion plate for each month of each year with a short description; I like the large-scale format that lets me see much more detail than I can in smaller reproductions.

3) I also like Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail, by Lucy Johnson. You’ll find the Regency garments interspersed throughout the book, but the hunt is worth it – the photography is astounding: detailed, crisp, rich. I want to wear every single dress. But I’ll happily disregard the Victorian hat (on pg 212) which features an entire stuffed bird.