Where vintage sewing is for everyone.
Below you will find a detailed description of each Woman's Institute coursework book. Each of these descriptions have been transcribed from the original 1923 advertising booklet Making Beautiful Clothes.
Please note that we do not offer the exam services that the woman's Institute did, so you will need to grade your own work should you choose to work through the course yourself.
However, if you want to participate in a community of collectors and dressmakers who are also working their way through these courses, join The Woman's Institute Facebook Group!
It should also be noted that the order of these books given in 1923 is slightly different from the order given in 1916. However, the content and lessons are the same.
"Just as soon as you enroll, your first three instruction books and your first Reference Volume, "Textiles and Sewing Materials," will be sent to you. This first instruction book makes you at once familiar with the most important stitches and seams used in garment construction and establishes a foundation for permanently successful work. It not only shows you how to make these stitches and seams and where and when to use them, but immediately provides for the practical application of the making of an attractive apron. The material for this apron, and detailed directions for making it, come to you with this instruction book.
So as soon as you have read the book you take your needle and thread, and following the simple directions and illustrations, you make the apron. This garment you then send to the Institute as your first report. It is examined by expert teachers who can tell at once whether you have made and used each stitch and seam properly. Then the apron is sent back to you with friendly criticism and comment and you have it to wear and enjoy-the first product of your sewing skill.
While the apron is on its way to the Institute and coming back, you go right on with your second instruction book. "
"This book takes you a long step further into actual garment making, but you will find it surprisingly easy and enjoyable because it shows you how to make many garments without even the use of patterns, straight simple garments that require only materials, a tape measure, a pair of scissors, and needle and thread.
This instruction book alone contains complete directions for making seven garments, all useful, practical, and wearable, which you can make at a total saving of at least $10 on what they would usually cost. You are not required to make and send in to the Institute any one of these garments, but you do send a written report which will indicate to your instructors your understanding of the information and principles contained in this instruction book."
"From this instruction book you learn just how to select the right pattern for your particular need and then how to change it, if necessary, to make it conform to your special purpose and requirements-in brief, how to make it distinctively a pattern for you. To ensure this, we send a special foundation pattern for your guidance, and show you how many pleasing variations can be obtained from the same pattern; this information alone will enable you to save considerable money on your patterns. Even though you may never have thought you could use a tissue-paper pattern successfully, this instruction book will bring you so much information in such easily understandable form that it will sweep away all your doubts and fears and make the use of tissue-paper patterns forever simple for you.
You have now completed the three instruction books which came to you in your first package from the Institute and already you have had practical instruction on the making of eight garments. With the skill acquired in this short time and from these three lessons alone, you wm be able to make dozens of pretty attractive things to wear, because you have learned principles that you can apply in a great variety of sewing. " This book was formerly named Tissue Paper Patterns.
"You are now ready to actually make a dress with the use of a tissue-paper pattern; and this instruction book shows you step by step just how to do it. You learn how to lay your pattern on the material, how to adjust the pattern to your definite needs, how to cut out, baste, fit, and finish the dress itself. All those essential points you have wanted to know are made clear- turning the hems, putting in the sleeves, joining the waist and skirt, finishing the closings. You are shown just where changes can be made in developing a thoroughly satisfying garment. And you are taught not merely to make one dress, but to understand every point in principle so that as a result of the instruction in this book you will be able to develop many different types of dresses with ease and assurance.
As your report on this instruction book you make and send to the Institute a dress that has been especially planned for you. The material for the dress is furnished to you free by the Institute. When this dress is completed, inspected, and returned to you, you will have a pretty home dress, at no cost to you, even for materials, and of a type distinctively becoming.
"When you have reported on (Dress Development), you receive your second Library Volume, 'Harmony in Dress,' and in this volume will be unfolded to you many of the secrets of attractive dressing. Here you will learn to know yourself from a dress standpoint and exactly what colors, lines, and styles you should use to get the most pleasing, harmonious effects. "
"This book will delight you because it gives you an opportunity to use individual judgment in selecting and using materials and combinations of materials to attain pretty effects in the making of a great variety of articles that every woman and girl likes to have. Instruction is given for fifteen different garments, appropriate not only for practical home use, but for gifts. Or, if you wish to earn money sewing for others you will find here many articles that will sell readily and provide you a substantial income."
"This is one of the most interesting of all your instruction books. It is practically a course in itself, for it shows you clearly by word and picture how to do all the stitches for decorating the pretty garments you are learning to make. Nothing gives quite such an individual and distinctive touch to a garment as embroidery, and with the knowledge this book will bring you, you will be able to do the very hand work that is so expensive in the shops. Your lesson report on this book consists of making and embroidering a dainty handkerchief, for which the materials are furnished - a piece of fine linen and just the right embroidery floss. No instruction book in your whole course will be found more enjoyable than this one, helping you, as it does, not only with dress ornamentation, but with household linens and the different types of art needlework.
"These two extremely fascinating, yet practical instruction books bring you complete instruction - f o r making all those dainty, lovely personal underthings that every woman and girl delights to have and which can be made so attractive and yet at such little cost when you plan and make them yourself. No less than thirty dainty attractive articles are described and illustrated, with most complete instruction for creating in every detail.
When you reach this point in your course you have gained a practical knowledge of materials, patterns, and garment construction. Furthermore, from your second Reference Volume, "Harmony in Dress," you have gained an appreciation of the principles of distinctive dress, and you are not only ready, but anxious, to proceed with your advanced work.
"With the information this book contains you will be able really to express individuality in dress-to plan and make garments that are distinctively for you, to take a plain waist and skirt pattern, for example, and with it as a foundation, design a dress that meets your own individual needs. This means that you will be prepared to plan and create clothes for yourself or others of that satisfying character and distinction that mark the well-dressed woman."
"It is not too much to say that correct cutting and fitting is an art in itself. You have learned something of it as applied to simple garment construction, but now you learn how to cut out, arrange, and fit material to attain a smart style effect, how to achieve through fitting a distinctive silhouette, how to develop the right foundation for a dress, how to overcome every obstacle to attractive appearing clothes, no matter what your size or proportions or the irregularities of your figure - one of the most important books in the entire course."
"When your lesson report on (Cutting and Fitting) is returned to you by the Institute you will also receive the third Reference Volume, "Cleaning, Renovating, and Care of Clothing," a veritable encyclopedia on laundering, renovating, and dyeing, and also containing splendid practical help on earning money conducting a dry-cleaning business."
This instruction book brings you another phase of skill in sewing that will enable you to give real character to your work. For it simplifies the handling of tucks, pleats, hems, facings, shirrings; ruffles, folds, all those details of dress by which the skilled dressmaker gets unusual and distinctive effects in finish. And not only do you learn the art of making in each instance, but just how and where and when to employ each detail of finishing in the garment."
"Closely related to artistic finishing is the use of trimming. This book shows you just how to make trimmings of ribbon or of the materials of which the dress itself is made-those dainty decorative trimmings which you have always admired and wondered how to create. And here again you learn just how to use each type of trimming and how to apply it so that it will be not something added, but an essential part enhancing the harmonious beauty of the completed garment."
"This book meets a need that many mothers find it otherwise difficult to .supply. Here you will find not only complete advice on what the expectant mother and the little visitor should have to be comfortably and suitably clothed, but full and clear instructions for the making of the necessary garments, from baby's bib to mother's negligee. Mothers will be delighted with the complete layette that this instruction book tells how to plan and make and those wishing to turn their needle to profit will find the making of layettes a splendid money-earning venture."
"Here is another instruction book that will delight every mother, for it presents a great variety of dainty, pretty garments for little girls and boys, and dresses in profusion for girls all the way from childhood to the years in high school when the problems of dress become mcreasingly exacting.
"You are now well on with your course and you have reached a point where your sewing accomplishments have created a desire for even greater skill in workmanship. So you will be glad to receive this instruction book because· it will enable you to have the skill of the professional in this important phase of correct garment construction. Here you will learn the perfect fitness of a seam for a specific purpose, how to conceal or emphasize seams to get certain style effects and how to make and use plackets with a quality of workmanship of which you may be proud."
"From your Reference Volume, "Harmony in Dress," you will have learned to know yourself - your type, and the colors, lines, and fabrics that are appropriate for you. You are now ready to take your own individuality on the one hand and your sewing skill on the other and bring them together in complete harmony in the planning and creating of distinctively becoming costumes. That is exactly what this instruction book will enable you to do."
"This book carries you another step forward in the art of design, for through it you attain that much-desired skill, the ability to develop a complete dress for yourself without the aid of a pattern. It tells you how to copy or adapt a dress you see on the street, in a shop window, or in a fashion magazine, by simply taking material and transforming it into a becoming garment. When you have completed this instruction book you will have received a new interpretation of the joy of designing and planning beautiful clothes and you should then be able to create those smart costumes that every woman so much admires."
"And now you come to the instruction book that fully meets and serves the desire of every woman who seeks to express individual taste and sentiment in the decoration of the clothes she makes. It is the last word in the artistry of becoming dress for it shows you just how to blend ornament and decoration with materials to attain oneness of effect in a dress that is to be an accurate expression of the wearer's individuality."
"Nothing gives greater distinction to garments than the correct handling of the details of tailoring. How often the success of a garment is determined largely by just a well-tailored pocket. Perfect tailored pockets will be easy after this lesson. There are clear instructions and forty-eight graphic illustrations, showing every step in the making of the stand pocket and its variations, the flap pocket, welt or slit pockets, patch pockets, and bound pockets."
"This lesson will initiate you still further into the craftsmanship of tailoring. It will teach you to follow exactly the methods that are employed in the best custom shops. After completing it, you will know just how to make every sort of tailored buttonhole, knots for frogs, and other fancy trimmings, and those small fascinating crowfeet and arrowheads that one sees on the best tailored garments."
"This lesson deals with tailored suits, coats, wraps, capes and the ever popular sports clothes. The skill of the cleverest tailor can be yours, for here all the remaining secrets of this exclusive profession are so clearly defined that anyone can master them. At this point, you will have acquired a skill that will make you forever independent in planning or making your own clothes. You will possess the ability to earn a splendid income in a delightful business of your own, should you desire to use your training in this way. "
"You have now learned to make all sorts of smart tailored garments for women. In this lesson, you go a step further and learn to apply your knowledge of tailoring to the making of garments for men and boys. Here detailed directions are given for the making of men's shirts, pajamas, house coats, bath robes, and trousers, boys' pants, blouses, suits, overcoat, and smart knickerbockers."
This book was part of the 1915-1921 coursework books and was later added to the blue bound dressmaking volumes. The book "tells just how to earn money sewing for others, how to start in business, how to select a location, choose a name for your shop, how to handle help, how to advertise, if necessary how to make a success of specialties. It is a complete guide for the woman who wants to go in business for herself."
"If you have enrolled for the Complete Course in Dressmaking and Designing with Pattern Drafting, you are now ready for the special instruction in Pattern Drafting, which comes to you in a large bound volume uniform in size with the other volumes of your Library of Dressmaking.
If you expect to do professional work or to have occasion in your own family to make garments for unusual figures, or if you wish to develop for yourself or others really distinctive clothes, you will find it an advantage to know how to design and draft patterns from individual measurements.
By the Woman's Institute method, the designing and drafting of individual patterns is a surprisingly simple operation of fascinating interest. Only one appliance is used-the tailor square. You are taught the most simple and accurate method of taking measurements. From these measurements, by our method and square, you can develop any style or kind of garment with ease.
You will be able to plan clothes most appropriate for any particular type, clothes that bring out the best lines of figure and emphasiz individual graces and qualities. This knowledge w.ill enable you to copy from models shown in exclusive fashion plates and to adapt those designs to your own needs - a sleeve from one, a neck from another, a skirt draping from another, and so on.
With a skill in pattern drafting added to your knowledge of dressmaking thorough training that you will be able not only to plan and make every article of your own clothes, but always to command a splendid income as a professional dressmaker or modiste in case you wish to go into business. "
"Here are the handsome volumes of the Woman's Institute Library of Dressmaking, bound in a beautiful blue cloth with titles stamped in gold. These practical and helpful books are furnished to you as you proceed with your practical work in Dressmaking and Designing. Each volume contains from 250 to 300 pages and the three constitute the most thorough and useful library of dress information ever published. You will surely count them among the most treasured books in your home."
"This Volume will bring you a wealth of valuable information about textiles and materials-cotton, wool, silk, linen. It tells about spinning and weaving; how materials are made; how they are dyed and printed; how to select and use fabrics for specific purposes; how to know them, test them, and handle them in working; how to shrink and set colors in wash fabrics; how to shrink and sponge woolens. This volume tells you all about laces, picturing and describing every kind, tells their advantages, their values, and helps you to know how to use them.
It tells you all about embroideries; all about findings of every kind; all about mending, with practical instructions that can save you many dollars; it also gives you many valuable suggeistions about household sewing, including the making of table linens, bed linens, curtains, draperies, etc., and finally it gives you a complete dictionary of trade and sewing terms. The whole volume is profusely illustrated.
This volume will bring you a complete understanding of becoming dress. It takes up costume and its relation to the individual, teaches you to know yourself and others from a dress standpoint, to know what colors, lines, and fabrics are appropriate for different types, and finally how to blend them in interpreting and adapting the current styles to the individual. There are charts that tell you what to wear on different occasions, what colors can be used in combination. In brief, this volume reduces to simple principles the secrets of becoming attire, so that you can always plan your clothes with the assurance that they will be artistically correct for you or for your customers if you are sewing professionally.
The second division of this volume tells just how to earn money sewing for others, how to start in business, how to select a location, choose a name for your shop, how to handle help, how to advertise, if necessary how to make a success of specialties. It is a complete guide for the woman who wants to go in business for herself."
"This volume tells you first of all how to care for your clothing, to preserve its quality and beauty, how to launder every kind of fabric, how to make used materials fresh and new by renovating and dyeing, and how to remodel garments of previous seasons. Here for the first time are presented the professional methods of dry cleaning and naphtha-benzine cleaning so complete that with this information alone you could engage in a profitable dry-cleaning business or save many dollars renovating your own clothes."
First Steps in Dressmaking
Harmony in Dress
Cutting and Fitting
Dressmaking, Trimming, Finishing
Underwear and Lingerie
Decorative Stitches and Trimming
Children's and Maternity Garments
Principles of Tailoring
Designing and Decorating Clothes
Designing by Draping
Drafting and Pattern Designing
Other reference volumes (on which students were not required to send in reports:
Laundering and Dry Cleaning
Dying, Remodelling, Budgets
Sewing for Profit.
These books seem to replace the soft-cover brown stapled booklets in the late 1920s to early 1930s. While the content is very similar to the former, the illustrations are updated to reflect more 1930s styling and fit ideals.
Includes the following updated lessons:
Essential Stitches and Seams,
Easy Garment Making,
and Individualizing Tissue Paper Patterns.
Includes the following updated lessons:
Maternity and Infant's Garments and
Children and Misses' Garments.
Includes an updated version of Underwear and Lingerie Parts 1 and 2, but unlike its predecessors, there are no pattern diagrams included.
Includes updated version of the following lessons:
Essentials of Tailoring,
Tailored Seams and Plackets,
Tailored Buttonholes, Buttons, and Trimming,
and Tailored Pockets.