Monday, 20 June 2011

Sewing with Singer, 1954 - Part 1

I have something rather lovely to share with you today:

Please excuse the dust!

This is a copy of The Singer Sewing Book by Mary Brooks Picken (MBP) from 1954, which was given to me by a very kind friend who found it on one of her second-hand shop excursions and thought I would like it.  Like it?  I love it!  It appeals to the bibliophile in me, as well as the stitcher and the vintage-lover.  It has old book smell, pretty pictures and interesting techniques.  What's not to love?

And it’s all written in that quaint 50s style – I absolutely adore the dedication at the beginning:
This book is dedicated to women and girls -- and especially to teachers of sewing everywhere -- who enjoy the feel of fabric, the beauty of textures, the precision of stitches, the smoothness of seams, and who delight always in appropriate fabrics carefully cut and made up for a happy purpose.
So it doesn't exactly appeal to the feminist in me, but it gives a really fascinating window into that time and there is something sweet about the style of writing: appropriate fabrics carefully cut and made up for a happy purpose.  Isn't that what we all aim for when sewing?

Even better, this book is actually quite useful.  I use it as an additional reference as sometimes explanations in other books don’t make sense to me or they miss out a topic completely.  It's also handy when using vintage patterns - sometimes they use old-fashioned terms that I don't understand, and this helps me to work out what on earth they're on about!

I'm planning to share parts of this delightful book with you over the coming weeks (or months, even!), but today I want to show you one of my favourite sections: Colour and Clothes.

Dotted throughout the book there are colour pages with all sorts of delights and horrors and this page caught my eye right away.

It tells us that

A chief delight in making one's own clothes is being able to find a delectable colour or print -- and irresistible one -- and using it to make a "dream dress" so becoming that every wearing brings genuine happiness.
I'm not so sure about the "genuine happiness", but wearing a becoming dress in a delectable fabric certainly does put a spring in my step and a smile on my face.

As you might have guessed by now, this section of the book discusses what colours do and don't suit different complexions.  It gives some "basic rules" to help us choose colours that will be becoming and instructs us to consider the following:
  1. Is the colour suitable for your individual characteristics?  Your natural skin tone?  Your eyes?  Your hair colour?  Your figure proportions?  Your personality?  Your age?  Position in business, community, society?
  2. Is it suitable for your purposes?  The occasions for which you will wear it?  The season?  Your mode of transportation?  The type of community in which you live?
  3. Is it practical?
There are some obvious points there, unsurprising things to consider - skin tone, eyes, hair, etc.  There are also some that seem rather strange to me, like considering whether something suits your position in the community or society.  That's just not something that would cross my mind, but then there was a much greater sense of community then and, dare I say, stricter rules within society about what was and was not appropriate for this person or that. 

I do like that they suggest considering your personality as well as the visual elements of you.  There are clothes, colours and prints that, while lovely and becoming, just do not make me comfortable.  I sometimes find myself saying "it's nice, but it's just not me" and I think that's that element of personality coming in.  No matter how great a colour works with your skin tone and hair colour, if it doesn't suit your personality and make that glow, it just won't suit you.  That's how I feel, anyway, and I think that's what MBP means by considering whether or not something matches your personality.

And as for those visual elements of you, MBP suggests

holding up colour samples against your face to be sure that skin and eyes and hair come alive in connexion with the colour.
I did chuckle when I read the tip to hold up colours at home without make-up as "then when the right make-up is used, you can be even prettier in your carefully chosen colour."

Now, then, those colours - here are the colour fans she suggests for the various "types" as she calls them (though I suspect the colours have changed over time):

Light and True Blonde Types
Blondes have hair ranging from almost white or "ash" to golden blonde.  Their eyes may be light blue or clear blue, grey, green, hazel, or brown.  Complexion varies from very fair to peach or golden tones.  Colours for these types should be clear and fresh looking.  When natural colouring is delicate, never overpower it with too vivid a colour.  Pastels are usually more flattering.

Medium Blondes or Hazel Types
Medium blondes range between blonde and brown including those with an auburn tinge, eyes are usually light blue, blue-grey, hazel or brown; complexion fair or medium.  Notice that the colours selected are less vivid than for true blondes.  This is because very bright colours detract from the more neutral colour of the hair, eyes, and skin commonly found with these types.

Grey-Haired Types
Grey -haired types may have skin and eye colouring of any of the other groups and may vary their choce of colours accordingly.  The selection should be suited to the age, surroundings, and activities of the individual.  Sometimes when the natural pigmentation leaves the skin and hair, the skin takes on a clear cameo quality.  Soft and subtle colours and white bring out this clear beauty very effectively.
Red or Auburn Types
Redheads range fom light golden red to dark auburn, with blue, grey, hazel, or dark brown eyes.  Their skin tones may be similar to those of any of the other groups from blonde to brunette.  If you are blessed with such distinctive colouring,make the most of it.  Never tone it down.  The reds, the pinks, teh deep purples are not for you but there is a wide range of attractive browns, greens, and blues.

Medium Brunette Types
Medium brunettes are those with chestnut or medium to dark brown hair, and blue, grey, grey-green, hazel, brown or black eyes.  Complexion may vary from fair to near ollive.  People in this group often make the mistake of wearing dull, indeterminate colours when a positive shade would be much more becoming.  The colours shown here can all be used to advantage by this group.

Dark Brunette Types
This group includes those with dark brown or black hair, eyes of blue, grey, grey-green, hazel, brown, or black, and skin ranging from very fair to olive.  Those who had black hair before it turned to grey will also find good colours in this range if their natural colouring is well defined.  Even primary colours may be very effective.  Sallow skin brunettes should avoid yellowish greens or orange.

But if there's a colour you love that doesn't suit you, don't worry, all is not lost!  MBP suggests that you can still use it as an accent or for accessories, especially if not worn next to the face.  Phew!

As for flattering the figure, she suggests black, dark colours or greyish colours for making your seem smaller or slimmer than brighter tones.  I'm not sure if I agree with her rule to remember, though: "When in doubt about colour, always choose black".  Black can be hugely unflattering to some people and I think softer colours like dark blues (such as navy), greys or browns can be a much better choice if black overpowers you.  More importantly - black can be just plain dull and some people fall into the trap of only ever wearing black.  Colour is fun and fab!  But that's my take, and I am a bit of a magpie for bright colours!

One piece of advice MBP gives that I really have to agree with and should probably learn from is to
Remember always the value in the wardrobe of good basic dresses in dark colour that can be made to suit occasions by the use of the right accessories and to give colour pleasure through subtle accent.
The downside of my colour-attraction is that I have plenty of clothes in bright colours and prints, but very little in solid or more neutral hues.  I should really sort that out!

My new sewing resolution: to make at least one plain skirt and at least one plain dress by the end of the year!

Anyway, that's it with the nuggets of wisdom from MBP on colour, but if you're loving this book, let me know and I'll be back with my girl Mary BP and more 50s sewing fun!


  1. Of course I have to follow. :) LOVE the colour charts!

  2. Oh yes, more please! I love that sort of thing, although I'm always a bit cynical about colour charts in practice :-) I'm naturally a mousy blonde and I look like death in pastels.

  3. Love it! I adore 50s manuals and cookbooks--my most-used cookbooks are a 1950s Betty Crocker and a 1940s Fannie Farmer--both full of great how-to language :)

  4. Yes, I do find the colour charts interesting - I think the problem can be that there are so many variations in skin/hair/eye colour that it can completely throw off the usual recommendations!

    Thank you all! I'm glad you enjoyed this little snippet - I'll be back with more, soon.

  5. Great start to a new blog. Good luck. Love the color charts.


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