The Dressmaker’s Library: “Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing”

The subtitle of this book states that it is “A Modern Guide to Couture-Style Sewing Using Basic Vintage Techniques”. I decided to buy Gertie’s book because I was eager to see how she had updated the beautiful styles from the 1952 “Vogue’s New Book for Better Sewing”. Now that I have both books I think I can present a good overview of how Gertie achieved her goals of presenting the old school dressmaking techniques.

Clear photos and descriptions of the vintage tehcniques used to construct the wardrobe presented in the second part of the book enable a beginner to quickly grasp important construction details.

I do not consider the bulk of Gertie’s sewing techniques pure couture. In fact many of the finishings and construction details she provides were common knowledge for sewists in the 1950s and early 1960s. So I will not say they are couture techniques but are very definitely the dressmaker techniques used in the 1940s through 1960s. These techniques were within anyone’s reach if they took a few sewing classes as part of Home Economics coursework in Junior High and High School. When Home Ec classes declined in the 1970s sewing and cooking were no longer taught in high schools. These techniques were not always available to a home sewist if the sewist did not invest in a good library of reference books or take a class to advance their sewing skills.

“Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing” has a spiral binding that makes it easy to lay the book flat on a worktable for use during work on a project. The illustrations by Sun Young Park accurately convey a retro feeling to the book.

I first began using commercial patterns in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By then most dresses had a center back slot zipper application. I didn’t even know about side zipper and side placket applications until I began to buy 1930s patterns in 1973. Anything I learned about vintage sewing techniques came from buying old clothes at thrift shops or having booksellers search for old sewing books for me. The days before the Internet really made finding sources of information about vintage sewing techniques something of a treasure hunt.

“Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing” does a good job of introducing a newbie to the basic techniques, fabrics and supplies needed to create the more structured silhouettes that are typical of vintage styles. This is all done in a conversational style that draws the reader in. There have been some reviewers at Amazon who say that the style of the book is too conversational. However, “Vogue’s New Book For Better Sewing” also has a very conversational tone as well. I think both books do this so that the reader is encouraged to continue to come back to the book again and again. A dry, academic style would be quick to bore anyone as would a pedantic tone making every stitch and every step seem as if such perfection is required that it is hopelessly out of reach for none but those with years and years of sewing experience.

A big plus in this book is that the fashions are shown from the outside and the inside. By seeing the way the inside of the garment is constructed the beginner through intermediate level sewist learns the importance of finishings.

The illustrations by Sun Young Park are delightful and add to the late 1950s-early 1960s feeling the overall presentation of the book has.

The styles are all designed to flatter a variety of figure types. They can be made dressy or more everyday depending on the kind of fabric used. My favorite is The Shirtwaist Dress. Gertie’s version is very adaptable and easy to sew up in comparison to the one in “Vogue’s New Book for Better Sewing”. The 1952 Vogue Shirtwaist dress had a complicated set in sleeve that included what appears to be a built in gusset at the underarm seam.

I did notice, though, that some of the garments looked a little tight in some of the photos. For example, The Sultry Sheath dress appears to pull under the bust and the arm. Other garments like the Strapless Party Dress look perfect. I think that the wardrobe mistress assigned for the photo shoots should have seen to it that every garment had a professional cleaning and pressing. That may have been what was needed to correct some of the issues I found with wrinkling in the bodices and less than flat hemlines.

There has been much criticism of the fact that the bodice darts and skirt darts of Gertie’s Sultry Sheath Dress do not align with each other. I have checked out The Late-Day-Short Sheath Dress in “Vogue’s New Book For Better Sewing” and discovered that their sheath dress also did not have the bodice and skirt darts completely aligned with each other either. I plan to post scans of this in the near future. I think it would be good for the editors to put a special note explaining this to the readers whenever “Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing” is reprinted.

“Vogue’s New Book For Better Sewing” taught the reader how to incorporate high quality dressmaking techniques into the construction of 14 garments. Gertie takes this one better by including 10 patterns with her book. In 1952 the reader of “Vogue’s New Book For Better Sewing” had to purchase each pattern separately on their own.

I bought a used copy of “Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing” for $23.99 at Amazon. It came complete with the patterns.

Sewists well versed in vintage sewing techniques or with intermediate to slightly advanced sewing skills will not need to buy this book. But for those who want a quick reference book with many old school sewing techniques in one, easy to access format then “Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing” will fulfill a need. It will also be helpful to the beginner.

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2 thoughts on “The Dressmaker’s Library: “Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing”

  1. I think Gertie’s tutorials are really interesting. My goddaughter has asked me to teach her to sew so I’ll look at this as a possible reference book for her.
    How are you getting on with your belt?

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    • I’m half-way through and it’s going well. I plan to show photos of the finished belt maybe by next weekend. I took photos of the equipment I’m using since I think this will help others who want to make a fabric covered belt and buckle. The tutorials I used were great for the belt and buckle part but they didn’t go into details about the ways to punch holes and set eyelets. Hopefully I can contribute something in this area.

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