The Dressmaker’s Library: “Paris Frocks At Home”

Book Review

“Paris Frocks At Home” is one of the sewing books I’ve used during the preliminary phase of the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.    It was published by The Butterick Publishing Company in 1930.  The value of this book lies in the details and the illustrations.  We see all the elements of what is now considered the essence of Depression Era styles:  godets, long hemlines, fluttery capelets,  as well as interesting collar and neckline treatments.  Included in the book are several reproductions of pattern layout and sewing instruction sheets from Butterick Patterns.  Although these are small in the book, the pages can be scanned and enlarged .  The results are the complete sewing details for one or two of the Butterick styles use in the book.    I have also found that taking photos using the zoom capabilities on my camera also made clear the details in the small illustrations of the instruction sheets.  This alone made the book worth the purchase price.  These details have been very useful for the creation of my own 1930s influenced dress.

The styles chosen for the book may have been used in conjunction with these patterns since the book would enhance the learn as you go approach.  The explanations for each technique covered are clear and simple.  This is slightly deceptive for a beginner since some of the methods of finishing a garment using bias binding are more for an intermediate level seamstress.  The book seems geared towards the homes ewer who had a good understanding of cutting, basting, and basic alterations.  Intermediate techniques are covered but not in great detail.

The instructions for creating butterfly bows and different kind of neckline ties are brief but the illustrations show that their creation can be done by an experienced person.  I’ve included scans at the end of this posting to get you started on your own adventures into these feminine necklines using bows and capelet collars.

The book ends with a guide on how to launder clothes by hand.  Much emphasis is placed on letting the clothes soak in the soap suds.  There is  much repetition of the delicate nature of the synthetic and natural fibers used to create the lightweight garments women were wearing as the 1930s began.  The reader is urged to stop wringing and scrubbing her clothes so much.  It was better to swish the clothes around in a wash basin and let the garment soak so the dirt would float out of the fibers.   There seems to have been a conscious effort to educate women on how to keep their clothes longer.  Scrub boards and vinegar rinses weakened fibers while gentle laundering kept the fibers looking and behaving better for much longer.

The attention a housewife was expected to pay to the hand laundering of fine woolens, silks and rayons was, if I take this book as the norm, very burdensome.  Stain removal treatments included a combination of steam from a kettle, peroxide and oxalic acid crystals.  Maybe some home seamstresses took their interest in fibers, fabrics and clothing to this level but how widespread it was is hard to say.  What I did get from this chapter was a reminder of how much my own Mom knew about hand washing clothes.  She taught me many of the ways to launder lingerie, sleepwear and special occasion wear in a manner similar to what is described in this chapter.  The washing machine was used for sheets, towels, children’s clothing but never for finer clothing or lingerie.   Since she was born during the Great Depression these laundering techniques were in use at that time.  They are similar to what she learned and then passed on to me.

This chapter on the laundering of one’s delicate Paris inspired frocks includes recommendations to turn on the electric fan when some fabrics are almost dry so that the air from the fan can finish up the job of dyring.  One was supposed to shake the garment every so often so the fibers would not become shriveled or flattened as in the case of wool.

After reading this chapter I am even more grateful for all the wonderful fiber blends we have today that wash easily and do not require heavy ironing or fussing to look good.

Some Collar and Neckline Treatments from “Paris Frocks At Home”





28 thoughts on “The Dressmaker’s Library: “Paris Frocks At Home”

      • I like the idea of these alternative cleaners. I have a laundry soap that does a good job but takes so much water to rinse it out. I think finding an alternative will help me save my energy as well as water. I’ll check the link out tomorrow.

        Liked by 1 person

      • And also works well in cold water. Something I have noticed is that in NZ (and probably Ausi too) we tend to wash in cold and dry outside on the line – even in winter my washing never goes directly into a dryer. So this has been road tested in those conditions! Not sure if that will make any difference, theoretically if it functions in those conditions it should be fine in all others right?! That’s my theory anyway.

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    • Thanks, Naomi for the link. We have an all natural soap here imported from Mexico called Zote that is used as the basis for some home laundry soap mixes similar to Wendy’s. I don’t have the space in my little studio to store such a large quanity of bottles but do think one can improvise a bit with the hand washing routine. Use the natural soap, rinse with some Borax in the water and so on. It’s not the same as using the mixture but I do believe one can get good results.

      In addition to the Mexican soap, there is a product imported from Puerto Rico called Mistolin that has a very pleasant variety of fragrances. For people that do not have allergies it can be used in the final rinse instead of essential oils which will cost more.

      The wonderful thing about exchanging links and product info like this is in the expanded choices we have to create wash day techniques that best suit our needs and budgets. We can do this because of the internet. Our Moms and Grans couldn’t. I think at some point all the natural and hand washing techniques were considered old fashioned. Having a washer and dryer was a status symbol in the U.S. But now that we know these appliances are not built to last and present problems when they are disposed of we have to reconsider this part of our lives. If we can reduce energy consumption by hand washing and drying our light weight clothes that could prolong the life of a washer or dryer.

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      • It certainly would, and is ultimately better for us and our environment.
        If space is an issue, perhaps you could have a making session with some friends and divide up the quantity made between all? In NZ we assume people live in houses with lots of space, which in the main is true! Something we could learn more about is our excessive use of space. I often say to my husband that I want to live in a ‘small house’ and he says: Yes, but where would we put all the art?!

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      • My Uncle is interested in the home made laundry soap so I now have someone to share a batch with. It will take some time but I’ll let you know when I make it. In all the recipes there is a mention of laundry sods a. That’s not the same as baking soda?

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      • Excellent! I look forward to hearing about it. The difference in BS and LS is that baking soda is sodium bicarbonate and washing/laundry soda is crystals of sodium carbonate decahydrate. BS is edible, WS definitely not!! Hope that helps!

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      • OK, Thanks. I don’t have any bottles but am thinking of getting a large plastic food storage container. The recipe I’m using says the soap gels and needs stirring before each use. I’m thinking of having fun with putting stickers on the container and getting a wooden spoon and small measuring cup to include with what I give my Uncle.

        I have to see where I can get these things locally and reasonably priced. I want to use the ZOTE soap in white, not pink. The recipe I chose also uses glycerin which will, I think, make the soap gentle on the skin.

        Here are the recipes. I’m using #6.

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      • Awesome! We just store ours in a large plastic lidded bucket and it works fine. A quick stir occasionally works a treat. I look forward to hearing your results!


      • Naomi, this thing is snowballing, or maybe soap sudsing. My Uncle prefers soap flakes since he has to take them back to Arizona by plane. We discussed old school soap flakes my Gran and Mom used. Sad to say they are no longer sold. The higher priced liquid versions are the only thing available.

        I found a recipe using the bar soap made the the same maker of the soap flakes Mom loved. Ivory Snow bar soap can be microwaved and then grated in a blender with the borax and washing soda. That’s all that’s needed for this version. From what I’ve seen the powder that results is very fine and has a clean scent as the bloggers report.

        My local supermarket has no idea what washing soda is but will see if they can order it for me. The Ivory bar soap, Borax, jars or containers and other supplies are all available. So just waiting on a call from the supermarket manager. If he can’t get it I’ll try another market.

        For the natural softener I’ll use the white vinegar and have to see what kind of essential oil I can get. Tea Tree is the easiest one to get here and since it’s disinfectant I may go with that over something that brightens or perfumes. Do you clothes get any of the fragrance from the lavender oil?

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      • Wow! This is so cool EA!
        I use tea tree frequently as we always have it. I don’t notice the fragrance of the lavender oil, but I haven’t used it as much as the TT. This time I added a little more lavender so I will let you know if any of it imparts into the fabric. Loving this!

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      • I think this will be a great learning experience. I’ll post photos of the process. It really is an extension of the 1930s Sew-along which is unexpected but also part of the retro clothing experience. How we take care of our vintage or newly made garments calls for different maintenance. I always think something a sewista creates should have TLC in the wash. If it’s made for heavy use and sewed that way it’s a different matter.

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    • I think handwashing and ironing are an art in themselves. It is serious work. My Mom used to put Dad’s shirts in the fridge rolled up in a damp kitchen towel. Then she’d take them out after some time and press them.

      There were also tablets or a powder used for bluing or blueing the rinse water. White shirts were blued to make them brighter.

      There was powdered starch that went into the rinse or wash water and clothes were, I think, soaked in that.

      My Aunt had a little bottle with water that looked like a shaker of some kind and she moistened clothes with that before pressing.

      The book goes into how to wash pleated skirts of rayon, crepe or wool. It is recommended to baste the pleats down to keep the edges sharp. But I wonder if silk thread was used. Cotton thread could be too heavy and maybe leave marks.

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      • You must be right about the silk thread. What a lot of trouble they went to.
        I remember powder starch being used but have never tried it – only spray starch that I used for my aprons when i was a waitress in college holidays.

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      • Oh, Norma, I got so tired reading how the book described removing grease. I could never stand over a steaming kettle holding a bit of fabric with a dot of peroxide on it and hope the grease would disperse. I’d be too upset about the stain.

        I loved using sizing instead of starch on some clothes. It made them crisp but not stiff. The problem was I sprayed so much the tiled floor in the basement, near the washing machine, got very dirty.

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      • In a quieter time I think it was rewarding to be able to do so many things oneself. But now technology has increased the pace of our lives. We’re busy running around for everyone else’s business and the little things in our own lives get pushed to the side or given to someone else to do.

        In junior high school I hand laundered all my white blouses just as Mom showed me, including the blueing. We had to wear white blouses for assembly each week. I was 13 years old with lots of homework but found taking care of my pretty blouses a form of therapy. They were pressed while still damp and hung up on pretty hangers. I found it took my mind off of the formless anxiety caused by exams. Once I started working little by little the rush-rush took over. I had a hand laundry do my blouses that were much less delicate and detailed than those white blouses.

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      • Yes that’s me, too. I’m going to make a batch of home made, natural soap flakes for hand laundering. Naomi at SpareRoomStyle got me started. Since the “Paris Frocks at Home” chapter on hand washing got this started I will tag as the 1930s sew-along.

        What is fabulous is that it will be something like Ivory Snow, which was formerly available but not any more. Mom used that for hand washing and it smelled so clean. No perfume or dyes. My Uncle prefers a powder to the liquid so I had to search another recipe collection. I’ll post about it next. I’m still awaiting my supplies for the dress.

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      • Thanks. I’ve had to postpone the half marathon – the one I booked clashed with a really important family occasion. The season is more or less over & all those left are booked up, but I have heard of a very hilly (of course!) local 10 mile race that I might be able to get a place in. Failling that there is a 6.5 mile race in December that you’re allowed to enter on the day. I will get something before the Spring.

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