Coat Making at Home in 1941

Hi friends! Thanks for your encouragement and suggestions on my tailored coat project! This week I went shopping for fabric and picked up some of my books from the library, including a little gem that I just had to share with you today.

When I was looking for books on the public library website, I came across a book titled “Coat Making at Home”. I saw that it was published in 1956, and only 27 pages long. Interesting, right? I was surprised it was something I could check out of the library.

Coat Making at Home - 1It seems to be excerpt from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers’ Bulletin. Actually, I can’t tell if it’s an excerpt or if it’s the bulletin in it’s entirety. It’s written by Margaret Smith – who is referred to as a “Clothing Specialist”.

From what I can put together, Margaret Smith wrote several bulletins for the U.S. department of agriculture, including “Fitting Dresses”, “Pattern Alteration” and “Stain Removing from Fabric, Home Methods” – all of which you can take out from the Vancouver public library! I also found this PDF copy of Simplified Clothing Construction, which she wrote in 1959 for the Home and Garden Bulletin. I think she also had a line of floral handbags and a clothing line, founded in Maine in the 1940s.

Can you tell I’m fascinated by all of this? I would love to learn more, about the author and the bulletin, if you have any information to share!

Coat Making at Home - 2It starts off with a summary of ways you can “give a home-made coat a professional look”. Things like matching plaids and stripes, pressing each part of the coat as it is finished, and taping armholes, neckline, and shoulder seams.

Coat Making at Home - 3The short bulletin talks about pattern, materials, equipment, pressing and fitting, making the coat, and even adding fur trim or “remodeling a coat” which is kind of like refitting or refashioning.

The whole thing starts off like this:

A well-made, well-fitted coat is a joy to the wearer and a pride to the maker. Tailoring reaches its highest art in coat making.

What a powerful opening line.

Coat Making at Home - 4Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

Making a good-looking coat at home, a coat with the air of the professional tailor, is no more difficult than many other sewing jobs that women tackle. And in no other task is one so richly repaid for painstaking, careful work.

On fabric…

If it is a wool fabric you are choosing, crumple it in your hand to see if it has a springy feeling and does not crush easily. Poor-quality wools feel heavy and rather stiff, and soon look dull and matted. Good quality woolens feel alive and keep their attractive appearance through years of wear.

Coat Making at Home - 5

Advice about mirrors!

A full-length mirror pays for itself many times, for best results require a full-length view as construction progresses.

She recommends pressing with two press cloths, one of linen or cotton, and one of woolen fabric.

To press wool coatings with an ordinary iron, place the woolen cloth over the open seams, and on top put the linen or cotton cloth. Dampen the second cloth with a sponge, and press. Always press with the grain of the fabric, and lift the iron and set it down squarely. If the iron is pushed along as in ordinary ironing, the seam may be wrinkled or pushed out of place. After pressing, lift the press cloths and beat the open seam with the clapper.

Coat Making at Home - 6

On pockets…

If special pockets are used such as welts, slot, or flap types, follow the pattern instructions carefully. The secret of making these pockets well is in having the applied pieces cut accurately and stitched evenly and straight to the coat. Corners should be precise and accurate. Flaps may be square or rounded, but they should always be perfectly made. Inaccuracies in details such as pockets can spoil the whole appearance of a coat and label it as home-made.

There is so much good stuff in here. The language, font, photos, instructions, it all fascinates me, and it really is informative! Back in the 1940s and 50s, you couldn’t just google tailoring techniques. Margaret does an excellent job of covering the process from start to finish in a clear and approachable manner.

Coat Making at Home - 7

This little bulletin is marked with a Vancouver Public Library stamp from 1958. Apparently the bulletin was “originally issued in December 1941”, and “slightly revised December 1956 to reflect developments in fabrics and other changes”. I can’t help but feel like I’ve happened upon a little slice of history here. Have you ever discovered any interesting sewing literature like this? I’d love to hear about it!

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29 Responses to Coat Making at Home in 1941

  1. Renee October 22, 2014 at 6:24 am #

    These are gems and terrific. If you get a chance to read the Lost Art of Dress it talks a little about how the Department started and the information they made available. Good luck with your coat!

  2. Melissa October 22, 2014 at 6:43 am #

    How interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Mary October 22, 2014 at 6:55 am #

    Good post!

  4. Heather L October 22, 2014 at 7:03 am #

    So interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Anne Lyth October 22, 2014 at 7:19 am #

    Wow. That is so cool. I love these kind of old books. They are usually right to the point.

    I have a little gem at home: two books with hand coloured fashion illustrations from 1921 and 1923. They were issued by a fabric manufacturar and showed all the new styles of the season together with text telling of what was the fashion in Paris and London. I love to just sit and look through them.

  6. Velda October 22, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    Interesting… I just ran accross another book of hers on Craigslist, “How to Tailor a Women’s Suit”. I googled it and there were several great reviews. Had never heard of Margaret Smith before.

  7. Stina P October 22, 2014 at 7:48 am #

    What a perfect book! Must try to find it somehow – it would really be nice to have when I take out another unfinished object from the wardrobe (a k a the ruby red coat). Thanks for sharing!

  8. robin October 22, 2014 at 7:55 am #

    Sewing of bygone years was an assumed skill. It was taught in schools and at home (as well as cooking and maintaining a home). I had no idea how supportive Dept of Agriculture continues to be in these areas until I started researching sewing instruction. Talk about untapped resources!

  9. Gina October 22, 2014 at 8:13 am #

    Tasha I find your blog fascinating. I wish I had a copy of Coat Making at Home. My first coat looked like a bathrobe.

  10. Jana October 22, 2014 at 8:16 am #

    The Pattern Alteration book you mentioned looks awesome! I found it in the Internet Archive and just paged through it a bit. It has proper small bust adjustment instructions, several different ones for different situations/patterns! If anyone else is interested, check it out here:
    The one on How to Tailor a Woman’s Suit is also available:
    Can you tell that I love the Internet Archive? (:

    • Caroline Amanda October 26, 2014 at 11:42 pm #

      Thanks for sharing Jana! I love the internet archive too :)

  11. Sara October 22, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    I have a vintage tailoring book from Palmer and Pletch (so it’s obviously not as old as yours). They state that although bound buttonholes are not in style at the moment, they are including instructions because they are certain that they will come back in style.

    • Tasia October 22, 2014 at 10:17 am #

      Bound buttonholes went out of style? I didn’t know buttonholes could be in style! Although if you think about it, other closures do go out of style, like flat-front flared pants with a centered back zipper that were popular in the 90s.

  12. Jan Anderson October 22, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    I love looking through old sewing books. When I am in my neighbourhood thrift store, I usually scoop up one or two. Recently, picked up a 1970’s era Vogue Sewing Manual for $1.00. For Christmas presents, my family knows they do the right thing when buying sewing books, new or used. My son gave me a large colour illustrated book about Embroidery Sewing, doing designs with the design stitches found on a regular machine. Because it was last minute, he found it at the thrift store!.

  13. WRC October 22, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    I have access to a local university library. Said university had a home-ec department in the past and doesn’t tend to get rid of books. The library has many old sewing books as well as the government publications described above. It’s a treasure trove that I love to explore when I have the time.

  14. Tailor Tack October 22, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    “Tailoring reaches it’s highest art in coat making.”

    It’s “its.”

    Otherwise, it sounds like an interesting book.

  15. Ally - Design Rewind Fashions on Etsy October 22, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

    What a wonderful find. These vintage sewing books are worth their weight in gold! I have a collection of small books from the 1920s (40+ in total) that were part of a mail order sewing school. A student would send back their projects for grading and then could move on to the next lesson. Love, love love the insight I gain! Also, coats are my favorite garment to sew. Thanks for a fun post!

  16. Annie October 22, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

    Great post, love the descriptions. Toying with the idea of making a coat myself. Best of luck with yours!

  17. Michelle October 22, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

    I find it just as delightful as you do. Am I to understand that it a PRINT booklet?
    how precious. Thank you so much for sharing.

  18. Mia October 22, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

    This was so interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  19. Ruth October 23, 2014 at 3:17 am #

    Do you ever listen to pod casts? Thread Cult had the women from ‘The Lost Art of Dress!’ on. She talked about her research of the department etc. Fascinating!

    • Caroline Amanda October 26, 2014 at 11:46 pm #

      I do listen to podcasts and love them. Haven’t listened to that episode of Thread Cult though! Adding it to my list :)

  20. Lisa October 23, 2014 at 6:07 am #

    I have my grandmother’s sewing handbook from when she was first married in the early 60s. I love it because it’s so different in the tone and the beautiful little sketches. The best part (in my opinion at least) is the beginning where it gives you fashion advice. It doesn’t mince words at all!

  21. Annette October 23, 2014 at 8:02 am #

    I tried to google Margaret Smith and came up with the following link, (among many others):
    I think this is a very good thing to be getting information on, rather than just poking around on the web! Annette

  22. Francesca October 24, 2014 at 4:45 am #

    Thanks for this – I love old sewing books of most vintages! I have a couple of wartime and just post war and they are amazing. Would love to get more.

  23. BeckyLeeSews October 26, 2014 at 7:52 am #

    I love books like this and thanks for sharing the page images. I saved them all to read. Everyone once in a while in these vintage books, I’ll come across some gem of a tidbit that has been lost over time that really improves my sewing.

  24. a November 13, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

    This sounds like something “Awful Library Books” would cringe about. (They advocate weeding library collections.) You should tell the librarian you want to buy it!

  25. Emma November 25, 2014 at 7:37 pm #

    This reminds me of a novel I read called ‘Everyman’s Guide to Scientific Living’. The narrator is a specialist in cookery, and she travels the country (Australia, so lots of country!) on a train that mostly consists of agriculture specialists. They stop and give talks to farmers on new varieties of wheat, new livestock breeds etc. There are two other women on the train, and they give talks to the farmers’ wives. The other younger one is a seamstress I think? And the older one is a nurse, who gives talks on hygiene and weighs babies etc. I’m guessing it was based on a real government programme? Might be worth a look at.