Learning from the Past

by Ramona on June 27, 2013

What is it about sewing books that draw us to them? Is it the author? Do we wish to somehow, through osmosis, hope to absorb some of their knowledge? Is it the pictures through the color and detail shown us we, too, are able to do such creations? For me, I think it is the knowledge held within.

From the time I started to really learn to sew and draft patterns, I thirsted for the hidden enlightenment held within pages of extensive text books and publications on the sewing store shelves. What drew me? It was the yearning for the comprehension and mastery of the craft. I devoured all the books I could lay my hands on about sewing terminology and execution of the fiber artistry. I longed to be  proficient in the use of the tools and techniques to hone the steps in each procedure of what was to yet be created. Hours and hours of free time in my little sewing world is devoted to the study of sewing. I enjoy the hunt for a new morsel yet unknown to me. These days, that is researching masters of the past.

Books from the mide to late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s hold great fascination to me. I wonder, what did those tailors and home sewers know that we have long forgotten or may have never known? What can we glean from them that we can incorporate into our current sewing methods with the technology of today they could not have even imagined and would probably seem unreasonably futuristic to them? Last summer the pursuit of  my sewing renaissance continued yet again.

I wound up at a used book store and found some wonderful old books I purchased to add to my ever-growing sewing library(click on the book to link to Amazon for ordering).









Over the years, while scouring the Internet for old sewing knowledge, I’ve happened across the most wonderful websites I thought I would share with you so you may enjoy them as well. If you wish to explore old books which are now available to be read online, click on the graphics below to be taken to the website. (Please read and honor all copyright language for use of these publications. If some have donation links and you find the website useful, please think about making a donation to keep their work alive.)

Mary Brooks Picken (1886-1981), was authoress of 96 books related to sewing and needle arts including the series “Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences”.

Some of the collection can be read at the Hathi Trust Digital Library (search through their link with Cornell University at http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009121759). The books in this series cover many things we are familiar with today in our sewing language. Check them out and you’ll see part of the history of sewing as we know it today.

Another site has other books by this author to read online. Please check out:



If you like vintage fashion magazines, Godey’s is worthy of the time spent reading and analyzing what it holds to add to your sewing repertoire. Check out this website. It is hosted in the website of the University of Vermont:




Probably my favorite of all time is



VintageSewing.info - Your primary source for recreating vintage fashions

Check out the website by clicking on the graphic above. I absolutely adore this website and visit frequently! So much useful information from drafting patterns to glove-making and millinery, late 1800’s little school sewing books to pages with beautifully illustrated embroidery stitches. If you teach young people to sew, consider sending them to this website for basic sewing information from which you can teach.


Bookmark the links, search for publications, and read online or download to read later as permitted by the copyright and/or user license of the website visited.

If you find other websites, please let me know about them so I, too, may share them with others.

Sew ’til next time, enjoy the journey of sewing…..




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