Vintage Needlecrafts Pick of the Week: The Complete Family Sewing Book

VintageNPotW 400

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This week’s pick: The Complete Family Sewing Book edited by Cathi Hunt and Irma Fischler.

Source:  The Strand.

Publication date: 1972.

Status: Out of print, but available online, generally for reasonable prices.

Condition: Very Good.

Craft: Sewing.

Complete Fam Sewing Bk cover

Some of my longtime readers may remember this book from my first ever posted list of craft goals.  I had great plans of reading it cover to cover, but never actually finished.

It's pretty big.
It’s pretty big.

I found this wonderful book back in 2011 while visiting The Strand with two of my best friends.  We used to meet monthly for a craft circle for almost 4 years, but changes in our various apartments made that impossible in about 2009.  Since then, we try to get together for dinner or a movie about every 6 weeks.  We randomly decided to pop into the Strand after seeing a movie, and I found this amazing book.  I immediately snatched it up, which was a bit upsetting for one of my friends, since she wanted one, too.  (Not to worry, we ordered her one online for her birthday.)

This book is a great snapshot into the early ’70s, just a few years before I was born.

Complete Fam Sewing Bk something missing

It’s over 500 pages long, printed on a newsprint-type paper in a few colors, and displayed in a sturdy three ring binder.  The retail price was $6.98.  You could also order the binder for $2.49 or each chapter for 39 cents.  (According to the consumer price index calculator I used, these prices are equivalent to 2013 U.S. buying power of $38.83, $13.85, and $2.17, respectively.)

This book was written at a crossroads between traditional and contemporary expectations about gender.  It is clearly addressed to women, who are assumed to have both children and husbands.  But, at the same time, the authors understand the women may be working and may not have had as much sewing time as in the past.  There’s also an acknowledgement that these women readers may have missed out on some of the background knowledge – so it isn’t like reading a 1880s book where you are advised to do things in “the usual way.”  Instead, everything is explained in case you missed out on the important foundational sewing information that all women “should” have.

As someone who comes from a strong line of seamstresses yet seems to have missed out on that foundational knowledge about sewing myself, my favorite parts are the Shapes of Fashion sections, which illustrate and identify different clothing styles.

Complete Fam Sewing Bk dresses and skirts
Finally, I know what a Dirndl skirt is.
Complete Fam Sewing Bk pants and coats
I had no idea that capes were categorized thusly.

My next favorite parts are the various fitting guides.  I know that, in today’s times, a lot of people don’t follow the fitting guidelines from the past, but I still find them really helpful.

In particular, the first chapter, Do Wonders with Your Wardrobe, has a series of comparative illustrations that demonstrate how different features (line, colors, detail, etc.) can emphasize certain physical characteristics.


Complete Fam Sewing Bk fitting1


Complete Fam Sewing Bk fitting2


Complete Fam Sewing Bk fitting3

There is similar information in the Sew for Him! chapter as well.

Complete Fam Sewing Bk tall and thin

I really love the illustrations in this book, although it isn’t clear who has drawn what.  (The title page lists three artists – Francis H. Schwartz, Patricia Cullen, and William H. Silvey – as well as George W. Harrington for cover design.)

Here's one of my favorite illustrations.
Here’s one of my favorite illustrations.

This isn’t a pattern book, but an encyclopedia of sewing with a fashion and fitting primer.

There is information about fabrics…

Complete Fam Sewing Bk man made fibers

and detailing.

Complete Fam Sewing Bk embroidery

Some of the information holds up for today…

Complete Fam Sewing Bk swimwear

and some of it is dated.

Complete Fam Sewing Bk fringe

Some of my favorite sections are those about sewing for men and children.

Complete Fam Sewing Bk making most of man

Complete Fam Sewing Bk pantsuit

Complete Fam Sewing Bk kids

There are these great sizing/fitting charts inserted throughout the book, too.

Complete Fam Sewing Bk men

Overall, this is probably one of my favorite vintage needlecrafts books.  Even though it is specifically about sewing, there is a lot of interesting information about fashion, styling, and fit that can be applied to wearables in other crafts, too.

Complete Fam Sewing Bk sleeves

Plus, now I know what a trumpet sleeve looks like, and how to use all the latest (through 1972) fabrics.

Complete Fam Sewing Bk future of sewing

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