One of the most important first steps in developing historical costumes for stage is to answer the question, How was it originally done?
By doing initial research into historical construction techniques, you can often eliminate many hours of troubleshooting and anticipate engineering issues. If you are lucky enough to have access to an archive of antique and vintage clothing, inspecting primary garments is ideal. Online resources which feature interior shots and structural analysis, such as the CoStar Vintage Clothing Archive
, can be a fair substitute. Another means of seeing inside clothes of a past period are primary sources--books, pamphlets, and articles written at the time about sewing, tailoring, millinery, etc.
Luckily, we live in a time when the distribution of knowledge is easier than ever before. People can publish books in small runs with home equipment, or make books with a small circle of interest available through Print On Demand publishers with little or no initial investment. Anyone who can get themselves to a public library can publish a blog just like this one. If you can read and write, you can make your words available to the world.
Before the advent of internet publishing, blogs, POD printers and the like, the primary source of reprinted period sources for costumers was Dover Publications
, and they are still a valuable, wonderful source for many indispensable research titles. Dover's publications are affordably-priced, printed in trade-paperback format with glossy cardstock covers. Here are a couple of examples of their titles:Mary Thomas' Book of Knitting Patterns
. This reference, first published in the 1930s, is a compendium of knitting patterns--not projects themselves, per se
, but instructions on creating different effects such as cable-knit. Thomas illustrates how to do dozens and dozens of effects by which an intuitive knitter might create her or his own garment patterns.Old-Fashioned Ribbon Art: Ideas and Designs for Accessories and Decorations
. This is a reprint of what might be considered the 1920s equivalent of a fashion zine for DIY-ers. It's short, only 32 pages (under $5 from Dover so it's no huge investment of cash), but contains amazing illustrations and instructions for creating cockades, ribbon flowers, ornaments, and accessories. Not only is it useful for 1920s period embellishments, but also for previous periods in which cockades were frequently used in mens millinery (think Napoleonic France, for example).
In fact, i attribute my own early interest in costuming to the resources of Dover Publications. Each year, my parents would receive their mail-order catalogue, and i was encouraged from a young age to pore over it with a highlighter, picking out books that i might want for Christmas. As a girl, i particularly loved their intricately-illustrated coloring books on fascinating subjects like Greek myths, or the history of the locomotive, and their paperdolls of ancient royalty and foreign cultures. Later on as a poor college student, i loved Dover for their Thrift Editions, simple paperbacks of classic novels and plays which they sell for $1 or $2.
Peruse their website--i guarantee you'll find tons of great books!
I also want to mention a couple of less widely-known publishers of vintage reprints, the first of whom is R. L. Shep Publications
. R. L. Shep is hardly a new publisher, having been around since 1962; the internet just makes his books easier to find and purchase. Some highlight titles from this publisher:The Blue Book of Men's Tailoring
by Frederick Croonborg, 1907. You'll find well-worn editions of this book passed down through tailoring families, often rebound several times over. In fact, one of our recent graduate program applicants brought her father's copy to share with us in her portfolio presentation, which she'd used as a source text to create several tailored jackets. Now you can get a new copy from R. L. Shep for $30.Late Victorian Women's Tailoring: The Direct System of Ladies' Cutting
by T. H. Holding, 1897. In addition to Holding's tailoring system, the book includes instructional sections on manufacturing trimwork, undergarments, and accessories. $20.Ladies Self-Instructor in Millinery and Mantua Making, Embroidery and Applique
, 1853. A sort of overview of period embellishment arts and parlor-business accessory construction. Contains an extra section of illustrations from Godey's Lady's Book
And, R. L. Shep is the primary republisher of Mme. Anna Ben-Yusuf's 1909 book, Edwardian Hats: The Art of Millinery
, which can be purchased for $25. 
In addition to their own titles, R. L. Shep Publications also produces a small-circulation catalogue of rare, out-of-print books that they acquire, called Books on Cloth
, distributed and maintained by Fred Struthers. A single copy is only $2.50, and you never know what gems you might find listed in its pages!
Another company from whom i recently purchased a couple of titles is Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions
. They produce mainly knitting, crocheting, and tatting pattern books, many of which were originally printed by yarn, thread, and pattern companies like Bucilla, Butterick, Paton's, etc. They also produce millinery and toymaking publications. I was so pleased with the service and quality of their product, i had to share it here on La Bricoleuse
The company is named for the founder's grandmother, who sounds like she was an inspiring woman of the early 20th century with an interest both in handwork arts and in education. You can read about her life and tragic untimely death from breast cancer, as well as view an array of wonderful photographs of Iva Rose here.
As such, it seems that her granddaughter's mission in founding the company was to preserve techniques and resources pertaining to ladies period handwork, and foster a spirit of self-education in continuation of her grandmother's legacy.
The company's website allows you to search by decade, which is a nice feature for historian-research purposes. The two books i purchased were the 1903 publication, Paton's Collection of Knitting and Crochet Receipts #3 by M. Elliot Scrivenor
, and Scientific Hat Finishing and Renovating, by Henry L. Ermatinger
The 1903 knitting book (which was originally published by Paton's and sold for a shilling) is full of excellent patterns for a range of period knitwear for men, women, and children. I'm particularly interested in the knitted waistcoats, petticoats, ladies' stockings, gloves/mittens/muffatees , and hoods/caps/fascinators. There's a garment section called the hug-me-tight, which is something like a surplice bolero vest, and for which there's a pattern in the modern book i recently bought, Lion Brand Yarn Vintage Styles for Today
. I plan on knitting the Lion version and the Paton's period version both, so once i'm finished with that (probably in like 2 years' time!) i'll make a comparative post. Unrelated to content, this book has a beautifully-rendered full-color cover image of two ladies and a girl knitting and crocheting, depicted in the Art Nouveau style.
The Ermatinger book is a 1919 reference on men's hats, a subject upon which you can rarely find any information. The production and refurbishment of men's hats was historically--much like men's tailoring--a largely oral historical tradition, passed on mostly through the trade tradition of apprenticeship. Books are hard to come by. If you click on the title up there though, there are on the Iva Rose site a number of reproduced illustrations from the book, by which you can see its indispensable usefulness for a theatrical crafts artisan such as myself, or indeed anyone who might often have to repair, alter, clean, and build men's headwear. And for a mere $20? Who can resist? Not I.
Incidentally, Iva Rose produces their own reprints of the Ben-Yusuf text and the 1926 Georgina Kerr Kaye book, Millinery for Every Woman
. Iva Rose's edition of the Ben Yusuf text is $5 cheaper than the R. L. Shep edition and retains the original Nouveau cover image of roses, but the Shep edition contains an insert of catalogue pages from the 1908-09 fashion publication Correct Dress
Given the choice, i would purchase an instructional book from Iva Rose over a book from other repro publishers, because i prefer their use of a spiral-spine binding. With instructional trade books, the spiral binding means the book will lay open flat of its own accord on a work table; when one has both hands involved in stitching or knitting or similar, that's a great convenience. The books are produced in a high-quality workbook format, with a sturdy opaque black plastic back cover and a clear plastic overlay to protect the full-color front cover. I suppose you could argue that this sort of format results in a book that looks like it was run off at the copy department of an Office Max or whatever, but for my money, the information contained within is just as valuable whether it's hardbound, paperbound, or ringbound, and for my purposes, ringbound is the most handy. My favorite edition of the milliner's standby reference, From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking
, is a ringbound version produced in the 1990s--hatmaking is a two-handed craft and i like that the book stays open of its own accord.
So, anyone else want to add some sources here? Got a favorite reproduction publisher, or do you publish your own reproduction resource texts? Favorite old titles? Or, if you've had a bad experience ordering and want to warn others, please comment! As always, i welcome your input. One of my favorite aspects of the blog format is that it fosters discussion, and allows all readers an equal voice--it's not just me pontificating on a street corner, as it were.
 Incidentally, for those interested in the ongoing saga of my research into her life
, my speculations have been cleared up by historian, archivist, and the Ben-Yusufs' (forthcoming) biographer, Frank Goodyear of the National Portrait Gallery
at the Smithsonian. He confirmed that Mme. Anna was in fact the mother of Zaida Ben-Yusuf, and that both women were successful milliners who wrote extensively on the craft (in addition to any number of other pursuits). His interest and study on the two women stems from Zaida's photographic portraiture career rather than her contributions to the millinery arts, but it was exciting to talk with someone who could answer my biographical questions about these two amazing artists and artisans. Mr. Goodyear confirmed that a retrospective exhibit of Zaida Ben-Yusuf's portraiture and other photography will be mounted at the NPG in early 2008, and will coincide with the publication of his own biographical work on the lives of the Ben-Yusuf women. I'll be metaphorically first in line, both to see the exhibit and read Mr. Goodyear's book!
 Vocab: muffatees
--knit tubes of fabric for the wrists, recently repopularized by teen girls and 20-something women under the name "armwarmers." Me, i like "muffatees" better than "armwarmers"!