Sunday, November 10, 2013

Book reviews

Yay!! I got some new costume books in the mail!

I'm a librarian by trade, so pretty, new books make me happy.

Anyway...on one of my historical costuming lists someone asked if the Martha Pullen favorite places series of books were any good. They are at Hamilton Books for $7.95 each so I decided to take a chance on them.

Bottom line...I would have paid much more for them. They are a steal at that price!
The ones I got were these:


 I didn't get the DAR quilt collection book or the V&A children's collection books because those areas don't really interest me. Oh...and the Martha Pullen's vintage collection book is volume 1. Hamilton Books didn't have volume 2 available.

For those of you who don't know who Martha Pullen is, she is the founder and editor of "Sew Beautiful" magazine. She also has a big business in heirloom sewing and quilting supplies, sewing books, and TV sewing shows

For historical costumers, here's the run down on the books to give you an idea of whether or not you'll like them.

First of all, they are much heavier on children's clothing than most costuming books. There are between 50 and 60 items featured in each book and they are split about evenly between adult and children's/babies' clothing.

Second, since Ms. Pullen founded her business on heirloom sewing, there are a LOT of things with lace and/or embroidery.

Third, there are almost no men's clothing at all.

Fourth, most items are featured in a 2-page layout. One large, full-page photo of the item with a 1/2 to 3/4 page description that includes 1 or 2 small detail shots. There are 5 or 6 items in each book that are given a 4-page spread with more photos and detail.

Fifth, there are small drawings of some of the embroidery patterns from the items in the back of each book. The drawings can be enlarged for use in hand embroidery and re-creations of the items. There is also a mention that Ms. Pullen sells a CD with the embroidery patterns for machine embroidery.

Finally, the items featured are mostly between the late 1890s and early 1910s. I'd say at least 3/4 of the adult clothing falls in this time period. (except for the DAR museum book)

Comments and criticisms on particular books:

The Kent State Museum

I've always wanted to visit the Kent State Museum's costume collection, so I was very excited to see these books.

They have a couple of dresses from the 1820s, but most things fall into the time period that I mentioned above.

Descriptions of the items are good, sometimes giving dimensions of lace or trims, etc. They also mention things that sewers like to know, such as bodices and sleeves cut on the biases and things like that.

My only criticism is that the dates are sometimes hard to find for each item. Each description starts with a quote from a period magazine or book that relates to the featured item. The date for the quote is clearly given. But sometimes these quotes are several years off from the actual date of the items. You must read through the first paragraph of the description to get the clothing's date.

But that's a small quibble and shouldn't deter you from getting the books.

The DAR Museum

This entry in the "favorite places series" is a little more spread out time-wise and gender-wise.
There are several men's waistcoats from the 1700s and up to the 1830s.

The women's clothing is also earlier than those from the Kent State books. One item from the 1700s, 5 from 1800-1820s, 5 from 1830-1860s, 4 from 1870-1880s, and the rest from later.

The date for each featured item is found right at the top of the description. The items are separated by age and gender. All of the children's clothing is at the front, then women's clothing and then men's clothing at the back.

The descriptions in this book are a little more geared toward what was going on in society and fashion over-all than the previous books, but still have some of that construction info that we costumers love.

The Vintage Collection of Martha Pullen vol 1

Ms. Pullen collects white clothing with interesting lace and embroidery. So that's what you'll find in this book. The vast majority are white. And out of the women's clothing, only 1 item is earlier than 1900.
This book, like the others, is split evenly between adult and children's clothing.

It also has 2 pillows and 2 embroidery scraps featured in addition to the clothing.

Unlike the others, which were written by curators of the museums mentioned, this book was actually written by Ms. Pullen. Since her main interest is in sewing, the descriptions in this book are more geared toward sewers. She gives much more nitty-gritty detail about the construction than the other books in the series.

For example, here's a paragraph from the description of a woman's camisole from c.1900:
"The padded satin stitch flowers and bow design on this particular piece were worked on both fronts of the camisole and again at the center back. Hand scallops formed with a buttonhole stitch were meticulously worked all the way around the neckline, down both sides of the front, and around the armscyes. A strip of a beautiful Swiss beading, through which ribbon is run to cinch in the camisole, defines the waistline. Eyelets worked in sets of two completely around the neckline serve the same purpose; ribbon is woven through them to pull up the fullness and to tie the camisole closed at the top. The bottom was finished with a 1/4 inch wide hem secured with a running stitch. The seams are French, and the whole camisole was made entirely by hand."
The pictures aren't as interesting for me, because of the white, white and yet more white! of the items, and because of the narrow time period featured. But the construction details mentioned more than make up for that. I might have bought the second volume at full price just for that, except that it's out of print and used copies I've found are way too expensive.

All-in-all, I'm glad I bought these books. The photography quality is good, the usefulness of the descriptions varies, but is overall good as well. Definitely worth more than the $7.95 I paid for each of them.

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