Jun 17, 2013

Book Review : "Guide to dress making" by J Henry Symonds (published 1876)

The Guide to dress making by J Henry Symonds is a must-have for anyone interested in Victorian sewing techniques. 
Published in 1876 it includes earlier dressmaking techniques with diagrams on how to do cartridge pleats (which it calls gauging), and also how to make engagaentes, a type of separate under sleeve popular in the 1850s.

The main downside is the book focuses on ‘Ladies Underclothes’ and therefore doesn’t have many patterns, and what’s included is extremely basic but the How-to-sew information provided by the very readable text makes up for this lack and I rate this book 4 out 5 stars.

Patterns of note: chemise, nightdress, engagaentes, basic skirt, dress trimmings-ruches

The Guide to dress making also includes:
  • estimating material yardage
  • a glossary of terms
  • diagrams and examples of stitches, hems, cording, bias binding
  • instructions and diagrams of how to measure person
  • pitfalls for beginners to avoid.
  • Very clear written instructions on cutting gored panels for skirts, including lengths required and allowing for hems, followed by a clear but basic pattern (which is drawn very small)
  • Written guide how to assemble a dress
  • diagrams how to lay out pattern on fabric
  • sew seams and create seam casings for whalebones.
  • Shows a couple of methods of dress decorating with ruches – this a little complicated looking, but worth seeing
  • briefly covers bodices for balls, discussing options and giving tips on materials and styles– text only.
  • A few pages dedicated to making over old dresses – text only.
  • Text discussion with tips to making jackets, Dolmans etc.
  • Chapter with clear instructions and diagrams on making a chemise and nightdresses.

The Guide to dress making is free to download through the Internet Archive HERE.

If you liked this Review, check out my next Victorian Sewing Book Review HERE


  1. what a lovely book you shared with us...is there any form to download it?

    1. Hi, certainly, the link to download the book is located just above the picture on this post :)