One of the most important things is economy in the manner in which money is spent for work. Many an overtasked woman, feeling it impossible to accomplish all her sewing without assistance, will employ a dressmaker to make and make over dresses, and herself wrestle with the weary, never ending accumulation of plain family sewing and repairing which could be done by cheap help. This is not good management, for professional skill is always expensive to procure, and the price paid for making one dress would be enough to hire a large amount of plain sewing done. Cutting and fitting dresses is not difficult with good patterns at command, and there is no reason why any one should hesitate to undertake her own dressmaking. It is an art one soon acquires and becomes very expert in after a little practice. Let a woman feel herself capable of making a dress fairly well, and what a vista of possibilities opens before her. Old garments that are not worth spending a penny upon can be put to good use if the owner knows how to fashion them herself. It is commendable to work over old clothes, and make them look as new and stylish as taste and industry can contrive. Never be contented with a simply decent old dress; but, if you can not afford a new one, take the time to make the old one tasteful and as near the fashion as can be. Perhaps some one will say you are foolish to spend time and strength on old material, but judge for yourself if it is not judiciously spent when it brings as a result a costume which gives you that comfortable feeling of self-respect that a pretty and becoming dress does not fail to confer upon the wearer. Even the most showy fashions of the present time favor remodeling and making over dresses. Two or three materials still enter into the composition of street and house dresses, and the greatest liberty of taste is allowed in the shape of overskirts and the modes of trimming. Basques, round waists, jackets and polonaises, all are seen upon new dresses. No one style seems to reign in any department of dress cutting, which is a great blessing to those who make their new dresses out of old ones. Another point which is of especial advantage to those who have real genius and skill in making over dresses is the fancy for individual novelties in costume. Ladies of fashion boast of having designed a dress which is unique and unlikely to meet its counterpart. Dressmakers rack their brains to invent styles which they can assure favorite patrons shall be repeated upon no other dress.
If abandoned garments, for which there is no immediate use in any form, were always wholly, or partially taken apart and laid away carefully, instead of being tucked away at random, they would make a better appearance when their opportunity for usefulness occurs.
In these days of mixtures and combinations there are few things which can not be made serviceable as trimmings or to assist in composing some of the costumes expert economists make up out of odds and ends. Every thing of the sort in a family should be saved with a view to usefulness in the future. There should be a receptacle in garret or store-room where large and small pieces may quietly bide their time out of every one's way. It is quite a treat to visit such a receptacle when the dressmaking time of each season draws near, and look over its resources. Many hidden and forgotten bundles will come to light, and be greeted as so much saving of money. Some old breadths may make a sham skirt to build a new dress upon, another fragment will perhaps make a facing or waist lining. A great deal of money is spent for such minor details of a dress, which might be saved and spent in a more showy manner, if strict attention were paid to treasuring up old possessions. Every thing of the kind should not only be saved but put away in good order. If an old dress is abandoned, do not hang it up in its worn out condition, but rip it all to pieces, clean the breadths, for if they are worth using at all, they are worth cleaning, and fold them neatly. Select all the best portions of other parts of the dress and serve in the same way. It is very disheartening to find material in a dirty condition when the occasion comes to use it, and if it is needed in a hurry, the chances are that something new will have to be bought to take its place. The best parts of old cotton underclothes may be dyed with family dye, and used for linings for dresses and children's clothes. For waist linings cotton cloth had better be left undyed. White linings are not in the least objectionable where corset covers are worn; on the contrary, they are the choice of many dressmakers.
In altering over old black silk dresses do not use a hot iron on them; sponge the pieces with a large sponge dipped in clear coffee, and then fold and lay away under a pressure as heavy as possible. The silk will come out looking almost like new.
An independent polonaise, for wearing with different skirts, is not an article of dress much advised now by dressmakers, because a certain uniformity is considered desirable in dress, but economical people can not afford to give up the useful garment which creates such a pleasing variety in a slender wardrobe. A black cashmere polonaise, for instance, or even a gray flannel one, can be worn over several skirts, and thus supply street and house costumes at little cost.
Black is handsome, lady-like and irreproachable; and she who is not the fortunate possessor of one good black dress is really worthy of pity. The black dresses of to-day are frequently gay with colored trimmings, and the
Persian cashmeres and brocades that are used in decoration really light them up wonderfully well; but if the purse allows but one nice dress, that one should, by all means, be all black, and depend for illumination upon the little accessories of ribbons, fichus, etc., which will make it more or less dressy as required. Every woman who cares for appearance - and every one ought to do that - ought, if she can possibly afford it, to own a good black silk dress. Alpaca is good; cashmere is better; other black materials are very satisfactory; but nothing gives one such a comfortable feeling of self-respect as black silk. Silk is still very cheap, the fancy makes particularly so. It would cost a good deal to get a really rich plain black silk, for such a dress requires to be richer than one with a stripe, dot or figure, and will also need richer trimmings. Better no silk than a poor, flimsy, plain one, which soon turns shabby and betrays the purchaser's trust.
Patience and practice work miracles in dressmaking, and the amateur will, in cultivating both, learn to study her own figure and bring out its good points in a way that no professor of the art will be likely to do.