This section is from the book "Text-Book On Domestic Art", by Carrie Crane Ingalls. Also available from Amazon: Textbook On Domestic Art: With Illustrations And Drafts.
(Extracts from a lecture delivered before the C. T. A. Convention.)
Since the universities and colleges have realized the importance of agricultural training for men, why is it not essential that the High School institute a course in Domestic Art that will teach the girl not only how to sew correctly, but to clothe herself in the most economical and attractive way possible?
If there is a system for teaching arithmetic, there is most certainly a system to be followed in teaching sewing; and because a definite and strict course of study has not been outlined, the sewing teacher has been obliged to work with material she could get at the minimum cost, frequently offering it as an elective because many school girls find it necessary to make their own clothes.
The art of sewing, intuitive in every girl, should be developed; if a mother can not teach her little daughter elementary sewing, why should not the State provide teachers for this important subject? Indeed, not only for little daughters, but for growing and grown-up girls, should skilled teachers be employed, in sewing, dressmaking, embroidery and millinery, - just as they are provided for foreign languages, mathematics, art, music, etc. While I would not compel nor require every girl to become an adept in the domestic arts, still she deserves the opportunity of this training if she wishes it. Let us not forget that there is just as much system, order and discipline in sewing, as those other studies which tend to educate her for the fullest duties of life.
If a city school can supply a good equipment, why should not this course be continued into the High School, as other elective subjects, for girls who would learn embroidery, millinery, tailoring, etc.
The cost of a ready-made dress is exorbitant and beyond the purse of most working girls in comparison with the same cost if home-made. But these same garments could be spoiled by the lack of knowledge of correct cutting, fitting and finishing, as well as of unsuitable and unpractical materials. Each of these points makes up the cost of the finished gown, which the girl, in her eagerness to possess, does not comprehend.
In the art of living, we learn to obey the laws of hygiene and nature. Our first steps should concern health, food and clothing. Health depends upon food and clothing - because our food keeps the body in a healthy condition, while clothing registers the proper degree of warmth of the body. It is quite as important to know how to dress the body properly, as to feed it; for a violation of the laws of body-protection - shown in some new fads, often unsuited to the different climates where they are foolishly introduced or ignorantly followed - may impair the health of otherwise fine men and women.
So many mistakes in selection and cost of clothing are made by the majority of people, I am persuaded that girls should be taught the economic as well as the theoretic side of living. In many instances it is necessary for teachers to give practical advice in the use of cotton for silk, a clean, dark underskirt for the soiled white one, embroidery for lace, etc.
That the study of sewing lowers the standard of the High School curriculum, is the weakest of all arguments.
More true womanliness and love for home and home-duties come from the art of the needle than from any other occupation a girl may choose. To be sure, music is beautiful, languages give one power to speak fluently and to enjoy great minds; algebra and chemistry are certainly factors in education, but domestic art or good practical sewing is an absolute necessity. The sweat-shop and ill-paid wages for apprentices, seamstresses, etc., have made the work a drudgery.
Indeed, a course in sewing may be found to be more complicated than a course in mathematics -because fashion decrees a never-ending change of style of color, cut, form, material and ornamentation. It should include a study of the various materials in their raw and manufactured state, and the different plants, animals or vegetables that go to produce the fibers woven into materials and patterns. Although the fundamental materials, such as cotton, flax, woolen, silk, etc., may be simple, the combination of any two or more of these give us a numberless list of names, which are as hard to classify as some species of plant forms in a laboratory. Yet these may be analyzed by observing the weave, nap, texture, etc.
Now, why should not the girl be given the right foundation to meet the material difficulties of her later years, since the problems of clothing like those of cooking can not be escaped, and why should not the rudiments of these be learned in the school room?
When sewing has been made an elective, we find more than one-half are eager to learn to make their own clothes. Should it not then be taught? From experience, I have found that parents are quite as pleased as the pupils when a garment, which has been drafted and well put together, or a hat, cheaply and becomingly made, is taken home for inspection and is worn by the daughter.
I have been asked by several teachers if I thought drafting was essential. I answer, "Yes," most emphatically. My reasons are first of all that the girl learns the laws of proportion in putting a garment together; to be exact; to make alterations when required; and what is very important, also, her own measurements - perhaps this may show her some physical defect which is the result of improper clothing or lack of bodily development. This can also be made a lesson in physical culture; for when I measure a girl's hips and find the right side is 2 1/2 inches larger than the left, I could tell her how disfigured she will grow, should she continue to stand improperly.
There are many other lessons that come to the sewing teacher, while she is fitting her pupil's dress - neatness, cleanliness, proper choice of material, etc. A careful study of the needs of each pupil may bring about invaluable results. Drafting may seem complicated, yet it is surprising how readily a class will comprehend it.
Tailoring or advanced sewing, can not be made a perfect or progressive study, if drafting has not been taught. This is necessary for the complicated gowns as well as the simple, plain lines, which make the foundation for each garment. A gown may be ruined by using the warp for the woof, or a seam for a fold. There is always a right way and a wrong way, and, in the beginning, it is just as easy to learn the right way.
In teaching the art, method or accomplishment of sewing, the work must be so systematized that the pupil will realize the importance of each step and its relation to the finished article, until, thru habit, each piece of work is well done. This means close concentration and application with eyes on the needle and material.
If hand sewing only is done, a wider range of work should be adopted by the teacher, applying sheerer materials or daintier work as outlined in Part Three, yet never confounding the classification of stitches and their proper application. If schools do not furnish sewing machines, it is impossible to complete the course marked out in Part Two. In these days no work room is properly equipped for practical experience without one or several sewing machines. Moreover, I would suggest more than one variety of make, as machines are divided into two classes - the shuttle or bobbin and the automatic. Both kinds should be thoroughly understood.
The best of everything is the cheapest in the end; standard machines, needles, thread, scissors, tape measures, thimbles, etc., will stand more strain and will wear better than cheap grades.
As advanced work in drafting, embroidery and millinery has lately been introduced into the High School, it is best to take a simple, plain system which can be understood by all, leaving the many varieties of tailors' charts and systems to the professional.
In this book my object has been to start with the elementary stitches and work up to the more complicated in direct order of classification, being careful not to confuse the plain, the embroidery and the lace stitches with one another.
Embroidery is an advance over plain sewing as are lace stitches over embroidery stitches, so plain stitches must be the fundamental ones. If girls have had an elementary course in sewing it is unnecessary to take the time for sampler work, yet such a test is the only way a teacher may know the quality of a pupil's work.
Plain stitches are so few in number that one sampler may contain them all. So too with embroidery stitches, variations of the same stitch are given particular names, but the countless lace stitches are more difficult to classify, as different countries designate the same stitch by other names.
The sampler should not be used for practising stitches, but rather as an exhibition of skilled handiwork.
In drafting I have used the straight line as much as possible, as curved rulers are not always obtainable or properly used by beginners. The benefit derived from making even the simplest draft is a knowledge of proportion and accuracy of measurement.
Familiarity with different materials leads up to the study of textiles and manufactures so that the field is unlimited. This book is not pretentious in cumbersome detail of long studied work in any one of these accomplishments, aiming rather to be a practical guide for the teacher and a valuable textbook for the pupil.
Finally, to the young woman who wishes to develop practical economy, good taste and a knowledge of how to properly clothe herself, this book is affectionately inscribed.