Pictures of Several Hundred-Year-Old Waists Made From One Pattern

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, March 4, 1913: Today was quite an eventful day. Took my waist up this morning. We went up to practice this evening. I now think we are making some progress.

wils36346.d1This tailored waist is the foundation waist; the tucks in the front and back allowing ample material for the other waists illustrated.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

When Grandma was young, blouses and shirts were called waists. What does “took up my waist mean?” Was she remodeling a waist or making a new one?

Maybe Grandma adapted a pattern that she’d previously used to make a new waist. Here are some drawings from a hundred year old issue of Ladies Home Journal that show several waists made from the same basic pattern.

Five Waists From One Pattern

To the woman who does her own sewing the advantage of a pattern from which several different styles of a particular garment can be made is obvious. It reduces materially the fitting problems and the need of studying the various parts of separate patterns. Once you have mastered the construction of the foundation pieces it is extremely easy to apply the various other pieces to make any of the five waists.

Ladies Home Journal (November, 1912)

wils36346.a

wils36346.b

wils36346.c

wils36346.e

Practice referred to play practice. Grandma had the role of Chloe the servant.

14 Responses

  1. Interesting title. It could be read two different ways:-).

  2. I would guess that “taking it up” – meant either making it smaller or taking up the hem to make it shorter. I remember my mom saying that she was “taking up” a garment. I’ve also heard “taking in a seam”.
    Although I wouldn’t want to wear them everyday, I love those old dresses….I mean, “waists”!

    • That makes sense. I wonder why she needed to make the waist smaller. Were more fitted ones the latest style? . . .did she lose some weight? . . . or was it a hand-me-down that was too large?

  3. I too, always heard that “taking up” meant making smaller. Wish I needed to take up anything today! :)

    • My clothes more often need to be “let out.”. . though I tend to donate clothes that are too small to a charity rather than remodel them.

  4. Wow, I think you’d have to be a pretty accomplished seamstress to sew any one of those, especially the one with the interesting yolk that continues into the sleeve.

    • I get the sense that most people were really good seamstresses a hundred years ago. These picture make me wish that I’d paid more attention when I was a child when my mother or other relatives were trying to teach me various sewing skills.

      • You an me both Sheryl. I used to sew many of my work clothes but not really detailed patterns. Simple shifts, belted. That kind of thing. These seamstresses rocked.

  5. I love these patterns! I wish I could have them!

  6. They do look lovely. They remind me of the front picture in one of my favorite books from that era “Lydia of the Pines”. I found it in my grandmother’s books long, long ago.

  7. “…blouses and shirts were called waists.”
    Never knew this. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Take it up meant to make it smaller, let it out means make it bigger. You allowed for extra fabric in the garment so you could do this. I learned sewing from my Grandmother, who was born in 1905. :-)

    • I learned something new. Thanks for the information. I can remember hearing the term “let it out” when I was a child–but I don’t remember anyone ever saying “take it up.” I suppose that’s because my mother generally said this when she lowered hems on my dresses as I grew. I wonder if Grandma lost some weight since she was making it smaller.

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