Nancy Zieman's Favorite Sewing Notions



Often when traveling by plane, the person sitting next to me asks what I do for a living. When I briefly describe my job, the common response is, “Oh, my grandmother used to sew!” I nod and smile, knowing that the sewing notions, sewing patterns, and sewing machines used by grandma were a far cry from what we’re using today. Getting that same question asked with practically the same response for tens of times, caused me to ask myself, Wouldn’t it be a great idea to compare sewing notions, quilting products, and sewing and/or quilting books, used in the past to what we use now?

Sewing Then and Now became a 2-part Sewing With Nancy TV series. You can watch the show online—it’s the featured video this week. Or, watch the show on PBS or on DVD. Here are two interesting comparisons.


Sewing With Nancy online



A “Then” Sewing Technique

Back in 1917, Lydia Trattles Coates wrote the book, American Dressmaking Step by Step, published by The Pictorial Review Company in NY. Paging through this 94-year old book, I was amazed—both at how different and then again, how comparable sewing in 1917 is to 2012.

The book is filled with photographs. When looking at a technique page, you’d hardly guess at the age of the book—the photos look four decades old, not 94 years. A fashion photograph tells another story!

The technique that I’d like to compare is how to “Cover a Cord.” Lydia’s technique, clever for the day, was as follows:

  • Sew a fine cord to the end of the cording, which is to be covered.
  • Cut a bias strip wide enough to cover the cable cord, allowing for seams.
  • Fold the bias strip wrong side out, over the cord.
  • Tack the bias strip firmly to the joining of the fine cord and cable cord.
  • Stitch from the folded edge a sufficient distance to allow the cable cord to be drawn through.
  • Then draw the facing right side out over the cable cord by pulling the fine cord and drawing the facing over the cable cord. We followed her directions and, sure enough, it works just fine. But the time spent was, well…lengthy!

The “Now” Sewing Technique

Today, we’d approach the process slightly different. Using a Fasturn, the process is slick!

•           Stitch a bias tube; thread it onto the cylinder portion of the Fasturn Set.

•           Insert the turning hook inside the lower edge of the tube and turn the wire until it appears on the opposite end through the fabric.

•           Slightly pull the wire hook, encouraging about a ½″ of the bias strip to lower into the cylinder. Stuff the cording into the end and continue pulling the hook. Presto, it’s turned inside out and the cord is inside!


A “Then” Quilting Technique

Ruth Wyeth Spears, who mainly wrote about sewing, also featured home decorating projects. Her Sewing Book 4 (cost of $.10 in 1940), features “an unusual design for quilt lovers.” The quilt pattern is detailed on pages 16 & 17, with most of the copy detailing how she came about seeing the quilt for the first time, “driving 40 miles from NYC in the hills of Westchester County…winding along a dirt road we stopped before a fine old white house. There was a crowd in the yard for an auction. We edged our way through and found the center of attention, not antique silver or a rare old piece of furniture, but what seemed to be a simple American quilt. Already the price had soared beyond our reach, so we contented ourselves with sketching the pattern and making notes of the colors.”

The instructions are found in the last paragraph—three sentences in length. Not for the quilting newbie!

The Same Quilting Technique in the 21st Century

Rather than cutting triangles to create the quarter-square triangle blocks, I like to use the Quick Quarter, beginning with squares of fabric. The directions are found in Quilt with Confidence.

  • Use one dark and one light square to make two half-square triangles.

  • Join the half-square triangle blocks to make quarter-squares.
  • Meet two half-square blocks, right sides together, meeting opposite colors of the two blocks.
  • Mark a diagonal line from one corner to the opposite corner, and mark ¼″ seam allowances on each side of the diagonal line. Use a Quick Quarter for speed.
  • Stitch on each of the marked seam allowance lines. Cut apart. Presto!

My book, Nancy’s Favorite 101 Notions served as the new notion reference and several antique sewing/quilting books for the “then” side of the story. Here are two of my findings.

What’s your favorite sewing or quilting “then” technique? Perhaps you too have a collection of vintage sewing books that feature rather unique applications. Please share!

Have you downloaded the Sewing With Nancy app?

Remember, you can watch the Sewing With Nancy episode (plus 51 other shows) online or on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod!


Sewing With Nancy app



Nancy's Giveaway Winner

Thanks for sharing your favorite elastic tips from the 2-part series of Sew Elastics—Stretch Your Options. The random winner of the book is Elena DeLoof. The elastic episodes are favorites of mine. I especially like the use of clear elastic as a stabilizer for the neckline on knits. The foldover elastic that can be dyed to match your fabric, and using elastic that can be cut to the needed size are things I also want to try.

Sew Elastic - Stretch Your Options

Bye for now,

Nancy Zieman The Blog

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