Cover of Sewing Without Tears by Violet Wilson at the Tchad workroom sewing studio in Chicago

Sewing Without Tears

We received Sewing Without Tears by: Violet Wilson, published in 1972 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, in the early 00’s from a student who thought the title funny as she browsed the thrift store shelves for something amusing.

We opened it to find the forward prefaced by a quote from Publilius Syrus (Late Republican Rome, 42 BCE):

“A fair exterior is a silent recommendation…” *

Forward page of Sewing Without Tears by Violet Wilson featuring quote by Publilius Syrus from the Tchad Workroom Sewing Studio Library in Chicago
Publilius Syrus for the win.

If you quote first century BCE Roman writers to us – either within or without the context of sewing we are going to turn our head, so we dove in.

Wilson has created something interesting here.  For a sewing manual, it is very text-heavy.  Whether that was intentional and the expectation was that the reader would be educated or experienced enough to divine the techniques she is talking about or whether there just wasn’t enough money in the budget for fuller, richer illustrations is up for debate.

Page from Violet Wilson's Sewing Without Tears on fitting and altering patterns from the tchad workroom sewing studio library in Chicago
This is as illustrated as this bad boy gets…

Even though it isn’t as friendly as some of our modern sewing manuals, it really is a thorough and dense book to have on hand for the beginner intermediate student.  Wilson goes into things like planning and buying for matching plaids with a directness that is easy to understand.

Page on plaid purchasing from Violet Wilson's Sewing Without Tears from the Tchad workroom sewing Studio library in Chicago
Ms. Wilson explains plaid purchasing…

She also shows a pretty good example of the best knot to tie when you are sewing by hand – a dressmaker’s knot as it is called here is what we recommend in class and anchors the stitches better than a knot just tied in the end of the thread.  It is more stable and secure.

Tying a knot from Violet Wilson's Sewing Without Tears form the Tchad Workroom sewing studio library in chicago
Tying a knot…

She also has a solid chapter on fabrics that defines, introduces some textile theory, and gives direction in choosing.  This chapter is especially funny to us because it seems to show her bias to what would have been modern in 1972 – look at the image below and tell us that her delicate rant about “Sleezy, stretchy jersey…” and try not to laugh as you imagine an old marm in a long skirt and bun saying it.

Fabric suggestions, warnings, and definitions example from Violet Wilson's Sewing Without Tears from the Tchad workroom sewing studio library in chicago
Really thorough chapter on fabrics with definitions, a little textile theory, and warnings…

Overall, a really good book for the intermediate sewist.  She covers just about everything you would need to know in a fairly approachable way except for the lack of comprehensive illustrations.

This has probably been one of the more comprehensive sewing books we’ve had around – in 350 pages she really takes you on a ride through the world of home sewing with an eye toward professional results.

Chapter rundown:

  1. Fibers & Yarns
  2. Fabric Construction
  3. Natural Fibres
  4. Man-Made Fibres
  5. Colour Magic (choosing colors and their uses)
  6. Becoming Lines (flattering shapes)
  7. On Being Well-Dressed (fashion & wardrobe advice)
  8. Sewing Equipment (a bog-standard rundown from a 1972 dressmaker)
  9. The Sewing Machine
  10. Pressing
  11. Body Measurements in Relation to Pattern Selection
  12. Selection of Fabrics & Patterns
  13. Fabrics That Present Special Problems
  14. Pattern Alterations
  15. Preparing, Cutting, and Marking Fabrics
  16. Sewing Guide Terms
  17. Grainlines in Relation to Fitting
  18. Sleeves
  19. Alterations and Fitting of the Bodice
  20. Fitting and Altering Suit Jackets, Suit Dresses, and Coats
  21. Fitting and Altering Coats
  22. Altering & Fitting Problem Necklines
  23. Slacks
  24. How to Make a Pleated Skirt
  25. Tailoring a Coat (proper tailoring, not in the sense of just alterations)
  26. Dressmaking Hints & Techniques
  27. More Dressmaking Hints & Techniques
  28. Tricks of the Trade
  29. Shoulder Pads
  30. Remakes, Remodelling, and Trimming
  31. Projects for Beginners
  32. Judging Clothing
  33. Stain Removal
    100 Pertinent Questions

ISBN: 684-12887-X
Library of Congress: 78-38767

* So Ms. Wilson is taking a bit of a liberty here in both the quote of the maxim itself and the translation.  The quote in its original Latin is “Formosa facies muta commendatio est” which translates better to something like “a beautiful face is a silent recommendation” It is attributed to both Publilius Syrus and Liberius (we don’t know if it was the Preatorian Prefect or the Pope).