Manual of Work Garment Manufacture

coverallFor my fourth entry in this vintage book series available for download from the Library of Congress comes Manual of Work Garment Manufacture: How to improve quality and reduce costs copyright 1921 Union Special (Machine Company). I think this is a lovely book (100+ pages) -but then consider the source. Again I direct your attention to front matter of the old texts. Snapshots of life in a seemingly more genteel age is interesting -beyond the hilarity of infighting, feuds and libelous slanders between competing authorities. The second paragraph of this work’s introduction is unintentionally a bit sad if not tragic. My comments appear in brackets:

That the sewing machine deserves credit for a good portion of this goes without saying, but it is generally conceded that Union Special machines revolutionized the overall industry [true] by doing away with the old bundle system [not true]. This enables each operator to remain continuously on one operation [this describes a bundle system as we know it today], resulting in greater and better production.

I regret if my comments lend a critical impression of Union Special; my intent is to draw attention to the migration of meaning as it relates to common work practices. The introduction continues:

It is our intention to give a reliable treatise on the proper method to manufacturer overalls and allied garments, giving the best machine specifications for each operation, whether Union Special make or not.

The succeeding pages should be of vital interest to anyone engaged in the manufacture of work garments or to anyone contemplating entering this industry.

biboverallsAnd it succeeds admirably. I cannot know whether this is the first sewing specifications book but it is certainly one of the earliest and easily the most accessible -thanks to the Library of Congress, US taxpayers and underwriters.

The text is liberally illustrated with diagrams and notation. By way of example is the chart at right (page 10) which describes the flow of operations of bib overalls. This introduction is simple enough for beginners to absorb processes readily. The subsequent pages diagram the sewing floor layout. Remember how I’ve said many times that your product type will dictate the organization of your plant floor and the kinds of machines you need? Well, this book lays it out for you pretty neatly. Obviously most of you aren’t looking for advice on producing 600 dozen bib overalls a week but it scales down neatly enough.

US_hemmerOn page 16 begins a discussion and explanation for the plant layout as well as a description of the work flow and processes involved. Page 18 is a fairly detailed explanation of “coupon cost method” which is better known today as piecework. If you’re new to these parts, piecework isn’t the demon it is so commonly made out to be so it won’t hurt to read it through. Whether you choose to implement a system like this is another story but it will help many of you to understand all the handling involved in putting products together and their associated costs so you can account for them.

Subsequent pages break down operations further still based on machine type, folders or attachments needed as well as schematics (but no seam class names yet) and expected optimal output for the given operation. The illustrations and photos albeit technical, are charming and warm. [I won’t be annoyed if you sigh and roll your eyes; consider the source.] The machines are rather striking, nearly all are arch shaped, rather elegant if you think about it. It was also practical in that it permitted greater access to working the material through the machine. At right above is a Union Special 11500 hemmer.

Before I forget, Union Special is still around and manufacturing industrial sewing machines in the US with a reputation for making nice equipment. This book is definitely worth the download. Enjoy!

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  1. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Just got back from the Union Special website. They have a terrific downloadable manual on their machines, well worth the look.

  2. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Terri, click on “Products”; then “Apparel”; then “Denim” and scroll down just a bit to see the dvd circle ad click on that.

  3. Lynn Grant says:

    This is very cool. I was fascinated by Union Special’s current garment-assembly book. Looking at this one makes me want to make a pattern and make some 1920s overalls.

    One thing that I always find interesting about books from this Era is that they seem more holistic: in addition to talking about how your garments should be assembled, it reminds you that it would be good to have some rest rooms for the young ladies sewing them, as well as a nurse, and maybe a cafeteria. (I remember a bookkeeping book I read from this Era that reminded the reader to dress sharply and show up for work on time.)

    The books have a paternalistic feel to them, kind of like a dad giving his son advice to help ensure his success.

    Thanks for posting this.


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