Basting stitches are large, loose stitches used to hold fabric in place while the seamstress sews the actual seams. They are a preliminary step in the process and should be removed when the garment is finished.


Batiste is a soft, somewhat sheer fabric with a plain weave.


A bertha was a ruffle sewn around the neckline and shoulders of a dress.


Cloth cut "on the bias" is cut at a 90-degree angle to the grain of the fabric. Designs that have the seamstress intentionally cut on the bias drape in a way that is attractive but difficult to sew. Fabric unintentionally cut in this way will not hang correctly.


Bloomers were baggy shorts or pants. They were often knee-length but could be shorter, especially when worn with a bathing suit. The name comes from Amelia Bloomer, a nineteenth-century dress-reform advocate who suggested women wear loose, ankle-length pants under a knee-length skirt instead of long skirts.


Drawers were women’s bifurcated undergarments.


Gingham is a yarn-dyed cotton fabric (as opposed to a printed fabric) with solid, checked, striped, or plaid designs, most commonly known in its checkered form. It is associated with rural America – such as Dorothy’s dress in The Wizard of Oz.


A gusset is a triangular or diamond-shaped insert added to a garment, for example, in the crotch or underarms, which allows for more ease of movement.


Middy blouses were loose shirts modeled after sailor suits, with a square back collar and a front tie. The word comes from "midshipman."  Middies were popular for both boys and girls but were also worn by adult women.


A peplum is a short flounce added to the waist of a dress or jacket.


Poplin fabric is densely woven. Knapp’s swimsuit did not drain water because of this tight weave.

Raw seams

A "raw" seam would show where the fabric was cut and might unravel. A more polished way to finish a seam would be to make French seams, which entailed sewing up the same seam twice to enclose the raw edges inside.  Most modern seams are "serged," which means that a special machine sews thread along the edge of the fabric to prevent unraveling.

Seam allowance

A seam allowance is the extra quarter- to half-inch of fabric needed on all sides of the cut fabric to allow sewing up the seams. Without such an allowance, the garment will be too small for the original measurements. Before the patterns included allowances, one had to remember to include them when cutting the fabric.

Stroked gathers

Stroked gathers are another name for "cartridge pleats," which are measured folds obtained by folding rows of stitches in parallel lines to make rounded pleats. Stroking between each pleat gave them a "cartridge belt" effect.


In this context, a surplice-style garment has a neckline with a diagonal closing, similar to "wrap" styles of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In another context a surplice is an ecclesiastical vestment.


The world of fabric trimmings includes ribbon, braid, cording, tassels, buttons, etc. Many women would change the trim on a dress as part of a renovation. Contest judges were usually more interested in the garment’s construction than added bells and whistles.


Like batiste, voile is a fine sheer fabric usually used for making dresses and curtains. It can be made of a variety of materials, but eighth-grade girls used white cotton.


The term "waist" meant what would today be called a blouse and was a general term for a woman’s shirt. Shirtwaists, often white with decorative tucks or lace, were worn with skirts in the early twentieth century and became a popular alternative to a dress. They became one of the first mass-produced women’s garments and were often produced in sweatshops like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1995).

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster Inc., 1987).