Frequently Asked Questions

Contents

Who is Lavolta Press?
What type of books do you publish?
Who uses your books?
Do you publish reprints, or do your books contain reprints?
Why do the fashion illustrations in The Voice of Fashion and The Edwardian Modiste not look like modern fashion illustrations?
Who used the historic patterns during the period in which they were published?
How are your books produced?
Why don’t you publish full-size patterns?
Are your patterns easy to enlarge?
What are apportioning scales?
I’ve already used a grid/an overhead projector to enlarge scaled patterns from other publishers’ books. If I use one of those methods to enlarge your true-scale patterns, do I need to do it any differently?
I’m already familiar with developing patterns from a sloper/by draping. Can I use my favorite design method with your patterns?
Are your patterns easy to sew?
I read the hand sewing, garment assembly, or pattern-drafting instructions, but I didn’t understand them. What should I do?
What are the trade-offs between using full-size patterns in envelopes, and using the patterns in your books?
Are your books all pattern books?
Are your books all for women?
Why isn’t this book perfect according to my personal standards?
Why don’t you post your material on the Internet for free?
Why aren’t your books published by a larger publisher?
What are your employment opportunities?
Do you ever buy antique books and magazines?
Will you send me a free copy of the following book or books?
Do you have a bookstore?
Can non-US customers buy and use your books?
Do you plan to publish more books?
Can you email me when you publish a new book?

Who is Lavolta Press?

Lavolta Press is an independent book publisher specializing in the subject “niches” of historic costume, historic needlework, vintage clothing, and, in a broader context, social history. Our books are carried by the leading US book wholesalers; are sold by many bookstores, museum stores, fabric stores, and reenactment resellers; and are available in many libraries. We have been in business since 1993.

What type of books do you publish?

That question is best answered by our on-line catalog and by answers to the other questions in this FAQ. Although we publish and will continue publishing high-quality books in the niches mentioned above, we do not focus on any one era. Nor do we publish books in chronological order. We do not have a “line” of books that are identical except for the years they cover. Each book is a uniquely developed publication.

Who uses your books?

Our readers include film and theater costumers; historic reenactors; museum curators and docents; professors of costume design and fashion design; dressmakers of historic and wedding outfits; people who do historic millinery, knitting, crocheting, tatting, embroidery, and other needlework; corset makers; vintage clothing collectors and dealers; doll artists; vintage dancers and musicians; sidesaddle riders; steampunk enthusiasts; Goths; and historic novelists.

Do you publish reprints, or do your books contain reprints?

No to both questions. A reprint copies previously printed sources exactly as-is. Those of our books that use previously printed sources as a starting point (which is not all of them) are meticulously selected and organized anthologies. They provide an in-depth picture including not only most garments typically worn during a narrow historic period, but some that are unusual—at least to modern readers. (For example, the crocheted and knitted corsets in Reconstruction Era Fashions.)
Our books all include new material such as substantive introductions (covering such topics as overviews of the relevant fashion period), appendices, glossaries, bibliographies, and indexes. Because our goal is to balance historic authenticity with ease of use, all the original text in our books has been edited for focus, clarity, consistency, and technical accuracy. In some cases it has been entirely rewritten—the dressmaking manual in Volume 2 of Fashions of the Gilded Age is a seamless rewrite of information from over a dozen different books and periodicals.
All the original illustrations have been edited to repair the ravages of time, to eliminate irrelevant portions (such as figures in a group fashion plate for which no patterns are given), to redraw missing portions (such as a part of a dress that was overlapped by something else in a plate) and for greater technical clarity and accuracy.
Where patterns were originally published overlapping each other, we have separated them out. Where pattern pieces were missing, we have drafted them from scratch or adapted them from other sources. In the rare cases where errors were present in the patterns, we have corrected them. A very few of the patterns designed to be enlarged to true scale were not published at true scale, so we redrew them.
All the interior design and layout—including our laying out all pattern pieces as they are sewn together—is original to our books. Some of our books include new translations from foreign languages, and some include new illustrations by modern artists.

One of the 28 original full-size pattern sheets used for Reconstruction Era Fashions, before pattern pieces were separated out
Image copyright by Frances Grimble 2001

Why do the fashion illustrations in The Voice of Fashion and The Edwardian Modiste not look like modern fashion illustrations?

We used fashion plates from the same original sources as the patterns, because each illustrates the garment made up from that particular pattern, including the seam lines, the trimmings, and the type of hats and accessories worn with it. Some of our books contain supplementary illustrations of garments, accessories, and hairstyles.
The Edwardian ideal figure featured a narrow waist, a large but low bust, large hips, a large behind, and often a comparatively small head. Although some of this look was achieved with undergarments and posture, it did not reflect the average human body any better than the extremely tall and thin ideal of today’s modern pattern drawings reflects the average human body. Many Edwardian women never achieved the ideal period figure, so the proportions of the patterns themselves are much more realistic, even by modern standards.
Some patterns are illustrated with what we would call “mixed media” fashion plates, with a photographed head pasted onto a body rendered in ink wash, watercolors, charcoals, and/or lithography, depending on the fashion plate. In fact, on examining the plates greatly enlarged on a computer screen, it became apparent that some were partly three-dimensional constructions of cardboard or stiff paper covered with real fabric. Then the entire illustration was photographed for the original publication. Although “mixed media” fashion illustrations seem unusual to some modern readers, they were common in late 19th- and early 20th-century pattern magazines and store catalogs.

Who used the historic patterns during the period in which they were published?

Most of the sources we draw from were for amateur dressmakers, who tended to be middle-class women on a clothing budget that was smaller than they would have liked. However impressive some fashion plates and patterns may look, most were published in mass-market magazines and newspapers for a largely middle-class readership. Most of the original publications we use focused primarily on pattern making and/or sewing.
There are many types of original patterns, and not all are equally easy to use. Apportioning scale systems were typically marketed as a fast, easy, and economical way to raise amateur skills to a professional level, because no arithmetic was required and a range of fashionable patterns was provided in the publications that accompanied the system. This marketing explicitly appealed both to amateurs trying to avoid dressmakers’ bills, and to would-be dressmakers thrown on the job market by some circumstance such as widowhood that did not afford them the time or money needed for professional training.

How are your books produced?

We go through the same stages of substantive editing, copy editing, indexing, cover and interior design, page layout, and proofreading as any other commercial book publisher. Our books are printed by offset lithography, by a high-quality book manufacturer, several thousand copies at each printing. They are printed at 2400 dpi to retain all the fine lines in the drawings and all the shades of gray in the halftones, and to make pattern marks easy to read. (For comparison, web resolution is 72 or 96 dpi.) We do not currently produce print-on-demand books, CD-ROMs, ebooks, or Internet publications.

Why don’t you publish full-size patterns?

Full-size clothing patterns don’t physically fit into a book (at least, not more than a few fold-outs). The book format allows us to include a great many more patterns in any given publication than we could publish singly. This dramatically lowers the per-pattern price for our readers, many of whom would otherwise need to buy different patterns for each item of underclothing and outerwear, and sometimes even for different garment parts such as a bodice, skirt, and overskirt. And it enables us to publish many different styles—not just basic silhouettes the dressmaker must redesign to avoid instant recognition of the pattern source by everyone familiar with the limited number of historic reproduction patterns. (We put far more patterns in one book than most repro pattern companies will produce in their business’s lifetime.) It also enables us to include a great deal more supplementary text and illustrations than there is room for in the typical full-size pattern format.
Finally, the book format enables us to make patterns available to thousands more readers than we could reach otherwise. Full-size historic patterns from specialist publishers tend to be carried by a limited number of reenactment and theatrical suppliers, a few museum stores, and a handful of fabric stores with a historic bent. Books of historic patterns are carried by those same suppliers—and also by a great many mainstream bookstores and libraries who would never buy full-size patterns. Bookstores and libraries don’t have the right kind of display space for pattern envelopes, and they’re just not used to that type of publication.
Bear in mind that the publishing format of a pattern (book versus envelope) does not inherently make it easier or harder to use.

Are your patterns easy to enlarge?

“Enlarging” is much easier than “designing.” The concepts are sometimes confused by people unfamiliar with one or both processes. Designing a pattern involves both creating the style from scratch (not just smaller creative tasks such as optionally swapping in a different sleeve from another pattern, or choosing the fabric and trimmings) and creating the proper proportions for it.
Enlarging a pattern is taking a pattern whose style has already been designed and whose proportions have already been defined, but which has been printed at a small scale, and making it human size. You do not need design skills; and for our patterns, no mathematical skills. Enlarged patterns often require some fitting skill—but unless you’re one of the rare people with “perfect” proportions, so does every pattern.
All our books include detailed step-by-step instructions for enlarging the patterns, by all methods appropriate for the patterns in that book. For many patterns, you can choose among several methods. For patterns sized down at true scale, these include both using a grid and using an overhead projector. For patterns that use apportioning scales, they include full sets of scales, “executive summary” instructions, and then step-by-step instructions. Some apportioning scale patterns can also be gridded or projected.
Note that, if you are not used to using apportioning scales, you will probably need to read the instructions all the way through. Many readers find that merely reading the instructions is not enough; they need to work through the sample bodice pattern given with the instructions, or another simple pattern from the book, before enlarging a pattern with more pieces. Jen Thompson has posted a video tutorial on her blog Festive Attyre.
Enlarging a pattern is merely a copying process, not a design or mathematical process.

What are apportioning scales?

Apportioning scales are special rulers for enlarging patterns from publications explicitly designed to be used with those rulers.The patterns for one system cannot be accurately enlarged with the scales for a different system; with some, even the same manufacturer’s system of a different date. For example, the publishers of the Voice of Fashion magazine changed their apportioning scales in 1895, so the scales in our books Bustle Fashions 1885–1887 and The Voice of Fashion have differently sized units. The printed patterns to be used with apportioning scales have numbers on them. Instead of standard imperial or metric units, the rulers have graded units, smaller units for smaller sizes and larger units for larger ones. You choose the ruler for your size, and enlarge “by the numbers” to get a pattern accurately graded to that size without doing any arithmetic. The systems work for every size, from queen size to doll size. Apportioning scale systems were originally developed for women who were assumed to be “not good with numbers” (unlike most professional tailoring systems, which required many calculations). Every apportioning scale system had differently sized units and applied them in slightly different ways, but the basic principle is the same. We have reconstructed four different apportioning scale systems for, respectively, Fashions of the Gilded Age, Bustle Fashions 1885–1887, The Voice of Fashion, and The Edwardian Modiste.

Three of the 29 apportioning scales reconstructed for The Edwardian Modiste from the patent application
Copyright by Frances Grimble 1997

I’ve already used a grid/an overhead projector to enlarge scaled patterns from other publishers’ books. If I use one of these methods to enlarge your true-scale patterns, do I need to do it any differently?

No.

I’m already familiar with developing patterns from a sloper/by draping. Can I use my favorite design method with your patterns?

Yes. Some theatrical costumers prefer to use the basic pattern shapes in our books as guidelines for flat pattern development or for draping. Additionally, both volumes of Fashions of the Gilded Age include instructions for flat pattern techniques. Bustle Fashions 1885–1887 and Directoire Revival Fashions 1888–1889 contain illustrations and descriptions of styles that can be developed from specific patterns by sewers who are already familiar with flat pattern techniques.

Pattern pieces for skirt drapery from Volume 2 of Fashions of the Gilded Age (after being redrawn from a sheet of overlapping patterns like the one shown above)
Copyright by Frances Grimble 2004

Are your patterns easy to sew?

As a general rule, Victorian and Edwardian styles (the eras for which we have published pattern books so far) are inherently more complicated than modern ones. Whether you’re using a pattern from one of our books or one from another pattern or book publisher, if it is authentic you are seldom looking at a “make it tonight” project. (The publishing format has no connection to the complexity of the style.) The simplest styles tend to be for underclothing and loose outerwear, and our books include a good selection of both. However, we have also included as many basic dresses as were available in our sources, in addition to more complicated ones. Readers can choose patterns that they feel are appropriate to their needs and skill levels.
We have included all the sewing instructions that were originally supplied with each pattern. These were rewritten for clarity and technical accuracy by an editor familiar with historic clothing reproduction, who made paper and/or muslin mock-ups whenever necessary for fully understanding the construction. The instructions are often written step by step, even if the steps are not set off by numbers as in modern patterns. We have also included as much additional information on construction, materials, and trimmings as we could possibly fit in. Some books include over 100 pages of such additional information, and/or separate, illustrated dressmaking manuals.
The fashion plates are also more informative than most modern fashion photos. They clearly show as much of the garment as possible (sometimes at several angles and/or separate close-ups), and the placement of seam lines, trimmings, and other construction details. Readers were expected to refer to these fashion plates for information while sewing (not just be inspired to go to a department store and buy ready-to-wear).

Instructions for one pattern in Volume 1 of Fashions of the Gilded Age
Copyright by Frances Grimble 2004

I read the hand sewing, garment assembly, or pattern-drafting instructions, but I didn’t understand them. What should I do?

Most people do not fully comprehend step-by-step instructions for drafting, sewing, and many other things, merely by reading them. Instructions describe an ongoing process. If you’re not executing the process, you’ll likely get lost somewhere along the way. If you are, understandably, reluctant to spoil good drafting paper or good fabric, work through the instructions with scraps. Mentally learning and physically practicing new techniques is always work—but the time you spend now will be amply repaid later. You’ll feel more confident, make fewer mistakes, work faster, and get more polished results.
If you’ve previously made garments for other historic periods, remember that techniques and terminology change, sometimes within a short time frame. They are not uniform even among original sources for the same period, or among modern sources that describe garments of that period.

What are the trade-offs between using full-size patterns in envelopes, and using the patterns in your books?

If the pattern is full size, you omit the one (simple) step of enlarging it. On the other hand, because we fit many scaled patterns into each book, your cost per pattern is much lower. Especially since most outfits require several patterns, and some people require a number of outfits. Full-size patterns repeat many instructions that are the same for most garments. Our patterns all have instructions, and these are supplemented by excerpts from period sewing manuals (see above). However, it is best that you either already have beginning knowledge of sewing, or be willing to acquire it. Our patterns were all originally intended for period users. They are entirely authentic, whereas some modern patterns have been modernized and/or “dumbed down.” The large variety of patterns in our books enables you to exercise more choice and creativity. You’ll never sew a new outfit for an event, only to discover that many other people used exactly the same pattern.

Are your books all pattern books?

No, and it is not our goal to produce only pattern books. Our title After a Fashion contains no patterns. It contains information not only on working with historically styled patterns (both originals and those from modern pattern companies) but on buying, restoring, and altering vintage clothing. Although The Lady’s Stratagem contains sewing, embroidery, millinery, and knitting patterns, it is not primarily a pattern book.

Are your books all for women?

Most of them focus on women’s clothing (which is not exactly the same thing as focusing on female readers). However, After a Fashion is equally devoted to men’s and women’s clothing. We have no specific charter to publish only books for women.

Why isn’t this book perfect according to my personal standards?

It contains useful information, but not all of it is precisely targeted to my specific needs. I’m a beginning sewer, and this book is too advanced. I’m an advanced sewer, and this book is too beginning. This book contains some patterns that I want, but not all of them. This book is too long, why didn’t you just leave out the information I don’t need? This book contains illustrations and instructions, but I want more of them. This book contains lots of illustrations and instructions, but I want the instructions written differently, or a different kind of illustration.
Every author and publisher (and every other business as well) works under genuine constraints of time, money, available information, and other resources. Given ours, we produce the best books possible to appeal to the greatest number of readers. Every author and publisher also has their own goals for a book, which may not be identical to yours. We cannot custom publish a book just for you. Nor can we produce the same book you personally would have produced.

Why don’t you post your material on the Internet for free?

Because we’re professional publishers. We’re neither hobbyists, nor beginning writers desperate for any kind of publication credit.
Being professional means our business incurs significant expenses. Even though we run a small press, we’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars doing it. It means we need to make a profit to stay in business—which we’ve done for over 19 years.
More important to our buyers, being professional means we have the expertise to publish books that are well worth their cover prices. The business owner has worked full time in publishing for 28 years, the first 10 for larger publishers. That means all Lavolta Press books adhere to mainstream publishing industry standards through all stages of research, writing, editing, design, and production. Any tasks not done in-house are hired out to seasoned freelancers.
When you buy a Lavolta Press book, you’re not getting a disorganized website full of dubious facts and typos—laid out with such poor background contrast you can barely find them—and small, low-resolution graphics with invisible details. You’re getting a real book.
You’re also getting a large one, from around 350 pages to around 755 (depending on the book). That is an enormous size compared to most websites. Typically websites are more like a magazine (a small collection of short articles, and often intrusive ads) than a book. And unlike a website, your printed book won’t suddenly vanish because it became too time consuming and expensive to maintain, or because the author lost interest.
There are good reasons why many website owners believe no one would pay them anything for their expertise, time, work, or expenses. Our buyers find out that they get what they pay for.
So the other answer is: We charge for our books because thousands of readers are happy to pay us for them.

Why aren’t your books published by a larger publisher?

There is a widespread misconception that books published by independent presses are thus published because their quality is unsuitable for large publishers. However, most niche books—books for a comparatively small, well-defined audience—are produced by comparatively small, to very small publishers. What megapublishers look for isn’t just a good manuscript (although they do indeed publish many excellent books). What they look for is a huge audience and correspondingly huge revenues; in other words mainstream topics.
Most topics related to historic clothing are not considered mainstream. These are the market domain of independent and midsize publishers—most of the latter being significantly smaller than megapublishers. Midsize publishers include many university presses, museum presses, and specialized crafts and how-to publishers.
Some midsize publisher probably would publish our material—we’ve had offers for certain books. However, they probably wouldn’t be exactly the same books, there would be fewer of them, and they’d be published many years apart.
Most midsize publishers can only afford to pay their authors small advances and royalties—not nearly enough to support full-time work on a book. Some publishers also expect their authors to do (and/or pay other people to do) significant editorial, production, and marketing tasks in addition to writing. These scheduling and financial issues often force their authors to create shorter books, or lower-quality books, or take many years to complete one book because they have to support themselves with another, full-time job. In addition, publishing any book is a financial risk. The larger the publisher, the more people must approve that risk. This tends to inhibit not only expenditure (and therefore possibly quality and/or length) but innovative topics and approaches. Midsize publishers and their authors produce many fine books; but we couldn’t create our books under those circumstances.
On the other hand, because we do have full control over our publishing decisions, book quality, schedules, and finances: We can. And we can make our books available to audiences that most publishers consider too small, but that need and value the information we provide.

What are your employment opportunities?

We sometimes hire freelancers for translations, editorial work, and production. However, when we need someone we advertise in the relevant publishing venue. We don’t save unsolicited resumes.

Do you ever buy antique books and magazines?

We already have a massive collection of rare source material. Nonetheless, we are always buying more. If you have some pre-1930 original clothing-related publications that you want to sell, feel free to contact us. We do need originals. Photocopies, microfilms, and other second-generation copies are not suitable for offset book production.

Will you send me a free copy of the following book or books?

Because our books are expensive to produce, it is our standard policy not to provide any complimentary copies to instructors, nor to journalists using our books for research. Retailers who wish to examine our books are advised to place a small first order and if they are satisfied, to then order more.

Do you have a bookstore, or do you ever sell at reenactment events or costuming conventions?

No, and never. Although we’re happy to sell to consumers by mail, usually we deal in higher-volume sales. At reenactment and costuming events there is often some retailer selling books and/or patterns. If you see one who does not carry our books, we’d be glad if you gave them our contact information or vice versa.

Can non-US customers buy and use your books?

Of course, and a fair number do. All our books are designed for use both by people who are most familiar with the imperial system, and those most familiar with the metric system.
We recommend that all overseas customers buy our books from one of the large online bookstores. Unlike them, we cannot negotiate special rates with carriers, therefore our shipping charges are always significantly higher.

Do you plan to publish more books?

Of course. As soon as we finish one book we start another one; often we work on more than one at a time. However, it is our standard policy not to discuss our books until they are available for sale. We do welcome email suggestions for future books.

Can you email me when you publish a new book?

Yes, and you are welcome to send your contact information. We prefer to get as much of this as is available (a postal address and URL in addition to email) so we can still reach you if you change email addresses. We will email you only when we have a new book, or if you were not previously entered in our marketing database. We do not share our database with any other companies, we do not publish a newsletter, and we have no plans to do either.

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