Patterns of Fashion, v. 1 and 2, by Janet Arnold
You really need to be an experienced seamstress to be able to use the patterns, as they are only one size and the sizing varies. Each garment was based on an original, and because no lady is the same from one to the next each is a little different. But I like it as a reference to period techniques and seeing the detailed diagrams is helpful. I also like to see all the silhoutte progression, a lot of references are not so comprehensive. If you want to actually use the patterns, I would recommend the first volume and trying the Regency patterns, they are easier to size up or down. 5/5 stars.
Fashions and Costumes from Godey's Lady's Book, edited by Stella Blum (on the right)
Another good fashion plate books, dating 1837-1869 (seriously, the dates should be on the front cover). I also really like that the original descriptions are included, maybe a little more on the brief side as I know that original Godeys descriptions are usually pretty lengthy. They also mention that there are 8 plates in full color like that is somehow appealing, but I found that the detail is lost in the primitive painting job. 4.5/5 stars.
English Women's Fashion in the Nineteenth Century, by C. Willet Cunnington
Absolutely my favorite! A year-by-year approach to each decade, and some very lengthy. I don't know about you, but I like lists. A lot of people will find it rather dry. Included with each year are detailed descriptions of popular colors, fabric choices and accessories of every kind. Bonnets and hairstyles are also pictured. The one thing I must say is that Cunnington draws from the chicest of the chic as examples, so it isn't the best reference for everyone in that the majority could not possibly have all dressed like that. It also is a little text-heavy, there are fashion plates and pictures of couple original garments and a few CDV's, but definitely not a photographic reference. 5/5 stars.
Historic Costumes and How to Make Them, by Mary Fernald and E. Shenton
Honestly, I was surprised by this book. Considering this covers the years 460 AD to 1870's (roughly), this book is surprisingly slim. I enjoy it as the briefest reference to earlier costume, but as it goes on it gets more and more vague with less and less pictures, and the line drawings are too primitive to use. Okay for simple garments, but too simple for complicated clothing. 2/5 stars. I also just learned that it is a reprint from 1937, so a lot of the notes for theatrical clothing won't even apply.
The Dressmakers Guide, by Elizabeth Stewart Clark
This book is great! I used it on my third Civil War-era dress, and found that it was really helpful, especially as I started doing more on my own with less fitting help from my friend. I like that she teaches you how to draft everything yourself to your measurements, and there are enough instructions to make a complete undergarment wardrobe without having to buy new patterns. I have used it the most particularly in sleeves, as she shows you how to draft a basic sleeve and then how to slash and tape it into a new shape. The only thing I don't like is that there isn't any research shown in the book to back up what she says to be true; further seperate study shows it to be true, but isn't shown in the book. There are good basic diagrams that are helpful, but no pictures of originals or CDV's for reference. 4.5/5 stars
60 Civil War-Era Fashion Patterns, by Kristina Selashanko
Taken from Peterson's magazines, the idea of this book is really great. Petersons is a magazine that is not as regularly available like Godeys is. If you are interested in just looking, then this is a great book! HOWEVER...it is not a good pattern book. The patterns are in the same form as they were in the magazine, which means simple line-drawing patterns sometimes with dimensions added to give scale, but sometimes not even that. I might use some of the patterns which don't require huge amounts of fitting, like a hood, wrapper with a drawstring, or a really big paletot. But I would not even try some of the harder patterns. They have whole dress patterns in there, I just don't know that I would use them. The instructions, if any, are also original and ere on the side of vague at best, although they do point out which pattern piece is which. 3.5/5 stars.
The Way They Were: Dressed in the 1860's, Volume 1 and 2
I ordered this book the instant I saw it used. Then I went to the website and saw it brand new for the same price. Whoops. Oh well, it's practically new. I really love this book! It's fun to flip through, and I really like the category format, which is by subject (like, Women, with subcategories being really specific like Fans, Collars, Prints and Plaids). I would say I prefer the first volume to the second, it seems a little longer. Sooooo much better than just a Pinterest board of Ebay images, this is way more comprehensive. It also gives a lot better context of what people ACTUALLY wore, and what with, instead of fashion plates and really fancy originals. 5/5
Here I will review some of the patterns I've used; I'm not really a go-out-and-buy-every-pattern-available type of person; I have one or two patterns that I started out with and have heavily evolved, so there are a couple that I still use but the original pattern pieces almost look nothing like them. For example:
Butterick B5831, Gathered Dress with Petticoat: 3.5/5
Scroop Pattern #1701, Modern Fantail Skirt: 5/5