Snippets from Pattern History

So, I thought I’d talk a little about the early history of the Dressmaking Pattern this week because, even through we are learning to make our own this month it is interesting and leads nicely in to tomorrows Tutorial all about scaling Historical and Vintage Patterns up.

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Facsimile of the pattern pieces, Front instructions and Back instructions for Butterick pattern No.5688 (a skirt for an evening dress), circa 1919. Darts, stitching lines, etc. are indicated by perforations of different sizes and patterns (here represented as dots). From Wikipedia here.  Click on the images to enlarge. 

Ebenezer Butterick’s Wife is widely credited as inspiring the first commercially graded- and therefore much more usable- Pattern. Until 1863 we had essentially been using Blocks which only came in one size and it was down to the skill and ‘eye’ of the home Dressmaker herself to scale up the pattern, then make any and all adjustments to fit necessary however; looking a little closer in to the history one stumbles upon Ellen Curtis Demorest who appears to have been a most remarkable woman!

 Published in 1872 to promote the inventor of the paper pattern - Mrs. W. Jennings Demorest

Left: 1865 Demorest Publication found here. Right: 1872 Demorest Publication found here

Demorest had the same flash of inspiration Butterick did over ten years later: on witnessing her Maid cutting out a dress from wrapping paper she realised that she could mass-produce the idea of copied paper Patterns of fashionable garments for the home sewer. In 1860 Madam Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions, a Pattern Catalogue, was introduced and Demorest established what sounds like a wonderful company- employing both Black and White women workers as she was an ardent abolitionist (those offended by her politics were asked to ‘shop elsewhere’!!). Having devised a ‘mathematical system’ to print Patterns in various sizes, this was understandably popular and by 1865 Demorest had a small empire which ten years later was distributing over 3m Paper Patterns!

I was stunned to discover this and really wondered why the name Demerest was not well know today. It would appear that the Demorests’ did not Patent their idea but tailor Ebenezer Butterick- who started producing Mens and Childrens Paper Patterns in the mid-1860s but who had expanded into Womens Wear by 1867 and whose empire by 1974 was larger that the Demerests’- did, and Buttericks’ Patterns billed as “guaranteed to make a perfectly formed garment” remain one of the leaders in Paper Patterns today.

Don’t feel too sad for the Demerests’ though as it would appear that Butterick advanced the technology needed to truly mass produse Patterns. Initially folded by his wife and family and packed in boxes of 10 each, Butterick sold his patterns throughout New England. These patterns proved to be hugely popular, and Butterick could barely keep up. Finally Butterick invented a process, and a machine, that allowed him to cut stacks of paper patterns, which enabled him to produce his patterns in quantity and Butterick’s business grew to epic proportions. It’s reported that in less than a year he went from his humble tailor shop in Fitchburg, MA to opening the NYC office with The Butterick Publishing company producing nearly 6 million patterns a year.

James McCall, another tailor, started his company McCall’s patterns in 1870, with Vogue also in the picture by the 1890s and Pattern Companies had by this point started to sell Patterns in envelopes with directions. McCalls started printing cutting, marking and sewing lines on their patterns in 1921, which brings us slightly closer to the Paper Patterns we use today. Previous to this a Pattern included pre-cut but blank pieces of Pattern Tissue with numbers or letters punched in to them. A cutting diagram was included and from this one could ascertain which piece went where so I for one will always be forever greatrful to McCalls for starting the trend of printing information- such as the Grainline, number, quantity to cut etc- on the pieces!

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McCalls c.1880s Sewing Pattern found on Ebay for a Ladies’ Sack Nightgown Pattern No.8193

During the 1910’s and 1920’s we start to see the rise of Ready to Wear Clothing which means home sewing starts to wane a little however; in America The Women’s Domestic Institute, is founded and soon led by Mary Brooks Picken, whose books are still an excellent resource today and can only have aided the production of Sewing Books from all the major Pattern Companies amongst others. I have the Womens Institute Underwear and Lingerie Book and it is just gorgeous!

In the 30’s The Depression hit America which gave rise to one of my favorite little snippets in Pattern History: the humble Grain Sack. Sewing doesn’t seem to have made the resurgence you would have expected during a time like this- unlike our most recent ‘Depression’- and it would appear that people simply made do with less however; Women did began to sew with feed or grain sacks- the colourful cloth sacks that held staples like Sugar, Grain and Flour. By 1939 this form of sewing was being promoted and companies start to print designs and projects on the sacks to be made at home.


Left: A Flour Sack printed with an Embroidery Pattern. Middle: and example of the beautiful patterns Flour Sack companies started to print. Right: Two women wearing Flour Sack Dresses from a wonderful article on Etsy

There are various, wonderful Blogs on-line which talk about all of this at much greater length, and more detail than I have done here however; I really love the feeling of rivalry and excitement which must have been palpable as these companies were being formed and discovering new ways of producing such a useful commodity  It’s not something you hear about too much these days but I think it is just as exciting as other moments in the Industrial Revolution!

You can read more about why it took so long to get around to designing Paper Patterns here, and there’s a great article over at Burda which talks a little more about the social history here. I also liked Sew Retro’s take on it all which can be read here. Delving through Wikipedia can also be rather interesting and their article on Demerest was a great read.

As I said, I shall be posting a tutorial on how to scale up Historical and Vintage Patterns from articles, magazines and books hopefully tomorrow. I am still a little wobbly from my tussle with the ‘flu! Please also watch out for the 2nd part of my Toile Tutorial where I shall be discussing fit and further Pattern adjustments to the Basic Block.

Finally, have you read last Fridays Pattern Making Musings yet? Head on over there now and comment to get your name in the hat to win an IN-HOUSE Pattern and get ready for this Fridays Musings with Sarai of Colette Patterns.

Happy patterning!

Pattern Cutting Resources

Welcome back to Pattern Cutting Month!! Remember to snaffle a button for your Blog if you are following along!

Some invaluable Pattern Cutting resources are listed here. If you are to take drafting your own patterns seriously, some, if not all, of these basics should inevitably be purchased.

Obviously there are many Pattern drafting and sewing books on the market. These are a few I use regularly.

Product DetailsProduct Details

Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich

This is a, quite frankly, staggering resource in Pattern Cutting. With all of the Basic Blocks illustrated and with full instructions on how to draft them in a standard size 12, or to your size, this book also covers adjusting the Basic Blocks, and drafting further pattern pieces for design elements when designing your own patterns. With chapters covering Skirts, Sleeves, Collars amongst other design elements such as collars, this is absolutely the first place to turn when learning to draft patterns. The big drawback is that absolutely no information is given on sewing the patterns up, so some experience in sewing garments is a big help. This is the definitive guide, at least in my mind, for making modern day patterns of your own design. Also available is Pattern Cutting for Beach and Lingerie Wear, Metric Pattern Cutting for Menswear and Metric Pattern Cutting for Children’s Wear.

The Cut of Women’s Clothes by Norah Waugh

Covering pattern drafting from 1600 to 1930, this is one for the Vintage lovers! It has for many years now been the go to book for Costumers  which is how I came across it however; it is also invaluable to anyone who wishes to take the history and construction of Women’s clothes seriously.  The book contains many patterns from each period taken from extant garments with clear illustrations and notes taken from early technical books and journals on construction details. You will need to scale up each pattern to use, and I shall be talking about how to do this in a future post.

Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing

One of the best sewing manuals about, with information on sewing up and creating patterns, this is definitely a help in sewing up the patterns you create. Find my complete review here.

Vintage Sewing Books

I expound at great length upon the virtue of Vintage sewing books! You can find my favourites here.

As for equipment, these are my recommendations. I have included links however; Ebay is your friend in these matters as Pattern Drafting can be an expensive past time!

PatternmasterDot and Cross Pattern Paper

The Patternmaster

An invaluable tool in creating patterns. This is a see through perspex tool which has markings for centimetre measurements and useful curves for drawing neck, and sleeve holes.

Pattern Paper

I prefer plain Pattern Paper however, all that seems available is Dot and Cross!! This is available in 40 meter rolls (for the truly serious!) through Morplan however; in the UK Fabric Land sell it for 50p a meter and again, Ebay sells smaller rolls and sheets from just 99p +P&P. It is important to get Pattern Paper of 45gsm as you will need to see through it to trace your Blocks to Working Patterns. The thinner paper is also much easier to pin in use.

Sharp pencils and several colours of felt tip pens, a rubber, a tape measure and a calculator will also be needed. As you can see when looking through the above links there are many, many more pieces of equipment available however; if you set yourself up with the above few pieces you will be able to pattern draft effectively, and decide upon further equipment, and therefore further expense!, at a later date!

Not many of the Sewing Blogs I follow post about drafting patterns from scratch however some helpful information can be found at Your Wardrobe Unlock’d, Burda (which is a surprising resource over all), and quite a lot of good basic advice can also be found at Madalynne too. Grainline Studio has handy tips on adapting their patterns, their Tips and Tricks page is also very interesting. Good patterning advice is quite scarce and I am always on the look out, please share links below if you find any!

Well, until tomorrow, happy patterning!

Pattern Month!!

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I am declaring September to be Pattern Month!

In response to suggestions made by my wonderful followers I am going to be blogging alongside my classes with tutorials, advice and information, give-aways and competitions, reviews of and interviews with independent Pattern Companies such as Grainline Studio, By Hand London and In House Patterns to name but a few and many other Pattern Cutting related posts.

Each week there will be a tutorial of the Class I will be teaching that week which will include the following schedule:

To include taking accurate Measuring For The Perfect Fit and the drafting of the Basic Block, Skirt Block and Sleeve Block. Other posts in the first week will include a resources guide and a Notions on Marking Your Handmade Patterns as well as an introduction to Pattern Month on Pinterest, a killer Wordless Wednesday from one of my Vintage Sewing Books and an interview in our new weekly Pattern Making Musings and give away (eek!, it’s going to be soo good!).

Week 2 will introduce the Toile, adding Seam Allowance, relocating Darts and sewing up in preparation for fitting. Another beautiful, 60’s inspired Wordless Wednesday, a short but thoroughly interesting Snippets From Pattern History,  and a fantastic Pattern Making Musings with Sarai of Colette Patterns!

Kicking of the third week is a post all about Fitting your Toile, with resources pulled from my Vintage Sewing books and various other wonderful websites and blogs. Fitting the Toile also has a great little video tutorial on fitting. There will also be a very useful guide to Scaling Up Vintage Patterns, and using PDF Patterns, a fantastic Video from Dior which displays the amazing things one can accomplish when designing, a Wordless Wednesday for the Pattern Month Pinterest archive, a cheeky little re-blog from Etsy all about Patterning and Making your own Leggings, and a Pattern Making Musings from Hannah of Sinbad & Sailor.

  • WEEK 4: Making Working Patterns

Finishing off a fantastic Pattern Month, this week started with a post all about Making Working Patterns. With advice on how to break the design down by making a Technical Illustration, and a visual guide to the many pieces needed to create a design. Other posts included a Wordless Wednesday from a stunning Japanese Pattern Book, a post which talks about Pattern Books, and why having one is super important, an Order of Sewing from my Vintage McCall’s Sewing in Colour which is just superb and the last Pattern Making Musings from Maddie of Madalynne.

As reference I shall be using the wonderful Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich. If you seriously want to start drafting your own patterns, I would highly recommend this book. I would also recommend furnishing yourself with some Pattern Paper (I prefer plain however; the more prevalent is Dot and Cross), and a Pattern Master. Sharp pencils, a selection of colourful felt tip pens and a calculator would also be useful.

My Notions series of posts will also be given over to Pattern Cutting and include useful tips on marking patterns and what information should be written upon each piece, marking the fabric, lays and the order of sewing, much of which will be taken from my collection of Vintage Sewing Books (I bought another a couple days ago tee hee!!), more information on which can be found here.

Lastly, I am very much hoping to have a couple of guest posts and interviews with some of the wonderful new up and coming pattern companies which are out there… a couple have already been in touch and I am seriously excited about what I have in store for you!

I’m too excited about Pattern Month and I’ve spent all evening making Fella help me learn how to make Buttons for you all to share!

I’d love to have you along for the ride! Feel free to place the button below on your Blog…


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<a href=”” ><img title=”Pattern Month with Laura After Midnight” src=”″/></a>

It promises to be a great month! Who’s with me?

Happy stitching!!

Wordless Wednesday

From La Belle Epoque: Edwardian Fashion 1900-1914, the ‘Beautiful Era’ of Edwardian fashion currently running at Peterborough Museum until 6th May 2013.

Happy stitching!

The Great British Sewing Bee!

uktv-great-british-sewing-bee-5I am slightly alarmed to see that possibly only two of the people pictured seem to be wearing their own creations! And one of them is a judge! I do hope to be proved wrong… They look like a jolly bunch, & I already know I’m going to be envious of their work space!!

I have no idea if I am going to love or hate this!

I am a staunch addict of Project Runway- & have been for it’s entire run of 11 Seasons, I have various Degrees & qualifications in Fashion, Textiles & Design, I have been making my own clothes since I was roughly 13 or 14 but sewing since I was 5 or 6 & recently started to teach Dressmaking, Pattern Cutting & other garment construction techniques to all manner of students… all of which has made me realize just how much I know, & the magnitude of my unquenchable thirst to know more!!

Normally this sort of programming would make me feel queasy & annoyed because they can be too simplistic & talk down to the audience, but having watched The Great British Bake Off (my Nan & Granddad were addicted & sold it to me!), I have to say I am intrigued despite the rather insulting possibility of being crowned ‘Best Home Sewer’. I would honestly hate to be classed as such, & I am dubious that this doesn’t slightly diminish what can be achieved by home sewers!!

Honestly I shall be watching because, as I teach a regular beginners sewing classes at Flo-Jo Boutique in Bristol & Cordial & Grace I’ll be waiting to be asked how to do the things they are!!

In the first episode, there will be three challenges for the contestants; a simple pattern for an A-line skirt, transforming a high street top by altering the neckline and producing a made-to-measure dress for a model. Two hopefuls will be eliminated in week one, while one contestant will win the prize of ‘garment of the week’.


So, as I have been looking for a small project to sew up with regular Blog posts I have decided to choose one project from each week & follow along with the contestants! It’s something I occasionally did back in the day with Project Runway challenges (it’s always good to know you can make a Couture level gown in under 10 hours… if only for the ego boost!). All of the press released so far is saying they are starting with an A-Line skirt which I have already shared a pattern for here, but I shall start at the beginning & write several posts as I make one up. Starting with making up the pattern, pinning & cutting out, inserting a zip, fitting, making a waistband & inserting a buttonhole & sewing on a button, & finishing with making the perfect hem.

I have just come across this advance review…

The contestants are a nice bunch & the history lessons mildly interesting, but the ‘How To’ guides too vague to be useful. Perhaps in future episodes we’ll be treated to some Couture of exquisite beauty, but so far watching people hunched over a table sewing clothes simply doesn’t appeal to the senses in the same way as watching people create & consume food. [Claudia] Winkleman talks of a quiet revolution, but this one’s positively silent – for craft enthusiasts only.


… & my class earlier today of 10yr olds decided the stricter the teacher the tighter their bun, so I shall be whipping my hair in to shape, adopting my strictest tone and will adapt my weekly ‘Notions’ to clarify anything they may have skipped over- I am so determined to teach people how to sew the proper way that skipping steps & wishy washy instructions make me madder than mad!! I know it is because they are working to a time limit but really!

I have also just purchased the accompanying book, so I’ll make sure & do a review of that too… ooh I’m all excited & twitching to get stitching!

Aren’t you?

Notions: What is the Selvedge?

Apart from being a delicious magazine, the Selvedge on a piece of fabric is the finished edge. Normally this has a woven finish, & often you can see a regular pattern of small holes running parallel with the Selvedge. This would have been where the fabric was held on to the loom whilst it was being woven.

In woven fabric, selvages are the edges that run parallel to the warp (the longitudinal threads that run the entire length of the fabric), & are created by the weft thread looping back at the end of each row. The terms selvage & selvedge are a corruption of “self-edge”, & have been in use since the 16th century.

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1. A woven selvedge, you can clearly see the loop of the weft thread ‘looping back’. 2. Often you will find the colours used in a printed fabric along the selvedge, which will be white, along with the company & fabric name. 3. Artists even make garments from selvedges & I admit to being rather fascinated with them myself!

Interestingly, you should be able to feel that the holes running along the Selvedge have a raised texture on one side, & lie flat on the other. If you can feel the holes this is the ‘right’ side of the fabric. I’m not sure how often this applies when I am making something up as I am often liable to just choose which side of the fabric I like best as the ‘right’ side!! The Warp is the stronger thread, so garments cut with their Grain Line running parallel to the Selvedge should last longer, & hang better.

Happy stitching!

Selvedge Magazine can be found at, the quote is from Wikipedia. Please click all images for links to the original.