The purpose of my study
was to determine how home dressmaking patterns evolved through the years
in the United States, from early patterns through today. My research
showed that home dressmaking patterns began in womenís periodicals during
the 1850s and survived three main stages of evolution. Approximately
30 patterns were used for the research, which averages two patterns
per decade. Home dressmaking patterns underwent many changes, from their
original small-scale beginning, for the benefit of the consumer and
the solution that has proved to be the most beneficial and long-standing
is the packaged pattern.
With the returnof fashions
from the past and the use of patterns in costuming, it is important
to understand how early patterns were used and how they have evolved
into the patterns that are familiar to current sewers. The purpose of
the study was to determine how home dressmaking patterns evolved through
the yearsin the United States, from early patterns through today.
have changed considerably since their early years in the mid-1800s.
Several documents exist that discuss patterns from specific time periods
or decades, for example, Laboissonniereís book written in 1997 about
packaged patterns from the 1940s and Grimbleís book called The Edwardian
Modiste: 85 Authentic Patterns with Instructions, Fashion Plates, and
Period Sewing Techniques in 1997. Little research has been conducted,
however, to connect the overall evolution of these patterns and what
promoted their evolution. The objective of this study was to track the
overall evolution of home dressmaking patterns and show how commercial
patterns of today evolved from their early years. Although many books
and articles discuss different decades of patterns, none were found
that looked at their evolution as a whole. This researcherís intention
was to determine how patterns have changed and what the possible causes
were for those changes.
of the Study
One of the main limitations
of thisstudy was the lack of availability of authentic older patterns.
Because the patterns were made out of tissue, which is not a sturdy
substance, patterns have disintegrated, become lost, or discarded. Many
of the early womenís periodicals are now on microfilm and because of
thelarge dimensions of the pattern supplements, they were simplyeither
notretained with the periodicalor notaddedonto the microfilm. Packaged
patternswere also difficult to find from the 1800s because there were
not very many in circulationduring their early years and they werevery
delicate and easilydestroyed. The early packaged patterns weremade of
tissue paper and kept in fragile paper envelopes, both of which have
long since disintegrated. Another limitationwas that with packaged patterns,
many companies did not use copyright dates. Even when copyright dates
were used, it was stilldifficult to tell the true life of the pattern.
The datedidnot indicate how long the pattern was for sale or when it
Approximately 30 patterns
were used in this research. Twodress patterns were studied from each
decade, starting in the 1850s, to illustrate the evolution of dress
patterns chronologically. Using two patterns from each decade created
consistency so that overall comparisons between the decades could be
Data collection sheets
were developed by the researcher to record information. These sheets
were used to write notes that could later be used to assist in the comparison
process. Using data collection sheets helped focus and organize the
information collected from the patterns.
In order to collect
the data, patternschosen from the researcherís personal collection,
patterns from the Kent State University Museumís collection, and patterns
from microfilm and reprints of the womenís periodicals from Ohio State
University, Case Western Reserve University, and Kent State Universitywere
studied. The data for this research were collected between the months
of September and November, 2002.
Conclusions were drawn
by comparing and contrasting the information on the data collection
sheets. By collecting patterns using historical research, the researcher
was able to interpret how and why patterns changed.
To better understand
the history of why home dressmaking patterns began, research was done
to find out what affect sewing machines and dressmakers had on the arrival
of patterns. Elias Howe created the first successful sewing machine
in 1846 that was used in the manufacturing process for such items as
corsets and umbrellas. Isaac Singer, however, was the man responsible
for creating a machine that was suited for home use in 1858 (Cooper,
1976). Until the development of practical sewing machines, tailors and
seamstresses were responsible for making quality garments, often by
using the draping method. It was not until the 19th Century
that several dressmakers patented pattern-drafting systems (Grimble,
As a result of the
research, it was found that the overall evolution of home dressmaking
patterns could be classified in three stages. The first stage ranged
from the 1850s to the 1870s and was the beginning of home dressmaking
patterns. The first patterns could be found only in womenís journals
and were drawn insmall-scale with few instructions (Fernandez, 1987).
Small-scale patterns did exist in some womenís journals through the
turn of the century, but they evolved into tips rather than original
patterns. The tips were mostly on how to alter a standard dress patterns
to fit the current styles. By the 1870s instructions had improved greatly,
but the small-scale patterns became scarce as the popularity of pattern
Figure 1 - Early Dress
Pattern from Petersonís Magazine, January 1857
The second stage, pattern
supplements forced the small-scale patterns to become obsolete and was
found in magazines from the late 1860ís to the turn of the 20th
century. These patterns were a success because they were full-scale
and women no longer had to confuse themselves with the many methods
used to enlarge patterns. The problem with pattern supplementswas that
they were full-scale andprinted on one sheet of paper causing pattern
piecesto overlap which required tracing (Grimble, 2001). These patterns
were often so difficult to trace that pattern companies were forced
to look for alternative methods. The alternative theydevised wasthe
Figure 2 - Collar
Pattern (Fig. 11) in a Pattern Supplement from Harperís Bazaar, December
In the third stage
of pattern evolution beginning in the 1880s, magazines began to offer
packaged patterns, but their true success occurred around the turn of
the century when magazines stopped offering pattern supplements (Fernandez,
1987). The probable reason for this was because even though pattern
supplements were often difficult to use, women preferred taking the
time to trace the pattern in their possession as opposed to paying the
shipping and waiting for a packaged pattern. Once a large range of patterns
began to be offered in magazines, women realized the value and convenience
of having patterns precut totheir sizes. In the beginning, the packaged
patterns either did not have instruction sheets or had an instruction
sheet that gave only minimal instructions. It took several decades to
improve instruction sheets to the point where they used simple enough
descriptions for everyone, including many non-sewers, to understand.††
Although packaged patterns
are still used today, manufacturers have made many improvements over
the years. One improvement to patterns was printed pattern pieces. Prior
to printed pattern pieces, patterns were created out of pre-cut tissue
with the construction details shown on the pattern pieces through perforation.
McCallís began the printing method in the late 1920s, but it did not
reach most of the other pattern companies until the 1960s due to copyright
laws (Laboissonniere, 1997). The most recent improvement was in the
1980ís when pattern companies began to offer graded patterns, which
allowed the sewer to choose from a range of sizes contained all in one
Figure 3 - Printed
Pattern Piece from McCall Printed Pattern, 1938
The purpose of this
study was to determine how home dressmaking patterns evolved overa period
of time in the United States. This objectivewas met bylocating patterns
from all pattern eras. This research has given some insighton how patterns
have evolved into todayís standard. In spite of the deterioration of
small-scale patterns and pattern supplements in magazines from the 1800s,
this research helps explain many of the changes that patterns havesustainedover
the years. The patternsfoundfrom the 1850s give evidence that home dressmaking
patterns developedbecause of the advent of the sewing machine for the
home. In the beginning, women were so enthusiastic about being able
to make their own clothes, instead of bearing the expense incurred by
going to a seamstress, that they were willing to take on the work of
purchasing tailoring books published by the pattern companies and spendthe
time it tookto understand the early patterns. As womenís demands grew
for the patterns, pattern companies sought to improve the sewing experience
by introducing pattern supplements. When sewers still had trouble tracing
the new maze-like pattern pieces, pattern companies began offering packaged
patterns. Since then, pattern companies have continually worked on new
ways to improve packaged dress patterns to benefit the consumer and
create what we recognize as a pattern today. ††††
for Further Study
- When did menís patterns
enter the home sewing pattern industry and how did they evolve to
what they are today?
- How did the introduction
of home sewing patterns for childrenís clothing affect the pattern
industry, and how did they evolve into what they are today?
- What is the history
of tailoring dressmaking patterns, and how did their methods affect
the way garments were made?†
- How did home needlework
patterns evolve into what they are today?
- What methods can
be used to date a packaged pattern?
- How did sewing techniques
used on garments evolve before the sewing machine?
- How has the evolution
of pattern instruction sheets affected the ease of sewing?
- How well do the
different tailoring methods books from the mid-19th century
relate to each other?
- How have tailoring
and drafting tools evolved into what they are today?
- How have sewing
machines evolved from their early designs into what they are today?
Cooper, G. R.† (1976).†
The sewing machine: Its invention and development. Washington
D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution.†
Fernandez, N. P.† (1987).†
Pattern diagrams and fashion periodicals 1840 to 1900. Dress: The
Annual Journal of the Costume Society of America, 13, 4-10.
Grimble, F.† (1997).†
The Edwardian Modiste: 85 authentic patterns with instructions, fashion
plates, and period sewing techniques.† San Francisco, CA: Lavolta.
Grimble, F.† (2001).†
Reconstruction era fashions: 350 sewing, needlework, and millinery
patterns 1867-1868.† San Francisco, CA: Lavolta.†
(1997).† Blueprints of fashion: Home sewing patterns of the 1940ís.
Atglen, PA: Schiffer.†