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The Sewing Pattern: Fashion for All

Sep 27, 2011

by Chappell Ellison handmade and vintage goods

Under my bed you’ll find a number of things: a yogi mat riddled with cat teeth marks, a folder containing embarrassing chick flick DVDs, and maybe a few ferocious dust bunnies. Surrounded by these hidden treasures is a giant, flat Tupperware box, filled to the gills with stacks of sewing patterns. Ranging from the 1920s to present day, the tissue-packed envelopes represent years of careful collecting. Though I keep my stock pile hidden away, when I drag the box out into the middle of the room and proceed to thumb through the patterns, I’m reminded of my own history with sewing and what patterns meant for an entire industry. Not only did sewing patterns liberate women from the stress of clothing their families, but they also democratized fashion by enabling people of all classes to buy into trends for the very first time.

The first demand for standardized clothing in America was during the Civil War. As hundreds of troops geared up to wage battle, there was an unprecedented need for uniforms. With a clear demand for quick, easily-produced clothing in large quantities, seamstresses and tailors set to creating the first standard measuring system in the United States. Uniforms were cranked out in three sizes — small, medium and large — marking the beginning of the men’s garment industry. By 1895, 90% of men and boys wore ready-made (manufactured) clothing, unlike women who were stuck at home, sewing their own clothes.

Women gather to view a sewing baby.

Home sewing wasn’t easy before the turn of the century. While a wealthy woman had the option of hiring a dressmaker, others were subject to disassembling worn out garments and using the pieces as a pattern for a new dress. To keep up with the latest fashion trends—-Through an international network exchange between the 13th to the 19th century, royal courts traded dolls dressed in the country’s highest fashions. When dolls from England or France arrived in America, women paid to gather in parlors and study the doll’s dress, eventually replicating the style in a human-sized garment. These dolls, or “babies,” as they were often called, remained the most educating fashion experience for women until women’s magazines arrived on the scene.

In the middle of the 19th century, Demorest and Godey’s Lady’s Book were the Vogue of their day, containing stories, household hints, and most importantly, early sewing patterns. The patterns were drawn at a small scale, printed on a single page. Women converted the pattern to full scale, transferring each measurement to her fabric. While this was a small step towards democratizing fashion, it still resulted in terrible fits; a sewing pattern is rarely one-size-fits-all. Throughout the latter half of the 19th century, the race was on to patent a drafting system or machine. All sorts of contraptions appeared, looking more akin to torture devices than sewing aids.

The first business devoted solely to paper patterns began in 1864 when Ebenezer Butterick watched his frustrated wife try to sew new clothing for their children. With a background in tailoring, Butterick saw an opportunity. He opened an office in Manhattan and sold crude patterns by his own design. At that time, purchasing a Butterick pattern meant receiving a stack of tissue pieces stapled together, accompanied by a card with meager instructions. Each tissue piece was traced onto fabric that the sewer would then cut and assemble.

Yale University Library

Left: Guisseppe Garibaldi; Right: A woman dressed in a Garibaldi blouse.

Butterick’s big break came in 1864, just as a war hero named Giusseppe Garibaldi conquered Neapolitan forces and unified Italy. In the Western world, Garibaldi became a hero — but he was also a fashion icon. For his military exploits, Garibaldi had adopted the traditional red shirts of South American gauchos. The billowing red shirt with tight cuffs became his persona, and eventual fashion trend. While tailors busied themselves with replicating the look for their clients, Butterick wasted no time in producing two sewing patterns: a Garibaldi suit for young boys, and a blouse for women. As the first fashion trend that lower classes could buy into, the patterns were an overnight success, establishing Butterick as the definitive source for sewing patterns in America.

As the turn of the century neared, the sewing machine and the refined, commercial sewing pattern formed a perfect marriage for the home. The most popular supplier of sewing machines, the Domestic Sewing Machine Company, claimed they were selling 100 machines a day during 1875.


Left: Butterick's Walk Away dress; Right: A similar style from Simplicity.

Sewing patterns continued to evolve through the first half of the 20th century, with better fits and much more accurate measurements. Several other pattern companies formed — McCall’s, Simplicity, and Vogue — but in 1950, Butterick had one more trick up its sleeve. Yet another cultural phenomenon, Butterick pattern number 6015, the Walk-Away Dress, was a must-have garment for a mid-century housewife. The name of the pattern is derived from its simplicity — start sewing in the morning, walk away in a new dress by lunch! The Walk-Away Dress contained only three pattern pieces, far fewer than other dress patterns that contained an average of fifteen. It was the ultimate post-war dress, calling for nearly five yards of fabric, an amount that would have been wasteful and indulgent during wartime rationing. The overwhelming popularity of the pattern prompted Butterick to halt production on all other sewing patterns until demand was met. Recently reissued, the Walk-Away Dress is still among the company’s most popular patterns.

As the price of clothing dropped due to outsourcing and cheap labor, interest in sewing patterns fell to an all-time low. The pattern industry began waning in the 1970s, slowing to a crawl by the 1990s. But just as it seems there’s no hope for the home sewing industry to be revitalized, the past five years has seen the greatest growth in sewing machine sales since the 1960s. The sewing machine no longer saves time or money — the very dress that might cost only $18 at a large retailer might cost the home sewer at least $25 in materials. Once a symbol of thrift, the sewing machine now represents the desire for expressing individuality. Though it may cost a little more money and time than a trip to the nearest mall, there’s nothing quite like that feeling of putting the final stitch into a garment that you made with your own hands. So if you’ve always been talking about pulling your grandmother’s sewing machine out of the attic, now’s the time — dust it off, make do and mend!

Sewing Patterns on Etsy

2 Featured Comments

  • CoconutPie

    CoconutPie said 7 years ago Featured

    Madame Demorest was at the forefront of pattern design and also in civil rights. The black and white women who worked at her clothing factory were treated equally and worked side by side. She also helped form the first women's club that eventually became that vast organization known as the General Federation of Women's Clubs. My mom at age 92 has been a member of one of these clubs since the 1960s. I too treasure my pattern collection although I also send these precious patterns all over the world to be enjoyed and used by others.

  • blissfulturtle

    blissfulturtle said 7 years ago Featured

    More times than I care to think of I have bought a pattern not to use but to save for my daughter when she is older. Some are clothing, some aprons and purses, while others are doll's clothing. Thank you for sharing this article with us. On a side note I have found that with the current economy my work as a seamstress has greatly increased. Not to make new items but to repair and alter a client's existing wardrobe. People are figuring out that is is cheaper to work with what you already own than run out and buy something new.


  • SweetandDandyVintage

    SweetandDandyVintage said 7 years ago

    I'm a total sucker for vintage patterns...especially Folkwear! I have gathered quite the collection both for myself and making for my son. It feels so great to know that you've made something of your very own. My son especially loves that Mom makes things special just for him. Pick a decade...or mix a yourself...that's the beauty of vintage!

  • WeddingAmbience

    WeddingAmbience said 7 years ago

    What a great post! Very interesting information. Thanks for pointing out that "make at home" is often more expensive than purchasing manufactured items. While reading this chuckled to myself because learning to sew is certainly challenging, but no more so than learning to re-fold pattern pieces along the original creases so that they fit back into the pattern jacket after they've been used :) Thanks for putting a little smile in my day.

  • pennymasquerade

    pennymasquerade said 7 years ago

    I love old sewing patterns. There's just something so special about them. I was just given a load of vintage sewing patterns from the 40's and 50's and can't wait to get started on a new project. I just can't decide whether to knit a cardigan or a teddy bear! I have patterns for both!

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush said 7 years ago

    Etsy, you are rocking my fashion world! I've never been able to sell any of my vintage patterns because I can't let them go!

  • TheScarfTree

    TheScarfTree said 7 years ago

    My daughter would love this post! Thanks for sharing!

  • ZipZapKap

    ZipZapKap said 7 years ago

    Wooo, patterns! I find it really interesting that the first sewing patterns were created for men and boys considering how little change there has been in men's patterns over the last 80 years. If you have any mail order sewing patterns in your stash, you might be interested in this article I wrote on how to figure out a date for them:

  • snapdragontacoma

    snapdragontacoma said 7 years ago

    I too have a stash of my mom's old patterns, I have dusted a few off and given them a new life. So satisfying to make something that is one of a kind!

  • googooagogo

    googooagogo said 7 years ago

    I love patterns! Great info, grandma always sewed for me when I was a kid.

  • sparrowgrey

    sparrowgrey said 7 years ago

    Awesome post. I am a sucker for vintage patterns; I've spent many hours browsing here on Etsy for them.

  • BeBops

    BeBops said 7 years ago

    Love vintage patterns. Thanks for a cool post!

  • TheIDconnection

    TheIDconnection said 7 years ago

    Vintage Patters Rock in my shop! Can't get enough.

  • KathyGDesigns

    KathyGDesigns said 7 years ago

    I really enjoyed this post! To think at one time most women knew how to sew more than just the basics. I'm thankful my mom taught me not only how to read a pattern but how to make one too. And I have to admit, I have a stash of patterns safely tucked away!

  • MegansMenagerie

    MegansMenagerie said 7 years ago

    Love this! Thanks!

  • sabrebabe

    sabrebabe said 7 years ago

    We won't discuss my pattern hoard. I'm up to 5 boxes now and still gathering. But, oh! I love the history of sewing and home sewing in the US! I knew about the Fashion dolls of Europe, but I wasn't ever sure they made it to these shores. And vintage patterns! I love them, but have the wrong body shape for them. Doesn't stop me from making them, though. :D

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage said 7 years ago

    Way interesting article! I've got some of my mother's 1950s patterns, along with some of the fabric. A treasure trove.

  • asileoriginals

    asileoriginals said 7 years ago

    I love the post, thank you!

  • OuterKnits

    OuterKnits said 7 years ago

    Wonderful article. Actually, quilting is responsible for much of the surge in sewing machine sales. And, they're not your mama's sewing machine! No sir.

  • luluandnana

    luluandnana said 7 years ago

    Thanks for the interesting post! I love vintage patterns, too. I just wish I had more occasions for wearing those pretty dresses!

  • HeyChica

    HeyChica said 7 years ago

    What a great post, I would love to see the patterns that you have stashed away!

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 7 years ago

    It's not just being able to make new clothes through sewing though it's also modifying old pieces and giving them new lives as different garments. Sewing machines really help with that too!

  • NopalitoVintageMore

    NopalitoVintageMore said 7 years ago

    Great post. It brought back good memories I learned to sew in the late 60's and loved shopping for the patterns, materials, buttons, zippers. What fun!!!! I'll be posting some in my shop soon.

  • LSDrewGraphics

    LSDrewGraphics said 7 years ago

    This is so cool! Reminds me of my middle-school home ec classes where we learned to make simple jumpers, with patterns, for ourselves (early 1970's--oops!). I wasn't quite sure what I would do with that knowledge back then, and had been sewing simple things on a machine a few yrs prior to that--- but now I love the whole idea of sewing old patterns! Just wish I had more time to >do< it! And learn more skills (I'm still more of a screenprinter these days........)

  • livingferal

    livingferal said 7 years ago

    great article! i have a huge weakness for old sewing patterns and have more than one big tupperware box full - promising myself i will make time in the future to sew for days on end :)

  • hankietankie

    hankietankie said 7 years ago

    great article! my fondest childhood memories are of hanging out at a dimestore with my mom pouring through sewing patterns & fabrics. she'd actually let me pick my own pattern & cloth, what fun for an eight-year-old, and what nutty outfits! xo

  • finethreadz

    finethreadz said 7 years ago

    Love this article! I can relate to a lot of it now that I'm a designer. Once upon a time I was slave to the sewing pattern. Did a small stint in design school. The most freeing thing I did was to learn the Block Method measuring system. Now I make my own patterns. But I do still have quite a collection and many of my current designs were inspired fashions of the 50's and 60's. Now I'd really like to try my own "walk away" dress. :-)

  • CoconutPie

    CoconutPie said 7 years ago Featured

    Madame Demorest was at the forefront of pattern design and also in civil rights. The black and white women who worked at her clothing factory were treated equally and worked side by side. She also helped form the first women's club that eventually became that vast organization known as the General Federation of Women's Clubs. My mom at age 92 has been a member of one of these clubs since the 1960s. I too treasure my pattern collection although I also send these precious patterns all over the world to be enjoyed and used by others.

  • RavensCrafts

    RavensCrafts said 7 years ago

    awesome article, loved it :)

  • KatyBugVintage

    KatyBugVintage said 7 years ago

    I love this post! The history of sewing was very cool! My granny taught me how to sew in the 60's--Barbie clothes, cut by patterns, sewn by hand (I still have them!) I made most of my clothes in high school--making mini skirts didn't cost much. It is true now though, it is cheaper to buy ready made, but it is such a wonderful feeling to see finished products worn by your loved ones. I sell patterns, but none from my personal stash, and it is hard to let any of them go but I do keep the pictures :)

  • MootiDesigns

    MootiDesigns said 7 years ago

    Love those vintage patterns, but wish I could sew. I never was good at it. Great article!

  • StelmaDesigns

    StelmaDesigns said 7 years ago

    Thank you so much for this great article! I have sewn since I was 10 and have a total love for vintage patterns especially. I think I need to locate a Butterick 6015!

  • sheoshi

    sheoshi said 7 years ago

    Very go post, full of history that I had not thought of before about the sewing pattern. Thanks so much. TT Team

  • VogueVixens

    VogueVixens said 7 years ago

    My mother sewed all our clothes back in the 40's and 50s, it was thrifty to alter one child's clothes that they had outgrown to fit the next. I started sewing as a teen, it was only way to have nice outfits in our small town. Interesting about the dolls, one of my strongest memories was my desire for the latest princess doll for Christmas. When I came down Christmas morning, there was a princess doll waiting for me! But when I looked closer, I realized that she was my old doll dressed in princess clothes that my mother had painstakingly sewn since we couldn't afford a department store doll. Sewing for yourself is the best way to get a good fit, so much better than most of what you find in stores today. I haven't been sewing much for the past few years, now that I'm a senior. So I am glad to have Etsy as an outlet to pass on my treasured patterns. Wonderful article!

  • MishaGirl

    MishaGirl said 7 years ago

    This is such a great post! My grandma always made me the most beautiful dresses from the time I was a little girl up to my late teenage years. She loved fashion so much and every time I'd go visit her, we'd take a trip to the local fabric store to look for new patterns that she could make me outfits from. I spent hours pouring over the catalogues from Vogue, Simplicity, Butterick and Mc Calls. To this day I still have every single pattern we ever bought together. Looking through them brings back such great memories! Thanks for sharing the history!

  • birdylove22

    birdylove22 said 7 years ago

    I adore vintage patterns, having courage to know where to begin with them is half the battle!

  • PatternsAndSuch

    PatternsAndSuch said 7 years ago

    Great article - I loved reading every word! My mom brought her sewing machine to Canada inside it's desk ... and she still has that machine. I have memories of sleeping upstairs as I listened to the hum of her machine ... clothes for us, or for others that she did some dressmaking for. I wish I had a photo of that neat cape she made me to match the one she was making for my best friend ... she managed to piece mine together out of the "scraps" of the fabric that had been purchased and used to make my friend's cape. ♥

  • blessedvintage

    blessedvintage said 7 years ago

    very informative, I need to learn how to sew. blessings

  • Eccolo

    Eccolo said 7 years ago

    Very interesting! Thanks so much for sharing this well researched information. I just might have to find a Butterick # 6015 pattern!

  • finickyfinds

    finickyfinds said 7 years ago

    Great article! I still get a thrill when I get a new box of patterns to sort through! It is so fun when I come across one that my mom sewed for me and my sisters or one that I sewed for myself in home ec class many years ago :) I love the images on the older patterns and I spend way too much time just looking. So much fun and I get to do it everyday :)

  • claudinescalling

    claudinescalling said 7 years ago

    when I was a kid my mom made most of my clothes... I loved being able to pick the fabrics out with her... today I will stumble upon a great vintage pattern, sadly it is rarely in my size. At least nowadays they make one pattern that you can alter to fit.

  • BarbaraWoltmannPhoto

    BarbaraWoltmannPhoto said 7 years ago

    Such a wonderful post. When I was little my mom would sew all of my halloween costumes although stopped in my later years of middle school. She wasn't the best at sewing but always put her heart into everything she made. She never taught me how but I always find myself wishing I knew. This is definitely something Im going to teach myself one of these days!

  • CynicalGirl

    CynicalGirl said 7 years ago

    Actually, a skilled seamstress can produce high quality garments with all the earmarks of a couture garment for much less. I think that that is the attraction to sewing today...quality. Bound buttonholes and covered buttons. Topstitching and attention to detail. This is what will keep sewing alive. Thanks for bringing your pattens into the light of day.

  • BeatificBijoux

    BeatificBijoux said 7 years ago

    I have a reprint of the Walkaway Dress pattern I bought in the late '90's. I still haven't used it after the ill-fated day that I laid out my gingham fabric, pinned down the pattern, and promptly made my first cut STRAIGHT UP THE CENTER FOLD MARKING. Sigh. Nobody's perfect. Happily, my sewing skills have improved since then.

  • footloosefancyfree

    footloosefancyfree said 7 years ago

    Thanks for the informative article on vintage patterns. I do sell my own designs on Etsy and recreate many of the designs in my head from my younger sewing days. I have been sewing for over 53 years so I guess I am vintage also! I also have every pattern that I could save throughout the years.My long term memory is fantastic. I can remember exactly the print and style of the first dress I made at 10 for a 4-H Fashion Review. Short term memory is a joke. Thanks again for such a great article.

  • charstreasures

    charstreasures said 7 years ago

    Love the article and I love vintage sewing patterns, although I can sew I don't see myself making anything from them, I just love the class & style that these fashions have. IMO most of today's fashion doesn't have it.

  • lauraprentice

    lauraprentice said 7 years ago

    Interesting history! I'd love to wear one of those 1950s dresses, so fun!

  • ceciestunerose

    ceciestunerose said 7 years ago

    I also love vintage patterns, but I admit I have been frustrated by them being an odd size. I have purchased a few of them but have no idea how to shrink them. Has anyone ever tried this?

  • TessCreates

    TessCreates said 7 years ago

    Some of you may be interested in knowing more about the "babies" mentioned in this post. The Maryhill Museum of Art in Washington State has a permanent and large collection of 1/3-human-sized mannequins they collectively call Theatre de la Mode, originally a 1946 French fashion exhibit. Each year the museum redresses the mannequins for the exhibit; they have several outfits, many created by France's top fashion designers of post WWII. See them here: (scroll down the page a bit to find the info). I had the opportunity to see them a few years ago and it was remarkable. The entire museum is remarkable; not only for its remote location overlooking the Columbia (River) Gorge (which separates Washington from Oregon) but also for its collections (including Rodin sculptures and Romanian royalty items) and history.

  • Cathyscrazybydesign

    Cathyscrazybydesign said 7 years ago

    I too enjoyed this article immensely! I have hundreds of vintage patterns and finally started listing some a couple of months ago. First, though, I always check the Vintage Patterns Wiki (an encyclopedic pattern database) located here: If I have a pattern that is not in the wiki, I add the pictures and information. What a great history of fashion it is!

  • ZinniaSnipSnap

    ZinniaSnipSnap said 7 years ago

    I love love love this post. I collect patterns even though I know I will never use them. Sewing is back in style!

  • gildedhedgie

    gildedhedgie said 7 years ago

    What a fantastic article! My mother was a big quilter when I was younger (plus she made all of my Halloween costumes) and I remember spending hours in quilting stores and craft stores with my mom flipping through pattern books and doing small scale crafting. Hand sewing was a big part of my upbringing, in fact I don't even own a sewing machine, I hand stitch mends in clothing and I hand stitch my crafts. Thank you so much for creating such an informative and (for me) nostalgic article!

  • PruAtelier

    PruAtelier said 7 years ago

    It's about time you threw a bone to us pattern "maniacs".... Confession: I have become a patternaholic (nee fabricaholic) who scans the shops up, down and sideways for that obscure, delicious, well-priced pattern that will make its way to my door! Even though I have boxes of my mother's as well as my old - but not too old if you know what I mean - patterns to get rid of so I can make room for all the "new" ones coming in, I still spend many many hours looking....and dreaming about that missed I let it get away by going downstairs to eat dinner..... and how am I going to find it again! Good article and I am glad you recognized and spoke to the all-too-welcome resurgence in sewing again!

  • blissfulturtle

    blissfulturtle said 7 years ago Featured

    More times than I care to think of I have bought a pattern not to use but to save for my daughter when she is older. Some are clothing, some aprons and purses, while others are doll's clothing. Thank you for sharing this article with us. On a side note I have found that with the current economy my work as a seamstress has greatly increased. Not to make new items but to repair and alter a client's existing wardrobe. People are figuring out that is is cheaper to work with what you already own than run out and buy something new.

  • GypsyTailor

    GypsyTailor said 7 years ago

    Love this article. I love to sew and I love sewing machines and anything related to sewing. I make my own clothes and enjoy every minute of it, from the moment I design it to the moment I wear it.

  • Iammie

    Iammie said 7 years ago

    Interesting! I'd love to sew!

  • BECreativeCo

    BECreativeCo said 7 years ago

    I enjoyed reading this post. I too love vintage sewing patterns and although I am not a seamstress (unless sewing on a button qualifies me for one!) I enjoy using them in my mixed media/collage pieces. I especially enjoy the thrill of looking through the pattern and sometimes finding a small piece of material still pinned to a piece of tissue. Always gives me pleasant back-in-the-day kind of thoughts!

  • Perlinarosa

    Perlinarosa said 7 years ago

    I just leatnt how to sew by using online tutorials. Dear ladies, it is much easier than you think. All that you need is your burning desire to start ... and a good sewing machine. I bought my Singer at Costco and paid only $190.

  • leslietsy

    leslietsy said 7 years ago

    My mom sewed for herself, me, and my younger sister. I sew for my husband, daughters, their dolls, sons, occasional other relatives and friends, and now granddaughters. Our youngest daughter freed me from the tyranny of patterns by designing for her dolls and combining for herself--I'd done a bit, but she really ran with it--had to buy her her own sewing machine for her 11th bday to get mine back! Sergers freed me to make ballet costumes, fleece socks, and more. Now I'm designing for my BJDs (ball jointed dolls) and doing some sewing for grands & doll swaps, but getting ready to pass most of my pattern stash and lots of fabric on to the daughter who sews.

  • prairieprincess

    prairieprincess said 7 years ago

    Great article! I have such a "thing" for vintage patterns, I finally started selling the ones I can't use. It's fun to look at them and imagine who bought them originally, what fabrics they chose for them, etc.

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage said 7 years ago

    I perused so many pattern books in my time, my children still say today ,it was torture to go to a fabric shop.

  • StudioCherie

    StudioCherie said 7 years ago

    I am not surprised to hear that sewing machine sales are soaring. With the variety of fabrics and sewing patterns available now, gone are the days of two women showing up at a function in the same dress or even with the same bag.

  • percivalroad

    percivalroad said 7 years ago

    love it...vintage patterns are inspiring and i also use the beautiful illustrations on my Retro girl cards!!!

  • Waterrose

    Waterrose said 7 years ago

    I remember buying my first pattern. There was excitement and fear. Unfolding the tissue and then cutting each piece. I was 12 and on my own since my mom didn't really like to make clothing.

  • easasa

    easasa said 7 years ago

    Sewing needs time,but I enjoy it!

  • sagebrushadventures

    sagebrushadventures said 7 years ago

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I love to make clothing, as well as other sewn items. I have my own stash of patterns. They do tell a story. Thank you!

  • BetaBoutique

    BetaBoutique said 7 years ago

    This is so very interesting! Looking for Butterick walk away dress pattern now :)

  • sweetNedgy

    sweetNedgy said 7 years ago

    Yes, I have a pattern stash and still buy the patterns knowing full well I WILL NEVER USE THEM AS A PATTERN, but as an inspiration to buy more patterns,\ I love the Art work on old patterns, often finding a a great one at the thrift stores. Finding these prizes is fun.

  • AliceCloset

    AliceCloset said 7 years ago

    The perfect article for me!!!! I love sewing and I love patterns ^___^ Unfortunately I don't have any vintage patterns,but I can buy some on Etsy!!

  • TokulVintage

    TokulVintage said 7 years ago

    My mom sewed like a pro, for herself and her daughters. When I am buying to stock up my inventory of vintage sewing patterns I often run across a 1960s child or teen pattern that reminds me of an outfit she made for me. I am always listing new sewing patterns in my Etsy shop. Thank you for the great post. I love the walk away dress...though I thought of it in other terms of walking away.

  • MountainCoveAntiques

    MountainCoveAntiques said 7 years ago

    As a long time sewer and fanatic for vintage sewing machines, I really liked this article. Great history lesson. I too got my first sewing lessons from my grandmother making Barbie clothes, great memories there. My vintage pattern stash is enormous, too. Would have to live three lifetimes to make use of them all. But hey, that's what us sewers do. Sew, create, and collect more "stuff". Love it.

  • CathsKickassArt

    CathsKickassArt said 7 years ago

    Great article! I don't sew often, but I sure am happy my mom taught me to! She made a lot of my clothes when I was a kid, and my sewing skills started being especially useful as I turned second hand clothes into unique punk pieces when I was around 14. My favorite clothes and handbags today are the ones I made myself.

  • LagunaLane

    LagunaLane said 7 years ago

    Great information! I collect vintage patterns too! There is something about a vintage pattern- the history, the possibility... And the artwork on the envelope!

  • knitfitt

    knitfitt said 7 years ago

    Just seeing that distinctive tissue paper and those lovely shapes brings me joy. I sewed my own clothes for many years & learned my advanced skills by puzzling through the Vogue Designer patterns. Once made a 3 piece Dior suit for myself. Later, I earned my living as a seamstress thanks to what I had learned from those patterns & my Vogue book.

  • asseenbefore

    asseenbefore said 7 years ago

    This is a great piece! I love vintage patterns. I use them all the time to sew clothes for myself and friends who love the vintage look. I also like the artwork on envelopes.

  • gardenleafdesign

    gardenleafdesign said 7 years ago

    Thanks for bringing back many of my childhood memories! Every pattern reminds me of the many things I sewed and I can recall the fabric I used for each......sweet!!!

  • hbmamma

    hbmamma said 7 years ago

    Great article! I must have more than a thousand sewing patterns - most vintage that I've gathered over the years...

  • Shelleyville

    Shelleyville said 7 years ago

    Loved reading this. My mother taught me how to sew in the early 60's when I was 9 and I'm so glad she did. I used to make all my own clothes for my corporate job - the more pieces a pattern had the better I liked it. I still have a quite sizable fabric stash and I remember where I got each piece. Some I've had for more than 20 years so I guess I'm what is referred to as "vintage"!

  • myneedlehabit

    myneedlehabit said 7 years ago

    Excellent article. I made the majority of my clothes in high school -- as did my best friend. Simplicity and Butterick patterns were our favorites. When she moved to another state, we'd send each other letters with a sketch of what we were sewing and a swatch of fabric. I bet she still has those letters in her garage! Now I'm seriously thinking of buying a sewing machine again, though I don't have much room for one in my NYC apartment.

  • OriginalsbyLauren

    OriginalsbyLauren said 7 years ago

    I really enjoyed this, thank so much for writing it! I have tons of patterns, most of which I never get around to using, but I just can't resist buying them. I wish I had saved some of the designer patterns I used in high school.

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 said 7 years ago

    Thanks for the history lesson. Very interesting. My mom has 6 sewing machines and countless patterns. I was the most, let's say, uniquely dressed girl in school. It started me on my career as a fashion designer many years ago. Any crazy idea I could conjure, she would sew.

  • Goofingoff

    Goofingoff said 7 years ago

    Thank you for a wonderful post. I have been in love with sewing patterns as long as I can remember. I love the idea of making every article of clothing, and anything else, produced in my sewing room, as individual as I am, and love passing that feeling on to my customers.

  • graymountaingoods

    graymountaingoods said 7 years ago

    I must have over a thousand patterns, having recently been given an old pattern cabinet stuffed with several decades of patterns. And yes, I will be parting with many of them, but I have kept the patterns of my youth, from the ones my mom used to sew garments for me as well as the first Barbie doll patterns and beyond. So glad to see that sewing is making a come back!

  • SilkDesignByJane

    SilkDesignByJane said 7 years ago

    Thanks for posting such an interesting article. It's great to know the history of the pattern and that Butterick was is important in the development of the sewing pattern

  • thymeforgotentreasur

    thymeforgotentreasur said 7 years ago

    What an awesome post... I love reading about the items that I acquire in my treks....and now I know, and as my son likes to inform me - knowing is half the battle... haha... thank you!!

  • SellmySeoul

    SellmySeoul said 7 years ago

    The winter cloak pattern was interesting, might sound dumb but I didn't know they had patterns like that way back then.

  • WildRhubarb

    WildRhubarb said 7 years ago

    Thanks so much for this post. My mother was an awesome seamstress and me not so much. I like it, I'm just not that good at it. I was so happy when on occasion I could get a "store bought dress". I do remember my mom taking an old suit of my grandpas and making a Nehru jacket for my brother. Ok I guess that really dates me. Such a great post, brought back lots of memories.

  • WalterSilva

    WalterSilva said 7 years ago

    Interesting and informative!

  • oldfarmhands

    oldfarmhands said 7 years ago

    I think I will have to get that box of my mother's and grandmother's sewing pattern out of storage and make them available to all these collectors!

  • PinesVintageClothing

    PinesVintageClothing said 7 years ago

    Sweet! I just love the fact that patterns for our beloved vintage wares are available today. I recently happened upon a ton of crochet patterns for some Mad Men style 60's dresses...rayon and arthritis here I come! Thanks for sharing.

  • ModernVintageDesigns

    ModernVintageDesigns said 7 years ago

    Loved this post. Love vintage sewing patterns (and sewing in general). So much fun to learn the history behind it all!

  • JennasRedRhino

    JennasRedRhino said 7 years ago

    You've touched on the history of developing standardized sizing, but it's a big enough topic that you could actually do an additional blog post about it. It's very interesting to me that "vanity sizing" has driven manufacturers to change the labels in ready to wear clothing, making it really confusing for a lot of people to purchase a sewing pattern.

  • littleyellowyarrow

    littleyellowyarrow said 7 years ago

    What a wonderful piece of history to share. My sisters and I have loads of patterns, and I have a wonderful collection of American Fabrics Magazine which are gems.

  • oldsnapshot

    oldsnapshot said 7 years ago

    Fantastic post!!

  • ShoeClipsOnly

    ShoeClipsOnly said 7 years ago

    I love vintage patterns! My grandmother taught me how to sew making our own patterns from newspapers!

  • denimdelights

    denimdelights said 7 years ago

    I love your blog. I started sewing in 7th grade in Homemaking and sewed all thru high school. In 1958 I married and we lived on love mostely and I bought a singer treadle sewing machine for $4.95 and made curtains, pillows, maternity clothes and baby clothes. Then life became hectic and I quit. I'm trying to get back to it that's why I joined etsy. I never threw a pattern away when a piece was lost I used the rest to decorate boxes, etc. with. Thank you for bringing back memories and getting me motivated again.

  • whichgoose

    whichgoose said 7 years ago

    so interesting!

  • kathyjohnson3

    kathyjohnson3 said 7 years ago

    I love this article! I enjoyed the pictures of the old style dresses, very nicley done, thanks for sharing!

  • TheSewingGin

    TheSewingGin said 7 years ago

    Love going through my vintage patterns and remembering what I made or didn't get around to making. Needed to destash, so was happy to find Etsy and give my extra sewing supplies a new home.

  • PapillonVintageShop

    PapillonVintageShop said 7 years ago

    Very informative, I have been sewing since I was a young teenager. It's a great feeling to be able to create something new, revitalize something old, or combine both. Thank you.

  • KatEzat

    KatEzat said 7 years ago

    I am dying to make the walk away dress, anyone have a pattern for me? Please let us know where to find it...

  • maclancy

    maclancy said 7 years ago

    I remember my first dress from a pattern, 8th grade sleeveless shift I wore it to my first dance. 9th grade found me in a home ec class with Sr. DOrothy who taught all us girls how to sew our first wool suits. That was a challenge for a 9th grader. My mom sewed all 7 of us girls in the family dresses each easter and I remember her carefully putting each pattern away to save it for the next year as each girl grew up. PAtterns are part of the "fabric" of our lives. thanks for the post!

  • artistgretch123

    artistgretch123 said 7 years ago

    this article has touched a cord in so many of us. I love to sew. my mother taught me. I later took classes in pattern drafting, and tailoring. In my younger days I was able to look through magazines and copy designer fashions and make them for myself. I have bags of fabric put away. I think I may take them out and start sewing again. I am so inspired by reading this article. thank you etsy members for your great responses.

  • YarnUiPhoneApp

    YarnUiPhoneApp said 7 years ago

    I'd argue there are still some cost savings to sewing especially when you figure in the cost of your time, the expense of driving to a shopping mall to purchase a dress. If you already have a pattern that you tested out before, there's a time saving there. Fabric in the stash? Bingo. Thread and other notions? You can easily crank out a dress in two-three hours...the time that it takes to go to a store, park, browse, try on the garment, stand in line to pay and then return home. I'd say that's huge savings, and not only that you get the satisfaction of making something versus the frustration and stress of driving and parking. Total win-win situation in my book!

  • ShastaCreations

    ShastaCreations said 7 years ago

    Wonderful article!

  • WhisperingOak

    WhisperingOak said 7 years ago

    Love this article. Nothing like the feeling that you made a one of kind outfit with your favorite materials

  • jackandjillwedding

    jackandjillwedding said 7 years ago

    Thanks for the great post. My mom taught me how to sew on her old singer sewing machine back in the day. Still love it.

  • janeeroberti

    janeeroberti said 7 years ago

    Fascinating piece, and it hit me on a very personal level, with that Garibaldi Goucho shirt! So much of this history is never shared with us: it is considered merely "domestic" and women's" history. But Garibaldi's shirt shows us how this is really everyone's history. Butterick's wife sewed clothes for their children, and Butterick the husband knew sewing too--as a tailor. Would Butterick have started the pattern business if he was not a family man? Would his business have succeeded without the macho gaucho shirt? My father is an old-school macho man, a WWII vet and military history buff, with many stories of great warrior men: Napoleon and Garibaldi among them. But my father also bought the sewing machine in our house, to thriftily alter his pants to fit over his war-wound leg brace. Before making jewelry, I had a children's clothing business for 10 years. It started when my son was born, and my husband gave me a sewing machine as a baby shower gift. The first things I sewed on it were not pretty baby dresses, but cool pants and tops for my little boy. If my dad had not brought that sewing machine into our house, I doubt I would have really cared to learn to sew. I would have learned a little, in the required home-ec classes at school, but I wouldn't have mastered it, because as a Smart Girl and budding Feminist I wanted to concentrate on studying, prepare for college and a profession. Although my sewing teachers were women, the family/macho/baby men in my life also played important parts in my development as designer, and my inspiration to create. Watching my dad sit at the machine in the basement, the basement that was also his home office, sewing was shown to me to be not just "women's work," but everyone's work, and not just a hobby, but a potential career. Thanks for this history lesson. I'm sending a picture of Garibaldi's gaucho shirt to my Dad right now!

  • MadebyAHug

    MadebyAHug said 7 years ago

    A great post! I remember picking out patterns with my Mom and getting to select fabrics to match. She would spend hours cutting out patterns and making outfits for us. I love my box of vintage patterns!

  • GracefullyGirly

    GracefullyGirly said 7 years ago

    Thanks for the history! I love old patterns and wish I had the ones my mom used to make all her own clothes in the 60's and then mine too when I came along. I have such fond memories of spending countless hours in front of the pattern books and in fabric stores. I love fabric stores to this day and have oodles of fabric stored for use. I really don't think it's possible to use it all, I have so much, and I just keep getting more! I amass more for my shop sewing projects too. Thank goodness I also have a daughter to sew for! It's so much fun. I hope to teach her to sew one day too.

  • BeyondBarefoot

    BeyondBarefoot said 7 years ago

    A great article of some real history and facts. I love vintage patterns and the style of fashion that comes with them. When you shop for clothing for children today many are just inappropriate, it's nice to get a handmade item that you can add to for modesty and fashion. Many time in my life I have said no more sewing .... but once it is in your blood it's in your blood. I have fond memories of pieces I made for myself and children. I have even been inspired to make my own patterns occasionally. I feel a great reverence with a pattern, if I am going to re-use I transfer the "pattern" to interfacing so I can leave the pattern itself whole. I now just have bought several NEW patterns and so funny is they are of historical pieces because back then cloths were not a label, they were all talent. Thanks Etsy.

  • candroid007

    candroid007 said 7 years ago

    Great article! Thank you so much for the information and history, a few more wrinkles in my sewing brain. :)

  • auntierobin

    auntierobin said 7 years ago

    Thank you so much for the sewing history lesson! I loved reading this! And the walk away dress - so cute. I, too, have lots of old patterns that were handed down to me. My mother taught all her daughters to sew and I still love it! There's nothing like an original outfit made just for you.

  • AmberGypsySky

    AmberGypsySky said 7 years ago

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article :) Thank you sooo much for this!

  • lavenderskye

    lavenderskye said 7 years ago

    Thank you for the wonderful article. I have been collecting patterns for years, but learned so much new information from your article! I have one of the "walk away" patterns, but never knew of its significance until now.

  • nonnasshop

    nonnasshop said 7 years ago

    What a great and informative post! My mom sewed many of my sister's and my outfits when we were young. I started out making doll clothes and then moved into making my own clothes also. When I married, I prayed for girls so I could make and dress them in girlie things. But, I had 3 boys! So, I then moved to making curtains and bedspreads with football themes, etc. Now they are all married and I finally have my girls...5 granddaughters and one grandson. The girls all have nighties made by me over the years and I made pjs for my little guy. They are passed down from girl to girl. I'm teaching the girls to knit (when old enough) and my grandson has even expressed an interest in sewing. Who knows, maybe he will become a tailor or designer! Thanks so much for educating us on a very interesting subject that we all kinda take for granted...who knew? TT TEAM

  • Sirenessa

    Sirenessa said 7 years ago

    I have to give a hand to Victorian ladies that made those gowns for themselves, certainly not an easy project by far, with all those ruffles and detail work! I love sewing I use to make my dolls clothes back in the 1970s on my mother's 1940s children's sewing machine( no power just hand pushed) Today I find it as comforting as tea and scones on a windy rainy afternoon to stay indoors and sew away.

  • vintage180

    vintage180 said 7 years ago

    I love vintage patterns! And the one's that I don't love I use as tissue paper for gift wrapping. Win-win!

  • thehappycouple

    thehappycouple said 7 years ago

    I really enjoyed this article. One of my favorite places to be is the pattern section of the fabric store. I think the most interesting thing about sewing is all the little tricks and tips that experienced sewers know. Having a pattern still doesn't mean it will be easy to make or fit right. Taking sewing classes has been a wonderful experience and I've learned so much from my teachers about how to work with a pattern. I often worry that enough of their knowledge isn't written down and will be lost. I'm glad to hear that machine sales are on the rise again. It's a tedious and time consuming hobby, but slipping something on that no one else has and being able to tell people you made it is a wonderful feeling.

  • CatnipHill

    CatnipHill said 7 years ago

    I've been collecting patterns since the 1980's and have a lot now that I am de-accessioning, if you know what I mean.

  • AlphabetCityStudio

    AlphabetCityStudio said 7 years ago

    Thank you for such an informative and fun post!

  • ErikawithaK

    ErikawithaK said 7 years ago

    Thanks! Very interesting that sewing machine sales are up! I had a feeling but good to hear!

  • sewlola

    sewlola said 7 years ago

    Wonderful article! It invites me to buy vintage patterns and sew lovely dresses.

  • PruAtelier

    PruAtelier said 7 years ago

    P.S. to my post above.... With all the people new to and now taking up sewing, we need to see a resurgence of the local fabric stores that sold QUALITY fabrics at reasonable prices, along with the pattern books, notions, etc. I too remember going to the fabric store - Frankel's in Garden City Long Island with my mother, looking through the fabrics, notions, pattern books, etc. while she made up her mind....of course endless hours later! We always had the assistance of Mr. Frankel who had everything in every color and was always cheerful to his ladies! His staff also lasted so many years after he was gone, when in the mid 80s under a new name and owner, the old Frankel's closed forever. While there are great fabrics available online, there is NOTHING like feeling the "hand" of the "goods"!!

  • MaddieModPatterns

    MaddieModPatterns said 7 years ago

    I love patterns! So much possibility and promise all neatly folded into an envelope (well, if you're lucky--vintage patterns are not always so neatly folded). There is so much history in the illustrations of vintage pattern envelopes, especially from the 40's up, when the models were often shown in poses that reveal a lot about the times by the way they stand, the things they hold, the severity or boldness of the style.

  • Marumadrid

    Marumadrid said 7 years ago

    Just this Saturday I'll take my first sewing class... wish me luck! ;)

  • BanglewoodSupplies

    BanglewoodSupplies said 7 years ago

    That was interesting. I love the historical background.

  • storeythreads

    storeythreads said 7 years ago

    Im so exciting to start sewing myself! Ive been collecting vintage since I was a teenager, and have always been envious of my freinds who can follow a vintage pattern and make magic! Hopefully this weekend will be my first try!

  • jmayoriginals

    jmayoriginals said 7 years ago

    love the history lesson. thanks!

  • scandivintage

    scandivintage said 7 years ago

    Thanks to Etsy I am now able to buy lots of patterns which are not readily available in Sweden. I have made 3 dresses so far from patterns bought from Etsy sellers, 50´s and 60´s, and there's going to be plenty more! The great thing about patterns from those decades is that the fit is amazing, although many times simpler than today's ill-fitting stuff. Thank you for a very interesting article! :) (And it might be more expensive to make the clothes yourself than to buy, but as long as it is worth it to you, it is worth it, regardless of the money. And my mind is at ease as I did all the work myself. The benchmark price should be your time and money, not some elses...)

  • regencyregalia

    regencyregalia said 7 years ago

    Great article. I adore vintage patterns. Having just moved house with 4 bin sacks full of vintage patterns i've just started thinning out the collection but its torture. As soon as anyone finds out your a lover of vintage clothing and you sew you seem to be showered with fantastic treasures from the attic. Vintage sewing really is back. I often sit on etsy searching through the patterns and sending the links on to friends via facebook who cant find what they are after in the shops. They commision me to make something for them. We choose a pattern a great pattern together, head out to choose fabric and everyones happy. Its so nice to give these often forgotten gems a new lease of life.

  • NekozukiYarns

    NekozukiYarns said 7 years ago

    This is awesome. It's amazing how much history is in the way we clothe ourselves. I recently did research on knitting, and discovered much of it's background was from the English Renaissance, but that there's also evidence that people may have been knitting in Ancient Egypt! So cool. Thanks for such an awesome article. :) Katie =^..^=

  • mentionables

    mentionables said 7 years ago

    Absolutely fantastic article. Thank you for the history lesson!

  • kazuritribe

    kazuritribe said 7 years ago

    There's nothing like sewing patterns to fill the gap - I have now got 4 large overstuffed plastic boxes on wheels with patterns squished in. My favourite to collect are historical patterns - particularly corset patterns. And 'underthings' patterns. All very inspiring. Thanks so much for a great article... I love it when other people love patterns too!

  • jmagdesigns

    jmagdesigns said 7 years ago

    Great article! Great reminder of those that have crafted before us!

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  • kitschychiccouture

    Nelusha McDonald from KitschyChicCouture said 5 years ago

    Hi Chappell - I know this writing was some time ago but I came across it and had to let you know about my own collection. I am crazy passionate about all things sewing - I mean that it fills me with an overwhelming sense of happiness to be around fabric; to hear the lulling hum of a sewing machine; and; most of all, to sit amidst the crates of patterns I've lovingly collected over the years. Each pattern to me - as do my machines - represents so much possibility, so much potential - so much inspiration.

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