Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pattern Drafting 101: A Historical Timeline

     I didn't think it would be appropriate of me to start a Pattern Drafting 101 Series without giving you a little history of the sewing pattern. History is a great tool from which we can learn. I found this to be a fascinating topic and I hope you do too. I'll just be providing some of the highlights but if you would like some further reading just follow the links in the resource section below.

The Stone Ages

     Before fabric as we know it was ever thought of, archaeologists believe people hand sewed clothing made from animal furs and skins using needles made from bone, antlers, or ivory. Thread usually consisted of sinew, catgut, or veins.

The Medieval Ages

     Fabric was being used by this time but it was a time consuming process to create it. First yarn had to be spun and then woven on looms. Because of this the fabric was generally left whole in the creation of clothing as it was too valuable of a commodity to cut up.

The 15th Century to Pre- Industrial Revolution

     At the "Dawn of Modernity" in the 15th century clothing began to be fitted to the body. It was, however, a highly expensive and personal process which required hiring a tailor who could meticulously fit clothing to your body shape. Therefore, improperly fitted clothing remained for those who could afford no better.

The Industrial Revolution

     The Industrial Revolution brought about many changes in the 19th century. The sewing machine was invented making the creation of clothing much faster. Commercially mass produced patterns and clothing began to be available but they still were not fitted properly unless you had the financial means to hire a tailor who could create or adjust the clothing to fit your body shape.
     In 1863, Ebeneezer Butterick, a Massachusetts native, changed the world by creating the first graded (multiple sizes in one) sewing patterns for home use. His wife, Ellen, wished for a pattern that would properly fit their son. Butterick, a tailor, began by creating cardboard templates for men's and boy's clothing. He quickly switched to using tissue paper patterns for the ease of folding and shipping.
Ebeneezer Butterick
     In 1866, Butterick began to create patterns for women. The patterns were a huge hit and the company hasn't looked back since.
     In 1867, Butterick began producing its first magazine. Women all over the world were able to purchase patterns in the latest fashions right from the comfort of their own homes through the mail.
     In 1870, James McCall, a Scottish immigrant and tailor, began his pattern company. He also had a magazine to promote his patterns.
     Closing out the Industrial Revolution and the 19th century was Vogue Patterns, created in 1899. Vogue Patterns were first printed in the Vogue Magazine and could be purchased for 50 cents. The patterns came in only one size and had to be readjusted.

The 20th Century

     With the rise of the 20th century the pattern world saw many great ups and downs.
     In 1909, Conde Nast purchased Vogue and created what we know today as the Vogue Pattern Company.
     In 1919, McCall's began printing information on the pattern pieces making it much easier for the home sewer to use. Previously, notches and darts were marked by hole punches or cuts in the pattern.
     In the early 1920's, Butterick began including an enlarged, improved instructional sheet with their patterns.
     In 1927, Joseph Shapiro and his son created the Simplicity Pattern Company. It was their goal to have simple and inexpensive sewing patterns available for the home sewer. They are supposedly the fastest growing and largest pattern company of them all.
     When the stock market fell and the Great Depression hit in 1929, stocks tumbled and everyone took a hard hit. Fortunately, it was more cost effective for the home sewer to create clothing then it was to purchase it from the department stores. All the pattern companies quickly recovered and Butterick attained new worldwide sales heights in the 1930's.
     In 1932, McCall's began printing full color illustrations on the pattern envelope.
     During WWII, resources were limited and restrictions were made. Butterick negotiated with the U.S. government on a workable limit for fabric requirements in home sewn garments. Fashions became shorter, narrower, and with fewer details such as buttons and trims. Patterns were also created with fewer pieces in the interest of conserving resources.
     After the war restrictions were lifted and we see fashions boom with clothing such as voluptuous circle skirts which required yards and yards of fabric.
     In the 1950's, Butterick produced their best selling pattern, the 'walk-away' dress, pattern 6015. Sales were so great that the manufacture of all other patterns ceased until all the back orders were filled. (Pattern 6015 is to the right and yes, I do have this pattern and it is one of my favorites.)
     In 1961, Butterick purchased the Vogue Pattern Company. Butterick has tried to keep it a separate and distinct company to ensure each company's unique identity.

Into the 21st Century and Beyond

     In 2001, the McCall Pattern Company purchased Butterick and Vogue Patterns. They hope to continue providing the highest quality patterns for our changing needs.

     In closing, I hope to have provided you with some great tidbits of knowledge about how clothing, sewing patterns, and the pattern companies came to be. I appreciate you taking the time to read my little essay as I have put a lot of work into it. If you're interested in further reading follow the links in the resource section below.



Pattern Companies:

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