Vintage Sewing: Advice from 1941 on which pattern company to choose

Advice on choosing a vintage pattern

This indispensable advice comes from “The Teaching of Needlework” (second edition) by Dorothy M. Howlett, which I’ve photographed at the British Library. This manual was used widely in state schools where the majority of girls were educated and needlework was guaranteed to be on the syllabus. The 1934 first edition was revamped and republished in the environment of rationing clothes and a national drive towards make do and mend as part of the war effort.

I’m fascinated to see which pattern companies are considered of good quality!

Reliable patterns: Reliable patterns which may be used are Vogue, McCall and Butterick.

These are all American companies which had been operating in Britain for some time, all having been founded in the previous century. Vogue had launched the British version of its magazine (which offered a place to promote it’s patterns) in 1916. In the 1920’s all the American companies had offices in London and Paris (including Pictorial Review, Butterrick, Vogue, McCall, Excella, Standard and Home). Butterick was by the 1930s manufacturing in Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

Less expensive patterns include: Simplicity, Pictorial, Weldon’s, Dubarry, Best Way, Leach’s and Maudella.

Dubarry was the pattern company owned by Woolworths, begun in 1933. This reference confirms that they were sold in Great Britain, which I wasn’t aware of. Simplicity and Pictorial again were American. British companies Weldon’s, Best Way and Leach’s all offered their own magazines (in Weldon’s case a plethora of different magazines) with free patterns, to advertise their mail order sewing pattern businesses and had been established before 1919. Maudella was a company based in Yorkshire, begun in the twenties (which now trades as New Look).

Coupon or free patterns given away in fashion books are as a rule not quite so dependable. They are cut in large quantities by machines, and a slip in the cutting may cause misfits of the garments.

Surely Butterick et al. also cut patterns by machine? The patterns she refers to can be called House Name Patterns. Magazines such as Woman’s Weekly, Woman’s Realm and Woman’s Patterns offered patterns free or by return of a coupon. Odham’s press was responsible for the above three titles and I believe didn’t offer any patterns under their own name. They were just one of several companies making house name patterns. I expect they were considered cheaper being not from the more exclusive Vogue (always the most expensive patterns in the UK and US in the 20th century) for example. I’d love to compare the tissue quality, the instructions and fit of the different companies’ patterns.

(Sources: “”A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution

and The Culture of Sewing: Gender, Consumption and Home Dressmaking (Dress, Body, Culture)).

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