It’s amazing how designing a pattern develops your interest in patterns! The challenges you face in the process of the design, the grading, and the instruction writing (and pretty much every other step!) make you wonder how other people have done it. And if you do a little research, there is a lot of fascinating information about the evolution of the home sewing pattern.
Now, we say “home sewing” because if we were to write about the history of sewing patterns in general it would take more words than y’all would care to read! Some of the earliest sewing patterns we know of are from the mid 1500s! However, the history of the pattern as it functions today for at-home sewists is a little more specific and condensed.
In 1863, a tailor named Ebenezer Butterick created the first graded pattern for at home use. Before Butterick’s work, patterns were produced with professional tailors and seamstresses in mind and so they only included one size and did not have instructions for either cutting out or construction. Many home seamstresses worked based off small pattern diagrams in magazines-these were unsized pieces with no scale or instruction given for adjusting the size. Butterick’s patterns revolutionized home sewing, and he and his family sold the patterns from their home by mail order.
Seeing the market for this brilliant idea, more companies began to offer full-sized, graded patterns (called delineator patterns). In 1873 James McCall began to manufacture McCall’s patterns. In 1888, Vogue patterns joined the scene, and many other important brands came into existence around the same time (New Idea, Royal, and Elite being a few of them).
Of course, these early patterns were still quite different from the ones we use today. Originally, the pattern pieces were simply pinned together with a label to identify them, and it was not until 1872 that the pattern envelopes were introduced. Even then, pattern layouts only began to be included in 1902 and the instructions were added in 1916.
The development and immense popularity of graded patterns for the home was really facilitated by some important events in the sewing world. The inch tape measure was invented in 1820, which made measurements easier to acquire as well as more consistent across the board. The invention and availability of the sewing machine for the home made it so much easier to sew and encouraged people to make more garments. The creation of the postal “Star Routes” by congress in 1845 made the mail service more dependable and so people were able to order these new graded patterns by mail after seeing the designs in catalogs.
So much goes into the creation of a pattern. It includes not only the work we do today but also all the work of over a hundred years’ worth of tailors and seamstresses wanting to bring their creations to people around the country and around the world.