Sunday, 30 September 2012

Patterns past and present. Part 1

This week I was going to post about Shambellie House, the Scottish National Museum of Costume. However the always excellent Dreamstress posted about printed and unprinted dress patterns, which sent me off to check when printing first appeared in the various vintage patterns I own. Looking at them, I realized that there have been far more changes to patterns than just printing.

The oldest pattern I own is Simplicity 2683. This dressing gown in the style of Dior's 'New Look' is a pattern of my mum's. Unfortunately she threw out most of her old patterns over the years (how I'd love to own the various 1950s ones she had, now only remembered in photographs of her wearing her creations). I suspect that this one escaped because as a dressing gown there was less problem with it becoming dated.

The sole survivor of Mum's 1950s patterns

The pattern gives yardage requirements and cutting layouts for 35", 39", 41" and 54" fabric. Mum however grew up during World War Two when fabric supplies were limited. To this day she ignores cutting layouts and squeezes garments out of ¼ yard less fabric than suggested.

Yardage requirements for a variety of fabric widths

As a result of this, to reduce wasted fabric she had split the large skirt sections into smaller pieces, and made an extra pattern pieces out of scrap paper. One section is made from newspaper; the 1 August 1954 edition of the Empire News (where she worked as a secretary at the time). This is great for dating when Mum made the dressing gown, but leaves me with tantalizing snippets from the time. Who, for example, was featured in the "John Gay's Showdown" column, under the headline, "At fifteen she's got the whole world at her feet"?

One of Mum's extra pattern pieces

This pattern consists of pattern pieces already cut out but unprinted; the darts, tailor tack points, grain line, notches and the letter identifying the piece are all punched out of the piece.

Bodice back

It's not just the pattern pieces which look strange by modern standards; the instructions are only a single sheet of paper, with the cutting layouts taking up most of the first side. Right at the bottom of page two is, 'Copyright, 1948, by Simplicity Patterns Co. Inc', making it far older than I thought. Possibly patterns stayed in production for longer then, particularly for items such as dressing gowns.

Most of the instructions

In my late teens I made a dress from this pattern, shortening the skirt to a more suitable length. Looking at it now, I can't imagine how I got it to fit. The pattern is a size 12, and according to the Standard Body Measurements on the pattern envelope, my 36" bust makes me a size 18. Ouch. On the plus side, I discovered that it's not a dressing gown, it’s a housecoat. If I ever make it up again, I can 'receive guests at home' while wearing it!

Maudella 5151 is high on my 'to make' list (view 2, since you ask). I have the fabric ready, and just lack the time. Maudella Patterns was a British firm, founded in 1937 in Bradford, West Yorkshire. In the 1980s it was taken over by New Look.

Too much information?

The pattern has a lot of information on the envelope front; as well as the usual drawings of the different styles there are also back views, yardage requirements, suggested fabrics and notions (including the intriguingly spelled 'dress zipp'). This may be because a lot of the envelope back is taken up with written cutting instructions which complement the layout diagrams on the (tiny) instruction sheet. There are not separate pieces for each dress and neckline style, as there would be today. Instead there are overlays which are placed over the main, unprinted, pattern piece, matching the punch holes to align them.

Cutting out instructions

Again the instructions are a single sheet of paper, this time little bigger than a sheet of A4. Despite the promise of "Step by step instructions inside", a fair amount of dressmaking knowledge is assumed. I particularly like step 7; "Make a 1" wide belt and add to dress".

Too little information?

The pattern is sized by bust measurement only. As the bust measurements given in the yardage requirements are 34, 36, 38 and 40, I feel relatively slim.

Back to Simplicity. No date on the instructions or envelope, but it proudly announces that it is a 'Printed Pattern'. And my 36" bust has slimmed down to a size 16, so progress all round!

Printed patterns at last!

Still along way to go to the modern pattern, though.

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