Sunday 19 May 2013

Style 'N Fit

When I posted last year about my small collection of vintage patterns, I mentioned that I didn't have any from the 1970s, because I couldn't imagine ever wanting to make any clothing from that era. Well, it turns out that I may have to eat my words.

Of course, because I don't have any 1970s patterns, I couldn't illustrate my point about the awfulness of 1970s fashion from my collection, so I turned to the web to find an example. This fitted the bill perfectly.

The wood panelling! The ric-rac! The alarming fabrics!

Then a couple of weeks ago I was at a vintage fashion and textiles fair, and guess what I found on a stall? It was only a couple of pounds, and curiosity got the better of me. . . .

So, what did the "Style 'N Fit" pattern kit contain, and how could you, "make over 500 perfect fitting stylish patterns", from the contents of a slim A4 folder?

The kit is based on the principle of pattern grading. With modern multi-size patterns, most dressmakers are used to the idea that a pattern piece consists of a basic shape, enlarged in two or more directions by different amounts for different sizes.

Multi-size pattern piece

Dressmakers in the early twentieth century may also have been familiar with this idea. The book, The Edwardian Modiste, by Frances Grimble contains patterns from American periodicals from 1905 to 1909. These used the American System of Cutting, which was based on a proportional system of grading scales. However I suspect that in 1972, when the kit was published, the concept of pattern grading was unknown to most home dressmakers.

The kit consists of two large sheets of pattern drafting paper, an instruction book, and a fold-out sheet of printed card which contains a six-piece grading scale, French curves, and a template for drafting front and back armholes.

The grading scale

French curves and armhole guide

The first things to be done are the construction of the grading scale by taping the six pieces together, and recording your bust and hip measurements. These are the only measurements taken.

The instructions begin with two basic dress styles; an A-line dress and a dress with a fitted bodice and a slightly gathered skirt.

The first dress styles

Miniature pattern pieces (the front and back pieces of the first dress are only 8.5 cm/ 3.5" long) for both styles are printed on the next page. Each pattern piece has a focal point marked on it, and lines radiating out from the edge with a number beside each line.

Miniature patterns for the two dresses

The miniature pattern is attached to a piece of pattern drafting paper, and a drawing pin put through the grading scale at the correct point for the bust or hip measurement. The grading scale is then pinned to the focal point, and laid along each line in turn.

The miniature pattern positioned on the pattern paper

The point on the grading scale which corresponds to the number for that line is marked on the drafting paper with a dot.

How to use the grading scale

Once all the lines have been used, the drafting paper will have dots all around the miniature pattern. These are then joined together to make the full-sized pattern piece.

Because the pattern is only generated from measurements around the body, no allowance is made for height variations. This is done once the pattern piece has been drafted, but before it is cut out. Facing pieces are drafted from the cut out pattern pieces.

There then follow quite detailed instructions on how to manipulate darts, and quite sketchy instructions on how to calculate yardage.

After this come several pages of drawings showing some of the garments that can be made from the Style N Fit Designing System, and a number of pages of more miniature patterns.

More dress designs

There are seven more basic body shapes, plus 13 sleeves, 11 collars, patterns for tops, jackets, trousers and shorts, seven pockets, and accessories and belts.

Another dress, and separates

All the body patterns use the same armscye; there are no dolman or raglan sleeves. Similarly all the pockets are the patch variety; there are none set into seams or welt pockets. Nevertheless, I assume that by using every possible combination of the pattern pieces provided, it would be possible to design over 500 patterns.

Having read through all this, I'm intrigued about how well the system actually worked. The kit I bought is clearly unused, did the original owner find it too complicated to even try? Given the number of measurements which are required to draft a basic bodice block from scratch, I'm dubious that even with the miniature pattern pieces to start from; a pattern for a properly fitting dress could be drafted from just bust and hip measurements. There is only one way to find out: I can't quite believe that I'm even thinking about this, but I feel a new project coming on!


  1. This is fascinating, Mrs Tulip! I have to tell you my parents bought me that Style n kit thing for making clothes in the 70s. I'd made several clothes using conventional patterns, but my mother must have thought this would be more creative. I didn't ever use it. To be honest I think the awfulness of the clothes illustrated on the cover put me off. Even then they seemed out of date. Ha! That could be my kit you came across!

    I've just had a quick read of the other posts here (having been alerted to it by 'Mr Tulip' this morning). Finding them very interesting because of the overlap with my interests - and very well written too!

    1. Thank you! I suspect that being given this kit at an impressionable age could be enough to put anyone off dressmaking for life!

      Worryingly, I have now come across a VERY 70s style cotton fabric, and am sorely tempted to try this out...

  2. I have just found you blog and this post...I bought this kit, also unused, a year or so ago at an antique shop for two dollars (US), and just in the last couple of weeks have been fooling with it. I have made two muslins for bodices with it, and they seem to fit! I have had to make a change or two, but they are the same changes I would have to make with any other pattern.

    I have been wondering if anyone out there had used this kit. It seems very like the Lutterloh system, which seems to have a substantial following. I wonder if the grading scale is the same, because Lutterloh puts out a new pattern book a couple of times a year, I think.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience of the kit. It's good to know that the system does work - I really must have a go with mine over the winter.