Sunday, 7 May 2017

Bestway Patterns

Any time you come across a pattern with the address "21, Whitefriars St., London, E.C.4" printed anywhere on the envelope, even if the pattern name is that of a women's magazine, you are actually looking at a Bestway pattern.

This has the Bestway name, but also the address

Bestway patterns seem to have been sold in shops like other makes of pattern (the one above has "Grey's, not exchangeable" stamped on the side), but they were mostly associated with the women's magazines printed by the Amalgamated Press such as Woman's Illustrated, Mabs Fashions and Woman's Weekly.

Bestway was owned by Amalgamated Press and was a large business; its Whitefriars Street office and factory employed 100 people, and up to 20 million patterns were circulated every year*. Some of its patterns were given away free with magazines. In this example the cutting layout, instructions, and fabric suggestions are given over two pages in the magazine but the pattern pieces are missing.

Free pattern, for the right-sized woman, February 1938

Nowadays the patterns given away with sewing magazines are multi-size, but such things didn't exist in 1938. The pattern which came with the magazine was for a 36" bust. Other sizes (32"- 40") could be sent away for at a cost of 4½d**, plus the price of the stamp. As the magazine only cost 2d, larger or smaller readers may have felt short-changed by this; I imagine many just adapted the 36" pattern. However, other Bestway patterns advertised in the same magazine cost between 9d and 12d, so 4½d was still quite a bargain.

Other Bestway patterns in the same issue

Post-war, all patterns had to be sent away for, and paid for. The pattern was still the main selling point of some magazines, though.

Woman's Illustrated, 11 December 1948

The magazine contained illustrations of the basic construction, and a coupon to send off. In this case the magazine also includes yardage requirements, so you can buy the fabric while you're waiting for the pattern to arrive - handy if you want to make if for Christmas!

All three patterns are 1s 11d each, including postage and purchase tax

Other magazines which sold Bestway patterns included Home Chat and Woman and Home.

Home Chat, 2 April 1955

Woman and Home, September 1957

Although most of the patterns were nameless, like those illustrated above, Bestway were able to offer some designer name patterns through the magazines.

Norman Hartnell for Woman's Illustrated, 1957

However unlike Vogue designer patterns, which came in large envelopes, these were basic wraparound covers with the instructions printed on the inside.

Pattern 'envelope' unfolded

Over time the Bestway name seems to have disappeared from patterns associated with magazines. For example the envelope for this Nina Ricci pattern for Woman's Journal gives no clues.

No name or address on the pattern envelope

The pattern is unused and still in its factory folds. It is only the printing on the pattern tissue itself which gives the game away.

'Bestway' just visible at the top of the box

This Woman's Weekly pattern doesn't even have the Bestway name on the tissue.

Woman's Weekly pattern from 1966

I've not been able to find out what eventually happened to Bestway - if anyone knows, I'd love to hear from you!

* - For the information on Bestway I'm indebted to "Making Modern Women, Stitch by Stitch: Dressmaking and Women's Magazines in Britain 1919-39" by Fiona Hackney in The Culture of Sewing, Berg, 1999.

** - 1d is one old pence. There were 12 pence to a shilling (denoted as 1s or 1/) and 20 shillings to a pound. Britain changed to decimal currency in 1971, and the type of currency printed on a pattern envelope can help to give some idea of its age, although both currencies were included for some time.


  1. Always interesting to read your writing about the history of paper patterns! I have a couple of Bestway patterns - I love the way the 'envelope' unfolds and is crammed with information, in tiny print. I think they are things of beauty in their own right.

    1. Thank you Kate! I came across Fiona Hackney's piece as part of my studies, and it led me to look at the patterns and magazines I own in more detail. I haven't tried making any of the patterns up, yet - perhaps one for the #vintagepledge challenge!

  2. Oh you've taught me something today! I never knew that Bestway and Mabs Fashions were basically the same thing. I have 1930s patterns that have either Bestway or Mabs Fashions on them and they're actually my favourite patterns to work with, so that explains it.

    That book sounds really interesting, I may have to treat myself to a copy. Is the lady on the front really sewing in the nudee?! xx

    1. Mabs Fashions seem to have appeared in Home Chat magazine initially, before getting a magazine of their own. Amalgamated Press had lots of small-circulation titles, each aimed at a slightly different readership.

      The book is fascinating; even the chapters which are nothing remotely to do with my research, such as 19th century army officers' wives in the American West, are still a really interesting read. The cover photograph is called 'The Machine Worker in Summer' - when I took the book into my very male-dominated work to read in my lunch break I was always careful about how I put it down on my desk! xx

  3. Fascinating history of Bestway! Yes it would be interesting to hear what happened to them. I have a few Bestway patterns, and magazine patterns. Here's one I particularly loved as it had the original magazine advertisement in with it.

    1. Thank you Linda. How fantastic, to find the original advertisement in with the pattern!

  4. I have found Bestways pattern No 13,048 for Little Child’s Set that belonged to my mother before she was married. She was born in 1903 and married in 1926 and has her maiden name and Cunningar (nsw, Australia) written on envelope flap. Would there be anyone interested in having it.