Sunday, 14 June 2020

Clothes that Count

The current series of The Great British Sewing Bee reaches the semi-final this week, but while the Sewing Bee may have first arrived on our screens in 2013, it turns out that dressmaking on the BBC has a far longer history than that.

I recently managed to add to my growing collection of Vogue Pattern Books, and folded up in one copy I found this.

The first of two supplements

It is a four-page pull-out supplement to the 21 September 1967 issue of the Radio Times (a radio and television listings magazine), and contains information about the first five programmes of a ten-part series on home dressmaking called Clothes that Count. Unlike the 1976 series Dressmaker, which was aimed at the complete beginner, this series was "intended for women who already have a little experience of dressmaking". The programmes were 30 minutes long, and broadcast at 23:35 on Tuesdays on BBC1 (clearly the BBC thought that dressmakers were insomniacs), with a repeat at the far more manageable time of 19:30 on BBC2 on Wednesdays.

The inside pages

Each programme featured a different garment, and concentrated on some of the problems which might occur while making it up. The patterns featured were all ones which the viewers could buy in the shops, and which had been chosen "because they are pace-setters, and can be made up in different versions". I have managed to find images of all five of the main patterns featured online.

Week one was a raglan sleeve dress. This was Simplicity 7284, which cost 5s 0d (five shillings, click here for an explanation of pre-decimal British money), which is the equivalent of £4.70 today. It came in bust sizes from 31" to 36", and could be made as an "overall or house dress" or for evening wear, depending on the fabric chosen.

Programme one

Simplicity 72845

Week two was a dress and jacket, made from Vogue 7158. At 7s 6d (£7.05, clearly the price of dress patterns has exceeded inflation since 1967!) this cost half as much again as the Simplicity pattern, and was available in bust sizes 32" to 42". Again, it could be made for day or evening.

Programme two

Vogue 7158

According to the supplement, from programme two onwards there would also be a special outfit designed by a couturier for the programme, and the pattern would be available to buy shortly afterwards.

Week three was a shirtwaister dress; Vogue 1772, price 6s 6d (£6.11), sizes 31" to 38".

Programme three

Vogue 1772

This programme featured a number of other shirtwaister styles, and it's interesting to see how the prices of different pattern brands compare:

Practical Fashion 5892 - 2s 6d (£2.35)
Blackmore 4275 - 3s 1d (£2.90)
Maudella 5332 - 3s 6d (£3.29)
Butterick 4456 - 4s 6d (£4.23)
Simplicity 7258 - 5s (£4.70).

I have no idea why Maudella 5332 was issued twice

Butterick 4456 is very similar to the Vogue pattern

Week four was a cape, made using Style pattern 1992. This cost 4s 6d (£4.23), and came in bust sizes 32" to 38". According to the supplement, a cape could be made "short to be worn with trousers by a youngster, longer in tweed for the fuller figure". The Style pattern apppears to be geared towards the younger model.

Programme four

Style 1992

Possibly this programme was mostly about 'youngsters', as it also featured Le Roy pattern 3157, price 3s 0d (£2.82).

Le Roy 3157

The garment for the final week covered by this supplement is a short evening dress, made from McCall's 8805, price 5s 0d (£4.70). This came in bust sizes 31" to 38" and also, rather unusually for a 'misses and junior' dress, half sizes. The supplement suggests that makers who want a "contemporary line", but would prefer a longer dress could make the overdress slightly shorter than the slip, and illustrates the idea.

Programme five

McCall's 8805

The actual sewing on Clothes that Count was done by Ann Ladbury, who later presented Dressmaker. The programmes also featured London-based designers Jo Mattli and Michael, both of whom created a number of patterns for the Vogue Couturier range.

Jo Mattli and Michael (of Carlos Place)

Jo Mattli discusses fabric with presenter Brian Hoey, image © BBC

Clothes that Count was evidently popular enough with viewers to prompt a second series, New Clothes that Count, in 1969.

New Clothes that Count, image © BBC

Sadly, very little information about either series is available, but by combing through the Radio Times archive I have managed to find out a little more about the first series:

Programme six - the suit, including versions for the larger figure and a mini-skirt version
Programme seven - the trouser suit (rather fashion forward for the BBC in 1967), including both full length and Bermuda shorts versions
Programme eight - empire line evening dress
Programme nine - double-breasted coat, including day and theatre versions
Program ten - culotte dress, including day and evening versions, and one with long trousers (the mind boggles).

I haven't watched them yet, but two episodes are available here (programme three) and here (programme nine). Something tells me that Michael Hoey may not have the same presenting approach as Joe Lycett! Sadly, my mum does not remember this series at all, but I'd love to know if anyone does.


  1. Ann Ladbury - what a woman! I remember the Dressmaker programme but not this earlier one. So helpful to anyone learning. We need more of these progs on telly! A great post as usual.

    1. Thank you Kate. Dressmaking would probably make an excellent topic for 'slow TV' - or at least it would the way I do it!

    2. Everybody I know in the sewing and teaching world would absolutely love an educational and instructional tv series. Somehow the celebrities and competitive side of things takes over, which is a shame. I totally agree with you. Slow - like some of the lovely but occasional programmes about pottery or textiles. I am currently teaching dressmaking in Norfolk on Zoom - sounds ridiculous I know, but it is possible. And the techniques haven't changed a bit!

    3. I've only used Zoom once, but I think it would work well for sewing classes - you can interact with the teacher in a way which isn't possible when following a YouTube tutorial. I totally agree with you about current TV programmes - I enjoy watching the Sewing Bee as entertainment, but I'm not sure that you would learn much about how to sew from it.

  2. Fascinating! But must of the clothes look pretty conservative to me for Britain in 1967.

    1. Thank you Lynn. I suspect that in 1967 the BBC's concept of 'pace-setting' differed from that of much of the country! The designers featured - Mattli, Michael, and John Cavanagh - were all established couturiers and members of IncSoc; very Establishment. There doesn't seem to have been any attempt to involve younger names such as Jean Muir, Mary Quant or Gerald McCann, even though they were all designing patterns for Butterick by this time.