Monday, February 2, 2015

The History of Paper Sewing Patterns Part Deux

On a snowy day in Sterling, Massachusetts in 1863, Ellen Butterick sat at the kitchen table to draw a pattern on to some gingham for her son Howard. She sketched the cutting lines with her wax chalk. That evening she mentioned to her husband how nice it would be to be able to get a pattern in the size that she needed instead of the one size that patterns came in.

Her husband Ebenezer, a tailor by trade, was intrigued by his wife's idea. He began playing with the idea. He made heavy cardboard templates in several different sizes. The problem - the heavy cardboard would be difficult to package for sale. After trying many types of paper, Ebenezer Butterick settled on tissue paper. It was easy to work with and the ideal material for folding and packaging.

In the beginning, the patterns were cut and folded by members of the Butterick family. They sold the patterns from their home in Sterling. The business grew and soon they had outgrown their home. They purchased the house next door but soon they had outgrown that space. They moved to a larger home Fitchburg, Massachusetts and soon after moved the business to 192 Broadway, New York, New York.
192 Broadway NY, NY

In 1866 Butterick expanded it's pattern line from men and boys to include women's dresses and skirts, capes and jackets. This was met with much enthusiasm from his customers. Butterick produced these in 13 sizes, skirts in 5 sizes.

As the demand for graded patterns increased, Butterick started publishing Ladies Quarterly of Broadway Fashions, a year later in 1868 they added the monthly publication Metropolitan. Both of the publications were a showcase for the Butterick patterns as well as fashion trends. These magazines made it possible for ladies worldwide to purchase Butterick patterns from their homes by mail. This expanded the market greatly as remote locations hadn't had an opportunity to buy patterns before.

In 1873, the Delineator was introduced to market Butterick patterns.
In no time it had expanded into a general interest women's magazine. By 1900 the Delineator had become the finest women's fashion magazine. The vintage issues that are still available are considered to be highly collectible today.

Toward the close of the 1800's, Butterick & Co. had grown to include 100 branch offices. They had also expanded to include offices in Paris, London, Vienna, and Berlin. More patterns were sold in Paris than in any other location worldwide.

With the immense growth of the business, Butterick designed and built the Spring Street building in 1903. The building was 16 stories with huge skylights that were two stories higher, the tallest structure in the Manhattan area. Butterick became the largest publisher in the United States with the U.S. government being the only exception.

G G Archives

In 1904 Butterick received close to 30,000 letters from readers and consumers with ideas, questions, and suggestions. It became evident that the company needed to have a department to field all of the correspondence. This service continues even today through the website.

In the 20th century, the Delineator provided so much more than patterns and fashion articles. Women came to rely on it for homekeeping tips, universities, as well as professions.

With the event of World War I, the textile and fashion industries in Europe were halted. New York became the fashion center for the world.

In the 20's Butterick introduced a new instruction sheet that was much larger and had better images. They called it "The Deltor" taken from the word Delineator. Customers loved it and sales boomed! As the 1920's was coming to a close, the economy took a nose dive. . With families on a tighter budget, sewing at home became even more popular and again and women flocked to Butterick for their high fashions. When the market crashed in 1929 Butterick took a loss just like everyone else.  However, the employees pulled together and by working as a team, kept the pattern business growing even during the worst of times. In a fairly short amount of time, Butterick was quickly on the path for more growth. They continued to grow by leaps
Pattern Playing
and bounds in the 1930's and into the 40's.

In 1941 President Roosevelt declared war and all resources were committed to the war effort. Rationing of textiles was introduced and Butterick negotiated with the government to make it a reasonable compromise. With Ready to wear clothing unavailable, paper patterns again soared.

Sewing has had it's ups and downs over the years. Currently there is an upswing in the popularity of home sewing and fashion design. What's next? 3-D printing is going to change the face of design. New collars, cuffs, you name it you'll be able to create it!

Visit - Pattern Patter  or one of the shops above to find the perfect vintage sewing pattern.

Patterns to the right can be found on


  1. Awesome is right, great info too!

  2. Wonderful article. Thank you so much for the information.

  3. It's interesting it took Butterick 3 years to branch out into women's wear! Also, I had no idea they were such a large publishing company at the turn of the century. Very informative!

  4. Love the history, wonderful article!

  5. So much we did know about "Butterick"
    Wonderful !!

    1. If you go to the Butterick website there is a lengthy history page!

  6. Love those old Delineator magazines....filled with wonderful vintage
    graphics and what a woman's life was like back in "those days"

    Also of the employees helped Butterick to
    survive during the Depression. Talk about "team work"---doesn't get
    any better than that.

    Thanks, Mary Beth. This is a fantastic read on pattern history.

    1. I would love to have a few of those old delineator magazines! Good catch on the teamwork info.... I wonder why I latched onto that!

  7. Nice informative post. I love to read the old Delineators - fascinating

  8. Fascinating article. Wouldn't it be incredible to find one of the early hand-made tissue Butterick patterns? Thanks for the interesting info.

  9. So so interesting...thanks so much!

  10. What a great article, thank you for sharing! On a side note, when my mother was in college, she used to spend hours at her school's library pouring over their collection of antique delineator magazines. It's how she became such an authority on period fashions. She used to attribute her success in costuming movies to those magazines! After she passed away, I found her personal Delineator collection and it will always be one of my greatest treasures.

    1. How awesome - We need to learn more about your mother's career in costuming. Her collection is an amazing treasure!

  11. Awesome post Mary Beth! I added a link back on my blog.

  12. I love learning about the different companies from past eras. thanks for this interesting article about Butterick.