Monday, February 2, 2015

The History of Paper Sewing Patterns - An Overview

These days we take sewing patterns for granted. We go to a store, find the style and size that we want and go home and sew. We may need to make a few alterations but overall, the pattern companies have us covered. It wasn't always that easy. 

The paper pattern industry in the United States began in 1860. The first to sell their patterns were William Jennings Demorest and his wife, Ellen Louise Demorest. They would hold fashion shows in their home and sell the sewing patterns to the attendees. This was the start of mme Demorests' Emporium of Fashion and the magazine The mirror of Fashion. The magazine listed hundreds of patterns, unfortunately they were available only in one size. The home seamstress would need to grade the pattern to her correct size herself. 

Then along came Ebenezer Butterick. The Butterick Company was started in 1863. The Butterick 
family created patterns for children's clothing on heavy cardboard templates in several standard sizes. It was a true family business! Members of the family would cut and fold the patterns at their home in Massachusetts. In 1866 patterns for women were added as well as a few for men. Sales were booming! The magazine The Delineator was launched in 1873 to publicize the company and sell the patterns. Patterns were plain tissue paper cut to the shape and size of the garment, folded and pinned together with a label with instructions and an image of the garment. It wasn't until the early 1900's that the patterns were put into envelopes. 
The Butterick Company quickly outgrew the family home and workforce and moved to New York City. 

The 1920's Deltor Pattern by Butterick. The new format now had an  envelope and instructions printed on a separate sheet - called the Deltor (Delineator)

The rest of the "Big Three" evolved in the early 1900's as well. McCall - the only company that consistently printed the copyright dates on the envelopes, Simplicity, who also produced DuBarry for F.W. Woolworth, and last but not least, Vogue by Conde Nast. 

Part Two will focus on Butterick's history. 


  1. I would love to see one of those very early hand-cut Butterick patterns! I imagine even if there were any still around, it's unlikely they'd be correctly identified. Very informative - can't wait for part 2!

  2. "The Mirror of Fashion" magazine---I would love to see an original copy.

    Some stunning graphics and expansive descriptions from the magazine can be seen here:

  3. Thanks Barbara! The history of patterns is endlessly fascinating.

  4. I love to read the history of paper ephemera from long ago.

  5. I enjoy this one and look forward to part 2.

  6. Informative article, looking forward to part 2!

  7. Wonderful article, looking forward to part II!

  8. Interesting. I can see how the advent of sewing patterns really upended the dressmaking industry since people could go home and make their own stylish dresses more easily. Can't wait for the next installment!