top of page
  • Writer's pictureLonda

LOVE your Sewing Patterns even MORE when you read the HISTORY

As a pattern designer myself, I understand all that goes into the production of patterns for garment sewing.  Take a trip with me back into the history of pattern development, and you’ll treasure your pattern collection even MORE!  I’ve found this on the internet at:

My comments are added in maroon.  Everything else is copied and pasted from the link above. I have also added photographs obtained from the internet for added interest.  

The McCall’s  Story

In the 1860’s, James McCall, a Scottish immigrant and skilled tailor, became the U.S. agent for an English company called the Royal Chart, a system for drafting patterns.  In the 1870’s, he began to offer his own patterns.   Unlike today’s drafted patterns, these were simply cut from his drawings.  After his death in 1884, his wife and others continued, and expanded the company, offering patterns in a magazine called The Queen of Fashion, with a circulation of 75,000.  By 1897, with its new name, McCall’s Magazine, it had a circulation of over three million.  In 1919, McCall’s introduced many innovations, including cutting lines, garment section descriptions, seam allowances, grain lines, and stitching lines, all printed on the pattern pieces.  Previously, all this information had been conveyed by just perforations on the pattern tissue.

erforated sewing pattern

Early patterns ONLY contained perforations as ‘directions’ and labeling!

1901 McCallsMagazine

Early patterns ONLY contained perforations as ‘directions’ and labeling!                                              McCall’s Magazine from March 1911

In the 1920’s through the mid 30’s, McCall’s purchased and copied couture originals from more than 60 Paris designers.  In 1932, they were the first to introduce full-color illustrations on pattern envelopes and catalog pages.

Apron McCall early pattern

Early McCall’s Pattern for Aprons

In 1921, Marvin Pierce, who was former First Lady Barbara Bush’s father, joined McCall’s patterns.  He worked his way up to become president of the company in 1946.

In 2001 the McCall Pattern Company and Butterick/Vogue Patterns merged.  They are currently housed at 120 Broadway in the Equitable Building which achieved National Landmark Status in 1978.  The corporate headquarters in New York Houses the creative team, in-house photographer and photo studio, and Vogue Patterns magazine.  A facility in Kansas houses their pattern printing and distribution along with a commercial printing business.

I (Londa) am proud to share that my patters and books and knit DVD are also sold at the McCall’s website under Other Patterns…

McCall’s prints most of the independent pattern lines who have actual tissue.  I fondly remember feeling very ‘professional’ when I had McCall’s print my very first patterns in my heirloom sewing line of patterns:  Londa’s Elegant Creations way back in 1988.  I am proud to work with them even today for the printing of the tissue included in both of my books:  Creative Sweatshirt Jackets…Londa’s Way Book 2, Sweatshirt Transformations, Genesis Plus and Refined Too and also the tissue for my Londa’s Terrific T.   McCall’s is  a GREAT company to work with.  Some of my retail shop days include some very interesting times  at fabric markets hosted by  the past president of McCall’s, the late Bob Herman.  I’ll never forget my amazement when he told me that  the pattern cost was 12 cents!  That was in the mid 1990’s.  However, as a designer and producer of my own patterns, I well know the additional costs of designing, stitching, photography, graphic art, and writing (and speaking for me in my Talking Patterns™) process. 

The Butterick Story

In 1863, Ebenezer Butterick changed the face of home sewing forever by creating the first graded sewing pattern.  The company he fouded continues to lead the way in make-it-yourself fashions 150 years later.

The year was 1863. Snowflakes drifted silently past the windowpane covering the hamlet of Sterling, Massachusetts in a blanket of white. Ellen Butterick brought out her sewing basket and spread out the contents on the big, round dining room table. From a piece of sky blue gingham, she was fashioning a dress for her baby son Howard. Carefully, she laid out her fabric, and using wax chalk, began drawing her design.

Later that evening, Ellen remarked to her husband, a tailor, how much easier it would be if she had a pattern to go by that was the same size as her son. There were patterns that people could use as a guide, but they came in one size. The sewer had to grade (enlarge or reduce) the pattern to the size that was needed. Ebenezer considered her idea: graded patterns. The idea of patterns coming in sizes was revolutionary. He experimented, creating heavy cardboard templates; it quickly became evident that the heavy cardboard patterns were not suitable for folding or shipping throughout the country. Ebenezer tried lighter papers and discovered that tissue paper was ideal to work with and much easier to package.

The first graded sewing patterns were cut and folded by members of the Butterick family and sold from their home in Sterling, Massachusetts. In no time at all, they needed extra space and expanded into an adjoining house. As business continued to grow, they moved into a larger house in Fitchburg, Massachusetts and in one year, set up a business at 192 Broadway in New York City.

In the beginning, Butterick specialized in men’s and boys’ clothing. Not until 1867, after three years of operation, did they begin to manufacture women’s dress patterns. They were, of course, enthusiastically received, and Butterick expanded his women’s line to include dresses, jackets and capes in 13 sizes, and skirts in five sizes.

The effects of Butterick patterns were significant and far-reaching. Before the introduction of the graded pattern for home sewing, fashion was a phenomenon exclusive to ladies of high standing. Who else could afford to pay for the latest styles from Paris, New York and other fashion centers? Most women took apart old, worn out dresses to use as a model for a new one. With the advent of Butterick patterns, not only did dressmaking become much easier, fashion became available to men, women, and children of all classes all over the world.


From 1869 until 1937, Butterick published a magazine, first called The Metropolitan Monthly and then The Delineator, that featured Butterick patterns, fashion articles, fiction, and more.  It was a high quality magazine for intelligent, professional women that included many literary luminaries of the day on its masthead.  For a time, renowned American writer Theodore Dreiser served as its managing editor.

In Butterick Company’s long history, two patterns stand out:

I had no luck in accurately discovering an image for this Garibaldi suit…:( If you find one, please add a link in the Comments Section of this Blog! 

Garibaldi Suit:  In the late 1860s, the heroism of Garibaldi, a soldier in faraway Italy, inspired many boys to adopt a style of clothing that mimicked his uniform.  Butterick patterns for the popular Garibaldi Suit sparked a great increase in pattern sales and carried the name of Butterick into households across the U.S.

Walk-Away Butterick Sewing patternWalk-Away Butterick Sewing pattern

Walk-Away Butterick Sewing pattern

“Walk-Away Dress:  During the 1950s, Butterick introduced pattern 6015, dubbed the ‘walk-away’ dress because it was so easy you could ‘Start it after breakfast…walk away in it for luncheon!”  Sales were so great that at one point manufacturing of all other patterns ceased, and only the walk-away dress was produced until all back orders could be filled

All I can say is that those women must have been miraculous sewers, because I don’t think I could make this dress in half a day!

In 1961, Butterick licensed the  name and trademark “Vogue Patterns” from Conde Nast Publications and purchased their pattern division.”  I

For some more very informed and interesting facts about early patterns including the competition between McCall’s and Butterick,  I direct you to Lauren’s Blog… Wearing History:  Sewing & Lifestyle

Integrating U.S. History into all of this is very well-done at this internet find:

Do take time to go and read it – as it is VERY interesting! 

“Vogue Patterns began when Rosa Payne strolled into the offices of Vogue Magazine in 1905 (some records say 1899) and asked them to produce a pattern she had made for a Louis XV jacket.  In the early days, Vogue Magazine readers purchased a pattern by clipping a coupon and mailing it in along with 50 cents.  Rosa’s pattern was hand-cut on her dining room table and size was not an issue, since the only one available was based on a bust measurement of 36 inches. 

Not long after Rosa’s design appeared int he pages of Vogue, the magazine was purchased by the brilliant young publisher, Conde Nast.  The growth of Vogue Patterns mirrored Vogue Magazines’ remarkable success.  Demand for the number of pattern styles became so strong that a separate department was formed.  “Vogue Pattern Department” was a feature in the monthly magazine, and by 1913, when the name was changed to “Vogue Pattern Service,” it formed a major segment of the publication.  Prior to Conde Nast coming on board, Vogue Patterns published just 1 pattern per week.  Some additional interesting information:  Butterick was publishing about 1075 patterns per year, MCall’s 381 per year (1898). 

After World War I, fashionable young women developed an interest in clothes that were simple and practical and Paris couture was back in business, dominated by new designers such as Coco Chanel and Jean Patou.  The Vogue Patterns business became so extensive that the patterns no longer appeared in Vogue magazine, but were featured instead in their own publication.  Published six times a year, the Vogue Pattern Book showcased over 350 patterns, each retailing for between 65 cents (for blouses and skirts) and $1 (for a full-length dress or coat).

Paris Original Vogue Pattern

Paris Original Vogue Pattern

While Vogue Pattern Book featured “couturier” patterns  as early as 1937, those patterns were not exact reproductions of actual styles.  But in 1949, Vogue Patterns announced “A New pattern Service-Paris Original Models Chosen From The Collections.”  The cover of that year’s April/May pattern book showed photos of styles chosen from eight couturiers, among them Balmain, Schiaparelli, Lanvin, and Jaques Fath.  Vogue Patterns became the only company licensed to produce designs from the world’s leading couturiers, establishing a precedent which continues today. “

Subscribing to the Vogue Pattern Book during my early years of selling fabrics from my home as a representative for Leiter’s Designer Fabrics and House of Laird, was a delight beyond description.  Many an hour was spent  paging through those catalogs and absorbing the elegant fashion on the pages as I coordinated appropriate fabric suggestions for the style.  Another memory for me is finally making the leap to add Vogue Patterns to my retail storefront.  However, the excitement over that  memorable day (9-11-01) of the Vogue Pattern stock and cabinet delivery on a big truck  was quickly dashed with the tragic news of that horrific September morning.   

Kwik Sew Pattern

Kwik Sew Pattern

The Kwik Sew  Story

Kwik Sew was founded by Kerstin Martensson in 1967 as the Sew Knit & Stretch Company.  In 1974, the name was changed to Kwik Sew Pattern Company.  Kirstin began as a ready-to-wear manufacturing pattern maker, then shared her sewing techniques for knits and stretch fabrics, and eventually became an international business owner.  Kwik Sew became a part of the McCall Pattern Company at the close of 2011.  Today, Kwik Sew offers the larges selection of patterns for children, men, lingerie, swimwear, activewear, and fleece.

Read more about Kerstin and the early years of Kwik Sew at


The Stretch & Sew Story

Founded by Ann Person, Stretch & Sew traces its history back to the mid 60’s when  neighbor with access to knit remnants from a ready-to-wear manufacturer inspired Ann to develop some techniques for making T-shirts.  She opened her first store in Burns, Oregon in 1967 and her first instructional book, :”Stretch and Sew” was just what eager home seers had been waiting for.  It’s franchise program opened two years later and by the late ’70’s there were 353 Stretch & Sew franchise and company-owned stores across the nation.  One newspaper called her ‘the Colonel Sanders of the garment industry”.  Another journalist referred to her as the “Halston for home sewers”.   By the early 80’s, the franchise concept made way to independent store ownership.

Oh how well I remember, a little independent store on main street in Normal, Illinois during my first 2 years of college majoring in Home Economics at Illinois State University (early 1970’s)!  At Greta’s, I learned more in a class on how to make my boyfriend (to become my hubby) a sport coat using double knit fabric and fusible interfacing!  I am confident that I learned just as much  from that shop and those lessons than I did in my college classes.

Distribution systems were changed by Stretch & Sew so that the patterns, books, and notions identified with Stretch & Sew were made available through multiple retail channels.  I was excited to dig into Ann’s techniques during my retail shop years 1990-2003, and offered many classes on those techniques along with selling the pattern line.  Even in my recent knit sewing experimentation and technique development for my DVD:  Stretching Your Knit Sewing Know-How, I referred back to her books and gave credit when I adopted her techniques.  Ann has passed away, but from what I can determine, her company is being carried on by her family members.  

Sew………..isn’t this interesting?  Don’t know about you, but my pattern collection has just become MORE PRECIOUS!!!

Recent Posts

See All


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page