Fur Cloth for Fall

November 10, 2015 § 7 Comments

Anne St. Marie photographed in Vogue 1019,

Anne St. Marie wears Vogue 1019 by Jacques Griffe, Vogue Pattern Book, August/September 1961. Photo: Kazan.

Whether you call it fake or faux, this season’s fur trend is only fashion’s latest take on synthetic fur.

Many vintage sewing patterns call for fur banding and fur cloth. The reversible coat shown above, Vogue 1019 by Jacques Griffe, is fully lined with the latest black, synthetic fox fur. (Hover for full caption.) More recently there’s Donna Karan’s coat for low-pile fake fur, Vogue 1365, from the Fall 2012 collection:

Joan Smalls wears a faux fur coat from Donna Karan FW 2012

Model: Joan Smalls. Image via vogue.com.

Here’s a look at vintage patterns that call for fur trim or fur cloth, with an emphasis on the trendy, unusual, and outrageous.


From Winter 1926, this dolman coat by Martial et Armand has a deep fur collar and narrow fur banding at the cuffs:

1920s Martial et Armand coat McCall 4667 illustrated in the Winter 1926 McCall Quarterly

McCall 4667 by Martial et Armand in McCall Quarterly, Winter 1926-27. Image courtesy of Debby Zamorski.

This opulent, late 1920s evening wrap calls for a length of 4.5″ fur banding. A reproduction is available from EvaDress:

Late 1920s evening wrap pattern - McCall 5945

McCall 5945 (1929) Image via the Vintage Pattern Wiki.


Thirties patterns show many creative uses of fur trim. These two ca. 1933 coats both call for fur cloth accents. McCall 7206 has an attached scarf and contrast lower sleeves, shown in synthetic Persian lamb, while McCall 7207 has a deep fur collar and matching, triangular sleeve patches:

McCall 7206, 7207 Spring 1933 coats

Two coat patterns, McCall 7206 and 7207, illustrated in McCall Fashion Book, Spring 1933.

Simplicity 1541’s dramatic, curving collar and pointed cuffs can be made in contrast fur cloth; the fur-trimmed version was illustrated on the cover of the holiday 1934 issue of Simplicity Pattern Magazine. A reproduction is available from the Vintage Pattern Lending Library:

Via eBay

Simplicity 1541 (1934) Image via eBay.


From the autumn of 1939, McCall 3420 is a swagger coat with built-up neckline and optional, tapered lower sleeves and semi-circular shoulder insets. View A is shown in faux Astrakhan (matching hat unfortunately not included):

1930s coat pattern shown in check or faux Astrakhan - McCall 3420

McCall 3420 (1939)


McCall 3875, a World War 2-era swing coat, can be made with elbow-deep fur cuffs:

1940 coat pattern - McCall 3875

McCall 3875 (1940) Image via the Vintage Pattern Wiki.

This wartime cape pattern, previously featured in my vintage capes post, includes an evening cape with stand-up fur collar:

1940s cape pattern in evening or street length - McCall 4134

McCall 4134 (1941)


High-end postwar sewing patterns sometimes assume natural fur will be used and direct the home dressmaker to a specialist. From November 1949, Vogue 1075 is one of the earliest Balmain patterns. The voluminous “melon” sleeves can be made in fur contrast; the envelope back says, “Note: Have fur sleeves made by furrier”:

1940s Balmain coat pattern - Vogue 1075

Vogue 1075 by Balmain (1949) Image via Etsy.

This Vogue Couturier design includes a wide-necked evening coat with big fur collar and elbow-length sleeves:

1950s evening dress and coat with fur top-collar - Vogue 190

Vogue 190 (1959) Image via Etsy.


From Nina Ricci, Vogue 1217’s cape has a broad shawl collar that can be made in faux fur:

1960s Nina Ricci dress and coat pattern - Vogue 1217

Vogue 1217 by Nina Ricci (1963) Image via Etsy.

Vogue 1897 is a design from Yves Saint Laurent’s Fall/Winter 1967-68 haute couture collection, inspired by Queen Christina (see Paco’s post here). The fur-trimmed evening cape requires a taffeta stay for the fur trim unless made by a furrier:

1960s Yves Saint Laurent Queen Christina evening dress and cape pattern - Vogue 1897

Vogue 1897 by Yves Saint Laurent (1968) Image via the Vintage Pattern Wiki.


David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (1965) seems to have prompted a fashion for Cossack coats and hats. Vogue-Butterick had Vogue 1983, and McCall’s had this fur-trimmed coat pattern:

1970s red, fur-trimmed coat pattern - McCall's 2676

McCall’s 2676 (1970) Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

There was even a pattern for fur hats for men, women, and children, McCall’s 2966:

1970s faux fur hat and bag pattern - McCall's 2966

McCall’s 2966 (1971) Image via eBay.


Eighties excess brought the more-is-more aesthetic to designs for synthetic fur. McCall’s 7736 is a raglan-sleeved jacket for lightweight fake fur or woolens:

1980s jacket pattern - McCall's 7736

McCall’s 7736 (1981) Image via Etsy.

From the Connoisseur Collection, Simplicity 7078 is for fake fur only:

1980s faux fur coat pattern in 2 lengths - Simplicity 7078

Simplicity 7078 (1985) Image via Etsy.

In addition to a hat and stole for fur-like fabrics, accessories pattern Vogue 9981 includes a muff with concealed pocket:

1980s hat, stole, and muff pattern - Vogue 9981

Vogue 9981 (1987) Image via Etsy.


The 1990s were another good time for synthetic fur—so good that Vogue Patterns licensed a designer specializing in faux fur outerwear. Not quite vintage, this reversible coat pattern by Issey Miyake calls for high pile fake fur:

1990s Issey Miyake reversible faux fur coat pattern - Vogue 2182

Vogue 2182 by Issey Miyake (1998) Image via Etsy.

From Alexander McQueen’s Fall 1998 ready-to-wear collection for Givenchy, Vogue 2228’s jacket has a fur-trimmed hem and large, standing fur collar that recalls the 1940s evening cape shown above. (See my earlier McQueen post here.) I have one copy for sale in the shop:

1990s Givenchy fur-trimmed suit pattern by Alexander McQueen - Vogue 2228

Vogue 2228 by Alexander McQueen for Givenchy (1998) Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

Vogue 2233’s fur-trimmed dress and jacket are from Anna Sui’s Fall/Winter 1998 collection (click to purchase from the shop):

1990s Anna Sui fur-trimmed dress & jacket pattern - Vogue 2233

Vogue 2233 by Anna Sui (1998) Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

Vogue 2233 is one of the most ’90s patterns ever: Björk meets Britpop. The jacket was worn on the runway by Kirsty Hume—hat by James Coviello:

Kirsty Hume on the runway, Anna Sui FW 1998

Kirsty Hume, Anna Sui FW 1998. Image via firstVIEW.

There was also a pattern for Anna Sui faux-fur accessories, Vogue 7950 (see my earlier Anna Sui series).

Tips for sourcing synthetic fur

  • Tissavel: This luxury French faux fur mill is unfortunately now closed, but ends can be found on Etsy.
  • Faux Persian lamb/Astrakhan: Available as a special order from Emma One Sock.
  • Fur banding: Mokuba carries high-quality synthetic fur banding in various widths.

Working with vintage furs and synthetic fur

Vintage patterns often direct the home dressmaker to a furrier; old sewing books and magazines also provide tips for refashioning vintage furs. (Woman’s Day 5045 came with a special instruction booklet and fur needle.) Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide includes a chapter on fur.

For tips on sewing with synthetic fur, see Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide, Fehr Trade’s post, and Shannon Gifford’s post for Emma One Sock.

We Can Be Heroes

October 30, 2015 § 8 Comments

Lynda Carter in the Wonder Woman tv show, 1975

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, 1975. Image: Warner Bros./Getty Images via IMDb.

Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman isn’t set to open until 2017, but audiences will get a glimpse of Gal Gadot as the Amazon princess in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Marvel’s feminist superhero, Captain Marvel (originally Ms. Marvel) will also get her own movie in 2018. (Guardian story here.)

Panel from Ms. Marvel #1 (1977): Onlookers:

Panel from Ms. Marvel #1 (1977). Image via Talking Comics.

Since the 1930s and ’40s, when Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman made their first comic strip appearances, superheroes have occupied a special place in popular culture. The 2008 Costume Institute exhibit, Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy, explored the influence of superhero costumes on fashion. (Click for a look inside the book.)

Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy exhibition catalogue by Andrew Bolton (with Michael Chabon)

Andrew Bolton with Michael Chabon, Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008) Book design: Abbott Miller, John Kudos at Pentagram. Image via John Kudos.

With Halloween around the corner, here’s a look at licensed superhero costume patterns from the 1960s to today, with a focus on the place of gender in children’s costuming.


In 1966, the Batman television show premiered on ABC; just the year before, the 1950s television series Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel, had returned to the airwaves in syndication.

Robin (Burt Ward) and Batman (Adam West) in Batman (1966) Image via Wikipedia.

From 1966, McCall’s 8398 is a pattern for “Girls’ or Boy’s Batman, Robin and Superman Official Costumes.” The pattern is copyright National Periodical Publications, Inc., an early version of DC Comics:

McCall’s 8398 (1966) Image via Betsy Vintage.

The Fall 1966 McCall’s Home Catalog promoted McCall’s 8398 with McCall’s 8562 as “Magical Costumes for the Wonderful World of Make-Believe.” The text reinforces the idea that these superhero costumes were intended for imaginative, active children, regardless of gender: “Now that active young lad or lass with the vivid imagination can be Batman, Robin or Superman at the switch of a colorful costume. Only McCall’s has official patterns for the costumes of these swashbuckling heroes of comic books and TV…” (click to enlarge):

McCalls Home catalogue, Fall/Winter 1966-67

McCall’s 8398 in McCall’s Home Catalog, Fall-Winter 1966-67.


In 1978, the Wonder Woman TV series was still running, and December saw the release of the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve.

Christopher Reeve as Superman, 1978

Christopher Reeve as Superman, 1978. Image: Keystone/Getty Images via IMDb.

That year, Simplicity released two patterns for children’s superhero costumes: Simplicity 8714, Batman, Robin, and Superman costumes for children and boys, and Simplicity 8720, Catwoman, Batgirl, and Wonder Woman costumes for girls. (‘Child’ often refers to unisex pattern sizing for younger children.) The introduction of female superhero costumes seems to have prompted a sex-division on the pattern envelopes—although the categories could always be subverted by individual children and their parents:

1970s children's Batman, Robin, and Superman costume pattern - Simplicity 8714

Simplicity 8714 (1978)

1970s Catwoman, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl costume pattern - Simplicity 8720

Simplicity 8720 (1978)


Later official superhero patterns tend to be movie or TV tie-ins. As in contemporary popular culture, the balance shifts toward male superheroes, but there’s also an oscillation between strict gender categories and more inclusive costuming. The 1980s were the decade of Superman and Supergirl: Supergirl opened in 1984, and there were three more Superman movies ending with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987).

Helen Slater as Supergirl, 1984

Helen Slater as Supergirl, 1984. Image via Pinterest.

In 1987, Butterick released two superhero patterns, both with iron-on transfers: a Superman and Supergirl play suit for small children (sizes 2 to 6X), and a Superman costume for men and boys. I couldn’t find a corresponding women’s and girls’ Supergirl pattern. The small children’s is a pyjama or jogging suit-style top and pants for stretch knits, with separate cape and skirt; the men’s and boys’ is a spandex stirrup jumpsuit and briefs:

Butterick 5862 (1987) Image via Etsy.

1980s Superman costume pattern - Butterick 5874

Butterick 5874 (1987)

(With thanks to Jan Lamm.)

Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) launched a new superhero franchise. Late 1980s Batman pattern Butterick 4201/6313, for men and boys, appears to have been timed to the Tim Burton film, but reflects the now-retro Batman. Like the Butterick Superman, it’s also a stirrup jumpsuit and briefs for spandex blends:

1980s Batman costume pattern - Butterick 6313

Butterick 6313 (1989) Image via Etsy.


Butterick licensed costumes from Batman Returns (1992) and Batman Forever (1995): Batman, Catwoman, and the Penguin, and Batman, Robin, and the Riddler. The Batman costumes reflect the movies’ increasingly hypermasculine armour, while Catwoman’s sexy, home-sewn catsuit is the only design for women and girls.

Batman Returns Batman costume pattern - Butterick 6377

Butterick 6377 (1992) Image via Etsy.

Batman Forever Batman costume pattern - Butterick 4172

Butterick 4172 (1995) Image via Etsy.

Butterick 6378 official Batman Returns Catwoman costume (1992) Image via Etsy.

Maybe because the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles aren’t human, this Ninja Turtles pattern is gender-inclusive, labelled as for both girls and boys. The design is called a playsuit, not a costume (click the image for envelope back, or see it made up on flickr):

Girls' and boys' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle playsuit pattern - Butterick 5143

Butterick 5143 (1990) Image via Etsy.

On the other hand, this Captain Planet pattern for children and boys includes a grotesque ‘muscle’ suit. The second character is called Verminous Skumm:

1990s Captain Planet and Verminous Skumm costume pattern - McCall's 5642

McCall’s 5642 (1991) Image via Etsy.

’90s costume patterns start to show the influence of Japanese television shows—Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Masked Rider, and Sailor Moon. This Sailor Moon costume pattern came in children’s and girls’ sizes:

McCalls 7859

McCall’s 7859/P310 (1995) Image via eBay.

Marvel doesn’t seem to have ventured into pattern licensing until the 1990s, when Simplicity’s children’s costume patterns were gender-inclusive. Simplicity 7543 is a child’s Spiderman costume with sleeve webs made from fishnet:

1990s children's Spiderman costume pattern - Simplicity 7543

Simplicity 7543 (1991) Image via eBay.

Before the X-Men and Spider-Man movie franchises of the 2000s, there were ’90s animated TV shows based on the comics: X-Men from 1992 and Spider-Man from 1994. In the mid-1990s, Simplicity released several more Marvel patterns, all labelled as unisex Child’s costumes: Spider-Man and Venom (Simplicity 7241), Wolverine and Storm (Simplicity 7246), and Cyclops and Magneto (Simplicity 7251). Wolverine and Storm is my favourite:

1990s X-Men costume pattern - Wolverine and Storm - Simplicity 7246

Simplicity 7246 (1996) Image via Pinterest.

Current patterns

This fall, Simplicity released five licensed costume patterns for Marvel and DC superheroes. The women’s DC costumes are featured on the cover of the Halloween catalogue: Wonder Woman (Simplicity 1024) with Batgirl and Supergirl (Simplicity 1036):

Saturday Spooktacular! Simplicity costumes for Halloween 2015

Simplicity Costumes 2015. Image via Simplicity.

Women's Wonder Woman costume pattern - Simplicity 1024

Simplicity 1024 (2015)

The women’s costumes match those of the comic-book characters, but for the corresponding children’s pattern (Simplicity 1035), all three costumes have been altered to become knee-length, long-sleeved dresses. Batgirl loses her catsuit and Wonder Woman is virtually unrecognizable. What message does this send to children comparing the comic-book illustrations on the envelopes?

Simplicity 1035 (2015) Image via Etsy.

The two Marvel patterns, Captain America (Simplicity 1030) and Thor (Simplicity 1038), have a different format. Both from Marvel’s Avengers, the adults’ and children’s sizes share the same envelope, which includes an illustration of the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America down the left-hand side and a superimposed image of the pattern pieces with the text Sew It Yourself. Both are labelled as boys’ and men’s. The Thor should really be unisex if he’s now a woman:

Marvel Avengers Captain America costume pattern - Simplicity 1030/0225

Simplicity 1030/0225 (2015) Image via eBay.

(S0225 is the advance version; the S1030 envelope seems to have some strange retouching of the man’s crotch.)

Marvel Avengers Thor costume pattern - Simplicity 1038

Simplicity 1038 (2015) Image via Etsy.

It’s great to see Wonder Woman making a comeback, and the increasing popularity of costuming means we’re likely to see more licensed superhero patterns in the near future. Here’s hoping there will be a Black Widow or Mystique—and it’s not a dress.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Simplicity 8720 detail

(For more see Dorian Lynskey, Kapow! Attack of the feminist superheroes, and Jill Lepore, The Last Amazon.)

* As I wrote this post, spellcheck failed to recognize the names of female superheroes. Please fix this, WordPress!

Star Wars Costume Patterns

October 9, 2015 § 7 Comments


Trisha Biggar, Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars (Abrams, 2005) Image via Abrams.

Anticipation is high for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, which opens in December. For fans of costume design, it helps that Michael Kaplan, who began his career with Bob Mackie and Blade Runner (1982), is designing the costumes for the new film. (Read Vanity Fair’s post here.) Here’s a look at Star Wars costume patterns.

Star wars couture 3

“Star Wars Couture,” Vogue, April 1999. Model: Audrey Marnay. Photo: Irving Penn. Fashion editor: Phyllis Posnick. Image via the Fashion Spot.

Star Wars’ costumes must be among the most discussed in cinema. In 2005, LA’s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) organized the exhibit Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars, accompanied by a book by Trisha Biggar, the costume designer for the prequel trilogy (Abrams, 2005; still in print). Last year saw the publication of Brandon Alinger’s Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy (Chronicle Books, 2014). And a new travelling exhibit, Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume, will open in New York next month.


John Mollo’s final sketch for the costume of Obi-Wan Kenobi, 1976. Image: Alinger/Chronicle Books.


John Mollo’s design for the samurai warrior concept of Darth Vader, 1976. Image: Alinger/Chronicle Books.

John Mollo’s costumes for Star Wars, which won an Academy Award in 1978, have immortalized a certain strand of ’70s style. Compare Princess Leia’s iconic hooded dress with a 1976 Dior evening gown available as a Vogue pattern; both were made in white silk crepe de chine:

Left: Karen Bjornson in Vogue 1553 by Dior, Vogue Patterns, November/December 1976. Photo: Chris von Wangenheim. Right: Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. Image via PatternVault on Twitter.

(I’ve made the Dior in red; photos coming soon.)

The year after The Empire Strikes Back (1980), McCall’s began releasing children’s costume patterns licensed with Lucasfilm.

McCall’s 7772 includes costumes for five characters from the first two films: Chewbacca, Princess Leia, Yoda, Jawa, and Lord Darth Vader. The Vader view calls for one single serving cereal box. I have several sizes available in the shop:

Vintage 1980s licensed Star Wars pattern - McCall's 7772

McCall’s 7772 (1981) Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

After Return of the Jedi (1983), McCall’s released a children’s pattern for Ewok costumes. And not just any Ewok: the envelope back names “Wicket the Ewok”:

1980s children's Ewok costume pattern - McCalls 8731

McCall’s 8731 (1983) Image via Etsy.

In the 1990s, Butterick took over the Lucasfilm licensing. Butterick 5174 and 5175, official Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker costumes for adults and children, included an order form for the wig and light sabre:

1990s Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker pattern - Butterick 5174

Butterick 5174 (1997) Image via Etsy.

1990s children's Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia pattern - Butterick 5175

Butterick 5175 (1997) Image via Etsy.

Butterick also released two official Darth Vader costume patterns for children and adults. Butterick 5176 and 5186 included instructions for breastplate appliqués made from coloured, foam sheet remnants, and an order form for the helmet and light sabre:

1990s boy's Darth Vader costume pattern - Butterick 5176

Butterick 5176 (1997) Image via Etsy.

1990s men's Darth Vader costume pattern - Butterick 5186

Butterick 5186 (1997) Image via Etsy.

There were only unofficial costume patterns based on the prequel trilogy. The year of Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), McCall’s released McCall’s 2433, a “Space Nomads” pattern for adults and children with a version of Sith warrior Darth Maul:

McCalls 2433

McCall’s 2433 (1999) Image via Etsy.

Based on costumes from Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), Simplicity 4433 includes Padmé Amidala’s combat suit, which doubles as an Aayla Secura costume (but two-sleeved and without the headpiece):

Andrea Schewe women's Star Wars combat pattern - Simplicity 4433

Simplicity 4433 by Andrea Schewe (2005) Image via Etsy.

Although Padmé’s Peacock dress was cut from Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), it was widely seen in promotional materials for the film:

Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) in the Peacock dress

Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) in the Peacock dress. Image via Pinterest.

Andrea Schewe produced two versions of the Peacock dress and headddress for children and adults, Simplicity 4426 and Simplicity 4443. The adults’ pattern includes both Padmé and Princess Leia, while the children’s has Leia, Padmé, and young Anakin and Obi-Wan:

Padmé, Leia, Anakin, and Jedi costume pattern - Simplicity 4426

Simplicity 4426 by Andrea Schewe (2005) Image via Etsy.

Women's Padmé and Leia costume pattern - Simplicity 4443

Simplicity 4443 by Andrea Schewe (2005) Image via Etsy.

Men’s costume pattern Simplicity 4450/059 includes Anakin and Obi-Wan Jedi costumes, together with an unidentifiable warlock:

Anakin Skywalker, Jedi tunic and cloak pattern - Simplicity 4450/0579

Simplicity 4450/0579 by Andrea Schewe (2005) Image via Etsy.

Based on Padmé Amidala’s nightgown in Revenge of the Sith, McCall’s 4995 is a dress with boned bodice, separate drape, chain or bead trim, and tassels made with three sizes of beads:

McCalls 4995 (2005)

McCall’s 4995 (2005) Image via eBay.

Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm, perhaps there will be more licensed Star Wars patterns…

Update: Irving Penn’s 1999 editorial was not the first Star Wars-themed shoot in Vogue magazine: see Ishimuro’s “The ‘Force’ of Fur” in Vogue, November 1977. (Thanks to Devorah Macdonald for the reference.)

Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma in Vanity Fair, June 2015. Photo: Annie Leibovitz. Image via Vanity Fair.

Pan Am Games 2015, Vintage Pattern Edition: Bowling

July 22, 2015 § 2 Comments

This week I’m looking at vintage patterns showing sports of the Pan Am Games. (See the first post here.) Today: a mid-century bowling pattern.

Bowling. This early 1960s pattern from Simplicity includes an “action back” shirt and skirt in two lengths. The skirt has inverted pleats in front and back; the shirt, which may be monogrammed, has pleats at the back shoulder seams:

Early 1960s women's bowling pattern - Simplicity 4648

Simplicity 4648 (ca. early 1960s) Image via Etsy.

Pan Am Games 2015 – Vintage Pattern Edition

July 20, 2015 § 6 Comments

This week the Pan Am Games continue in Toronto. In honour of the Games, here’s a look at vintage patterns and illustrations showing women’s sports.

First up: Pan Am sports that have already concluded for 2015.

Archery. From a 1933 issue of McCall’s magazine, this archery scene was illustrated by Jean des Vignes:

Jean des Vignes archery illustration in a 1930s McCall's magazine

“Taking Aim,” McCall’s magazine, March 1933. Illustration: Jean des Vignes.

Golf. Ben-Hur Baz (later known for his pin-ups) illustrated this golf scene for McCall’s magazine, circa 1930:

Ben Hur Baz ladies' golf illustration in McCall's magazine, spring 1930

McCall 6078 and 6074 in McCall’s magazine, April 1930. Illustration: Ben Hur Baz.

Donna Karan designed these mid-1970s golf separates, hat included, when she was at Anne Klein. You can buy it for your own golfing needs from the PatternVault shop.

1970s Donna Karan for Anne Klein for Penfold golf pattern - Vogue 1415

Vogue 1415 by Donna Karan for Anne Klein x Penfold (ca. 1976) Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

Roller skating. Simplicity 3890, a World War 2-era skating pattern, includes this roller skating illustration:

1940s roller skating pattern - Simplicity 3890

Simplicity 3890 (ca. 1941) Image via Etsy.

Sailing. This 1930s sailor dress has a contrast collar and big buttons at the side-front closure:

1930s sailor dress pattern - New York 217

New York 217 (ca. 1930s)

Swimming. This chic, cuffed swimsuit (previously featured in my Heat Wave! beachwear post) dates to the late 1940s:

1940s bathing suit pattern - Vogue 6709

Vogue 6709 (1949) Image via Oodles and oodles.

The swimsuit was photographed by Richard Rutledge for Vogue Pattern Book:

1940s Richard Rutledge photograph - Vogue pattern no. 6709

Vogue 6709 in Vogue Pattern Book, April/May 1949. Photo: Richard Rutledge.

Tennis. The cover of the McCall Quarterly for Spring 1932 has this tennis-themed illustration featuring two dresses by Bruyère:


Bruyère patterns McCall 6804 and 6819 on the cover of McCall Quarterly, Spring 1932. Illustration: Blanche Rothschild.

(For more tennis patterns see my Tennis, Anyone? post.)

Stay tuned for more vintage sports wear… I’ll be looking at a different Pan Am sport and related vintage pattern every day this week.

A History of the Paper Pattern Industry

July 11, 2015 § 8 Comments

Book cover - A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The home dressmaking fashion revolution by Joy Spanabel Emery

Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution. Image via Bloomsbury.

The new book by the curator of the Commercial Pattern Archive is the first comprehensive study of the sewing pattern industry. Published through Bloomsbury’s academic imprint, Joy Spanabel Emery’s A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution traces the history of commercial patterns from their beginnings in early modern tailors’ drafting systems to the 21st century.

Emery is Professor Emerita of Theater at the University of Rhode Island, where she also taught in the fashion department. In addition to her articles on commercial sewing patterns, she is the author of Stage Costume Techniques (Prentice-Hall, 1981).

The materials found in the University of Rhode Island’s Commercial Pattern Archive (CoPA) and the personal archive of CoPA founder Betty Williams are the main sources for the book, which focuses on the pattern industry and its role in the production of everyday clothing. Emery presents her research in short, textbook-style chapters, ending each chapter with a brief summary. In the back, readers will find an index, endnotes for each chapter, and a detailed bibliography with sections for primary sources, secondary sources, and archival collections.


The first Vogue pattern: Louis XV Jacket, Vogue 1 (1899). From Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

As a special inducement to those who sew, the book also includes an appendix with nine patterns, each laid out on a grid by Susan Hannel, the chair of the University of Rhode Island’s fashion department. The gridded patterns range from an 1850s Demorest basque [bodice], originally published as a pattern sheet supplement in a ladies’ fashion gazette, to a 1960s men’s Nehru jacket from Spadea.

Recent academic books on sewing have used the framework of gender studies to examine sewing as a cultural practice. Barbara Burman’s collection, The Culture of Sewing: Gender, Consumption and Home Dressmaking (Berg, 1999, to which Emery contributed a chapter, “Dreams on Paper: A Story of the Commercial Pattern Industry”), and Sarah A. Gordon’s “Make It Yourself”: Home Sewing, Gender, and Culture 1890-1930 (Columbia University Press, 2007) both present social histories of sewing that take into account changing understandings of femininity and women’s work.

Emery’s book takes a more conservative approach to the material culture of sewing patterns, aiming to lay the groundwork for further study by focusing on the historical timeline of commercial production and technical development. Each chapter traces the industry’s new technologies and companies, mergers and closures as the pattern business landscape shifted from early diversity to today’s conglomerates.

CoPA’s holdings are so extensive that they show not only the industry’s response to dramatic developments in fashion, like the New Look or youthquake, but also to historical events like the First and Second World Wars. A 1918 issue of Butterick’s magazine, The Delineator, shows two women in naval uniform (Butterick pattern no. 1101), while a 1943 McCall’s pattern for Victory aprons is printed with patriotic verse:


Official Yeowoman’s Costume of the U.S. Navy, Butterick 1101. The Delineator, November 1918. From Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

(For more on Butterick 1101 see Michelle Lee’s blog post.)


Ladies’ and Misses’ Victory Aprons: McCall 1090 (1943). From Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

Industry players competed to improve the sewing customer’s experience. We have McCall’s to thank for the printed pattern. Other pattern companies couldn’t duplicate the technique until McCall’s patent expired—although Pictorial Review found a creative workaround with patterns that were both printed and perforated.


McCall Printed Pattern announcement, McCall Quarterly, Spring 1924. From Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

It was during the economic boom of the 1920s that the industry produced the first fully conceived designer patterns. As Betty Williams found in her research, McCall’s interwar couture patterns were based on garments purchased from Parisian couture houses for copying purposes. When Williams shared an early McCall Patou pattern with staff at the house of Patou, they agreed that the design looked like the couturier’s work, but were unable to find documentation of a McCall-Patou relationship (Williams 1995).* Intriguingly, Emery mentions a business agreement model along the lines of today’s licensing, but does not go into further detail.


A couturier evening dress pattern by Madeleine Vionnet: McCall 5055 (1927). From Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

Infelicities of layout and organization occasionally disrupt the flow. Including the discussion of interwar couture patterns in the 1920s chapter means that we read about the 1933 closure of the Paris Pattern Company, and see a 1930s example of a Paris Pattern, before reaching the 1930s chapter. Paris Patterns in fact survived beyond 1933: by the following year, the company seems to have merged with Style and was still releasing patterns for June, 1934.


A couturier dress pattern by Lucile Paray with cloth label: Paris Pattern 2243 (1933). From Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

An Augustabernard design on the cover of a Paris and Style Patterns booklet, June 1934, from the T. Easton Co. Ltd, Canada

Paris and Style Patterns booklet, June 1934.

The text is sometimes marred by typographical errors, as well as errors traceable to data entry errors in the pattern archive. Schiaparelli’s first Vogue Paris Original (no. 1051) is included in the chapter devoted to World War 2 rather than the postwar chapter, and its date is given as 1947 when it should be 1949—the year Vogue Patterns, still owned by Condé Nast, launched its Paris Originals with great fanfare. (See my postwar Schiaparelli post here.)

Vogue 1051

Schiaparelli’s first Vogue Paris Original: Vogue 1051 (1949). From Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

Countering the assertion that commercial pattern designs are already out of fashion, Emery argues that patterns historically allowed their customers to keep abreast of trends, giving some interesting before and after examples of patterns adapted to reflect the new proportions of the postwar New Look.

The question of the relationship between high fashion and the commercial pattern industry is an interesting one. Contemporary high fashion adaptations in pattern form are relatively current. Roland Mouret’s Fall 2005 blockbuster, the Galaxy dress, was adapted in 2006 as Vogue 8280, and Carven’s dress for Spring 2013 was adapted for that season as Vogue 8900 (see As I Said…). Current adaptations can be seen in McCall’s #sewthelook series on Instagram.

Roland Mouret and Carven

Roland Mouret FW 2005 and Carven SS 2013. Images via style.com.

But licensed designer patterns are a different story. While trend-setting styles such as those from Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian and Ballets Russes collections could count on expedited production, more often there seems to have been a seasonal lag. A 1950s Laroche pattern discussed as typical in a contemporary report, Vogue 1450, is a design from the Spring 1959 couture that was released a season later, in late 1959.

Today, when the production time for a commercial pattern has been cut to as little as four weeks,** it’s still unusual for a new designer pattern to represent the current season. To take some recent examples: of Simplicity’s Cynthia Rowley patterns from the Summer 2015 release, Simplicity 1105 is unusual for being from the current season, Spring/Summer 2015:

Simplicity 1105 by Cynthia Rowley (2015) Tent dress with trapunto stitching and back ties, SS 2015

The originals for Simplicity 1105 by Cynthia Rowley (2015) – tent dresses with trapunto stitching, Spring/Summer 2015 collection. Images via style.com.

In Vogue Patterns’ Fall 2014 release, the Donna Karan, Guy Laroche, and Rachel Comey selections are from the Fall 2013 collections, while the Ralph Rucci coat, Vogue 1419, is from the Pre-Fall 2013 collection:

Vogue 1419 PreFall2013

Vogue 1419 (2014) from Ralph Rucci’s Pre-Fall 2013 collection. Images via Etsy and style.com.

The fashion industry has changed, and fewer designers are willing to enter into licensing agreements for commercial patterns, let alone license current-season designs. Historical analysis of the pattern industry shows how it has adapted in response not only to economic and social trends, but also to home sewers’ changing relationship with fashion. Emery has taken a much-needed look to the archives in this essential resource.

(Press release and interview here.)

Publication details:

Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution, London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

ISBN (cloth): 9780857858306

ISBN (paper): 9780857858313


ISBN (ebook): 9781472577450 (PDF) / 9781472577467 (EPUB)

Available online from Bloomsbury or your favourite independent bookstore. (Why I never link to Amazon.)

* Betty Williams, “1920s Couturier Patterns and the Home Sewer,” Cutters’ Research Journal 6.4 (Spring 1995).

** According to a Forbes article cited on p. 201.

For review purposes I received a complimentary copy from the publisher.

Rock the Caftan

February 21, 2015 § 11 Comments

Vogue 15 Sept 1963 Gres

“Arab déshabillé from Grès.” Vogue, September 1963. Photo: Irving Penn.

Caftans, long, loose-fitting tunics with origins in ancient Persia, have been gaining momentum as an alternative to more structured formal dress. With any luck, there will be some caftans among the goddess gowns at tomorrow’s Academy Awards ceremony.

They say Tsarina Alexandra was the first westerner to make a fashion statement in a caftan, when she dressed as a seventeenth-century Tsarina for a costume ball in 1903. Paul Poiret also advanced the caftan cause, but it was not until the 1950s that the garment really began to influence western fashion. Here’s a look at caftan patterns from the 1950s to now.

Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna as the 17th-century Tsarina Maria Ilyinichna. From the album of the February 1903 fancy dress ball at the Winter Palace. Image via the Hermitage Amsterdam.

Tsarina Alexandra’s Tsarina Maria Ilyinichna masquerade costume. Image via the Hermitage Amsterdam.


In the mid-1950s, Christian Dior and Cristóbal Balenciaga’s experiments with silhouette were partly inspired by eastern traditional dress. Dior’s Fall 1955 couture collection (Y line) included caftan-inspired ensembles—coats with high, side-front slits that reveal a slim dress underneath:

1950s Gruau illustration on the cover of Vogue Paris

A Dior caftan design on the cover of Vogue Paris, September 1, 1955. Illustration: Gruau. Image via Librairie Diktats.

1950s Dior caftan-inspired designs in L'Officiel

Three designs from Christian Dior’s Fall 1955 haute couture collection. L’Officiel, September and October 1955. Photos: Pottier. Images via jalougallery.com.

You can see echoes of the Dior caftan look in contemporary sewing patterns like McCall’s 3525 and 3532, both from late 1955:

1950s dress and unlined coat pattern - McCalls 3525

McCall’s 3525 (1955) Image via Etsy.

McCall’s 3532, called a “slim caftan-and-dress ensemble,” was featured on the cover of McCall’s news leaflet and in the company’s “Make the Clothes that Make the Woman” advertising campaign.  According to the ad, the design is ideal for the season’s “Oriental” fabrics, such as silk twill and raw silk tussah:

McCalls March 1956 3532

McCall’s news, March 1956. Image via eBay.

McCalls ad 1956

“Make the clothes that ‘make’ the woman”: McCall’s printed patterns ad, 1956. Model: Sunny Harnett; hat by Adolfo of Emme. Image via eBay.

A Vogue version of the Dior caftan ensemble, Vogue 8759, is available as a reproduction from EvaDress.


Caftans became popular in the 1960s in tandem with the increasing interest in eastern cultures. The Madame Grès version at the top of this post is cut on the bias, producing geometric seaming detail. The caption reads, “Coup of bias-work by Grès—because this piecing-together of bias angles is sinuous, stark, ravishingly Moroccan.”

This dress from Jean Patou by Michel Goma, Vogue 1699, has what the envelope calls a “caftan neckline.” The model is Beate Schulz:

1960s Patou caftan dress pattern - Vogue 1699

Vogue 1699 by Patou (1967) Model: Beate Schulz. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

This circa 1968 Vogue caftan pattern has optional flexible trim:

Vogue 7497

Vogue 7497 (ca. 1968) Image via Etsy.

Other patterns from the late 1960s and early 1970s also reference eastern dress. From 1967, McCall’s 9026 is labelled as an abba in two lengths. Abba is an alternate spelling of aba, commonly abaya: a traditional Arab garment, long, loose-fitting, sleeveless, and made from a single rectangle of fabric. (Today, caftans often function as abayat.) The model is Veronica Hamel:

1960s abayat pattern - McCalls 9026

McCall’s 9026 (1967) Model: Veronica Hamel. Image via Etsy.

Burnoose patterns were marketed as resort wear. A pompom-trimmed version of McCall’s 2377 was photographed for the cover of McCall’s Summer 1970 catalogue:

1970s burnoose pattern - McCall's 2377

McCall’s 2377 (1970) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Marola Witt models Simplicity’s burnoose in the July 1967 issue of Simplicity Fashion News (thanks to Mary of PatternGate for the reference). The text promotes the design’s ‘Arabian’ exoticism: “be exotic in a JIFFY: … the burnoose, born in Arabia, brought up to date here”:

“Be exotic in a JIFFY.” Marola Witt models Simplicity 7173 in Simplicity Fashion News, July 1967. Image via Etsy.


This Halston caftan pattern from McCall’s also includes a top and pants (you can buy yourself a copy from the shop):

1970s Halston caftan, top, and pants pattern - McCall's 3590

McCall’s 3590 by Halston (1973)

This flowing Dior caftan, modelled by Billie Blair, has lots of neckline detail, full-length sleeve openings, and pockets:

Vogue 1346

Vogue 1346 by Christian Dior (1975) Model: Billie Blair. Image via Etsy.

Vogue 1515 by Nina Ricci is a caftan that’s open in front and attached at the neckline to a handkerchief-hemmed underdress:

1970s Nina Ricci caftan pattern - Vogue 1515

Vogue 1515 by Nina Ricci (1976)


It’s harder to find post-1970s designer caftan patterns. This wide-sleeved, Oscar de la Renta caftan is trimmed with contrast bands. When worn, the side seams swing forward to raise the hemline in front:

1980s Oscar de la Renta caftan pattern - Vogue 1027

Vogue 1027 by Oscar de la Renta (ca. 1983) Model: Alva Chinn.


From Issey Miyake, Vogue 2315 is a caftan-inspired summer dress:

1990s Issey Miyake dress pattern - Vogue 2315

Vogue 2315 by Issey Miyake (1999) Image via Etsy.


Caftan patterns started making a comeback (of sorts) in 2009. Simplicity 2584, a caftan-inspired tunic by Cynthia Rowley, is out of print but still in demand:

Cynthia Rowley dress or tunic pattern - Simplicity 2594

Simplicity 2584 by Cynthia Rowley (2009) Image via Etsy.

Ralph Rucci’s floor-length caftan, Vogue 1181 (now out of print), has an abaya silhouette and interesting construction details—overarm darts, shaped lower sections, and a hook and eye above the low neckline:

Chado Ralph Rucci caftan pattern - Vogue 1181

Vogue 1181 by Chado Ralph Rucci (2010)

The design is from Chado Ralph Rucci Resort 2009:

Rucci Resort 2009 caftans

Two caftans from the Chado Ralph Rucci Resort 2009 collection. Model: Alexandra T. Images via style.com.

Matthew Williamson’s short caftan, available as a free pattern from the Guardian, is also a 2009 design:

A caftan look from Matthew Williamson’s Spring 2009 collection. Photo: Jason Hetherington. Image via the Guardian.

And Heather Lou’s printed chiffon caftan is a Fashion Star pattern by Nikki Poulos, McCall’s 6552 (now out of print):

Nikki Poulos caftan pattern - McCall's 6552

McCall’s 6552 by Nikki Poulos (2012) Image via Etsy.

Would you sew a caftan?

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