A History of the Paper Pattern Industry

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: 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)
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
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)
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.

"Why the ordinary pattern CANNOT be accurate / Why the McCall Printed Pattern MUST be accurate"
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.

1920s couturier evening dress pattern by Madeleine Vionnet, McCall 5055 (1927)
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)
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 claim 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: 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: 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 Ralph Rucci Pre-Fall 2013
Vogue 1419 (2014) from Ralph Rucci’s Pre-Fall 2013 collection. Images: Etsy / 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

9780857858313
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.

Lanvin at 125: Jeanne Lanvin

Lanvin 125: 1889-2014
Lanvin anniversary logo. Image: WWD.

Lanvin celebrated its 125th anniversary this year. Founded in 1889 by Jeanne Lanvin, the house marked the occasion with an extensive look into its archives on InstagramPinterest, Facebook, and the new Lanvin Heritage website. (See WWD’s article here.) In 2015, Paris’ Palais Galliera will host a major exhibition devoted to Jeanne Lanvin.

1920s Lanvin hand embroidery
Lanvin hand embroidery, ca. 1925. Image: Instagram.

Commercial sewing patterns based on Lanvin originals were produced between the 1920s and the 1970s. Four head designers presided over the house during that period; I’ll be devoting a post to each designer.

The interwar Lanvin designs available as sewing patterns are by Jeanne Lanvin (1867-1946), who was known for her romantic, youthful dresses with couture embellishment, particularly her robe de style, a full-skirted alternative to the 1920s tubular silhouette.

Lanvin label, été 1926, from a robe de style at The Costume Institute
Lanvin label, 1926. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1920s

From McCall’s earliest couture patterns, this robe de style with a big bow at the waist and skirt with beaded appliqués was modelled by film star Hope Hampton:

Hope Hampton wears a 1920s Lanvin evening dress, McCall 3935, in McCall Style News January 1925
Hope Hampton in Lanvin, McCall Style News, January 1925.

A version of this dress is in the collection of The Costume Institute:

Lanvin robe de style, Fall/Winter 1924-25 in the collection of The Costume Institute
Lanvin robe de style, Fall/Winter 1924-25. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

McCall 4856 is a short evening or afternoon dress with sheer overlay. The version on the right is in Lanvin blue:

Illustrations of a 1920s Lanvin dress pattern - McCall 4856
Illustrations in McCall Quarterly, Summer 1927. Images courtesy of Debby Zamorski.

(McCall’s also sold transfer patterns for beading and embroidery; the catalogue illustrations show nos. 1558 and 1388.)

This simple double-breasted coat from Pictorial Review was adapted from a Lanvin design:

1920s Lanvin adaptation coat pattern - Pictorial Review 3978
Pictorial Review 3978 adapted from Lanvin (1927). Image: eBay.

Pictorial Review’s catalogue illustration shows the coat with contrast lapels and fur cuffs and collar:

Illustration of Pictorial Review 3978 coat adapted from Lanvin in a 1920s pattern catalogue
Illustration from Pictorial Fashion Book, Winter 1927-28. Image: eBay.

Trim is an important feature of this Lanvin day dress, which is shown in my 1929 Paris Pattern leaflet (available in PDF from my Etsy shop):

1920s Lanvin dress pattern - Paris Pattern 1122
Paris Pattern 1122 by Lanvin (1929)

1930s

McCall 7711 is a day dress with drape-necked bodice and bow-trimmed sleeves. View A, with long sleeves and contrast bodice, has topstitched sleeves and belt that are characteristic of 1930s Lanvin:

1930s Lanvin dress pattern - McCall 7711
McCall 7711 by Lanvin (1934) Image: VPLL on Pinterest.

Here’s the illustration from McCall’s Advanced Paris Styles catalogue:

Lanvin illustration in McCall Advanced Paris Styles, March 1934
Illustration by Blanche Rothschild in McCall Advanced Paris Styles, March 1934. Image: eBay.

In late 1934, McCall and Pictorial Review both produced versions of the same Lanvin afternoon dress: a slim, full-sleeved gown with back cutouts. A reproduction of the McCall version is available from Past Patterns:

1930s Lanvin afternoon dress pattern - McCall 7959
McCall 7959 by Lanvin (1934) Image: Petite Main on Pinterest.

In Blanche Rothschild’s illustration for McCall’s magazine, the dress is shown with McCall 7954 by Georgette Renal:

"Afternoons this Autumn," illustration showing dresses by Lanvin and Renal, McCall's magazine, September 1934
Illustration by Blanche Rothschild, McCall’s magazine, September 1934. Image: Vintage123.

The text for McCall 7959 reads, “Lanvin’s long skirted afternoon dress has a new feeling of formality. The back of the bodice is suspended in folds from a cross shoulder band, slit in triangles to expose the back. Raglan sleeves provide material contrast. The skirt spreads, bell shape, into a hesitation hem.”

The Vintage Pattern Lending Library has a reproduction of the Pictorial Review adaptation of the dress, Pictorial Review 7363:

1930s Lanvin-adapted evening gown pattern - Pictorial Review 7363
Pictorial Review 7363 adapted from Lanvin (1934). Image: VPLL on Pinterest.

Here’s an illustration of the Pictorial Review adaptation from the Winter 1934 catalogue:

Illustration of a Lanvin-adapted evening dress pattern Pictorial Review 7363 in a 1930s pattern catalogue
Illustration from the Pictorial Fashion Book, Winter 1934-35.

McCall 8591 (previously featured in my goddess gowns post) is a glamourous evening dress with pleated shoulder draperies. This illustration is from the McCall catalogue:

Illustration of Lanvin evening gown McCall 8591 in a 1930s McCall pattern catalogue
McCall 8591 by Lanvin (1936) Image courtesy of Debby Zamorski.

Marian Blynn illustrated McCall 8591 for McCall’s magazine (the other gown is by Ardanse):

Marian Blynn illustration of couturier evening patterns McCall 8591 and 8597 in 1930s McCall's magazine
Illustration in McCall’s magazine, January 1936. Illustrator: Marian Blynn. Image: eBay.

The caption reads: “Long scarfs, drifting down from the shoulders, are used by Lanvin. The scarf dress here is hers, and when you dance it is supposed to make you look as though you were floating. These scarfs are also worn wound once around the arm.”

Just for fun, here are two photos by Horst P. Horst and Albert Harlingue showing Lanvin designs from the 1930s:

Model wearing lame draped cowlneck blouse with rolls like corrugated pipe around deep armholes by Lanvin, and black skirt, holding vanity case by Boucheron
Lamé blouse by Lanvin in Vogue, 1933. Photo: Horst P. Horst. Image: Condé Nast via Getty Images.
Jeanne Lanvin with model, ca. 1930s, photographed by Albert Harlingue
Jeanne Lanvin with model, ca. 1930s. Photo: Albert Harlingue. Image: Roger-Viollet via Catwalk Yourself.

Next in the series: Marie-Blanche de Polignac’s early Vogue Paris Originals.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Third Blogiversary + Giveaway

1930s Vogue Patterns booklet, December 15, 1931
Vogue Patterns booklet, December 15, 1931. Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

Today marks three years since my first post on this blog. To celebrate my blogiversary I’m throwing a giveaway: one lucky reader will win 5 instant downloads from the PatternVault Etsy shop.

1930s T. Eaton Co. Paris and Style Patterns booklet showing Augustabernard pattern 2311
Paris and Style Patterns booklet, June 1934. Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

To enter, leave a comment mentioning what you’d like to see more of on the blog. The giveaway closes Monday, July 14th at midnight EDT. The winner will be chosen at random and announced this Tuesday, July 15th.

Schiaparelli Patterns, Part 1

Guinevere Van Seenus in vintage 1930s Schiaparelli, Vogue, May 2012. Photo: Steven Meisel. Image via vogue.com.
Guinevere Van Seenus in vintage 1930s Schiaparelli, Vogue, May 2012. Photo: Steven Meisel. Image: vogue.com.

Have you heard? The house of Schiaparelli, founded by the legendary Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) and dormant since 1954, has been revived.

Schiaparelli label, summer 1938 - 21 place vendôme Paris
Schiaparelli label, 1938. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Last year Christian Lacroix presented a one-off couture collection for the house, and this week the new head designer, Marco Zanini, presented his first Schiaparelli collection at the Paris couture. (See the Spring 2014 collection on style.com Vogue Runway, or read W’s coverage of Zanini’s appointment here.)

Christian Lacroix sketch for his Schiaparelli collection
Christian Lacroix sketch for his Schiaparelli collection. Image: WWD.
Stella Tennant in Schiaparelli by Marco Zanini, 2014
The opening look in Marco Zanini’s debut collection for Schiaparelli. Model: Stella Tennant. Image: vogue.com.

The high-profile revival follows the Costume Institute’s major 2012 exhibition, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations (see my earlier post here). And, timed to coincide with couture week, an auction of Schiaparelli’s personal collection takes place Thursday at Christie’s Paris.

Schiaparelli Christies catalogue
Collection personnelle d’Elsa Schiaparelli. Image: Christie’s.

Many of you will be aware of Schiaparelli’s licensed sewing patterns, since she was among the first designers of Vogue Paris Originals. There were also Schiaparelli knitting patterns. If you knit, you can download a free pattern for Schiaparelli’s 1927 Bowknot sweater, updated by Lisa Stockebrand (Ravelry page here):

Douglas Pollard illustration of Schiaparelli's bowknot sweater, Vogue, December 1927
Bowknot sweater by Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue, December 15, 1927. Illustration: Douglas Pollard.

Like Vionnet, Schiaparelli also saw commercial sewing patterns for her designs in the interwar period, released by companies including the McCall Pattern Company, Pictorial Review, and the Paris Pattern Company. Here is a selection of early Schiaparelli patterns.

This McCall pattern is the earliest Schiaparelli pattern I’ve seen. Dating to the autumn of 1929, it’s a pattern for a blouse, skirt, and coat with angled pockets. It was still shown in a 1930 catalogue:

1920s Schiaparelli pattern - McCall 5839
McCall 5839 by Schiaparelli in the McCall catalogue, 1930. Image: echopoint.

Here is the illustration of McCall 5839 in McCall’s magazine:

1920s Schiaparelli sewing pattern - McCall 5839
McCall 5839 by Schiaparelli. McCall’s magazine, October 1929. Illustration: Blanche Rothschild.

This Schiaparelli pattern from the Paris Pattern Company has some unusual details. The wrap skirt buttons diagonally across the hips and has two slits through which the blouse’s attached scarf can pass, for a suspender effect:

Paris 1647
Paris Pattern 1647 by Schiaparelli (c. 1931)

McCall 6981 is a three-piece suit consisting of a jacket, cropped pussy-bow blouse, and sleeveless, bias dress:

1930s Schiaparelli sewing pattern - McCall 6981
McCall 6981 by Schiaparelli (1932)

Here’s an illustration of this design (centre, no. 14) in the summer 1932 issue of McCall Fashion Bi-Monthly. Elsewhere it calls McCall 6981 a “trick” ensemble, since the blouse and jacket disguise a dress suitable for tennis:

McCall Bi-Monthly Jul/Aug 1932
McCall Fashion Bi-Monthly, July/August 1932. Image: carbonated on flickr.

This Benito illustration for Vogue shows a similar Schiaparelli ensemble, worn with a tomato red Sicilian cap:

1930s Eduardo García Benito illustration: Schiaparelli beige suit, blue blouse and Sicilian cap; pink jacket and brown skirt.
Schiaparelli beige suit, blue blouse and Sicilian cap; pink jacket and brown skirt, Vogue, May 1, 1932. Illustration: Eduardo García Benito. Image: Corbis.

This Pictorial Review Schiaparelli adaptation dates to late 1933. The dress has interesting details like shoulder flanges, diagonal waist darts, and inverted darts radiating from the neckline:

1930s Schiaparelli dress pattern - Pictorial Review 6764
Pictorial Review 6764 adapted from Schiaparelli (c. 1933) Image: Best Vintage Patterns.

Here’s the catalogue illustration for Pictorial Review 6764:

Illustration of Pictorial Review 6764 adapted from Schiaparelli
Illustration of Pictorial Review 6764 (c. 1933) Image via Best Vintage Patterns.

Paris Pattern 2286, illustrated in my 1934 Paris and Style Patterns booklet, is a jaunty ensemble consisting of a coat, skirt, and jacket blouse. The description reads, “A superb town and country suit. Just the thing for that week end vacation. Top coat can be worn over any dress. The skirt and jacket blouse make an ideal spectator costume”:

1930s Paris Pattern by Schiaparelli
Paris Pattern 2286 by Schiaparelli. Paris and Style Patterns leaflet, June 1934.

Also in this leaflet is the Schiaparelli dress and capelet ensemble available as a reproduction from the Vintage Pattern Lending Library. The dress has shoulder yokes, puffed sleeves, and a skirt with pointed set-in panels and pair of buttons at the waist; the matching capelet is trimmed with pleating and buttons to the skirt front. Thanks to owner Deirdre Duggan for providing a scan of the envelope:

1930s Schiaparelli sewing pattern - Paris Pattern 2301
Paris Pattern 2301 by Schiaparelli (c. 1934) Image courtesy of the Vintage Pattern Lending Library.

Finally, from McCall’s, this Schiaparelli dinner dress in two lengths dates to winter 1936-37. The bodice back extends into sleeves that are gathered into a heart-shaped bodice:

1930s Schiaparelli dinner dress pattern - McCall 9076
McCall 9076 by Schiaparelli (1936) Image: Vintage Patterns Wiki.

The pattern is illustrated in the January 1937 issue of McCall’s magazine, which made much of the new, street-length hemline:

McCall Jan1937 Schiap
McCall’s magazine, January 1937. Image: eBay.

Schiaparelli patterns from between the wars tend to lack the surrealist touches we associate with the designer, since many of these were based on couture embellishment, accessories, or notions. (Cricket buttons, anyone?) I remember reading a contemporary 1930s article that said Schiaparelli pieces were so simple, they were too easy to copy. Today one might say it’s her brand of dynamic severity that makes her clothes seem so modern.

Bonus: The Art Deco Society of California has posted instructions for Schiaparelli’s “Mad Cap” (via What Would Nancy Drew Wear?).

Next: Schiaparelli’s postwar Vogue Paris Originals.