As a salute to our health care workers, this post is dedicated to vintage patterns for nurse’s uniforms.
During the First World War, McCall’s sold commercial patterns for war work, including nurse’s uniforms, as well as official Red Cross patterns.
Few of these antique patterns seem to have survived, but the Commercial Pattern Archive has the unisex Red Cross operating gown:
This illustration shows a nurse dressed for surgery in the gown, McCall Special R, and helmet Special S. (For more, see Patterns for the Great War.)
Nurses wore similar protective wear during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-19. This archival photo shows a local Hamilton estate, Ballinahinch, that was donated for conversion to a hospital during the pandemic.
Twenties-era patterns for nurse’s uniforms always seem to include the cap. This design dates to circa 1921, just before McCall’s patented the printed pattern.
This drop-waisted uniform was still available two years later, but with a much higher hemline.
The Vintage Pattern Lending Library sells reproductions of this late 1920s design. Swap in a contrast Peter Pan collar and cuffs and it doubles as a maid’s uniform.
Andrea Cesari has several nurse patterns in her collection. The description for this one reads, “A uniform whose trim lines always look smart. The absence of fussy detail assures perfect laundering.”
This early ’30s uniform is similarly sensible. (View on Etsy.)
From Vogue, a late ’30s uniform that also includes a pintucked shirtdress:
During the Second World War, dressmakers could again sew Red Cross nurse’s uniforms, as well as commercial designs. This back-buttoned nurse’s uniform from Simplicity includes the apron, but not the cap.
As in the previous World War, Red Cross patterns were available from many companies. McCall’s and Simplicity both sold patterns for the Red Cross Volunteer Special Service Corps. Here, the envelope stipulates: “Must be made in poplin; veil may be made in chiffon, georgette, voile, or lawn.” This uniform was not intended for hospital workers.
The next year, the veil and white contrasts were gone. (Compare Cesari’s equivalent, Simplicity 4626.)
This McCall’s retail catalogue shows the Special Service Corps uniform with two other Red Cross patterns, with a note that they were only available by special order.
After the war, patterns for nurse’s uniforms return to their peacetime selves, fashionable yet practical — in this case with a three-piece shoulder pad. Do you have any uniform patterns in your collection?
This year marks the centennial of the beginning of World War 1. In honour of Armistice Day, this post looks at commercial sewing patterns associated with the First World War.
This illustration from the July 1917 issue of McCall’s magazine shows McCall patterns suitable for war work: a nurse’s uniform, apron, and cap, and outdoor workwear including women’s overalls (patent pending):
Official Red Cross patterns exemplify the volunteer production of clothing and medical supplies that formed part of the war effort. American Red Cross patterns were published by multiple American pattern companies, while in the U.K., British Red Cross sewing and knitting instructions were available in several books by Emily Peek.* In Canada, volunteers sewing for the Canadian Red Cross may have used both British and American resources.
The McCall Fashions for February 1918 gives a list of American Red Cross patterns for garments to be used in hospitals and refugee camps; the cover illustration shows three women dressed “For the visit to the camp”:
The inside front cover lists two types of official American Red Cross pattern: “for the relief of refugees and repatriates in the war-stricken countries, particularly in France and Belgium” and for hospital garments. The illustrations show an infant’s layette, unisex children’s cape, reversible bed jacket, and trench foot slipper (click to enlarge):
Update: Weldons, the British pattern company, had similar patterns “for our troops”:
A news article from June, 1918 discusses the most needed hospital garments and supplies corrections for two refugee garment patterns. It seems the “helpless case shirt” (for patients with arm injuries) was available in two versions:
A 1917 article in McCall’s magazine describes the Red Cross relief effort and seven new patterns for hospital work. It presents sewing as an alternative to nursing, for which fewer women were qualified, arguing that “[s]ewing may not seem to many as romantic as nursing the wounded upon the battlefield, but without it the nursing might be useless.” Interestingly, official American Red Cross patterns were at first distributed through the organization’s national headquarters, but later became available directly to the public (click to enlarge):
On the right, readers found descriptions of the new patterns, accompanied by photographs showing Red Cross officials Jane A. Delano and Clara D. Noyes, and women in a Red Cross chapter at work:
The illustrations of the new patterns seek to include the Red Cross sewing effort in the romance of nursing. Here a nurse serves a meal to a patient who is wearing McCall Special C, a hospital bed shirt:
McCall Special P is a pair of pajamas:
To be made from one or two blankets, McCall Special O is a bathrobe or convalescent gown:
McCall Special R is a Red Cross Surgeon’s and Nurse’s operating gown—a unisex medical uniform available in two sizes:
The illustration of the Red Cross nurse also shows the McCall Special S operating helmet:
The Commercial Pattern Archive has both sizes of McCall Special R its collection. The larger is reproduced in Joy Emery’s new book:
Do you have any World War I patterns in your collection?
* Seligman, Cutting for All! (Southern Illinois UP, 1996), pp. 123-24, cited in Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014), p. 91. A digitized version of Emily Peek, Practical Instruction in Cutting Out and Making Up Hospital Garments for Sick and Wounded: Approved by the Red Cross Society (British Red Cross Society, 1914), is available through the University of Southampton.