Calandra Cooper

Sewing pattern illustrations

Calandra Cooper
Sewing pattern illustrations

Ever consider the amount of work and time that went into illustrating pattern envelopes from idea to store shelf?

In the 1950s the process began with a designer sketching a fashion illustration of their idea.

Generally, ten or more slightly different renditions may have been drawn before deciding on the designs that would go into the final collection.

After finalizing the sketches a miniature of each sketch was constructed in muslin and fitted onto a half-scale dress form; making the full-size version only after changes to the half-scale were approved.

To ensure accuracy, the pattern pieces were then checked against a pattern “stable,” one of a series of heavily glazed paper pattern pieces representing every pattern part.

A muslin of every version shown on the pattern envelope was then made before a live model tried on the muslin to ensure the garment had the correct amount of ease and movement.

After making any needed adjustments and the designer giving their final approval, the garment went back to the drawing room.

Here a fabric expert selected suitable fabrics based on the design and the pattern was made up in the selection.

In scale and perfect color, including actual trimmings used on the “pilot dress”, a staff artist sketched the design as it appeared.

The finished sketches and the muslin model went to the diagram department where the dress was cut in half.

The right half was ripped apart and the notches and construction symbols put on the right half of the muslin. The left half remained whole for comparison.

The right half was pressed flat and an exact duplicate of each piece of the muslin was made on heavy paper. This paper became the master pattern which was then made in each size and traced to include cutting lines, margins, seam lines, darts, arrows to indicate straight of grain and other construction details.

The master pattern served as a guide for the complicated cut and sew guide that appears in vintage sewing pattern envelopes, including for yardage requirements that were printed on the envelope.

The pattern was laid out on fabrics of varying widths and sketched. The same was true for trimmings, interlinings and such. After the “cut and sew guide” was completed, a sewing expert wrote the instructions which were printed in English, French and Spanish.

Meanwhile tracings from the master pattern went off to the printing plant. There zinc plates were made from the tracings, the plates were put on a giant printing press and large rolls of tissue paper were fed into the press to print the patterns. Each pattern printed on a single sheet of paper.

From this point the patterns were folded and slipped into envelopes by hand and delivered all over the world.

For example, a pattern envelope might read size 14 but the actual measurements on the envelope and the included pattern pieces were actually made to fit an individual measuring size 16.

When it’s said vintage sewing patterns tend to run a bit smaller in size that’s not necessarily true.

The numbers are deceptive. You’ll need to check the actual measurements on the pattern envelope.

Throughout the years manufacturers have tried in vain to come up with a way of accurately standardizing sizing: 1931, 1956 and 1967. The last change was in 1972.

Here are some things you should take into consideration for sizing vintage patterns:

• Plan on altering the patterns for size and fit each and every time.
• Mock up the pattern in muslin or tissue paper before cutting out pattern pieces in your final fashion.
• Take accurate measurement. Get someone to help you if possible.
• Select a vintage pattern by the bust measurement on the back of the pattern envelope; not the size written on the front of the envelope.

March 23, 2017