Behind every great seamstress is often a handful of really excellent sewing books. Men and women have long shared their hard-won knowledge of dressmaking and tailoring in beautiful, illustrated volumes like the one below.
If you collect or sew with vintage patterns, then you'll love seeing a few pretty pages of this 1940s book The Home Economics Omnibus by Harris and Huston.
I have been collecting sewing patterns and drafting systems for almost 20 years and in that time, I have learned quite a few interesting things. I have noticed that many countries seem to have their own pattern drafting system, school of thought, or pet company that seems to dominate the market in that region during a specific decade. In the US, before the big four companies came to dominate pattern markets, there were a few hundred tailoring systems saturating the pattern-making market. These cardboard adjustable pattern forms allowed home seamstresses and tailors to draft custom-fit patterns to suit their needs.
In Germany, there was the Lutterloh (or Golden Rule) scale ruler system, in France, Eclair Coupe, and in the United Kingdom, there was the Haslam System.
I have used all of these, and many more to draft patterns over the years, and time and time again, I come back to using the Haslam System. It has proven to be by far the most accurate and mistake-proof method for drafting patterns that fit like a dream.
The Haslam System was created by Miss Grace Haslam of Bolton, Lancashire U.K. in the early 1920s. It is estimated that she published the first book of draftings in 1924, though it is difficult to be exact, as the books never had a date printed on them. She created a vast library of works that seem to have stopped around 1966, closing a wonderful pattern-making and teaching company that spanned over more than 40 years.
The system is very simple to use and doesn't require any previous drafting experience (though strong reading comprehension and the ability to follow written instructions are a must). It is composed of a special chart tool, a basic foundation instruction book, and seasonal supplemental books which include new styles.
The chart design is very clever and includes a perfect right angle at one end to act as a tailor's square, curved edges at the other end to take the place of french curve and waist curve tools, and small punched holes to help you quickly draft by bust size. It also includes several printed notations that act as landmarks to help you use the foundation instructions.
The foundation book includes all of the instructions and diagrams you need to draft a Foundation or sloper pattern. This is a basic pattern drafted to your measurements consisting of a dress front, dress back, and sleeve. Once the foundation has been drafted to your measurements, you test this pattern in tissue or muslin and adjust the fit as desired.
This pattern then becomes your master foundation pattern which you copy and alter to make any number of different patterns.
(Note that the foundation shapes changed a little bit over each decade so it's important to use the correct foundation instructions for the decade you are drafting for).
The supplemental books contain around 2 dozen different pattern designs and diagrams that show you how to alter your foundation pattern into the illustrated fashions. At the time of publication, these supplemental books featured all of the current fashions created by the best fashion houses in Paris and the U.K. Miss Haslam traveled extensively to both research current fashion trends, and to teach her system. Many of her supplemental fashion designs are near-exact copies of garments created by Vionnet, Lanvin, Chanel, Worth, Hartnel, and more.
Referencing dates penciled on books in my own vast collection, special Coronation booklets created by Miss Haslam for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II, letters found tucked inside of drafting books, and even the appearance of iconic styles like the Siren Suit, I have been able to create an approximation of dates for each book published for the Haslam System. Some books like the lingerie, fuller figure, and children's supplements are closer to estimations by style and date to within about 2 years of publication (these seem to have been issued about every 2-3 years).
(Special thanks to Erin Sloan of the Drafting Haslam blog for her own work dating these books, which helped me fill in a few gaps in my own dating research).
For a bound volume containing a complete chart, a set of each foundation draftings from 1924-1966, and the Practical Guide all in one, click here.
(AT THIS TIME, THE FOUNDATION DRAFT WAS INCLUDED IN EACH BOOK.)
Recently I was working on a new pattern release and, as per usual, fell happily down a pattern research rabbit hole as I collected every Western wear pattern I could find from my collection of several thousand vintage patterns.
These three stood out as the very best ones and it made me so happy to have them all together like a little Western-pattern family.
From left to right, McCall 1297 is a Misses' Western Shirt that (when complete) comes with the embroidery transfer you see in the photo backgrounds. Notice the darling curved welt shirt pockets!