Monday, June 27, 2016

What Constitutes a Sewing Pattern... with Freebies!

Hello my dears. Today I would like to opine a bit about sewing patterns (quelle surprise!). Seriously though, I feel like many of us are missing out on the wide variety of sewing pattern types that history has given us, so here is a bit of a Sewing Pattern types 101. A pattern is defined as "a model or design used as a guide in needlework and other crafts". These designs might not always be what you'd expect when you read the word pattern.

Standard: We're all familiar with a standard sewing pattern. By this I mean a full-sized, cut it out and lay on your fabric pattern. These were made popular by the big 4 pattern companies over the last 100 or so years but they have become so standard that many have never heard of other types of patterns at all. 

For example, this reproduction of a 1920's McCall's standard pattern:

Depew #3062

But what else is available today and throughout history to the average seamstress?

Diagram patterns were particularly popular from the 1920’s-1950’s. The pattern is essentially illustrated piece by piece with measurements given for one to draft the pattern themselves. These patterns are nearly always in one size only, with minimal instructions and gained their popularity mostly in French and German sewing magazines.
Here is an example of a 1940's diagram pattern for a pipe bag in French:

Draft-at-home: Draft-at-home patterns consist of a miniature pattern template and a specialized ruler or rulers that are used to scale the pattern up to a desired size. These can include Lutterloh, American Way, Lisette, and the system that Mrs. Depew Vintage uses.

Depew #5884
I find that draft-at-home patterns aren't for everyone. Aside from the fact that they usually had little to no assembly instructions, to some they are simple and make instant sense, and to others they are incomprehensible. 

This often has little to do with sewing experience or intelligence and much more to do with how your mind works. My brilliant seamstress mother could never make heads or tails of them, though she could draft a pattern from scratch in her sleep. I took one look at my first draft-at-home pattern and instantly understood it. It's just how you're wired, I suppose.

Haslam: This is another quite unique pattern-making system consisting of a set of foundation drafting instructions, a special chart/ tool with curves built in, and additional quarterly supplements with different garment styes.

Haslam Foundations and Chart
Essentially one uses the instructions and chart to draft a sloper pattern, which can then be adapted a multitude of ways for other patterns - instructions for which are usually found in separate supplement booklets with 35 plus pattern models.

Paperless Cutting: The Paperless-Cutting type of pattern is typically seen in American 1920-1930s sewing publications. 
They were quite popular during the depression as they were even more economical than paper patterns and could be made in multiple sizes, as opposed to standard patterns that at the time, only came one size per envelope.

This type of pattern is not the sort that you lay out on fabric and cut out. These patterns are a set of very detailed instructions and illustrations that show you how to mark out your “pattern” on a piece of fabric laid out on your table. You use your own measurements to get an exact fit, and there is no printing, drafting, or taping involved. Just mark, pin, and cut.

Paperless Draping: The Paperless Draping type of pattern is also typically seen in American 1920-1930s sewing publications 
Depew #3035

The draped patterns are similar to the Paperless-Cutting patterns above.
These patterns will start by using your measurements for an accurate fit (which means that these can be made in nearly any size), but the measured fabric will be draped on either yourself or a dress form (an extra pair of hands at this stage will be really helpful), and then pinned, cut, and sewn according to the (hopefully) detailed instructions. These are great for the seamstress in a hurry as the designs are usually basic and come together quite quickly.

Pattern Sheet: These are typically seen in modern magazines like Burda Style, and antique American, French and German magazines as far back as the mid 1800's. 

La Mode Illustrée 1914 with Patterns

These typically consist of 1 or more pattern sheets, usually a minimum of 16" square, with the pattern pieces overlapping each other as shown below - this was done to allow for anywhere from 1-50 patterns to take up very little paper! Each pattern is outlined in a different method and one uses a key to determine which pieces to trace off.

They can be a bit of a headache to trace off but if you think about how many patterns you're getting for the cost of the magazine, from a vintage fashion lover's perspective, it's an entire capsule wardrobe in one package.

And so now you know, if you didn't already (clever you), that there are many more types of patterns out there and many of them can be quite fun to use! If I've left any out, please feel free to leave a comment and I'll add it to the list.

But there's more! I'll be giving away one of the above featured patterns away to 6 lucky winners. Simply comment below with the pattern you would like to win and I'll announce the winners on July 4th. For extra entries you can share this post with your friends, just leave another comment letting me know what you did.

Happy sewing!


  1. Hi Anna, I think this is a great post because most people now-a-days are so used to the type of patterns you get from the big four companies. Does an items such as a circle skirt count as a draped pattern? For a circle skirt, as you know, you draft the 1/2 circle of the radius by taking your waist measurement and adding 2 then divide the result by pi = x/pi or 3.14 drawing this circle at the top of the corner of your pattern and then you do the length plus about 5" or so on each leg of the pie shape, etc. I recently borrowed the Horrockses book through inter-library loan program and they had a dress with a similar but different waist treatment that was kind of notched looking. I would like to win your #5884, 1950's play suit and skirt pattern. Thank you, Kathy G from Arizona

  2. The Haslam patterns look very interesting. That's what I'm interested in.

  3. I would like to try one of the Draft at home pattern ( 5884 or 6061). I read a review from Lilac and lace and it looked very interresting to do. She did a gorgeous dress but I would like to try a simplier pattern. I am a French canadian (bilangual) and I wondered if the pattern was in French or English. Thanks!

  4. I find the haslam patterns intriguing. I have a few different pattern drafting books with different takes on creating a sloper. I would be interested to see this one and compare.

  5. I would love to win the La Mode Illustrée pattern. I am intrigued to see how many patterns can be put on one sheet!

  6. I'd love to win the Haslam pattern. I've also wanted to develop a sloper but not been brave enough to try it.

  7. Thank you for the very interesting post. My Mum made a lot of clothes for me when I was a kid from the Enid Gilchrist books, which seem to be a combination of Haslam and Diagram pattern types! I've recently bought one of her books with women's clothes "patterns" in it but haven't had a go at making anything from it yet. You've inspired me to give it a go though! I'd love to enter to win the Draft At Home 1950's playsuit and skirt pattern.

  8. I love the fifties playsuit and skirt. :) I remember in the eighties magazines (in Denmark at least) often had tiny patterns drawn on squares. Then you bought special squared paper (or made it yourself) to draw the pattern into real size. I wish they still did this. I found some Danish fifties sewing magazines in my basement, I didn't even know I had them, so I don't know for how long I've had them. But, most of the patterns are only in one size, mostly a European 40 or 42, which does not equal to a modern size 40/42. And I am not sure if I am skilled enough to size it up to my modern size 40, but I think I will try it one day using your resizing guide. Thank you for writing this lovely and informative post. I didn't know there were so many different types of patterns. I like the standard one the most, because it is easy. But I have tried the pattern sheet too several times, but you really have to be carefull using it. Have a lovely day, dear. :)

  9. great post! I actually had never considered the different types of patterns... Interesting!

  10. Very interesting, I would love to know how the lutterloch system was created, I used to use my mothers one when I was a teenager and the fit was great. I don't even think she made anything out of it!

    However I am really interested in the pattern sheet, mainly due to the age 1914, I would love to make some of these styles.


  11. Fantastic post. I sort of knew about the different types of patterns but never really knew what they were called or how they were defined, so it's good to get clarity on this.
    I'd love to win the 1920s standard pattern one at the beginning, mainly because I've never seen an actual 1920s pattern and I know the cut of dresses is so different to anything since. I'm intrigued to see what the pattern pieces are like.

  12. Difficult decision! I love the challenge of the pattern sheet (I LOVE puzzles) but the Haslam seems very interesting. So it comes down to the numbers. 1-50 patterns versus 35 plus patterns? I'll go for the pattern sheets booklet(s). Thank you for the opportunity.

  13. Hi Anna, I'd love to have the 1920s gown at the top. Thanks! -Annette

  14. Hi Anna, I'd love to have the 1920s gown at the top. Thanks! -Annette

  15. My favorite type pattern is the Patternless/Cutting. No alterations, fba's, etc. I scour Pinterest and other websites for these. Being plus size, I feel like I'm not excluded from making the featured style(s). I've wondered whether books were published with these type of patterns. I mostly just stumble upon a one sheet instructional.

  16. Ooh I'd love the 50s playsuit and skirt :) Very interesting post actually. I've never tried any patterns other than just paper patterns.

  17. Great post! Fascinated by the Haslam system of Dressmaking if I'm lucky enough to win :) I've tried a few of the patternless cutting patterns from the 20s such as the Magic Robe and they've come out really well.

  18. Hi Anna, As I sew costumes for 1920 festival in France, I already tested many forms of patterns, excluding the Haslam method (so I am interesting to test this one!). All sewing project become a funny challenge and I love to sew using new method. It bring me a bonus of mystery and I learn new tips with each new pattern or method (I prefer to use method than pattern as "pattern" is always a reference of the big 4 in the minds). I suppose I have a maths brain so sewing is for me so funny as sudoku. When I see pattern, all part goes in its place ;-) Thank you for this post and please continue to make my dream with historical trip in the world of vintage fashion.

  19. This is really helpful for me as I'm just starting out with sewing clothes and all those term have confused me. I like the 50's playsuit and skirt.

  20. That draft at home playsuit is exquisite! I'd love that one.
    On different types of patterns, I've used standard and pattern sheet ones. I haven't yet done any of the drafting or draping ones, but I have drafted my own clothes off existing items or pictures a few times. I guess drafting off pictures is kind of similar to the diagram approach. I do like the idea of drafting as in theory you get it precise to your sizing, but I have yet to take the plunge and actually try it out.

  21. Thanks for the info - I knew some of these, but not all!

    I keep looking at the Haslam system, but haven't taken the plunge yet. It would be cool to try!

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