Cappers Farmer Blogs > Mama Made Me

Puzzled About Patterns

DJ 

I do a lot of sewing since that is what my mother, grandmother, grandma’s mother, etc., did. However, I have had it pretty easy I guess. I remember looking at the picture of my grandmother and grandfather on their wedding day (shown below) and wondering if she really sewed that dress by hand or if they had a sewing machine. It never dawned on me at that time that they may not have had a pattern either.

Clara Boyd Clayton and Chancy Taylor

 Later, as I grew older, I remember coming home and finding a new dress for my Barbie doll that my mother had whipped up while I was in school. Sometimes I would come home and find she had made herself a dress from some fabric she had, too. For whatever reason, though, I never thought much about it. Then I realized one day that my mother didn’t have any patterns for herself. In fact, I don’t remember her having any patterns for my stuff either! But she made my clothes until I started going to junior high school. Then she bought a couple of patterns and I began making some of my clothes. She began saving up to buy me a couple of items, also. I guess she realized how hard it was on me going to school in handmade clothes while all the other girls had store-bought dresses! This was in the '60s and '70s and I don’t remember hearing much about people sewing their children’s clothing at that time. I know some of them did, but it wasn’t quite as prevalent as when my mama grew up in the 1910s and 1920s.  Below are a couple of pictures of the things she made for me. (Please, do not laugh at my ugly glasses in the one photo! My mother and brother both tried to talk me out of those things.) But, she did let me pick out the fabric in the one picture with the ugly glasses! I don’t know if that is a good thing or not.

Diana in Junior High SchoolDiana Age 4

 All of this comes back to me as I am trying to make some ladies shirts and finding it very difficult to find patterns for what I am wanting to do. I looked online and found a couple that were very close to what I wanted; I even found one that was perfect, until I downloaded the pattern. It seems the girl who made the shirt is from Japan and the way they do their patterns over there is quite different from the way we do them here. Her pattern was an 8.5" X 11" piece of paper with measurements on it in centimeters and, of course, the pieces drawn on there with those measurements, but the pattern itself had to be traced and converted to the proper size. And converted to inches!  I finally gave up on that one and did manage to create a pattern of my own, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought it was when I saw my mama do it.

I can’t help wondering about all those ladies who were seamstresses in the 1800s. And the women who made their husbands shirts! I have sewed most of my life. I have made wedding dresses, formals, and even tailored men’s suits, but I had patterns for all of them! How did these men and women tailor those suits for the guys without patterns? Needless to say, I have learned a whole new respect for the tailors and seamstresses of old. Making a quilt is nothing compared to putting together a suit or one of those fancy lace dresses! And at one time they did all this by the light of a lantern! No wonder women were all so haggard and tired! Take care of kids, housework, cooking, splitting wood for the fires and cook stoves, doing laundry, and then evening came and you got to sew while the kids were sleeping and your husband went out and checked on the animals and milked the cows. And part of the time, if you had girls to help around the house, you got to go out and help the men in the fields, or milk the cows and feed the animals. Not to mention, you had the honor of killing and preparing the chicken for dinner! I know why they only had chicken on Sunday, now. That would have been a fun project in the middle of the week now wouldn’t it! I guess there were plenty of women who probably did it more than once a week, too.

Sorry, I got a little off track there. I did do a little research online about the history of patterns and the pattern industry and found out they didn’t have any real patterns until the early 1860s. Then they didn’t put instructions with them, or put them into envelopes, until the early 1900s. And Butterick didn’t put any markings on the patterns themselves until about 1948. Talk about a giant jigsaw puzzle! There were many different pattern companies and some of them did begin printing on their patterns a little earlier than Butterick, but the industry as a whole was not able to do a lot of the things we take for granted now due to the technological advances we have made. I guess the next time I look at a pattern book, I will be a little bit more grateful for having the pattern and, hopefully, I won’t grumble quite as much about the price of that pattern!