In my quest to write this post I wanted to learn about vintage mail order patterns and along the way I learned quite a bit and thought I would share some highlights.
William Jennings Demorest and Ellen Louise Demorest began the home sewing pattern industry in 1860. They held fashion shows in their homes and sold the patterns. Sounds just like some of the “in home party businesses” we have today like Tupperware, Pampered Chef and Scentsy! This turned out to be the beginning of the Mme. Demorests’ Emporium of Fashion and an fashion empire!
The Demorests published a magazine called “The Mirror of Fashion.” It listed hundreds of different patterns, most available in only one size. One size ladies and gents! The knowledge those sewists must have had to grade the patterns to their bodies! You also had to have some skills- NO directions were included!
Some other little tidbits I learned about William and Louisa… They launched FIVE magazines and started a cosmetics company. They built a fashion manufacturing and merchandising empire from Louisa’s paper pattern business. William ran for Mayor of New York City and was a Prohibition Activist. (I guess he would not approve of my “Drink and Sew” nights!
Ebenezer Butterick was a few years behind the Demorests with their pattern company and in 1870, a Scottish tailor names James McCall started his pattern company. Throughout the years many other pattern companies came and went- and we are left with the Big 4- Butterick, McCalls, Vogue and Simplicity. And several others like Kwik Sew and Lekala… and LOTS in Indie pattern companies. YAY! Wow, we have a LOT of choices when it comes to patterns.
Mail order patterns are just that! you would spot a pattern in a magazine or in a Book of Fashion and order it sent right to your home. Unlike most of the patterns of today your pattern came in one size. The vintage ones I own have no lines… no notches and no markings. Well, they do have large and small circles cut out so you are not completely flying blind!
Now, I am not really here today to give you a history of mail order patterns but I found it really interesting- especially since I love the fashions of certain eras and if I can get my hands on a pattern I am thrilled. I am even more thrilled when I can make it up and wear it, although in this case, I made it up for my eldest daughter.
This is not my first foray into vintage pattern sewing. I made myself this green dress a few years ago for “Fall for Cotton.” The girls thought I looked like Mrs. Teapot. I have also made my middle daughter quite a few of the same dress. My favorite is this floral one here.
What I really enjoy doing is taking a vintage pattern and making it relevant enough to wear today. I really feel like I succeeded with this 1954 Mail Order dress pattern. I find something so special about handling something that was owned by someone long ago. This pattern came from The Baltimore Sun which looks to be a Newspaper. It still has the address of the lovely lady that ordered it and the postmark is pristine. Apr 29, 1954. Tell me that is not the coolest thing ever!
The pattern had never been used or at least that was what it looked like to me so I was VERY careful. No pins. I just weighted the pieces down and cut out the dress and then promptly put the pieces away. The directions are all contained on one page. One side for directions and one side is basically a sewing lesson.
The dress went together amazingly easy. And it was a near perfect fit! I took it in slightly at the waist and the shoulder neckline area had to be taken in about 1/2″ on each side. Other than that- it was a dream to make.
I used fabric I ordered from Fabric.com. The only issue was it was listed as a challis but I swear this thing is cotton! It is beautiful anyway so I am not disappointed. The birds and colors are perfect for Kadi since she loves little chirpy things and looks great in these colors. (I consider this melon and bright pink!)
I made the dress so it fell right above the knee. Length is important in keeping it young and current in my opinion. The neckline is so very feminine. When I am perusing patterns from this era I see quite a bit of the notched neckline.
I serged the inside- I know I should probably have french seamed it all but I had bright pink thread in my machine and went for it. Challis I would have french seamed- the cotton was thicker than a challis so serging seemed like a better option anyway- and again- bright pink thread was in my machine!
The invisible zipper was SUPPOSED to be on the side but I forgot and put it in the back of the dress. It is a PERFECT zipper if I do say so myself! :)
All in all I am SO very pleased with this dress. Kadi is as well! She wore it to her friends wedding the day after completion and has assured me she will get a ton of wear from it. She wants another one soon!