The Art of Dressmaking: Is it Coming Back?
Updated: Jun 23
Home Dress Patterns – A History
When and How did People Start Using Dress Patterns?
Have you ever made your own clothing? For most people today, the answer to this question would be no. However, just a few generations ago, “DIY” clothing used to be the norm! For centuries, clothes were made exclusively at home or, if you could afford it, by a seamstress. Exceptions existed for people who wore pre-made uniforms, such as maids, soldiers, or those in dining / retail industries.
That said, while home dressmaking has been around for centuries, pre-packaged patterns are a relatively new product and have only been in existence since about 1858, when a very fashion-forward milliner named Ellen Curtis Demorest is believed to have invented the home dress pattern as we know it today.
Of course, early patterns were still very different from the ones used during the last century. Originally, the pattern pieces were only pinned together with a label to identify them, no envelopes. It was not until 1872 that the pattern envelopes were introduced. Even then, pattern layouts only began to be included in 1902 and guided instructions were added in 1916.
The 20th Century
By the turn of the 20th century, at-home dress patterns were becoming ever more popular. During the second World War, women made their clothes at home out of necessity: as materials and industry oriented towards wartime production, consumer demands for clothing were not met due to shortage of materials and resources.
The war period also marked a crucial moment in women’s fashion history, when dresses became drastically shorter. Partially due to materials being redirected towards the war effort, but also due to slowly changing standards about a woman’s societal role and expected modesty.
Did you know, contrary to what Halloween costumes may lead us to believe, 1920’s dresses never fell above the knee, and only the flapper girls had tassels on their dresses? It's true! As the tide of fashion swept away old standards for women during and post World War II, home dress patterns came along with them:
By the 1970s, talented seamstresses who had been making clothes at home for decades turned to quilting. As department stores and mass manufactured clothing became the norm for most Americans into the 1980s, quilt-making and other non-clothing sewing endeavors came to replace and eventually end the regularity and frequency of home dressmaking. By the 1990s, the practice of following a dress pattern had become obsolete, and when practiced, seen as a hobby.
Patterns? Not Just for Clothing!
Toy brands such as Cabbage Patch Kids, the widely trendy kids’ toy dolls of the 70s and early 80s, made patterns for young children which included a miniature pattern for the doll too! Utilizing the skill of dressmaking, often held by women, the companies were able to provide patterns to dressmakers while also promoting their product and brand – marketing genius!
Above: Cabbage Patch Kids, Micky and Minnie Mouse, and Care Bears Sewing Patterns
Similarly, pattern companies made patterns for toy making, including dolls, doll dresses, and stuffed animals. At our shop store we have doll and doll dress patterns for sale, along with an adorable a rabbit stuffed animal pattern for anyone interested in a more homemade gift for their kid(s)!
The 21st Century - Comeback?
In the digitally dominated 21st-century, the skill of dressmaking has not been passed down and fast fashion has become the norm and the mainstream. However, in recent years – second-hand clothing and furniture stores alike have had a renaissance. Young people, inspired by the threats of changing climate or inspired by Macklemore’s 2013 hit Thrift Shop, have drawn more near to the frugal mindsets of our 1940s counterparts than any time in recent history.
With this mindset has come the slow but steady revival of homemade clothing, and the revival of vintage dress patterns. While there was a moment in the 1990s - 2000s where it seemed a lost art, recent generations are buying vintage dress patterns, as thrift and DIY fashion becomes increasingly popular.
Here at Yesterday’s News, we have quite a large selection of these home dress patterns ranging from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s! Come stop by and browse our massive collection of patterns. Who knows? It may just become the new "norm"...
Check out our latest Instagram post to see more patterns, or stop by the shop to dig through for yourself!
Written by: Sofia Levy
Edited by: Helaina Ferraioli