Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Look Inside Early McCall Patterns: 1910's to 1930's

Today I thought we would take a look inside some early McCall patterns to see how the patterns themselves evolved over time.

I want to give a special thank you to Lauren from Wearing History (a fellow McCall pattern lover) as she helped me put together some of the information for this post and kindly contributed several pictures!

Here's what a pattern piece from a 1910 McCall pattern looks like:

 Photo credit: Lauren from Wearing History
Notice how it's unprinted but does include notches and circle and triangle holes?  That's the guide for different construction techniques such as darts, etc. 

The earliest McCall pattern I have is from the 1920's.  Here's a look inside at both the instructions and the sleeve pattern piece:

A few things I noticed right away with this 20's pattern is that the instructions (called 'Printo Gravure') are printed on the same tissue paper as the pattern.  You'll also notice that the sleeve pattern piece has a pictorial guide on it on how to alter the sleeve for special measurements.  I've only seen this on 1920's patterns but I really like it.  In the last picture above you can see that the instructions contain a lot of real photos including how to make a bound buttonhole (in photos as opposed to drawings).

The other great part about McCall patterns in general (I've seen this on a lot of their patterns) is that they number the order the seams should be joined directly onto the pattern (see the photo below):

This helps tremendously.  If you have experience in sewing, you can put together even an early McCall pattern without instructions because so much is already printed on the pattern pieces.

The McCall Pattern Company was one of the first to produce printed patterns.  Below is an image from the patent they filed through the United States Patent Office for the printed paper pattern.  It was filed in 1920 and granted in 1921.  Which means it would have expired in 1939 (which is also around the same time Simplicity started printing on their patterns).  You can read the entire patent application online here.

 McCall also had a patent for their specific pattern instructions (the numbered seams) which was granted in 1925 (Butterick had a patent on pattern instructions that was issued in 1916 and this explains why McCall Pattern Company had to do a separate patent for their instructions):

 The McCall Company went further and patented a very detailed printed paper pattern in which details of each part of the pattern are clearly marked.  The patent was issued in 1934.  Here is the patent drawing:

You may recall that I've made a cape from a 1935 pattern (which is just after they got the detailed printed pattern patent):

Here's what the pattern piece looks like:

It includes very detailed instructions printed on the pattern for the lining, placement of buttons, pockets, order of seams to be joined as well as facing, seam allowance, etc.  Everything you need to know is right on the pattern!

I'm just loving this month and the chance to delve into the history of my favourite pattern company! 
What about you? Have you sewn with an early McCall pattern?  Or with an early unprinted pattern?


  1. That unprinted pattern piece scares me. I'm afraid I'm very much a sew-by-numbers kind of girl!

  2. I've really only sewn with one vintage pattern from (I think) the 1970s for an A-line skirt, so I don't think that particularly counts! But I am loving this series, Debi. More knowledge can only be a good thing.

  3. How interesting to know where patterns nowadays evolved from. See, we learn something new everyday...

  4. Wow, those patterns are really advanced (technologically) looking! I think the modern pattern companies could take a hint from the way things used to be done, and it wouldn't even cost them anymore than it does now.

  5. Very neat! I had no idea. I have several vintage patterns, but I haven't sewn any of them up yet and I don't know that I've actually looked at the pattern pieces yet. Now I'm curious to see if any of mine have lots of details! Thanks for the heads up!

  6. Because I make my living selling these treasures, I love learning more about the history of the pattern companies. And this is the first time I've seen the patents. Thanks so much!

  7. I've only sewn with one unprinted pattern (the 1930's Simplicity blouse I won from you!). Although I was initially terrified, once you sit down with the instructions and realise what all the punched holes mean, it makes perfect sense. I'm loving this series too Debi, thanks for all the effort you've put into it. x

  8. I agree with Jane. Once you actually sew with an unprinted pattern, you realise they're no more difficult to use than the printed ones. In fact I prefer them because you can use the holes & notches to mark up your fabric far more easily than with printed patterns.

    The instructions on the pattern pieces is something that threw me the first time I came across it. I couldn't understand why a pattern piece was such a poor fit until I discovered that it included ease (only mentioned on the pattern piece, not the instructions!).

    Also, I've only just discovered, thanks to you, that the numbers on the seamlines are the order in which to sew the pieces. Duh! I need to look at my pattern pieces more carefully!

  9. I love this series, it totally brings out the sewing nerd in me :) Thank you so much for pulling all this information together!

  10. Great post, Debbie! Thanks for sharing it and I'm happy to have shared a bit in your research :)

    I've sewn with lots and lots of different patterns but the ones from the 1900s to the 1910s are certainly MUCH more difficult than ones from 30s and 40s patterns. Not only is the fit very different (hello, corsetry ;) ), but the notches are somewhat different and the ease is quite different- and there may or may not be seam allowance or marking on the pieces! Takes some getting used to but I <3 them! McCall certainly had the superior product, in my opinion :)

  11. This was really interesting to read - especially since I have both printed and unprinted patterns. I will have to recheck the 1920's pattern I picked. It was so cheap I didn't bother to unfold all of the pieces and I assumed there were no instructions since it only included tissue paper. Perhaps a second look with reveal instructions.

  12. This is fascinating! I've never seen a pattern in the flesh that was older than the 40s.

  13. Keep these coming! I have only worked with re-issues from the 30s, and actual vintage dating only to the 60s. This series is a treat.

  14. wow.Love that 20s dress pattern.It is exactly what I have been looking for.Any chance you could copy it if I paid the postage?pretty please:)If so lease mail me at my blogger email address.Thanks:)


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