When I took a close look at this pattern for an evening coat, which dates to 1908 or later, I gained a new respect for home stitchers and dressmakers of my grandmothers’ era. I’m horrified by what this pattern does not mention or include. (Linings? Interfacing? Hems? Detailed instructions….?)
Here are all the sewing instructions from the back of the envelope:
When Butterick and other companies began to include an instruction sheet early in the 20th century — they were called by many names, such as Butterick’s “Deltor” or McCall’s “Printo Gravure” — home sewing became a lot easier.
This McCall coat pattern from 1928 was printed with cutting and stitching lines, and included the Printo Gravure instruction sheet.
With earlier patterns, the only instructions you got were the ones that fit on the outside of the envelope which the unprinted pattern came in. It was not usually a very big envelope, either, so the print was hard to read.
On this early 1900’s – 1910’s McCall evening coat pattern, all the instructions supplied for cutting and sewing don’t even fill the back of the envelope.
Unprinted patterns were usually perforated (as if by a hole punch), so the pieces — pre-cut at the factory — were marked A, B, C, or II, III, IV, (or B and F, like this one) with a series of small punchholes. But the wise dressmaker immediately marked the front of each piece with a pencil to prevent accidentally using them wrong side up.
This pattern did not assign one letter per piece, but just marked them B (back,) C (collar) or F (front.) The small piece marked F is the sleeve front; the small piece marked B is the sleeve back.
Just as modern patterns offer variations (View A, View B, etc.,) this pattern can be cut in different styles.
However, when you look closely at the front illustrations, there appears to be a pattern piece not included. The wrap version of the coat has a lapel, but the illustration shows that a seam is needed to extend the Center Front. There’s no pattern piece illustrated or mentioned. [Correction 9/5/2015: There is no piece missing — problem solved by Brooke. We’re seeing the underside of the collar– see comments below.]
The seam connecting the sleeve to the coat is not illustrated, either. There is no mention of a lining, but the coat could not look like this without one.
The dressmaker who used this pattern had to know a lot more than a stitcher needs to know today.
Count Your Blessings . . . .
Modern patterns tell us not only the yardage needed for the garment but also the yardage for linings and interfacing, plus notions like zippers and shoulderpads, and suggested fabrics. We’re used to illustrations of each step, not merely verbal instructions. As a beginning stitcher, I would have been completely bewildered when I found that the collar piece didn’t line up with the coat front. I wouldn’t have realized that the coat needed a lining or facings (not included or mentioned.) And surely the version with a collar could use interfacing. Looking back, I realize that I learned a lot about sewing from following illustrated pattern instructions.
So, three cheers for Ebenezer Butterick — often credited with the pattern instruction sheet as we know it today — and all the companies who perfected the printed pattern. You can read more about vintage patterns in this article by Lizzie Bramlett for Collector’s Weekly (click here.)
See More Evening Wraps circa 1910:
These evening wraps from the same era are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum:
You can see more evening wraps at Every Little Counts (click here)
[All pattern images courtesy of RememberedSummers, an Ebay seller.]
11 responses to “Early 1900’s Evening Coat Pattern”
lovely evening coats and so interesting to see the evolution of the instructions.
Marfy patterns, as you know, also have no written instructions, only letters printed on the pattern pieces to match seams (i.e.., E to E, A to A, etc.). They are intended for the “advanced sewer,” who also has to figure out yardages, linings, interfacings, etc. One Marfy pattern I used also assumed I would know how to apply a band on the bottom of a sleeve. Fortunately I did know how to do it, but I was surprised that not even a pattern piece for it was included. However, Marfy designs are wonderful just as those early 1900’s evening coat designs were.
I didn’t know about Marfy patterns — so you taught me a new name. Thanks! When I was a home stitcher in the 60’s, friends warned me that Burda patterns had no seam allowances (and that the fit had less ease than American patterns), but in a professional shop, where we’re used to adding our own seam allowances to the patterns we draft (definitely not 5/8″ everywhere,) Burda patterns make perfect sense. (Still, I’ve never had occasion to use one….)
Fascinating. What would they think of PDF patterns?
What would they think of printers and the internet? I just looked up Scotch tape (one source says it was the first transparent tape) — invented in 1930.
I was given an old pattern for an apron. I took it out to give the matching mop hat a go…. the instructions had me baffled (or lack of) so I put it away for another day………………
Interesting how the lapel is folded over to create that extra little flap on the front of the coat. Vintage patterns are always so fascinating and a bit of a challenging puzzle!
The most recent dress pattern I pulled out to trace was from 1957 when they were still sometimes using two notches to indicate the front sleeve and one for the back – that always throws me because I’m so used to the modern standards being reversed. I was also disappointed with how they over simplified the construction on my pattern, so of course, I made it more complicated. (I thought it was some clever point sewing from the illustration but it was just multiple unnecessary layers and loose flaps.)
Ah — you have solved the “missing piece problem” — I’m seeing the collar’s reverse side, made from the coat fabric…. I did copy the pattern in miniature and play with the collar piece — but didn’t find the right way to fold it at that little oblique angle. Got it to work this morning, thanks to you!
Pattern instructions range from really clear to “what were they thinking?” I haven’t sewed in ages, so am out of date, but it was years before I realized I could put the zipper in the back of a dress before sewing the side seams — because some pattern company had once made installing the zipper the last step when I was learning.
Oh, glad I solved the collar problem for you! =)
I always found the zipper as the very first step most modern instructions recommend to be an issue in the end and I remember being annoyed that I “had” to do it that way when I was a kid. It wasn’t until I was sewing professionally that I learned you can save it for one of the last steps and fix some minor fitting issues as you install it. Of course, if you make a mockup and know there won’t be anything to adjust, putting the zipper in at any time you want works just fine. There are no real rules in sewing – some ways are just easier than others. And that’s what makes it interesting and fun!
And this really explains why my grandmother, who learned to sew around 1915, always told me that the directions that came with patterns “were for people who do not know what they are doing.”
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