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What is a Dressmaking Pattern?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2018
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Dressmaking patterns may refer to guidance patterns created by student or professional designers that help them create either a single or multiple dresses in a number of sizes. More often, the term pattern is used to discuss paper patterns that are available to people who sew at home. These patterns, which were once exceptionally common as a way of producing and obtaining clothing, have fallen off in popularity with fewer people knowing how to sew, and with the inexpensive nature of many clothing alternatives in stores.

Guides for sewing clothing at home and the first dressmaking pattern types appeared in the mid 19th century, and soon became quite popular. Especially in America, there were noted pattern companies. The earliest were Butterick® and McCall®, and these were later joined by Vogue® and Simplicity®. Other less well-known companies also provided dressmaking pattern types, and clothing available could be made for children or adults. Women and children’s clothes often made up most of the selections.

It became common for the dressmaking pattern to be made on tissue paper, usually featuring a range of two to three sizes. Amount of fabric required and fabric recommendations were often printed on the label to capture the particular look desired. Each size corresponded to a set of measurements, and the tissue would be cut along the lines for the particular size. Different pieces of the tissue could be available for cutting out things like sleeves or other details.

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In order to get the right size, the seamstress would pin fabric to the pattern and then cut along the designated lines. Some fabrics required special attention. For instance making sure the right side of the fabric was used was a significant factor.

Once all pieces of the dress pattern were cut out, the pattern or its package featured details on how to combine the pieces in a single garment. Additional sewing might be needed to place button holes, or to add details like ruffles, ruching or other features. If followed correctly by someone gifted at sewing, the dressmaker pattern would often result in a dress or other outfit that fit and looked like the style it represented. Many amateur home sewers can also attest to the fact that ignoring instructions could lead to disasters of ruined fabric and unwearable clothing.

Many girls learned how to use a dressmaking pattern at school in classes like home economics. Recently, a number of high schools have discontinued this trend, but economic difficulties in the late 2000s had many calling for reinstitution of classes that teach basics like sewing. It’s been argued that a generation of Americans has especially lost this useful skill, and that boys and girls should both learn it.

One challenge, though, is that it’s not always the case that creation of garments from a dressmaking pattern saves money. Fabric can be very expensive and may not offer that much in savings. On the other hand, things like wedding dresses can almost be made of higher quality materials for less money, and there are numerous beautiful patterns appealing to brides with a variety of tastes. For those who sew, patterns are still very attractive, since it means people can make clothing they like in the quality level that may not be seen elsewhere; this may be worth extra costs.

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