The notion that some of the best ideas are developed at the dining room table is certainly true in the pattern world. Can you imagine a world without patterns? Ellen Butterick used to live in that world. Back in 1863, there were patterns but they were all one-size. The user had to reduce or enlarge it to the size needed. While cutting out a dress on her dining room table, she wished there were patterns made in standard sizes to eliminate the sizing process.
Her husband, Ebenezer, was a tailor. When she told him her idea that night, he knew it was a revolutionary one. The next step was to decide the best way to provide such patterns and how to package them. First, he tried cardboard templates. The problem with them is that they did not store well or package well. If you’ve ever tried to fold thick cardboard, you can certainly understand why. After trying lighter weight papers of various sorts, the Buttericks decided on tissue paper. Its light weight made it easy to fold and refold, store, package, and mail.
Once the paper had been decided, the venture became a busy home based business! The first Butterick patterns were cut and folded in their Massachusetts home. The business quickly outgrew the house, though, so they expanded into the house next door. The business grew and grew, and the Buttericks moved the business as needed to allow for that growth. The fascinating thing about their business growth is that these early patterns were just for men’s and boys’ clothing. The company did not make women’s dress patterns until 1866. The dresses were such good sellers that they began selling patterns for women’s skirts, jackets and capes.
Butterick’s contribution to the world of sewing is phenomenal. First of all, it gave people who did not have special training or natural sewing ability the capacity to sew. Many people could follow a pattern, even if they had not been sewing for a long time. Next, the affordability of the patterns took clothing making into the masses. Because of patterns, sewing was no longer for people who could afford the training. Patterns also made wasted fabric less likely. Suddenly, with sized patterns, sewing for the family was no longer intimidating.
Consider, too, the style possibilities that were available because of patterns. Most people who sewed, took apart old clothing to use as a cutting guide for new clothing. That means that styles did not change very much. Patterns, however, allowed people to sew the latest styles.
Just like people used old clothing as patterns, they used old quilts the same way. By taking apart an old quilt block, the quilter had a pattern from which to work. They often made templates that were stored for future use or shared with other quilters.
Patterns have come a long way since those early days. In addition to having a full range of clothing patterns for all sizes and genders, you can find patterns for your pets! Of course, patterns don’t stop with clothing. These days, you can find patterns for all sorts of crafts (including quilting, naturally)!
McCall’s bought the Butterick company in 2001, combining two powerhouses of sewing and crafting. The McCall’s quilting division is one you are probably familiar with. In addition to quilting patterns that you have probably used, you’ve likely gained some inspiration from McCall’s Quilting magazine. It carries unique patterns and quilt designs, along with information that helps quilters develop their skills and techniques in a full range of quilting methods. The development of those first patterns back in 1863 started it all and the idea started at the dining table!