Different Historical Patterns and Which Ones to Use


The Options

So you have been researching and getting into sewing. There’s this trend on making Regency dresses or you just want to look really good at the Renaissance Fair. You don’t want to take the plunge into drafting or draping something on your dress form so you look into all the different patterns available.

There are 3 major ways to get patterns today. Paper patterns, electronic patterns and book patterns. The easiest out of the three is to buy a paper pattern from a major, well established company like Simplicity or McCalls. The second is to buy a paper pattern from an established historical based company like Truly Victorian.

The first is an Electronic pattern, second is shipped physically from Truly Victorian and the third is a conventional pattern.

From here you can look into Electronic Patterns from Etsy where you download the pattern and print it out yourself. Truly Victorian and other major online pattern companies offer this option as well.

There’s free patterns from blogs or websites that help you through the process of drawing out your own patterns.

And lastly there are the dreaded book patterns. It really isn’t that hard but before I tried it out, I thought it was too daunting and was scared I would completely mess it up.

Paper Patterns

Paper patterns is a loose term. What you get when you buy a pattern from Simplicity or McCalls or any other pattern from a fabric or craft store is going to be full of paper tissue. Thin paper that is easy to rip or tear. I recommend making a copy of the pattern on solid paper or newsprint before cutting into this stuff. It allows you to go back and make different sizes and you aren’t having to mess with the unruly tissue too much.

Simplicity, Butterwick and McCalls offers a lot of great options for the historical seamstress. They have vintage recreation patterns like the pattern review that I recently posted about. They also have collaboration patterns with popular companies and YouTubers. Such as the collaboration between Simplicity and American Duchess as well as McCalls and Angela Clayton. These have an added benefit of getting tips and tricks from the YouTuber videos on the patterns.

Amazon.com: Simplicity 8161 Women's 18th Century Dress Historical Costume  Sewing Pattern, Sizes 14-22: Arts, Crafts & Sewing
Can be found here

I also want to touch on the wonderful independent companies that make paper patterns. I bought a Truly Victorian pattern very early on in my journey learning how to sew and their patterns are easy to follow and are printed on quality paper.

Electronic Patterns

These are mostly sold on Etsy because it’s easy to control the downloads. The files usually come in a .zip format and have instructions on how to print out the pattern.

I have used Truly Victorian’s e-patterns as well as Red Threaded and Black Snail. All three companies are easy to use and cheaper than having a paper pattern sent to you. Saves on shipping and paper.

Their website

There are other e-patterns I’ve bought that are not as accessible so I would recommend reading the reviews and really weighing what you feel you can handle before buying. This also goes with paper patterns, I’ve bought a Butterwick pattern before and got completely lost in deciphering the instructions or even coming across older patterns that just omit valuable information because it’s written for a time period when more people sewed and would automatically know how to do something. Like the instruction ‘sew on the button and button hole where indicated on the pattern.’ What if this is my first pattern and I’ve never sewn a button hole? YouTube saved me from that mess, as well as how to sew in an invisible zipper.

Book Patterns

This was the original, standard way of communicating how to make clothing when the printing press became popular. Before this time, one just took an internship at the appropriate shop and learned all your methods from that specific mentor. There are some very interesting historical primary resources for those that love to get into the historical accuracy of making historical clothing.

I find it interesting but I don’t have much time in shifting through and translating earlier English vernacular nor do I know multiple languages like French so I’ll leave that up to the experts.

I recommend some more recent books that have come out to give more options. American Duchess produced a book, An Eighteenth Century Guide to Dressmaking that is very accessible. They also have videos on how to make paper patterns out of this book which eliminated my anxiety over figuring out all this on my own. Christmas wrapping paper with the 1 inch squares on the back makes this process so easy.

The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking: How to Hand Sew  Georgian Gowns and Wear Them With Style: Stowell, Lauren, Cox, Abby:  9781624144530: Amazon.com: Books
Can be found here for purchase

When you start looking for this material, the first ones to pop up are the Tudor Tailor by Ninya Mikhalia and Jane Malcolm-Davies and Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion. These are secondary resources which means they are modern authors that have taken the primary sources and made patterns out of them. American Duchess’ book is the same but doesn’t have the YouTuber backing attached. They also deal with different Eras of history.

The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress: Ninya Mikhaila,  Jane Malcolm-Davies: 9780896762558: Amazon.com: Books
Can be found here

There are some exceptional reviews on all three books available on amazon and YouTube that really dig into how these books are constructed and how easy it is to make a working pattern out of them.

What I use

I use all three. I feel like patterns are a guide to making your finished product. Making a mock up is always recommended because pattern sizes are usually based upon a body shape that is not yours. Every person’s body is different. American Duchess and other YouTubers have loads of videos on how to do fittings on yourself, others and also how to make a dress form out of your body shape.

With book patterns, you usually only get one size and then there is some kind of instruction on how to alter the pattern to fit you. Some E-patterns allow you to download your specific size but I would still do a quick mock up before hand to adjust certain things. Not every one has a sway back, not everyone has hips proportional to their bust. I’ve had to making the top part of a dress from one size and then ease in the bottom half because it’s a bigger size to fit me.

When you tackle a new way of doing something, you learn from that experience. I feel like trying out how to make a pattern out of a book as given me a better understanding of how patterns are constructed. Next I just have to learn draping and then on to making my own patterns.


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