Tag Archives: history

(Western) History

Do you ever try to put history in context with other things, the stuff they didn’t teach you in school? I’ve tried to put together a basic timeline that includes a little history, a little art, some books, some movies, major historical figures, and some patterns to help put everything in perspective. It is not exhaustive, and admittedly it’s pretty anglocentric — I’m going to remedy that ASAP. There’s so much more I need to add, but in order to make it readable, I had to be pretty selective about what I included.

My goal was to help you, as a costumer/cosplayer, get a better feel for the time and place your costume was from, if it’s coming from a time not now. To be honest, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for myself for a long time, so finding a site that enabled me to do it and share it was pretty fantastic. I hope you find it interesting and useful in your costuming!

It’s pretty enormous, spanning a couple years — beginning in 330CE with Constantinople becoming the capitol of the Eastern Roman Empire and goes all the way to 2263 to The Fifth Element. It can’t be embedded, so it will take you away from Sew Your Cosplay.


A Brief History of Paper Patterns

History, so long as it’s not someone making you memorize dates and places for a test (that you’ll just forget ten minutes after the exam is over), is a fascinating and interesting thing. At least I find it so. YMMV.

When I started searching for vintage hat patterns and read descriptions of “perforated patterns,” I really didn’t have a clear idea of what that meant. Modern sewing patterns come on large sheets of that irritating tissue that’s impossible to fold back into the envelope. You cut out the pieces to the size you need and pin them to the fabric according to the grainlines indicated on the pattern pieces, cut the fabric, and off you go. Perforated patterns came in envelopes, too, but the pieces were pre-cut. The “perforated” part was the dots and letters indicating which piece it was; no other markings, no grainlines, nothing.

Scanned on black paper to show perforations.

The instructions were often not as helpful. (You think they’re bad now? Ha!) But I think more women had basic sewing knowledge from their mothers or home economics classes than people do now, so perhaps those ladies from 1943 (when those pieces were made; Simplicity #4924) didn’t need as much instruction as I do.

So when were the first commercial paper patterns made?

  • Ebenezer Butterick made the first graded pattern in 1863.
  • James McCall founded the McCall Pattern Company in 1870.
  • Vogue Magazine sold patterns beginning in 1899.
  • McCall’s sold the first printed pattern in 1919.
  • The Simplicity Pattern Company started in 1927.
  • DuBarry Patterns became available in 1931.
  • The Hollywood Pattern Company began in 1932.
  • The Advance Pattern Company began in 1933.
  • Simplicity sold printed patterns starting in 1947.
  • Butterick sold printed patterns starting in 1948.
  • Burda began including patterns in their magazines in 1952.

In 1863, Ebenezer Butterick invented the first commercial graded (where you could size a garment up or down) pattern. He was a tailor, and according to the Butterick website, he was inspired by comments his wife made while she was designing something for his baby son. The first patterns were only for men and boys, but three years later, patterns for women became available. He created the magazines Ladies Quarterly of Broadway Fashions (1867) and The Delineator (1873) to help market his patterns. In 1948, they began manufacturing printed patterns. Then 4-color printing was added to the envelopes and catalogs, then black and white photos were added to the catalogs, then full-color photos appeared on the catalog cover in 1950 for the first time.

James McCall established the McCall Pattern Company in 1870. A monthly magazine, The Queen (1873), was largely a means of advertising patterns, and was later renamed McCall’s Magazine and then shortened to simply McCall’s. They began selling printed patterns in 1919. By 1932, all of their pattern envelopes had full-color illustrations.

Vogue Magazine was founded in 1892, and sold patterns starting in 1899 via the “Vogue Pattern Department” with a coupon clipped from the magazine and 50¢ after Rosa Payne (who was a pattern designer) approached editor Josephine Redding about having a weekly article about sewing patterns. Vogue was purchased by Condé Nast in 1909. By 1913, Nast had made Vogue a major fashion magazine and the patterns were a significant part of it; the pattern department was now the “Vogue Pattern Service.” By 1920, the Vogue Patterns business was so large that it outgrew the fashion magazine, and were featured in their own, Vogue Pattern Book, published six times a year with over 350 patterns in each issue. Hollywood Pattern Company was started by Condé Nast in 1932, and continued production through the end of WWII.

The Simplicity Pattern Company began making patterns in 1927, with the goal of making simpler, less expensive patterns. After 1946, all of their patterns were printed. DuBarry Patterns were made by Simplicity exclusively for Woolworth’s from 1931-1940. In the mid-1980’s, Simplicity acquired the British pattern company, New Look, and maintains an office in the UK.

The Advance Pattern Company was founded in 1933 and was only sold at JC Penney stores, continuing production through 1966 when the company was sold.

In 1950, the German fashion magazine Burda Moden was founded, and in 1952 they began including paper patterns with every issue. In 2013, the US version, Burda Style, began. Simplicity has a distribution agreement with Burda patterns.

In 1961, Butterick licensed the name and trademark “Vogue Patterns” from Condé Nast Publications, Inc., and bought their pattern division. In 2001, the McCall Pattern Company purchased Butterick and Vogue.

Kwik-Sew was founded in 1967 by Kerstin Martensson with the idea of being for “real people” and for all levels of sewing ability. It was acquired by McCalls in 2011.

So there you have it, a very brief history of paper patterns! It’s not exhaustive, and there’s so many pattern makers that got left out, but these are the ones we’re all familiar with today.

Going to the Faire?

Tim the Enchanter’s not quite finished, but I’ve been sick as a dog and haven’t been able to finish the accessories. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the Renaissance festival season. 

Forsooth! Festival season is upon us! Depending on what part of the U.S. you’re in, anyway. In the warmer parts of the country, it’s already started; those of us still in sweatshirts have some time to sew our garb.


The Renaissance covers a lot of ground, historically, beginning in Italy late in the 1300s and and continuing into the 1600s. It was quite literally a rebirth for Europe, devastated by the plague — the Black Death may have wiped out as much of 60% of the European population from 1346-1353. Globally, a hundred million people or more died from the pandemic, which is thought to have begun in central Asia and traveled west along the Silk Road.

Since the Renaissance covered so broad a time period, and all of Europe, the clothing didn’t look the same in 1450 Italy as it did in 1550 Germany or 1650 England. Most Ren faires are set around the late Elizabethan period, but unless you are actually working at the faire and have a strict dress code to adhere to, that may not be so much a concern for you. (If you are working at the faire, as a performer or a vendor, check to see how strict they are with period correctness. Some faires are sticklers for that — no modern fasteners or fabrics.)

Another thing to consider is that a lot of these festivals are in the summer, and Elizabethan garb has lots of layers, especially for women. There was a “Little Ice Age” happening at the time, temperatures in Europe were cooler so it made sense for them to wear all those layers. Be sensible, if you don’t have to wear all those layers, skip them. Check the forecast before you go, if it’s going to be a hot day, leave off the petticoat. Or if you start to get too hot, slip it off and take it back to the car. Don’t sacrifice the fabulousness of your costume for your health! (Been there, ladies; trust me, heat exhaustion is not fun!) That goes for you gentlemen, too — yes, you look amazing in that doublet and cape. Take it off before you pass out. Thank you. This has been a public service announcement from Sew Your Cosplay.

If you’re sewing your own costume/garb for the faire, you’re probably also considering class. Peasant class is always the easiest, and certainly least expensive, route. Roughly woven wool or linen fabric dyed from plants would include blue from woad or indigo, yellow from onion skins, red from madder or the insect cochineal, orange from safflower, etc. Peasants would have little time for embroidery or money to purchase ornamentation for their clothes, so they’d be pretty plain. Simplicity 3519 (views B without the lacing, or D) is ideal for men’s peasant shirts. Simplicity 5582 will take ladies from peasantry to upper middle class, depending on the fabric and ornamentation used. Men, up to the the gentry, would have needed Butterick 5936 for the pouches to carry their things, most especially the water bottle carrier for today’s faire-goer when you don’t want your plastic water bottle ruining the look of your costume. Ladies carried simple baskets to hold their stuff.

Merchants or tradesmen would have slightly better fabric, but still rough. They’d have more ornamentation, and the fit would be better — clothing wouldn’t be so sack-like. Since this is a more prosperous group, they’d have more than one set of clothes, so their clothing colors would be a bit brighter since they didn’t get washed as often, but the colors themselves would be the same. However, because indigo was so readily available and inexpensive, it was a color worn by servants and apprentices — social climbers would never have worn indigo so as not to be associated with the working class. Simplicity 4059 would be an excellent pattern for men’s garb for this class.

Upper “middle class” are highly skilled tradesman, gentry, or lower nobility — landowners. Shirts and chemises would be linen or cotton, with ruffles at cuffs and collars. Wool and linen are still used, but are more finely woven. They’d have just a bit of silk satin and velvet, too. Their colors were brighter jewel tones and trim was more ornate, but only the wealthiest members of this group could afford gold and silver trim — and pay the sumptuary taxes that went with it. Simplicity 3809 is a step up the social ladder for ladies, and depending on the fabric and colors, this could be used for gentry or nobility, while Burda’s 7171 is more limited to the nobility.

The nobility are certainly the most colorful and fun to costume, and more expensive, then and now. Silk satin, damask brocade, velvet, finely woven wool and linen, and even Egyptian or Indian cotton in small amounts were used by this class. The colors were bright — but still limited to what could be achieved by natural dyes. And remember: purple is exclusive to royalty! Jeweled embroidery is abundant and the overall effect is opulent. Burda’s 6888 is an excellent example of a slash-and-puff jerkin, with an opulent coordinating doublet in 6887.


For the Silk Road aspect of the Ren Faire, Simplicity 5359 (view B), or Simplicity 2158 and 2159 (designed to go together), are close to what might have been worn by dancers at the time. (Ghawazee coats are 19th century, not 17th. The Ottoman entari coat is similar, and more “period correct,” without the keyhole in the front for the bust.) Again, remember that  colors would have been limited to what natural dyes could produce if you’re trying to stay at least within shouting distance of history: orange, golden yellow, red, brown, blue… not green. (Green is the color of Islam, and dancers would not have worn it to dance in; that would have been blasphemous.) Also: no coin bras, no beaded fringe, no giant yarn tassels (those were worn by camels, not people). You want to balance the historical accuracy with your visibility, freedom of movement and comfort, and audience expectations. If you have friends who dance at faires, you might ask what works best for them.

There is certainly a blending of cultures happening at the Renaissance faires. I’ve seen belly dancers, Klingons, faeries, walking trees and royalty interacting with “everyday” people as though nothing unusual was happening at all. What’s not to love about them? I think my favorite memory of being at a Ren faire was getting caught in a downpour, and everyone ran for the nearest shop to get out of the rain. We were all so crowded, there was no “personal space” to be had, and even though the shower lasted for quite some time, the mood remained quite jovial. (It probably helped that it was fairly early in the day, and not at the end of the day, when everyone was exhausted…) Then the sun came out, and we all trooped off, avoiding mud puddles as we could — it was the best day!

For further reading: 
Elizabethan Costuming for the Years 1550-1580 by Janet Winter and Carolyn Savoy is an amazing reference.

The Renlist — “The easiest way to find Renaissance and other fairs near you.”
Renaissance Magazine — they also have a page with a list of faires, but there’s lots more info

A Note about Dating

If you’ve browsed the store, and we hope you have, you may be wondering about the dating of the historic patterns. I wanted to categorize them in a way I thought the majority of people would be familiar with. If I’m using “Victorian” as a timeframe, I want to be consistent and continue within the English monarchy (for the most part) as my point of reference.

For easy reference, here’s how we’re defining time:

  • Middle Ages 400CE-1558
  • Renaissance 1400-1600
  • Stuart 1603-1714
  • Georgian 1714-1837, Regency 1811-1820
  • Victorian 1837-1901
  • (American) Civil War 1861-1865
  • Pioneer 1867-1885
  • Belle Époque 1871-1914
  • Edwardian 1901-1914
  • Jazz Age 1920-1929
  • Retro/Vintage (After 1930)

There is some overlap. You will find that some patterns will be tagged with more than one thing, where it’s appropriate. That’s especially true when it’s not clear what time period a costume should belong to.

Not all of the historical patterns are accurate in their design, they are costumes, after all, and designed for home sewers. I have done my best to point out inaccuracies where I saw them in case you want to stay as historically accurate in your costume as possible. Of course, if you’re doing Victorian Sailor Moon, “period correct” is probably not a concern, in which case, carry on! (And please share pictures — that’s a mashup I’d love to see.)

For my references, I used :
The Chronicle of Western Fashion From Ancient Times to the Present Day, by John Peacock (Abrams, 1991)
Survey of Historic Costume, Third Edition, by Phyllis Tortora and Keith Eubank (Fairchild Publications, 1998)
Elizabethan Costuming for the Years 1550-1580, by Janet Winter and Carolyn Savoy (Other Times Publications, 1987)
and Ye Olde Wikipedia, by everyone (taken with a grain of salt, 2015)

We want you to be able to find what you’re looking for. I hope this helps you do that. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions!