In 1863, Ebenezer Butterick changed the face of home sewing forever by creating the first graded sewing pattern. The company he founded continues to lead the way in make-it-yourself fashions 150 years later.
The year was 1863. Snowflakes drifted silently past the windowpane covering the hamlet of Sterling, Massachusetts in a blanket of white. Ellen Butterick brought out her sewing basket and spread out the contents on the big, round dining room table. From a piece of sky blue gingham, she was fashioning a dress for her baby son Howard. Carefully, she laid out her fabric, and using wax chalk, began drawing her design.
Later that evening, Ellen remarked to her husband, a tailor, how much easier it would be if she had a pattern to go by that was the same size as her son. There were patterns that people could use as a guide, but they came in one size. The sewer had to grade (enlarge or reduce) the pattern to the size that was needed. Ebenezer considered her idea: graded patterns. The idea of patterns coming in sizes was revolutionary. He experimented, creating heavy cardboard templates; it quickly became evident that the heavy cardboard patterns were not suitable for folding or shipping throughout the country. Ebenezer tried lighter papers and discovered that tissue paper was ideal to work with and much easier to package.
The first graded sewing patterns were cut and folded by members of the Butterick family and sold from their home in Sterling, Massachusetts. In no time at all, they needed extra space and expanded into an adjoining house. As business continued to grow, they moved into a larger house in Fitchburg, Massachusetts and in one year, set up a business at 192 Broadway in New York City.
In the beginning, Butterick specialized in men's and boys' clothing. Not until 1866, after three years of operation, did they begin to manufacture women's dress patterns. They were, of course, enthusiastically received, and Butterick expanded his women's line to include dresses, jackets and capes in 13 sizes, and skirts in five sizes.
The effects of Butterick patterns were significant and far-reaching. Before the introduction of the graded pattern for home sewing, fashion was a phenomenon exclusive to ladies of high standing. Who else could afford to pay for the latest styles from Paris, New York and other fashion centers? Most women took apart old, worn out dresses to use as a model for a new one. With the advent of Butterick patterns, not only did dressmaking become much easier, fashion became available to men, women, and children of all classes all over the world.
In the late 1860s, the heroism of Garibaldi, a soldier in faraway Italy, inspired many boys to adopted a style of clothing that mimicked his uniform. The Garibaldi Suit became as popular to the youth of the time as T-shirt and jeans are today. Butterick's patterns for the Garibaldi Suit sparked a great increase in pattern sales and carried the name of Butterick into households across the United States.
In 1867, Butterick introduced its first magazine, Ladies Quarterly of Broadway Fashions, and in 1868 added a monthly bulletin, Metropolitan. Like the Butterick Home catalog and Sewing Today magazine, these publications were a showcase of Butterick patterns and the latest fashion news. Also, they enabled ladies all over the world to buy patterns from their home through the mail. Orders flooded in from distant cities, towns and villages; where the arrival of the Butterick pattern was an eagerly anticipated event.
In 1873, Butterick created a new publication called The Delineator. Originally, The Delineator was intended simply to market Butterick patterns. However, it quickly expanded into a general interest magazine for women in the home. As readership skyrocketed, The Delineator continually gained revenues and prestige. By the turn of the century, it was considered to be the finest women's service and fashion magazine.
By 1876, E. Butterick & Co. had 100 branch offices and 1,000 agencies throughout the United States and Canada. Butterick patterns had also made their debut in Paris, London, Vienna and Berlin. In Paris, the international center of high fashion, more patterns were sold from the Butterick Shop than anywhere else in the world. Butterick patterns not only met the fastidious requirements of the Parisienne, they were praised by royalty all over Europe.
In 1903, due to greatly expanded business, the company designed and constructed the Butterick building on Spring Street and MacDougal Street in downtown Manhattan. At that time, Butterick was one of the largest manufacturing concerns in the world and the largest publishing plant in the United States, with the exception of the government printing office in Washington D.C. With 16 stories, and huge skylights that soared two stories higher still, it was by far the tallest structure in the area.
Inside the Butterick building is where merchandisers, fresh from the European designer showings, brought ideas. New styles were made up in muslins and modeled for designers, and management. Then, each style was scrutinized for line, silhouette and fashion; and also for practicality and suitability to the Butterick customer. After many, many hours of consideration, the seasons styles were chosen, approved and sent into production.
Patterns were created, and graded into sizes, printed on tissue paper, cut, folded and inserted into envelopes complete with instruction sheets. Garments were constructed, sketched with pen and ink and engraved for colored fashion plates. Magazine articles and advertisements were concepted, written and put into type. Billions of pages were printed, gathered together, bound and trimmed. And finally, all those magazines and patterns were bundled, sorted and shipped to consumers, retailers and newsstands worldwide.
In 1904, Butterick received an average of 29,762 letters each week with questions, suggestions and ideas. It was quickly evident that listening to the customer was the best way to ensure a successful product. Because of this, Butterick established a special department for correspondence that continues to operate and provide a vital link with customers today.
With the advent of the 20th century, The Butterick Publishing Co. (Ltd.) was providing contemporary women with even more than home sewing patterns and fashion trends. Through The Delineator, Butterick was chronicling women's worldwide activities in universities and professions, in municipal affairs, and in reforms of national scope. With a series of outstanding editors, department heads with expertise in their field, and distinguished contributors of fiction and nonfiction, The Delineator was a high-quality magazine for intelligent, progressive women.
In the early 1920s, Butterick introduced an enlarged, improved instruction sheet. Butterick patterns "Including The Deltor" (named for the first and last three letters of Delineator) were clearer and easier to use than ever before. Consumers responded and sales rose higher still.
Later in that decade, an economic depression began to affect American consumers. This phenomenon spurred a boost in pattern sales. Faced with a decrease in spending power, people, more than ever before, were turning to Butterick for fashion.
In 1929, the Great Depression hit, and stock for the Butterick Publishing Co. (Ltd.) tumbled with the rest of the market. Like many other large corporations, Butterick felt the crash. However, Butterick continued to produce and sell patterns. Home sewing patterns were, and still are, the backbone of the company. Butterick patterns continued to grow, bringing the company through the Great Depression and into the future.
The days following the Great Depression were exciting ones for the Butterick Co., Inc. Throughout the nation, the road ahead was a difficult climb, calling for hard work and plenty of determination. At Butterick, people acted as a team, and a fresh, enthusiastic spirit was generated throughout. With everybody's shoulder to the wheel, efforts were concentrated on the production, sale and improvement of home sewing patterns. Results were soon evident. Butterick quickly resumed its path of growth and expansion.
In the 1930s, worldwide sales of Butterick patterns attained new heights. The company responded by instituting new sales offices and service branches throughout the United States. The increased international market also created a need for foreign subsidiary branches. Butterick first established manufacturing centers in Toronto, Canada and London, England (later moved to Havant). Offices in France and Spain followed; and a plant in Australia and later a distribution center in New Zealand were sent into operation. These moves brought Butterick closer to more consumers and ensured first rate service around the globe.
In 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war, which was immediately done. World War II consumed vast amounts of domestic resources and, as time went on, had a deep effect on the pattern industry. Prompted by the need to save material for uniforms and other wartime equipment, the War Production Board in Washington evolved a comprehensive plan for limited yardage in clothing. The home sewing industry formed a committee, headed by Butterick's President Leonard Tingle, and negotiated with the government to keep restrictions to a workable limit. The committee did a fine job; and although the home sewing industry could not be classified as essential, the growing shortage of ready-to-wear caused a sharp increase in the demand for patterns.
Butterick responded with a collection of smart designs that conformed both in spirit and letter to the War Board's regulations. In the world of fashion, a new, slim silhouette developed with narrower skirts. Shorter lengths were adopted for both jackets and skirts; and details, such as buttons, trims and appliques were kept to a minimum. Butterick focused on classic styles that would last: suits, coat-dresses, shirt-waist dresses, and dirndls. And in the interest of conservation, patterns had fewer pieces and required much less material.
By 1945, Butterick's sales volume had expanded. To keep up with the increase in production the company needed more room for manufacturing, stock and shipping at its New York headquarters. Because of the sheer magnitude of space necessary, it was decided to move these operations outside of the metropolitan area. This way, Butterick could build a modern, streamlined plant set up on a single level. After surveying many possibilities, Butterick chose, Altoona (located in the geographical center of Pennsylvania) for its new plant.
In 1948, Butterick purchased advanced printing equipment for the new manufacturing plant. To begin with, the company installed two new presses specially designed to print markings on the pattern tissue. The 'printed pattern' was the most significant improvement of home sewing patterns since its invention. What a joy it was for the home sewer to have bold dots, notches and lines replacing the little holes that previously marked darts, matching points and foldlines! Next, Butterick introduced new four-color printing presses to bring full color to the monthly counter catalogs and pattern envelopes, greatly improving their quality and making them more lifelike. Shortly thereafter the first black and white editorial photographs began to appear in the catalog, and in 1950 the first full-color photograph appeared on the catalog cover.
During the 1950s, Butterick experienced a phenomenon it had not known since the 'Garibaldi Suit' of the late 1860s. It was pattern 6015, and it was dubbed the 'walk-away' dress, because it was so easy you could "Start it after breakfast... walk-away in it for luncheon!". It's simple yet flattering wrap design and easy construction were what made it so popular. Sales of the pattern were so great, that at one point manufacturing of all other patterns ceased, and only the 'walk-away' dress was produced until all back-orders for this dress could be filled.
In 1961, Butterick licensed the name and trademark "Vogue Patterns" from Conde Nast Publications, Inc. and purchased their pattern division. Vogue Patterns began when Rosa Payne strolled into the offices of Vogue magazine in 1905 and asked them to produce a pattern she had made. According to Edna Woolman Chase, then editor-in-chief of American, British and French Vogue, the editors happened to be in a receptive mood and agreed to her request. Little did either woman know that this minor event would result in the development of what is the leader in designer original patterns.
In the early days Vogue magazine's readers purchased a pattern by clipping a coupon and mailing it in along with fifty cents. Mrs. Payne's pattern was hand-cut on her dining room table, and size was not an issue, since the only one available was based on a bust measurement of 36 inches (91.5cm).
Not long after Rosa Payne's design appeared in the pages of Vogue, the magazine was purchased by the brilliant young publisher, Conde Nast. Mr. Nast had a clear idea of what he wanted a fashion magazine to be, and he set out to make Vogue the leader in its field. In 1914, he appointed Mrs. Chase editor, and under her editorship and Mr. Nast's ownership, Vogue became a publication whose influence in the international world of high fashion was unparalleled.
The growth of Vogue Patterns mirrored Vogue's remarkable success. Demand for the number of pattern styles became so strong, a separate department was formed. "Vogue Pattern Department" was a feature in the pages of the monthly magazine, and by 1913, when the name was changed to "Vogue Pattern Service," it comprised a major segment of the publication.
In 1914, World War I spread through Europe, destroying fabric mills and cutting off supplies. The then-thriving Paris couture business came to a virtual halt, and suddenly New York City became the new center of fashion for an expanding circle of American society women.
In that same year, Conde Nast positioned the Vogue Pattern Company to take advantage of this turn of events, establishing it as a separate business. For the first time, Vogue patterns were carried in stores in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and London. Vogue patterns showrooms also opened in major cities across the country, where women could seek fashion and fabric advice, as well as purchase patterns. By 1917, the patterns were selling in major department stores, including B. Altman in New York and Bullock's in Los Angeles, as well as in specialty shops in Canada.
By the time the war ended, fashion had undergone a significant change. Many of the women who had replaced men in the work force during these years had acquired a taste for financial and personal independence. In the early 1920s, fashionable young women were developing an interest in clothes that were simple and practical, and the Paris couture was back in business, dominated by new designers such as, Coco Chanel and Jean Patou who catered to these daring new women.
Vogue magazine once again covered the couture collections, whose simplicity in both style and construction were the perfect inspiration for the growing ranks of home sewers. By May of 1920, the Vogue Patterns business had become so extensive that the patterns no longer appeared in Vogue magazine, but were featured instead in their own publication. Published six times a year, the Vogue Pattern Book featured over 350 patterns, each retailing between 65 cents (for blouses and skirts) and $1 (for a full-length dress or coat).
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, home sewing's popularity allowed Vogue Patterns to continue to expand its operation, both domestically and abroad. A successful British edition of the pattern book lead to the establishment of a London manufacturing and publishing facility. Several years later, a similar subsidiary opened in Australia, as did pattern distribution offices in cities across the United States.
While Vogue Pattern Book featured "couturier" patterns as early as 1937, these patterns were not exact reproductions of actual styles. But in 1949, Vogue Patterns announced "A New Pattern Service—Paris Original Models Chosen From The Collections." The cover of that year's April/May pattern book showed photographs of the styles chosen from the eight featured countries, among them Balmain, Schiaparelli, Lanvin, Jaques Fath.
It was the first time originals from the Paris couture had been duplicated in pattern form. Vogue Patterns became the only pattern company licensed to produce designs from the world leading couturiers, establishing a precedent which continues today. The most sought-after designs were from French designers until the mid-1970s when Italian and English designers, including the popular Bellville-Sassoon, were added. However styles by Yves Saint Laurent and Hubert de Givenchy were still among the company's best sellers.
During the 1960s fashion's trendsetters emulated the minimal elegance of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. American designers, with their clean-lined approach to dressing women, began to dazzle the press and public. Their rising importance led to the introduction in 1967 of Vogue's "Americana" patterns, a collection of signature styles which include Oscar de la Renta, Teal Traina, and Chester Weinberg. The collection featured America's most successful and creative designers at the time, who became leaders in pattern sales in this category. Customer favorites included Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Anne Klein, Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass, and Oscar de la Renta.
With the launch of the "Vogue Individualist" program in 1984, Vogue Patterns created a showcase for emerging young designers whose international style appealed to a more fashion-forward customer. Many of these designers, including Issey Miyake, Isaac Mizrahi and Claude Montana, later joined the ranks of fashions established innovators.
In 1990, "Vogue Individualist" was replaced by "Vogue Attitudes," a program which introduced home sewers to the current generation of fashion talent. Designers like Anna Sui, Byron Lars and Isabel Toledo had a unique approach to addressing the needs of their specific customers, and were attuned to the demands of busy, clothes-conscious women of the '90s.
Vogue Patterns had started in 1905 as a regular mail-order feature in Vogue magazine. The feature steadily gained popularity and, before long, a magazine (now Vogue Patterns magazine) was created exclusively to market the patterns. When Butterick took over the manufacture and sale of Vogue patterns, catalog and magazine, they were careful to maintain separate merchandisers, designers, artists and editors. In this way, Butterick and Vogue Patterns remained distinct; each product line retaining its unique identity.
In the early part of the 1980s, Butterick Co. saw a resurgence of popularity in handcrafting and knitting. At first, Vogue Patterns magazine offered readers knitting instructions for original sweater designs. Consumer response was so overwhelming, that hand-crafting knits became a regular feature in the magazine. Because of this, in 1982, Vogue Knitting International was revived. (It had ceased publishing in the late 1960s.) Today, with a continual offering of innovative styles, comprehensive instructions and plenty of how-to information, Vogue Knitting still enjoys a tremendous following.
In 2001 The McCall Pattern Company acquired Butterick and Vogue Patterns and along with McCall's patterns continues to offer the most advanced, highest quality patterns, catalogs and magazines to keep up with your changing needs. That goal has been a key factor in success, and will continue to be important to future growth.