Welcome to Ricky’s Thoughts on Commercially Available Patterns (which are generally pretty dreadful)!

On Monday (21/09/15) I gave a talk on making menswear from patterns to the Dressmakers Social here in Brighton.
Here’s the section on patterns.

First, A brief history of the paper pattern.

The first paper patterns were designed by Ellen Curtis Demorest. Starting in 1860, these patterns were sold through a magazine, Mme. Demorest’s Mirror of Fashion. They were a single size.


Patterns with tailor’s markings were first produced in the 1940s and the multi size patterns that we are used to, the 1970s.

Since the earliest patterns, the big companies have asked well known designers to design ranges for them. From Edith Head to Mary Quant. Schiaparelli to Geoffrey Beene.

Menswear has definitely been a poor side kick. Looking through vintage patterns menswear is mainly Pyjamas, shirts. Pyjamas. Shirts. Boxers. Robes and pyjamas.

Menswear styles change slowly. The waistline moves, the length of jacket shortens, a button is added. It wasn’t until the 50s that workwear was adopted as casual wear and not until the 60s and 70s that men started having real fun with clothes. This is reflected in vintage patterns. Until the 60s most menswear patterns appear to be very traditional.

Here comes my moan!

As a man who likes clothes, there is very little in any of the pattern books that I would buy if I saw it on a hanger in a shop! Almost nothing. It’s like the powers that be haven’t noticed what guys are wearing. Guys under the age of 90 anyway. Most of the patterns look like something that you would buy from the ‘Shop of Comfortable Clothes for the Style Deficient’ or ‘Tasteless Clothes for Men who Don’t Care’. I’m surprised they don’t come packaged with a bottle of ‘Eau de Stale Urine’.


See what I mean?

I regularly skim through the menswear section of the pattern books to remind myself why I’m a pattern cutter!

Have you ever noticed where the menswear is in the books? It’s always with the sleepwear! And in the case of Vogue, Intimate apparel. I say. Run yourself up some P.J.s and a matching neglige! Of the 25 menswear patterns in Kwik Sew, 5 are sleepwear. Butterick is almost all sleepwear and a cassock! Go figure!
And what shape do they think we are? No wonder so many of us hunt out 70s patterns! You’d think we were all slightly stunted rugger players, if you went by the size charts! Willing extras for any fantasy featuring troglodytes.
I have always had to lengthen the sleeves and torso of any pattern I’ve used and, with trousers, go down a couple of sizes and add a couple of feet to the length!

Here’s a brief review of the top 7 companies. When I say 7 I probably mean 1 or 2. I have a feeling they have merged over the years.

Simplicity does exactly what it says on the tin – nothing too difficult or too stylish and all very simple!
McCalls – couple of OK things but pretty dull.
New Look – don’t bother.
Vogue – very classic, not bad styling if a tad dull, but if you want to make a DJ, or start on a classic suit, probably the place to go.
Kwik Sew – also does what it says on the tin but the jeans pattern has been recommended.
Butterick – great for sleepwear and cassocks.

The only company that does anything vaguely trendy is Burda who have some new stuff in their catalogue – skinny jeans, drop crotch chinos and a couple of really nice jersey tops. They have a rather good section of downloadable patterns online – Burdastyle. They also came out top in my very unscientific poll of men who sew.

Menswear is definitely an after-thought to the pattern companies. It shouldn’t be. There are enough of us chaps who sew and enough women who make stuff for their men.

Things are changing. There are independent companies out there that understand that we want decent, stylish patterns that reflect how we dress NOW, not in some fictional old peoples home.

Thread Theory – probably the best of the bunch. Only a few patterns but all considered, well styled and adaptable. I have the Jedediah pattern on order – I will report when I get started.
Colette – a shirt, a bag and a coat. It’s a start chaps – keep up the good work.
Hot Patterns – cool casuals, classic American workwear. Great tutorials on site

Ryuichiro Shimazaki (he of the Pattern Magic books) has a book of coat patterns and one of shirts, both of which look excellent. If you google Japanese patterns, you’ll find quite a lot of cool stuff but the sites are unfathomable! You will need a Japanese friend to help you!

My message to the big companies – PULL YOUR COLLECTIVE FINGERS OUT! 90% of the patterns for menswear are CRAP! Unconsidered, badly designed and absolutely style-free.
I want classics that have been considered. I want patterns that have been designed not created. I want patterns that reflect the times – it’s 2015 FFS! I want fresh and interesting.

I am available for consultation!

Next stop – making what is available work for you


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