From the earliest days of human experience, the skills and techniques required to manufacture clothing were passed down person to person, evolving along the way to include changes in tools and materials, not to mention the ever-changing dictates of fashion.
Basic shapes and sewing techniques were repeated over and over to create utilitarian clothing to meet the needs of people throughout the world and were known to both those who sewed at home for their family’s needs and to those who established businesses to supply cloth and clothing to wealthier clients.
The industrial revolution did much to change the way that cloth was manufactured and in the 1830s various inventors began developing machines that could replace hand-sewing. It was Elias Howe’s 1849 design that would be the breakthrough for creating efficient and simple to use home sewing machines. By 1860 sewing machines could be found in many American and European homes, forever impacting the way clothing for both humans, and subsequently dolls, would be made. These changes inspired the publication of numerous Ladies’ magazines which included among other information, sewing projects and instructions.
William and Ellen Demorest began selling paper patterns for home sewers. These relied heavily on the user’s basic knowledge of sewing and fitting as they did not include instructions! The Butterick Pattern Company was founded by Ebenezer Butterick in 1863. By 1866 they were publishing patterns for women’s clothing. Very shortly there were numerous other pattern companies offering patterns to cloth the entire family and their dolls.
Throughout the remainder of the 19th century a number of publications would use tie-ins with dolls as a means of not only selling magazines and patterns but also as a means of shaping the characters of young girls. The Victorian era also saw the popularity of the concept of “educational toys,” and teaching girls to sew through doll play was viewed as a constructive activity to train the future woman to run her household.
Into the 20th century making doll clothing at home was not only instructive to children but also allowed affordable added play value for children growing up through economic turmoil and wartime periods. The doll clothing patterns of the past one-hundred-sixty-plus years are now invaluable tools for both identifying original period doll costumes and for use by those interested in making reproduction doll clothing, continuing to provide patterns for success in doll costuming.
Author – Linda Edward
Dorothy S., Elizabeth A., Evelyn J. Coleman The Collector’s Book of Dolls’ Clothes. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1975
Jane Eayre Fryer The Mary Frances Sewing Book, or, Adventures Among the ThimblePeople. London: George G. Harrap and Company, 1914
Barbara Hilliker Bleuette: The Doll and Her Wardrobe. Cumberland: Reverie, 2004
Patricia Schoonmaker Patsy Doll Encyclopedia Vol. I. Cumberland: Hobby House Press, 1992
Agnes Sura Editor Bleuette’s World newsletters
Francois & Danielle Theimer The Encyclopedia of French Dolls. Annapolis: Gold Horse Publishing, 2003