Every day is great day to share my love and knowledge of sewing patterns and because my pattern reading and layout class is tonight I also have motivation.

It all started when I thrifted a cute duvet cover. I cut out a 1940s dress and had half of the cover left over!

This prompted me to make a couple Mother’s Day, “Mom and Me,” dresses. You’re never too old to have fun. I took mom’s measurements and knew grading the sizing would be a lot easier with a modern pattern from today. I found a similar silhouette and went with it.


Sewing these two patterns back to back I noticed a few things.

  1. Sizing – My size 14 is a size 10 today. Patterns were rarely vanity sized early on but it did become more popular as times changed and women ditched their corsets. In the 1920s a size 14 was meant for a 14 year old child. This means for each decade you may be a different size. It’s best to check the chart on the back of the pattern.

2. Fabric – In the 1940s there was a fabric ration. This means all the patterns used both smaller and less piecing. The 1940s pattern I used 2 yards of 60″ fabric and todays pattern called for 4 yards. I made this happen for my mothers dress with 2 1/2 yards and used every single scrap. My 1940s pattern also called for less buttons.

3. Instructions – In the 1940s, more people sewed and zippers were not commonly used. If they were they were called sliders. Those patterns give less pictures and expect you to know more, including the lingo of those times. Back then they took the simplest of things and just made them fancy. Today’s patterns are far more detailed.

4. Cutting – The layouts were a little different although the pattern pieces were labeled much the same – notices, grainlines and shorten and lengthen lines. Depending on the pattern company and when in the 1940s your pattern may or may not be printed. Printing the tissue was fairly new then. If your pattern was unprinted it had perforated dots and a symbol guide to what those dots represented – lay on grain, lay on fold and such… The newer patterns give the finished measurements at the main points including bust, waist and hip on the tissue. This saves time. Multiple sizes in one envelope makes it easier. Almost no one is ever just one size. My mother and I are both short so I knew I had to shorten the torsos of each pattern before cutting.

5. Sewing – Seam allowance for the 1940s was only 1/2″ and todays big box patterns are almost always 5/8″. The newer pattern had a lot more little doodads, collar, sleeves and interfacing. This meant it took longer.

All and all, the fit of both patterns were spot on. Here are some candid photos.

Behind the scenes ~

I have quite a few dresses and hats listed in my online shop.

My next class is the Sewing machine basics, May 24th.

Thank you for reading,

Tracy McElfresh

Dream it! Sew it!

Photo credit- professional photo by Richard Wonderling.


Tracy McElfresh
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