U.S. Boys' Clothing Pattern Companies: Butterick

Figure 1.--Here are two garments from a page of Butterick patterns for younger boys. Notice that the dress-like costume is dine up to age 6 years while the kilt suit (Scotch suit) is done in sizes to age 8 years. .

Butterick was founded by Ebeneezer Butterick, a taylor in Stirling, Massachusetts during the Civil War in 1863. He revolutionized the home sewing when he created graded sewing pattern. The inspiration was his wife Ellen who complained that it would be eassier to sew with a pattern. . We do not yet have any of the earliest patterns. We do have a 1900 pattern for a 1900 fancy Fauntleroy blouse. The company continues to be a major force in home and still offers patterns for home sewing. The company in itspromotional literature says that it continues to lead the way in make-it-yourself fashions. I'm not sure just when Butterick began marketing patterns.

The Buttericks

Butterick was founded by Ebeneezer Butterick, a tailor in Stirling, Massachusetts during the Civil War in 1863. He revolutionized the home sewing when he created graded sewing pattern. The inspiration was his wife Ellen who complained that it would be eassier to sew with a pattern. Ellen was working with blue gingham fabric to create a dress for her boy Howard. She drew a design on the denim with wax chalk. She casually remarked to her husband how much easier it would be if she had a pattern actually in Howard's size.


Patterns were nothing new in the 1860s. People could buy patterns, although I am not sure how common thy were and how available. I am not sure what about the diversity of patterns. The available patterns, however, were designed to only serve as a rough idea. They were available in only one size and the sewer had to estimate how to adjust the pattern to the size needed. Thus it was very easy to make mistakes and waste cloth--a potentially costly mtter.

Graded Patterns

Ebenezer gave some thought to his wife's idea, grading patterns by size. No one had seriously worked on this idea before. He experimented with the idea. The most difficult problem was just how to print the pattrns so that they can be shipped in smll packages and conveniently used by home sewers. At first he used cardboard, but it was soon obvious that a heavy material could not be easily packaged and shipped. He evetually found that tissue was the most practical. It could be conviently folded and packaged as was easy for the home sewer to use.

New Company

The Butterick family began preparing greaded patterns and folding and packaging them by hand. They initially sold them from their Stirling home. They proved enormously popular. They expaned by purchasing the house next door and hen a larger house in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. In only a year they moved to New York City and established themselves at 192 Broadway.


Butternick as a man's tailor initially specialized in men's and boys' clothing. It was not until 1866, that they began producing patterns after three years of operation, did they also began to produce women's dress patterns. They also proved enormously successful. Th company was soon producing patterns for women's dresses, jackets and capes in 13 sizes, and skirts in five sizes.


Increased fashion awarness

The impact on clothing can not be overstated. Fashion changed significantly in the 1860s. The change can be seen by comparingbthe generlly poorly fitting clothes seen in 1850s photographs which the much better fitting and more stylish clothes that adults and children were wearing by the 1870s. A variety of factors were involved here, such as rising income levels, the increasing popularity of fashion magazines, the invention of the Singer sewing machimes (1850-51), expanded production of ready to wear clothes, and other factors. Expanded publication of fashion magazines was especially important. Subtanial improvements occurred in the ability to publish illustrations during the late 19th Century. The cost of reproducing illutrations declined. Thus publications were able expand the number and the detail of their illustrations.

Graded patterns

One of the most important developments affecting the changes in fashion during the1860s was Buttericks invention of greaded patterns. Fashion before the 1860s was limited to the wealthy in the larger cities could follow fashion developments and afford to engage seamstresses. The Butterick patterns were inexpensive and enabled a woman in the most remote corner of America to but a pattern clothing styled with latest fashion. Even more importantly, the pattern made it realitively easy for omen of only limited talent and training to make very stylish garments for themselves and their family. significant and far-reaching. Before the graded patterns, women would take apart a dres they already owned (and thus fit them) and use it to cut out the pieces for a new garment. Obviouslly this was not a process that allowed women to make fashionable garments. The Butterick patterns not only enble any women in America to have fashionable clothing for the family, including families of modest means, but greatly simplified the process of making those clothes.

Garibaldi Shirts

One of the first fashion trends that Butterick helped spread was the Garinaldi shirt. ??? Garibaldi was an Italian patriot who in the 1860s helped unite Italy. Acounts of Garibaldi's exploits made him a popular figure. Many boys wanted to wear a shirt based on the uniforms that Garibaldi andhis Red Shirts wore. The Garibaldi Suit became very popular with young people. The Butterick pattern was emnsely popular during the late 1860s. Many mothers purchased a Butterick for th first time to make a Garabldi shirt. The success aided greatly in popularizing the Butterick patterns.


The Ladies Qaterly and Metropolitan

Butterick in 1867 began publishing its first magazine, Ladies Quarterly of Broadway Fashions. They then added in 1868 a monthly bulletin, Metropolitan. Similar to the Butterick Home Catalog today, these publications served to showcase Butterick patterns along with the latest fashion news. The publications helped ladies all over the world to buy the latest Butterick ptterns. With the publications, women could even order them from home by mail. Many women began loking forward to the latest Butterick fashions.

The Delineator

Butterick in 1873 created yet a new publication--The Delineator. The initial idea behinf the The Delineator was to promote Butterick patterns. The magazine, however, soon became a kind of woman's domestic magazine. Readership expanded beyound all expectations. The Delineator proved extremely profitable for Butterick as well as considerable prestige. Many by the turn-of-the-20th century many considered The Delineator to be America's finest women's service and fashion magazine. Butterick in The Delineator not only offered fashion and domestiuc news. By the turn of the 20th century, the publication reporting on women's activities and chievements in "universities and professions, in municipal affairs, and in reforms of national scope". Butterick rports that, "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".

Branch and Overseas Offices

The E. Butterick & Co. by 1876 had 100 branch offices and 1,000 agencies throughout the United States and Canada. (This was one of several reasons that American and Canadian fashions were so similar.) Butterick also opened offices in Europe, including Paris, London, Vienna and Berlin. Interestingly, the Paris office proved emensely popular. Paris was then as it is today the world fashion center. To the surprise of virtually everyone in Paris, the Butterick office sold more patterns than anywhere else in the world. Not only were Butterick patterns popular with the sophisticate Parisienne, but they also even attracted the attention of European royalty.

Butterick Building

The success of Butterick's pattern buiness in 1903 led the company to construct construct the Butterick building on Spring Street and MacDougal Street in downtown Manhattan. The new buildomg was needed to accomdate the expanding business. This is the building Butterick continues to operate out of today. Butternick was one of the largest manufacturing concerns in the world and the largest private publishing company in America.


Merchandisers returned from Europe after viewing the major European designer showings, bringing the latest fashion ideas. Seamstresses at Butterick would then make outfit in muslins and model them for the Butterick designers and managers. They would then assess each new style for line, silhouette and fashion. The company also assessed other characteristics for practicality and suitability to the Butterick customer. Onlyafter these assessments were the seasinal line decided upon.

There was tremendous public interest in the Butterick fashions. The company in 1904 was receiving nearly 30,000 letters weekly fom Butterick pattern users with questions, suggestions and ideas. The company gave considerableattention to these customer letters. Butterick established a special department to del with the mail fom customers. This still operates at Butterick.

The 1920s

Butterick in the early 1920s deciced to provide an improved instruction sheet. Butterick patterns "Including The Deltor" (named for the first and last three letters of Delineator) were designed to be clearer and easier to understand and use. Apparently the changes were well received. Butterick reports that sales increased.

The 1930s

The Great Depression which began in 1929 adversely affected most American companies. Butterick reports that their pattern sales increased. People who lost their jobs are whose income fell were forced to what every penny. Many mothers began or resumed making the family clothes and Butterick was the main company that they turned to. Although the company was impacted, they continued to produce and sell patterns. In fact, Butterick increased pattern sales and set new records, including more international sales. Butterick opened more U.S. sales offices and foreign facilities. The company established manufacturing centers in Toronto, Canada and London, England (later moved to Havant). Sales offices were opened in France and Spain in adition to a plant in Australia and a distribution center in New Zealand. These new facilities significantly expanded the companies international operation.

World War II

World War II began in Europe with the German attack on Poland (Setember 1939). America was brought into the War with the surprise Japanese attack on Peal Harbor (December 1941). President Roosevelt ordered the full scale conversion of the American economy to a war footing. The clothing industry like other important industries were ffected by the War-time measures. Major decissions had to be made to cinserve resources so that production could be focused on the War-eefort. The War Production Board (WPB) in Washington prepared a plan for limited the amount of fabric used for the domestic market so that as much as possible could be devoted to uniforms and other War needs. The home sewing industry formed a committee which was chaired by by Butterick's President Leonard Tingle. They worked with the WPB to develop a program that made the restrictions workable. The ome sewing industry played an important role. There was an increased demand for Butterick patterns because of the rduced production of ready made clothes. Women making clothes at home meant that the clothing factories could concentrate on War production. Butterick prepared a line of civilian War-time patterns responded with a collection of smart designs that were made in conformity WPB guidelines. Women's patterns were designed with new, slim silhouette and narrower skirts. Shorter lengths were used in both jacket and skirt patterns. Complicated detailing without any utilitarian use, such as buttons, trims and appliques were used as little as possibe. The company kept to classic styles that would wear well. Patterns were made with fewer pieces and designed to use as little material as possible. We have little actual information on the practical implications concerning boys' clothing. We suspect that the rapid disappearance of knickers may have been one consequence of the desire to conserve fabric. We do not knw to what extent patterns favored long or short pants and other garments. Butterick does report that its pattern sales volume increased during the War. Th company could not expand it's New York headquarters to meet the demnd and opened a modern plnt at Altoona, Pennsylvania.

Post-World War II Era

Butterick's first important post-War initiative was in 1948 hen they purchased printing equipment for the new manufacturing plant. Butterick began printing markings on the pattern tissue. The new 'printed pattern' was, according to the company, the most significant improvement since the greaded patterns first appeared. The home sewer now had easy to see bold dots, notches and lines replacing the little holes that previously indicated darts, matching points, and foldlines. The new printing equipment also made possibe full color for the monthly counter catalogs and pattern envelopes. This made the illustrations much more realistic. Butterick also introduced black and white editorial photographs for the first time in the catalog. The company followed this in 1950 for the first full-color photograph on the catalog cover. A major success in the 1950s was pattern 6015. The company called it the 'walk-away' dress, because it was said that it was so easy to make that you could "Start it after breakfast... walk-away in it for luncheon!". It had a simple, but flattering wrap design. The ease of construction mad it so possible that printing of other patterns had to be suspened to catch up on orders for this design. While patterns were primarily for women's and girl's clothes, we also see men's and boys' patterns. An example is a pattern for little boys suits in the 1960s.

Butterick and Vogue

Butterick's became association with Vogue after World War II. Butterick's association with Vogue Patterns after World War II helped to give the Butterick patterns a fashion cachet--especially their womens fashions.Butterrick took a major step in 1961. They licensed the name and trademark "Vogue Patterns" from Conde Nast Publications, Inc. and purchased their pattern division. Butterick did not, however, merge the two oprtation. They maintained separate merchandisers, designers, artists and editors. The two brands continue to be distinct and the products still exhibit their different identity.

Late 20th Century

Butterick in the early 1980s reported a renewed popularity in handcrafting and knitting. Vogue Patterns Magazine knitting instructions for original sweater designs. The response was so great that Butterick made hand-crafting knits became a regular feature in the magazine. The company decided to revive Vogue Knitting International in 1982. (It had been retired in the late 1960s.) Vogue Knitting is now one of the most popular Butterick lines. It offers inovative styles and detailed instructions.

Butterick Co. Inc. has a fascnating history is interwoven with the American fashion industy, especially home sewing and craft. The company reports tat it offers "the most advanced, highest quality patterns, and continues to strive to improve their patterns, catalogs and magazines to keep up with your changing needs. That goal has been a key factor in Butterick's success, and will continue to be important to future growth.

Actual Garments

We do not yet have any of the earliest patterns. We do have a 1900 pattern for a 1900 fancy Fauntleroy blouse.

Modern Company

The company continues to be a major force in home and still offers patterns for home sewing. The company in itspromotional literature says that it continues to lead the way in make-it-yourself fashions. I'm not sure just when Butterick began marketing patterns.


Butterick Company, "Butterick: Our History"


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Created: 6:19 PM 3/10/2009
Last updated: 5:00 PM 7/6/2010