Costume Society, Reviews  |  March 16, 2015

50th Anniversary of First ‘Patterns of Fashion’ Book

Patterns of Fashion Day held on 31st January 2015 at The Art Workers Guild, London by The School of Historical Dress

To celebrate the 50th anniversary since Janet Arnold published her first Patterns of Fashion book, the School of Historical Dress held a day looking at the legacy left by her work to the way historical costume is studied. We had an international group of wonderful speakers looking at such varied aspects.
Melanie Braun began by tracing what was available for a tailor from C16th up to Simplicity patterns.  Initially it was the tailors private notebooks held in a workroom that were then presented along with the apprentice tailor’s work to a board of examiners in order to call himself a ‘master’ tailor. Through these books evidence can be found of the search to develop a method of pattern making that produced a pattern to fit everyone.
Johannes Pietsch spoke about patterns of historic garments and dress research. Interpreting old fashion garments is not easy and the original shape and volume are not always recognised.  Careful sketching and pattern making can play an important part  - the appreciation of proportion, volume and the subtle development of silhouettes – a real benefit to mounting costumes better for display as well as for interpretation.
Thessy Schoenholzer Nichols spoke about how the costume historian is now often part of a multi-functional team when there is a funeral exhumation. Careful observation, note taking and drawing can be done without disturbing the objects. If the contents are moved, Janet set the standards by which the painstaking investigation, of the often-fragmented garments, is studied being mindful of not inadvertently disturb evidence. Often this process can be supported by a recreation.
During lunchtime, two different pattern drafting systems were demonstrated – one using a C17th proportional system using a compass and the other, C20th using a grid system as shown in the photograph – all in search of the perfectly fitting pattern.
The afternoon looked at the development of X-raying garments and textiles. With Mary Brooks and Sonia O’Connor. This has revolutionised object biographies revealing under layers, alterations, repairs and techniques without disturbing the garment or textile, revealing the ‘secret things’
The other exciting tool for the researcher is macro photography with Cristina Carr showing us the extraordinary degrees of magnification now possible revealing yet more details about techniques and construction details – even the stitch direction but also being able to see any potential insect damage. Degradation and repair are all mapped. Again this is a non-destructive method is the object is handled correctly.
Claire Thornton talked about the different historic pattern making methods – some proportional, some scale, some geometric. To maximize the use of fabric, whatever the width, was of prime importance.
The problems involved in the creation of historical garments for film and theatre, were explored by Luca Castigliolo .The need to fit the actor yet maintain the balance, line and ‘look’ are the costume makers key concerns.  The positioning of seams/armholes is particularly important in a garments success or apparent authenticity.
Our wild card of the day called Dead Men’s patterns – the artist, Harmazad Narielwalla  uses redundant Saville Row card patterns to create art installations but folding, cutting, reshaping them!
Finally the day was wrapped up by Jenny Tiramani tempting us with the prospect of probably at least two more books of Janet’s unpublished work appearing before too long– how wonderful.

Liz Booty, Committee Member

  • C17th proportional pattern cutting system Image Credit: Liz Booty
  • C20th grid system of pattern cutting Image Credit: Liz Booty