Patterns of Fashions 1 – A Review

Now, this is a book I never imagined owning when I began my sewing career but how glad I am to be introduced to it.

You may remember a few posts back I put out a plea for help researching 1830s corsets. Not only did my valiant readers direct me towards the expertise of Sew Curvy Corsetry, but LinB suggested I take a look at Jane Arnold’s books. I searched for them on Amazon and the reviews were amazing. I um-ed and ah-ed and then decided to invest in a copy. Amazon discounts may be bad news for publishers and writers but they do make books very accessible to readers.

As LinB promised me, this is a special book. First published in 1964, the book (one of four volumes) traces Jane’s journeys inspecting historical costumes, sketching them and drafting pattern details showing their construction. She goes into amazing detail and my guess is that an expert Sewist could scale up her miniature pattern pieces to make reproduction dresses:

I love the details in her descriptions – pinkish-grey taffeta, ivory brocaded silk, blonde lace, blue ribbed silk, lawn collar, slate blue striped brocade. Swoon.

There’s a great introductory section with extracts and illustrations from contemporary sources:

Best of all for my research, there’s a comprehensive bibliography at the back. This has left me totally inspired. It’s the type of book that would probably never see a first print run today with its high production costs, specialist market and inconvenient (for bookshops) format. But if you’re a fan of historical costume or someone who helps out at your local amateur dramatics society, you’d probably give your hind teeth for a copy of this book. Scratch that – you probably already own it.

What a wonderful piece of publishing.

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13 Responses to Patterns of Fashions 1 – A Review

  1. SachitaBean says:

    I don’t know if it was one of Jane Arnold’s or a costumer’s book – but for my high school graduation gift, my mother took out a few books like this from the library and made me an 1100s gown, so scaling up the wee patterns does work! Oh, also, you may be interested in Amazon Drygoods – (no relation to that other Amazon) for amazing reproduction antique/vintage patterns. I used to swoon over their patterns and accessories and tried to convince my mother that I needed her to make me a Victorian bustled gown for prom. That one didn’t work.

  2. swoosh says:

    It looks very interesting! I bet that book is a nice read.

    If you didn’t scale the pattern pieces up, would they make doll dresses? Probably 🙂

  3. Suzy says:

    I have had this book on my to buy list a while quite at the beginning on my sewing journey. I ended up buying a similar one by Kristina Harris. Similar layout to this one, I actually enlarged one pattern and did a quick muslin. It needed further enlarging and at the time I had no clue on closures and stuff so left it at that. Will revisit at some point. Here’s my post on it, incase you wondering:

  4. MrsC says:

    Gosh not only is this book and its fellows in about their 17th print run, it just keeps being in demand 🙂 Noone has equalled Arnold’s exquisite work. And you are so darn lucky Karen because most of those dresses are in museums around London. When I was there I got to see one from the next book in the series, which is in storage at the Museum of London, and what a fantastic museum that is too. Interestingly, my friend and I made a reproduction of this dress from the book, with no reference to the original, and while we knew it said it had sequins on it, we left them off and went with a different technique, and our dress, which I think is gorgeous, is very like the pencil sketch, and nothing like the extant garmet! So if your sewing ever draws you into reproducing historical clothing, do take advantage of being in the most amazing city in the world and check these gowns out? 🙂
    Here’s ours: and here’s photos of the original and faithful reproduction: All very Downton Abbey!
    Through this I discovered that there is an annual contest in Britain for reproductions out of the books. Huge kudos to winners. I telly you Karen, you’ve just scratched hte surface of something BIG here! LOL!

  5. Molly says:

    I own two of these books, would like to own the rest for reference but there are a lot of other and better books out there. Classic Patterns of Fashion is one, it covers from 1900 to 1960s although disappointing are the 1930s to 1950s years patterns (1930s is one wedding dress for women, thats it). However as a resource for men’s costumes it is brilliant as is The Victorian Tailor. I also own The Tudor Tailor which is also an excellent collection of patterns ranging from advanced beginner to expert level and includes details on accessories, footwear, head-dresses and hairstyles.

    Many people don’t like these books because they require you to draft them yourself form the diagrams – shock horror! I read a ridiculous review on Amazon for Classic Patterns where the commentator said $20 was too much for a book that expected you to “do all the work yourself”. Every decade has a two page social history and its effect on fashions, then goes on to detail the fashionable colours, fabrics, hat and footwear styles plus appropriate undergarments and how everything has changed from the previous era. To me that information itself is worth the $20. If you totted up the commercial value of each pattern, full-scale in your size the cost would run into thousands… how is that not a bargain?!

    There are plenty of original Victorian full-scale patterns available commercially – Truly Victorian, Ageless Patterns among many others (caveat: these are original patterns and instructions are scant if any, sometimes giving only directions on how to draft yourself – not for the faint-hearted! “Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques” required). Laughing Moon is a modern “Victorian” pattern company famous for its corsets. Tudor patterns are available from the likes of Patterns from the Past (modern draftings) and freely from Ren Faire resources on the web (I’ve draft Venetian slops from a free internet download of a contemporary tailor’s guide).

    Swoosh – when I draft period costumes I always do a miniature version (1/12 or 1/4 scale) to test the pattern in scrap fabric and then put the mini-costume on whichever of my daughter’s dolls it fits. Be aware though that doll proportions are different from human, however it still perfectly doable.

  6. piakdy says:

    I have I, II, III and recently acquired IV too! I love that series too. Haven’t tried to copy anything from them yet. But fascinating books.

    Maybe a bit too late…But there’s another book on corset making that has great practical details. It’s called Waisted Efforts ( and covers cosets from 16th – 20th century. There’s one section on “Corset style of 1834” with scaled drawing of a pattern. If you’re ever in East London I’d be happy to meet up & let you flip through & get the details you need.

  7. I have Patterns of Fashion 1 and 2 and I love them. Totally inspirational, mind boggling detail, exquisite drawings. I’ve never actually made anything from them… but love reading them all the same. Very excited to discover there is a patterns of fashion book 3 and 4! They will be added to my wish list immediately 🙂

  8. piakdy says:

    3rd one is actually just called “Patterns of Fashion” and covers 1560-1620.

    “Patterns of Fashion 4” covers linene shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear, & accessories from 1540-1660. There are detailed drawings of Elizabethan lace & embroidery, and a funny closing section on strtching & setting Elzabethan ruffle collar. Very tedious process it seams. I got mine in Foyles bookstore Tottenham Court branch. V&A bookstore also stocks them. Gives you a chance to browse before you buy. 🙂

  9. LinB says:

    Karen, I ‘m so glad you discovered Janet Arnold! My theater professor had us take one of the Janet Arnold gowns, compare our own measurements to the printed pattern, and make a mathematically-proportional version of the pattern that would fit us exactly. Thank God I noticed that the assigned pattern was simply a princess-seamed bodice! Fractions and I are not friendly. Now go forth and seek out anything by Norah Waugh — classics of pattern-making and tailoring for men and women, and for corsetry.

  10. Joie de Vivre says:

    Hi there. If you are interested in historical costuming and corsets, may I suggest you check out my friend’s blog, She is a fashion and textile historian and mostly posts about her beautiful hisotrical recreations, of which corsets are a specialty. I’ve had the luck to wear some of her corsets and they are exquistite. And she is very knowledgeable about all things to do with historical corsets. And she’s a huge Janet Arnold fan! Check out this link to see an 1890s corset that she has just finished. (I’m sure she has done 1830s but can’t find one!)

  11. LadyD says:

    I’ve just got these books and have been absorbing all the lovely pictures and extracts at the front.
    I made a non scaled version of the snowshill manor wrapover half robe, and have just scaled the pattern pieces up. Not just got to get it to fit (front is ok but back doesn’t come to where it should.) Not knowing how to adjust it…I’m using the trial and error method.
    Then….its toile time. *scary*

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