Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Australia, Patterns, and Treasures

Long post coming up here. No offence taken if you skip over the reading and just check the pictures.

So in August, I went back to Australia. Essentially, the most expensive 'meet the parents' ever, my chance to introduce Jon to family and friends, his chance to go somewhere he would probably never have had any compelling reason to go to if he didn't have such a deep appreciation for my love of bad puns and my ravishingly good looks . Plus, it was a chance to touch base with the best things about Australia, like Golden Gaytimes because they're not available in the UK, along with Cherry Ripes. People, you are missing out.
Cherry Ripe Bar
Somehow or other, I think I gained a little weight on this trip. 

It was brilliant. We got to catch up with some of my favouritest people in the world ever, see the coast, feed the birds, spot whales and frantically buzz about. I got to go to the Hollywood Costume Exhibition in Melbourne which was great because I missed it when it was on in London (I'm only saying that because it makes me feel very jet-set, and I also get that a large proportion of my current readership has heard this joke already. Sorry guys. I think I'm done using it now). It went insanely quickly. I would have happily spent another week in Melbourne alone.

None of this is exactly the point of this post because I'm getting off track, but hey, it's my blog and I'll ramble if I want to. (Please come back soon, I promise to stay focused next time.)

One of my jobs while I was there was supposed to be to sort out my stash of stuff at mum and dad's place. I have a lot of 'stuff' in a lot of boxes which has just been sitting around since I went away. I completely failed in this goal, I think I managed to throw out about 5 things, and then bought some new plastic boxes and put the things in new boxes. That's efficiency, right there.

Of course there were a few bits and bobs I wanted to pull out and take back to the UK with me, and of course I didn't have quite the amount of baggage allowance required to take all of my favourite treasures home like I wanted.

In those boxes were my collection of old patterns. Vintage, if you like. Or Retro. Or junk. It's open to interpretation.

A couple of years ago, I started doing a bit of research on the history of commercial patterns. Nothing formal, just reading bits here and there, and boring friends senseless with my discoveries. I am fascinated by the evolution of the pattern, and the changes in the expected skill level of the home dressmaker. I really get my sewing geek on, and end up finding all sorts of things about the different social, economic and cultural influences which came into play with that as well, and the changes in fashions as a reflection of so many other facets of life. I even went down to the National Library and spent hours on looking at old books on dressmaking - or scans rather, because my connection at home struggled with the download size. (Incidentally, their bag check in desk somehow seems more thorough, impersonal and unpleasant than the security checks at Heathrow. Just sayin'.)

Because I rambled on about it incessantly, people started giving me old stuff. Like a great little school needlework book, a bunch of patterns, and this gem:

Merle, you are frigging awesome.

So that came back with me. I'd been remembering to bring that back for months now.

Imagine how stoked I was when mum said casually 'Oh I found an old drafting book you might like,' and presented me with volume 3. I squealed with delight so loudly when I first saw it, that poor Jon jumped about a foot and spun around worried that I had seriously injured myself. He probably thought I'd been bitten by a spider. Because Aussie spiders are scary.

They have more legs than this though.
I also had a look through my patterns, and although I really only had room for about 5 of them in my suitcase, I did take a bunch of photos.

Some of the lovely things I have include:

Patterns which have no markings, and are pre-cut with small holes to indicate placement of darts / tucks etc.

The patterns which people would send for by mail. My favourite has this envelope, on the front of which someone has carefully glued on the picture presumably from the magazine in which it was advertised. Underneath this I can just see the edge of a typed address, and I'm so curious, but I don't want to damage it! So it remains firmly stuck on.

I also found a photograph in one of the children's patterns. It has the name 'Gail' on the back.

And some newspaper where someone has re-drafted one of the pattern pieces. No date, but some clues in there:

Some old style instruction sheets - these were often the same for different patterns. It was pretty much up to you to figure it out.

Although more minimalist versions included the instructions on the back of the envelope:
I love the way the illustrations are obviously painstakingly hand drawn.
Instruction sheets got more detailed over time. And I imagine this was probably more due to the fact that it became easier and more economical to produce instruction sheets, than the diminishing skill of home dressmakers. Although it probably plays a part too. Most of the patterns I've used have between 4 and 6 sheets with heaps of illustrations.

This is my highly treasured Australian Home Journal Magazine and pattern. I bought this one. The patterns are included inside the magazine.

I loved the styles of these dresses! If you're a fan of 40's - 50's style, you can check out an online archive of Australian Home Journal here. Obviously, the patterns aren't available on the archive, but there are some gorgeous designs and little notes and style illustrations in the magazine. And even without that, it's worth checking out just for the advertising. :)


This one didn't have an envelope. The shoulder reminds me of the Ceylon dress by Colette. Which I also have in my stash.

And then a whole collection of children's patterns. Generally in one size only, by age.

As an anecdote to go with that, when I was in primary school, my mum rang up to order me a school uniform. The lady on the other end said "How old is she?"
To which mum replied "Er, well that's not really relevant."
"Oh," said the lady on the other end of the phone. "You must be Zoe's mum."

You've been so cool sticking with me on this one. Have an awesome day!


  1. You're welcome Zoe.
    I love my Home Journal Mazagines too, they have great illustrations and I am yet to make anything, I just like looking at the pictures!
    Oh and the girls dress with the buttons at the front waist yoke that was a post away one is way cool.
    I love the old instructions the challenge to make them is awesome, modern pattern instructions are too easy!!!!! Except that skirt I made by Issy Miyake the one origami step was a doosey.
    I am no logging on to the NatLib website to track down some of those books you said you were looking at. I didn't even think of doing that.

    1. They are such lovely designs. I have a huge collection of pattern cover pictures and fashion illustrations I've gathered from all over the web - particularly from the 30's and 40's. I really want to develop my drafting skills to the point where I can look at the pictures and go and make them - rather than using a printed pattern. They are such an inspiration.

  2. Thanks for sharing these. Very nice. :-). I just found your post on face book so now I can follow your blog. :-)

    1. Thanks! Please comment! I value your feedback.