Welcome to my weekly fashion blog post. Each week I will discuss a female garment, fashion trend or influencer from the age of photography (1840s through the 20th century). My goal is to educate family researchers and genealogists about the clothing worn by our ancestors. Dating photographs is an issue we all struggle with as family archivists. Additionally, anyone who writes about their family’s history should be aware of the environment in which their ancestors lived. Period clothing is an important part of that environment from how it affects a person’s movement to their overall lifestyle. This week I introduce you to tailor and pattern maker, Ebenezer Butterick (1826-1903).
Ebenezer Butterick was a tailor who lived in the western Massachusetts town of Sterling with his wife Ellen, a seamstress. The story begins in the winter of 1863 when Ellen was making a new dress for their young son. At that time, sewing patterns were sold in a single size and were mostly used as a guide. People had to increase or decrease the pattern’s size to suit their own individual needs. Mrs. Butterick commented to her husband that it would be so much easier if patterns came in graded sizes, and so the idea for the Butterick pattern company was born.
In the beginning, the Butterick company created patterns for men and boys. The early success of these graded patterns prompted the company to begin manufacturing patterns for women in 1866. The patterns became massively popular, especially for the middle and lower classes who could not afford to have custom-made clothing. Home sewers were now able to access the latest fashions from Paris with the convenience of receiving paper patterns in the mail (or at the local dry goods store).
Fashion plates (below) from the November 1901 issue of The Delineator.
It is still possible to find vintage Butterick and Deltor patterns. I was fortunate to find these several years ago from the 1910s and 1920s.
A more though and complete history of Ebenezer Butterick and his company can be found on the Butterick website.
Harvard University Library Open Collection Program, Women Working, 1800-1930, has several women’s magazines digitized including an issue of the Delineator (1901). The magazine began in the 1870s and featured Butterick’s patterns as well as the latest fashion advice. The Hathi Trust Digital Library gives a more thorough listing of existing digital copies of issues housed at Universities around the country. Issues date from the early 1900s through the 1930s.
An 1871 (Summer) Butterick pattern book on Internet Archive.
Not related to Butterick, I found an awesome website this week on how to date photographs from the University of Vermont. Not only does the website give dating advice for clothing and hair, but other items that might be found in photographs like buildings or cars are categorized as well.
Blog post from Diana Pemberton-Sikes titled How Ebenezer Butterick Changed the Face of Fashion on the website Fashion for Real Women.
Mabel Potter Daggett, “When the Delineator Was Young: The Story of the First Butterick Pattern and How it Multiplied,” Delineator, 76 (November 1910): 365-366. The article can be found online on Google books.
Several patents can be found for Butterick patterns in Ancestry.com‘s U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Patents, 1790-1909.
Quarterly Report of metropolitan fashions, Autumn 1891. Image from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, reproduction no. LC-DIG-pga-00425
E. Butterick & Co., quarterly report of New York Fashions, for Fall 1870. Image from the Library of congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, reproduction no. LC-DIG-pga-01506
Fashion plates from the November 1901 issue of the Delineator from the Harvard Univerity Library Open Collection.
Ellery Bicknell Crane, editor, Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Worcester County Massachusetts Memoirs with a History of Worcester Society of Antiquity (New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1907), Volume I-II, 300-301. Digital images courtesy of Ancestry.com.
Image of Ebenezer Butterick from the blog post by Diana Pemberton-Sikes. I could not find the original source of this photograph.