Looking Back


Sewing Patterns Show How You Dressed Back Then


For most of the early and mid-20th century, sewing clothing (rather than purchasing it ready-made) was an accepted role for most women. It was cheaper and the outcome could be as good (or better) than what you bought in the store (or from Eaton's catalogue).


Sewing patterns provide a fascinating look at the lives of the people who wore the final product. Onoway Museum has a small but fascinating collection of sewing patterns. There are patterns from the 1940s, 1950s, and on into the 70s, 80s and 90s. Many of the patterns are from well-known companies, e.g. Simplicity, Butterick, McCall's, Vogue, but quite a number have been purchased from newspapers and magazines. Many rural residents subscribed to weekly farm magazines such as the Country Guide or Family Herald. These publications usually had a women's section with a "needlecraft" page so many a pattern was ordered via mail.


Whether purchased at a store or through the mail, the pattern always came in an envelope which usually had drawings of the garment (or whatever). The pattern itself was printed on delicate tissue paper with the various pieces printed on the same sheet (or two). Instructions would show which pieces were necessary for the particular garment chosen. These pieces were cut out, placed carefully on the fabric to make best use of the fabric (probably pinned in place with stickpins), then carefully cut with sharp scissors through the paper and fabric. There was definitely some skill involved!


Browsing through the pattern collection, it's so easy to see how styles change over the years, obviously reflecting changes in society. Fascinating!


Stop by the Onoway Museum. Look at all the sewing machines downstairs and browse the pattern collection it will make you smile. And if you have patterns still lingering about near your sewing machine, consider adding them to the museum collection.

Baby Layette 1949 & 1996
Men's Jeans & Jacket

Baby layette 1949 1996

Whether it's 1949 or 1996, babies still use similar garments. Fabric
and styles may have changed but babies are the same.

Men's jeans and jackets 1970s

There are very few patterns for men's clothing in the Onoway Museum collection. These patterns were purchased in the 1970s.

                                      Look 1970s
Wedding Dress

New Look 1970s

Do you remember the 1970s - days of huge shoulder pads
and big, baggy clothing?

Wedding dress

The price on this pattern (from the 1940s) was defiant of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board Control regulations. 25 was evidently too costly.

Slipcover Coates-Turnbull

Slipcover Coates-Turnbull 1943

Miss M E Turnbull ordered this pattern from Free Press Prairie Farmer to spruce up a chair in 1943 then passed it on to Charlotte Coates (Potter).


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 Last updated: August 30, 2022