I mail ordered my cape dress patterns from Friends Pattern Company, because I really wanted a traditional Plain dress. But the cape is not for everyone! Some of you may be looking for commercial patterns where you can see the yardage and size range, and get an idea of what is going on before you buy the pattern. With sewing patterns now listing at upwards of $10, why wouldn’t you?

I have made historic dress from commercial patterns before, so I decided to do a little research – not that it was onerous – and I found some plain patterns for girls and women. They are in costume or historic sections, sometimes under “Halloween” – a place most of us wouldn’t think to look.

McCall’s Patterns has quite a range. There is a colonial era style dress and apron (6140) for women and girls I thought might be suitable. It is a button front dress, with elbow length sleeves and a waist apron. It has pintucks at the hem. I find it a little too low in the front – it shows the collarbone – but you could cut the bodice a bit higher and add one more button. I would wear this as an everyday dress, with the extra front coverage and slightly longer sleeves.

MCall’s also has a very complete early American style outfit (4548 for women, 4547 for girls) that includes a prairie dress, an apron, a bonnet and underthings. I like this pattern too, for the underpinnings, and if a person should want a button front dress with collar, for modesty, this is a good choice. You might shorten the skirt a bit for practicality.

McCall’s 2337 is a Colonial style dress gathered at the neckline and sleeves, with a mobcap pattern included. It’s a bit costumey for my taste, but would make a suitable day dress. Mobcaps cover all your hair if you want such for modesty, cooking or cleaning. They have elastic all round, so they stay on well. This is in both women’s and girls’ sizing.

If you like the Holly Hobbie type look, McCall’s has a traditional “pioneer” or prairie style dress, apron and bonnet (9423). The dress has no waistline, and is held in with the full apron. The sunbonnet is very full. I would like this as a day dress, a nightgown, or, if I were of that age, a maternity dress. It is very much like a Laura Ashley dress I had years ago. Again, this comes in sizes for girls and women.

McCall’s has a pattern for making costumes from Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz (4948), if you want Alice or Dorothy style dresses for a little girl. It comes in adult sizes, too, but the dress might be a little juvenile for anyone over twelve. It does include fairy and witch costumes, but don’t be put off by that. The puffed sleeve dress and bib apron are really nice for either everyday wear or in fancier fabrics for Sunday best.

For intimate wear, which is what started this search in the first place, McCall’s has not only the costume pieces (4548 and 4547) but for girls, a complete set of underthings, slips, pantaloons, and camisoles in “Ruffles and Lace”, 4505.

Simplicity Patterns has quite a number of costumes, but they are more of the traditional spooky/critter/character type. For girls, they have a nineteenth century type pattern (2843) which I would characterize as “Wild West,” but includes dresses and skirts and blouses of a very modest type. You might need to ignore the saloon-girl costume it features. Who in their right mind dresses up a twelve-year-old (or younger) as a brothel worker, historic or otherwise? It’s a rhetorical question. If you know, don’t tell me.

Simplicity’s 2845 is similar to McCall’s 2337 with its Colonial gathered bodice dress and mobcap, and comes only in a girls’ sizing. Their other Colonial style pattern has a fitted dress, apron and bonnet. I find the dress is too fitted for my taste. (Patterns 3723 and 3725, for women and girls.) They have a nice Empire style pattern, with a high waist, (4055) that could be cut suitably to avoid showing the usual Empire bosom.

Simplicity has a good assortment of undies patterns. For a chemise, drawers and corset, there is 2890; for slips and a corset, 5006, and for a different set of drawers, chemise and corset, 9769. Some of these are Civil War era, when corsets were an essential part of a lady’s wardrobe. Those of us who are reconciled to our waistlines as they are don’t need them.

Butterick Patterns has three I found suitable. There is a particularly good-looking one for nineteenth-century aprons (5509) that I would buy for myself. It has a pattern for a pinner, if you are looking for one. They were an essential item for nursing sisters and housemaids. The top part pins to your dress, so there aren’t ties to fuss with. This is very practical if you need the bib to stay put and not sag when you lean forward, or you struggle to get things tied or buttoned behind your neck.

There is a pattern for a Victorian style skirt, capelet, muff and bonnet (Butterick 5265) which could be made in simpler trim than shown. I’d put the skirt with a simple button-front jacket in the same material, and with the capelet over it, and it would be suitable for winter wear to church.

For intimates, Butterick has a Rachel Wallis pattern (5061) that includes a wrap called a kimono, a nightgown, a bedjacket, pantaloons and a cap.

I have not been fond of Vogue patterns, as they are often complicated and cut slim. They do have a modern version of traditional underpinnings in Pattern 7837, with a slip, camisole, pantaloons and a few more. They are meant to be an underlayer for knit clothes, but would work well with our own Plain dresses.

I hope this is a helpful guide. These are all well-known pattern companies, and many will be available at your local fabric store. You might be able to order them discounted over the internet, or join a sewing club to get discounts. There are internet sites for searching for used patterns, and some places have pattern exchanges for free patterns.

I should warn you that you cannot use these patterns to make clothes to sell. They are copyrighted, so they are for home sewing only, not for resale items.

Does anyone have other favourites that might be readily available? And what about European and Australian pattern companies?

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