Category Archives: Jill Paton Walsh

A Parcel of Patterns

I couldn’t resist poaching Jill Paton Walsh’s alliterative title of her 1985 children’s book, A Parcel of Patterns, set in 1665 and concerning a parcel of patterned materials sent from London to a journeyman tailor in the village of Eyam, unknowingly harbouring and thus transporting the plague.

Well, enough of précis and synopsis. Recently I received a parcel of patterns in the post from my dearest chum. She had been snooping around her local charity shop and thought of me when she spotted ……… a crimplene suit, a bundle of odd knitting needles, a large … – this could be a hilarious game in the right company! My mind is leaping around our local Oxfam shop, looking for the downright ludicrous but only finding all the great stuff I have bought in the past.


It was of course a bundle of dress patterns – the sheer excitement when I opened the package is the stuff of my dreams – really! It’s up there with the three bin liners stuffed with hardly-worn children’s clothes passed on by the daughter of a friend of my mum’s. That was years ago of course, from the Cloth Kits and colourful woolly tights era.

So, how best to present the patterns? They are all children’s clothes and I think from the 1940s.  A History of the Paper Pattern Industry was useful for a bit of research and I must thank the blogger Black Tulip for originally drawing my attention to its existence. If you don’t know her blog it is well worth following.


I am struggling to construct a convincing narrative here – did the patterns belong to one woman? I think so, because they were in a bundle at the charity shop. I’m going to give the owner a name from British Baby Names of 1924 . She’s Florence, holding a strong position at number 23, and chosen because that was my mum’s surname. And of course hilarious if she had been give that as a first name.

So does Florence Florence have a large family? She could have had a great gaggle of children, maybe eight of them altogether, and she is clearly a prolific dressmaker. As soon as there is a free moment in her busy day, which is spent scrubbing, cooking, washing, cleaning, nurturing, shopping (in no particular order as I am sure she is mildly chaotic with all that going on), she heads for the sewing corner and settles down at the trusty treadle.

First up, maybe something from Baby’s Layette.img_9075.jpg

This is a bumper bundle, with christening robe, bonnet, bib, dress, petticoat, nightdress, pants to go over the nappy and a matinee coat. Or maybe Flo will go for the Weldons Layette which comprises a nightdress, dress, petticoat and flannel. What is a flannel? Clearly nothing to do with bath time – it’s obviously the feather stitched wraparound garment which then ties at the back – maybe to add layers and warmth? I think I’d go for this one, with a more utility vibe to it. I made my first baby a nightdress like this, the pattern taken from The Big Book of Needlecraft.


Here comes the next in line – it’s probably a girl of about 9 months. The pattern is available as 9-18 months, but this is not multi-size. It is a dress, with optional hand smocking, a petticoat and knickers. And let’s pretend it is early spring, so maybe Florence Florence can put three of them into a great big pram, pack a picnic with a bottle of cold tea and a paper bag filled with bread and scrape, and head off somewhere faraway from chores.


Luckily she has made a pair of the Child’s Dungarees for her ten year old boy. He can wear those, and walk alongside the pram, in fact he can push it.


And after their exhausting trek out it’s home for tea and bedtime. I’m not sure how many boys she’s got – these pyjamas are aged 3-5 years – described as the NEW size 4! It’s not clear what that means – I am assuming it’s another one size pattern which will swamp a three year old and last until he’s five! Excellent forward planning.


There isn’t any indication of price on this one. And the boys (triplets?) look very groovy in there coloured and stripy pyjamas. Notice their sensible slippers, the soft toy dog and attention to hair grooming. I wonder if this pattern is slightly later? Oh well. No time to ponder time travel – Florence has to think about school in the morning. This next pattern would have had regular use – it’s the delightful school gym slip. My mum, the very same mentioned earlier, used to talk about gym slips and school uniforms of the 1930s. I can remember her drawing what they were like – and describing how very shapeless they were. Sometimes when I was wearing a particularly frightful outfit she would remark, “Kate, you look like a bag tied in the middle.” I think this is the look she was drawing on.


Those long inverted pleats, from the yoke right through to the hem, must always have been getting themselves ‘unpleated’, hence the bag simile. And now it’s the summer holidays and I’ve lost track of how many children Florence Florence has. The pattern envelopes are not helping at all! But here is what appears to be a multi-size pattern but it’s not. I think the illustrations are deceptive. Maybe these styles come in various sizes – 2 to 10 according to the back. And possibly that means years. In which case this is for an eight year old.


Below is the back of this pattern, reminding the Professional Dressmaker to comply with ORDERS! This clearly dates the pattern as 1940s, with clothing rationing in place between 1941-1949. Presumably this meant textiles and fabric by the yard as well.


Next is a bit of a wild card – The Rain Fairy. Maybe this is for the school play, a bit of light relief in these dark times and by the look of it, it can be made out of a random piece of anything. Delightful! Next!


Look out, here comes Ronald. Definitely a big brother, eight years old but more like thirteen judging by the picture. The instructions describe this pattern as Sports Shirt and Shorts. I like the look of the Centre Front placket on the shirt but the instructions don’t mention  this – a single sheet of instructions is included, double sided and dense typewritten text – not a diagram in sight!


And finally it’s the big sisters, although these patterns are all for eight year olds as well so my constructed family is not terribly convincing.


I think this may be part one of a long-running family saga!



Filed under Jill Paton Walsh, Uncategorized, Vintage Sewing Patterns