An Education in Pattern Cutting c.1950; the Work of E. Sheila MacEwan

Wroe, Hannah (2019) An Education in Pattern Cutting c.1950; the Work of E. Sheila MacEwan. In: Patternmaking: History and Theory. Bloomsbury Academic (US). ISBN 9781350062641

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Largely overlooked and unexplored as both historical and design education sources, there were a wide range of pattern cutting texts published in the early- to mid-twentieth century which were authored predominantly by women such as Sheila MacEwan. By the 1940s, the ‘block system’ of pattern making had been established. This facilitated the standardization of patterns and formalized grading of garments within mass-manufacture production as technological developments pushed towards greater accuracy and efficiency.
From industrial spheres to domestic dressmaking, the realisation of clothing requires the same skill needing to be mastered - that of translating an idea into a 3D garment that is successful both aesthetically and functionally. The learning of this ‘craft’ of pattern cutting is what these textbooks facilitated. They were studied not just by design students but also by professional and home dressmakers offering them a clear methodology of pattern making which enabled access to creating fashionable and affordable dress.
This chapter will explore the multiple biographies of this subject through a close reading of the works of E. Sheila MacEwan who first published ‘Your Pattern Cutting’ in 1950, which went on be reprinted three times within this decade. As a tutor at Hornsey School of Art in London from 1913-57, MacEwan is an under-researched fashion educator whose work is held within ‘Hornsey College of Art Archive’ at Middlesex University which this paper draws upon. She streamlined the essentials of this ‘craft’ into a compact 125 page book measuring just 19.5cm x 13cm which boasts of having 263 diagrams. Comparative texts from this period from the US such as Hillhouse and Mansfield, Pepin and Erwin boast a much more generous printing allowance illustrating the impact of the austerity legacy WWII had left within publishing which continued well into the 1950s. Within her preface MacEwan writes:
‘My original scheme, on an altogether larger scale, was laid aside as a result of the great war, and now that books have become so costly, I have to decide whether it should be a well spaced, leisurely, and consequently expensive volume, or a small, very tightly packed text book within the range of every pocket’ (preface, MacEwan 1950)
Beyond being a manual of technical instruction, close analysis this text offers a rich insight into the philosophes of fashion education, the social and cultural expectations and aspirations of women, and the impact of austerity policies within both publishing, the design industry and for the domestic home sewer. This chapter will establish who was doing the teaching, what was being taught, who it was being written for and how this reflected and responded to the social, political, economic, and technological developments within this period. An education within the ‘craft’ of pattern cutting created a blurring of boundaries between the professional and domestic and offered agency to the home sewer to create and design her own fashion.

Keywords:pattern cutting, fashion design education, gender, dressmaking, fashion industry, austerity, Hornsey College of Art
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W712 Dressmaking
ID Code:33619
Deposited On:03 Sep 2019 12:12

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