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March 2009
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Ebenezer Butterick – An American Inventor

Ebenezer Butterick was born in Sterling, Massachusetts in 1826 and he spent much of his life, up until he was 37 years old, sewing clothes and cutting fabric in his hometown. 

Historians say that although he was a competent tailor, he wasn’t earning very much money, until his sewing expertise turned him into an unlikely inventor.

Along with his wife Ellen, Butterick is credited with inventing the modern graded tissue paper pattern.  The invention was a revolution at a time when ready made clothing was not available so people had to either hire a tailor or make their own clothes.  Patterns at the time were available in limited styles and typically came in one size that must be graded, or altered, to a person’s actual measurements.

Grading patterns was a laborious process and frustrating for most home sewers, however Butterick was very experienced at grading patterns to fit his customers. 

Butterick began working on templates for graded patterns that contained different sizes, to be printed on tissue thin paper that would be easy to fold and ship across country.

His patterns allowed the expanding lower to middle class who could not afford custom clothing to finally be able to afford modern fashions.  Originally available in 1863 only in men’s and boy’s designs, the patterns cost between 25 and 75 cents each.  This was a luxury for most of the working class who earned about $1-2 a day at the time.

Originally sold by travelling salesmen, sales took off and the patterns were so successful that the line was expanded to include women’s fashions in 1866, and in 1867 the company began publishing magazines to promote their patterns, and started to offer mail order services.  Mail order at the time was an exciting new innovation, much like Internet shopping is today.  The company sold 6 million patterns in 1871.

Although McCall Pattern Company now owns the firm, the Butterick name still has global recognition.  Visit the Butterick website to view today’s modern designs, or check out this great article about Butterick’s leadership and success in the Investor’s Business Daily.

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Author, Instructor & Pattern Designer


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