Behind the Scenes at Simplicity Creative Group, NYC

Lauren reporting –

We’re back! Last week Abby and I traveled to The East Coast to attend Rufflecon and spend a few days in New York City afterwards.

While we were sipping hot toddies at the hotel bar, we met Ginny from Simplicity, a Rufflecon sponsor, and had a great chat that, among other things, resulted in a visit to the Simplicity headquarters on Madison Avenue the following Monday. How exciting! I had just sent off The Red Dress before we left, and of course I’ve always been curious what the inner sanctum of one of the major sewing patternmakers was like.

New York! The view from our Times Square hotel

Monday arrived and we walked from Times Square to Madison Ave, checked in (feeling very “official” with name badges), then went up to the floor that Simplicity occupies. Ginny showed us into the boardroom where a nice collection of early Simplicity pattern catalogs were laid out on the table for our perusal.

We enjoyed several 1940s catalog, a 1937 catalog, and a few 1950s too.

Then the unexpected – a meeting, like a real official meeting, with five of the top gals at Simplicity! Gosh! We talked all about vintage and costume patterns, about how patterns go from a concept to a finished product, a lot of history of the company, and ideas for the future. It was stimulating, to say the least.

Then the tour. We did a quick whirl around to see each department. There’s a large area where patterns are cut and tested (*all the testing*) and sample garments are made for the pattern envelope photos. In addition, a great lot of work goes into writing and illustrating the instructions for each pattern, all the grading, marking, and laying out, the graphic design and information for each pattern, the catalog, and advertisements. It’s quite intense! Typically a pattern, from concept to completion, takes about 5 – 6 months, which is faster than ever thanks to digital technology, and passes through myriad hands to become the best version of itself.

Many dress forms chill in the cutting room hallway. They had all sorts of shapes and sizes, even a tiny infant dress form.

Along our tour we even spied The Red Dress ready to begin its journey to becoming a full, multi-sized paper pattern for next Summer.

It was a wonderful experience, and there are many good things that came out of our meeting with The Patterning Powers That Be. One major thing we noticed is that Simplicity really cares about the fashion subcultures using their patterns – for example, the Lolita community, Steampunk costumers, and vintage fashionistas.

Original print from the 1937 Simplicity pattern catalog

We spoke particularly about the vintage patterns, and were pleased to find that Simplicity has started digitally scanning their original vintage patterns and grading them as-is, rather than re-drafting from scratch and leaving out or changing vital elements. This effort is particularly evident in their new vintage reissue patterns for this Winter catalog – a couple new 1940s and 1950s, and two new, *fabulous* 1930s dress patterns (8247 and 8248). We saw the sample garments for both of these patterns and were floored by how authentic and beautifully made each was.

Simplicity 8247 – 1930s dress with jacket.
Simplicity 8248 1930s dress with two views. This green sample dress was so beautifully made I was nearly convinced it was real vintage.

Since Simplicity is expanding their Vintage offerings more and more, of course we were full of ideas and have plans to develop more vintage patterns with them, particularly styles from before Simplicity existed.  …. but those are exciting development for the future šŸ˜‰

From the 1937 Simplicity Pattern catalog

All in all, what a splendid experience we had visiting the Simplicity headquarters and getting to know the women who make these wonderful patterns for us. They are truly professionals, many of them having been with the company for decades, and are as excited for the future as we are.


  • Rowenna

    October 27, 2016 at 4:16 PM

    The grading from the originals instead of redrafting–that makes me sooo happy! I'd nearly given up on Big Three vintage patterns because of the weirdness of making up for the differences in fit and intended silhouette. Yaaaaay! Can't wait to get my mitts on 8248.

    • Lauren Stowell

      October 28, 2016 at 1:53 AM

      So true! It's rather complicated – some patterns are re-drafted from scratch and are only based on original vintage pattern drawings. These aren't called re-issues typically. Others are "inspired by" and aren't included in the Vintage section. And still others are digitized and graded. They do make necessary adjustments to be able to grade them up to modern sizes, but they are now leaving in all the details rather than randomly omitting important stuff. Hopefully this all means the days of the 5" of extra ease are gone…

  • Amanda

    October 27, 2016 at 5:49 PM

    Oooh that's exciting to hear about the new vintage (ha ha ha) reissues – I haven't picked them up yet but I was excited to see there are so many, and the '30s ones are indeed adorable! Grading from the originals I assume means there won't be 5" of wearing ease when I cut my supposedly correct size? Because that would be nice!

    • Lauren Stowell

      October 28, 2016 at 1:54 AM

      We talked specifically about the huge amounts of wearing ease and it seems like Simplicity is making an effort to curb this craziness. I can't speak for the McCalls brands (McCalls, Butterick, and Vogue). They still do weird things….

  • Lavender and Twill

    October 28, 2016 at 12:43 PM

    Simplicity is my favourite pattern company for vintage patterns, and for modern retro-re-releases… I think 99% of my pattern stash comprises of Simplicity patterns!! Anyway, I was literally bouncing up and down in my chair reading this post ~ what a cool meeting and gah! So epic that you got to talk to them about ease, and the details we love and just ~ everything!! ā¤

    bonita of Lavender & Twill

  • Black Tulip

    October 29, 2016 at 9:35 PM

    Great news about Simplicity's change of tack with their vintage patterns. It was really bugging me the way they go to so much effort photographing the garments to match the original envelope art, and then do weird things like use modern construction techniques instead of lapped seams (1777, I'm looking at you!).

    An end to 'ease hell' would be good too!

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