Elsé California

Fit Patterns to You, 1953

Fit Patterns to You, 1953

If you sew, you know that there has been an explosion of independent pattern companies in the past few years. Although the number of these companies is unusual, pattern lines outside of the Big Four (Butterick, McCalls, Vogue, Simplicity) are nothing new. The highly successful Stretch and Sew is just one example.

Not long ago, the Sunny Gal Sewing Studio blog introduced me to yet another of these product lines, Elsé California. I thought I would dig deeper to find out more about the creator. According to newspaper articles, Elsé Tyroler was a German born master tailor. She married an American and moved to the United States in 1950. She got started right away teaching sewing. The booklet above, found on Etsy, was already in its second edition in 1953. In it she shows basic techniques on how to alter patterns.

Los Angeles Times, January 1962

Los Angeles Times, January 1962

In the early 1960s, she started the School of Fit in Los Angeles, where she gave sewing classes. Pants became her specialty. Her 1963 book of tips, Sewing Pants for Women, announced, “Pants are here to stay. Most of us admitted that long ago. The only question is: are they staying at the Ritz, or in some cold-water flat on the back streets of fashion?” The opening illustration shows women of all ages and sizes in pants.

Sewing Pants for Women, 1963

Sewing Pants for Women, 1963

By the time her pants book came out, she was already publishing her own patterns, focusing on separates and specializing in knits. They were multi-sized, the earliest I have seen for this method. One LA Times article called her the originator of this idea. Her “All in One Pants Pattern,” for example, included hip sizes from 32 to 44.

Los Angeles Times, 1971

Los Angeles Times, 1971

She achieved local fame as the “Pants Lady,” traveling around Southern California offering classes on how to fit her patterns.

Elsé faded from view by the mid 1970s, perhaps because her ideas were taken up by bigger operations like Stretch and Sew and eventually the Big Four. But you can still find her patterns on Etsy, Ebay, and yard sales. I might look for that foolproof pattern. I would dearly love to know how to fit pants perfectly in two hours.

This entry was posted in 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Elsé California

  1. eimear says:

    I could have done with her help last summer when I was flummoxed over a jeans fit – turned out to be a simple adjustment but as with most simple things, the process of elimination was long by comparison. I have some sewing books and pattern draft by allyns bane (although I know v little about her) who I think knows everything but she didnt do pants, so I would think that Else really must have cornered the market there

  2. fabrickated says:

    Great fun. The Pants Lady.

  3. At grad school I bought a Vogue fitting pattern for pants, made the muslin, and — this is the vital part — had another grad student in costume design fit it on me. I made at least three pairs of perfectly fitting slacks (then I gained weight, alas.) It is almost impossible to fit a pants pattern on yourself. The old Vogue fitting book (mine must have been 1970s or 80s) is also a goldmine of solutions to pattern adjustments.) You can find them for less than $5. My usual problem is crotch length. And, now that I’m older and flatter in back, I also need to raise the back waist about 1/2 to 3/4 inch to get the side seams to hang straight. Makes a big difference in how the legs look.

    • Lynn says:

      Hah! I have two different fitting patterns and three books on fitting pants…but still no cigar. Obviously I need you to help!

  4. Lizzie says:

    I love that little illustration of women wearing pants. The woman with the poodle reminds me of a local “character” around my little town in the early 60s.

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