09 June 2014

Pattern Puzzle - ‘The Blank' by Ruth E Richman 1948

So it's a weird one this week.  Over sixty years old and born of a time that valued efficiency in manufacture over effective use of resources.  Patent #2,454,208, invented by Ruth E Richman in 1946, was filed as:
'An object of the invention is to simplify the manufacture of blouses, coats and similar garments by constructing them from a blank consisting of a single piece of material.'

And Ruth was not alone.  We have located at least six different patents, spanning turn of the century to the 1960's, that focused specifically on one-piece patterns that minimised the time spent in manufacture.  We have preciously showcased a The Patent Blouse that similarly features a one-piece pattern with minimal seaming for greater efficiencies in production.  So certainly a popular idea at the time.

When I first come across such challenging pattern ideas it takes me a while to figure out what's going on.  Often the first thing I do is work back through the shape to see the block within the pattern.  Taking the easy route I have started with my knit block (more forgiving with challenging patterns) and reconstructed the patented pattern.  Ruth has described in detail her method for achieving this shape which I found a little challenging.  Patents after all are not written in an easy-read style.  So back to my blocks...

Basically what we are talking about here is a grown-on sleeve for the front and back bodice.  The diagram below illustrates the usual position of the sleeve in the Kimono Block.  If you continue to swing the sleeve upward, pivoting on the shoulder point, you will get close to the pattern shape proposed by Ruth E Richman.  That is the centre of the sleeve aligned with the shoulder seam at a near right angle.

Using our Knit Block for two-way stretch, I have traced the front and back bodice, overlapping them at the waist for a closer fit (-4cm) and opening up the underarm area to fit the sleeve.   The crucial measurement here is between the shoulder points.  This space should be the same measurement as the armhole of the block (front & back).  Here I have used an elbow length sleeve and raised the back waist to balance the waist of the bodice.  A quick reminder that my test toile was a two way stretch.  It may work in a one-way stretch fabric but different blocks and toiles would be required for woven fabric.

Looking at the final pattern below you can begin to understand the pros and cons of this idea.  It was fun to solve this puzzle and reconstruct the garment parts inside the one-piece pattern but is there much to gain?

  1. All styling is locked into a waist seam - there is no way to extend this one-piece past the waist.  This implies design limitations that may not suit current fashion trends.
  2. Huge amount of waste fabric.  Does not fit current thinking regarding the most effective use of resources.
  3. A strong vintage appearance - the styling is very 1940/50's oriented.  Niche market.

  1. Minimal construction time.  Implies  reduction in direct costs.
  2. Distinct vintage silhouette.  Niche market.

So let us know what you think of these little investigations.  Do you think you could use this idea in one of your projects?  We love to hear from you so leave you comments and questions below.
Enjoy :)


  1. Interesting! I'll have to play with it a bit more. But I had a few thoughts:
    - The waist and length being constrained like this could work with peplums. No, it won't be one-piece anymore.
    - The way the sleeves are rotated way up like that reminds me of how one drafts flutter sleeves, but of course it doesn't have the extra fabric anywhere else. I doubt all that fabric bunched under the arm will be all that comfortable! On the other hand, I'm a teacher and "arm up to write on the board" is my default position (for the right arm anyway) so maybe I should give this a try!

    1. Hi PetitePear. Yes I agree a peplum or circle skirt would work well. I did manage to quickly toile this one and found the fabric doesn’t bunch as long as the armhole measurement is realistic. And yes it would be wonderful for the ‘arm up’ occupations. I will try and post a pic of the toile on Facebook sometime this week. :)

  2. I am thinking that on large sized or big busted beauties this could be a comfortable top. I would also see this with a peplum, or done with a lacey or a gathered sheer bottom in various lengths to suit one's desires. Couldn't Godet's be worked in there somehow?? I might play with this one...might.

    1. Yes, I think this idea has design development potential. I did cut a quick sample in stretch and it has a distinct forties look to it. Skirts and peplums would work well. If you do get a moment to try this we would love to see your photos. feel free to post here. :)