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In the warring countries, a practical and extra warm nightgown is now being launched, which is particularly suitable for wearing when you may risk being woken up in the middle of the night by bomb attacks and may have to retreat to bomb shelters as quickly as possible. Jean Patou has made this practical dress in thin, burgundy‑coloured wool. A dress that is both nice and functional, it would not hurt if we began to wear it now. It is just as useful in peacetime too.[1]

Even during bomb raids, one might want to be fashionably dressed, as this passage from the Swedish weekly Husmodern [the Housewife], in the issue from January 28, 1940, suggests. Sweden’s neighbouring country Finland was by then at war with the Soviet Union. In April, Denmark and Norway were occupied by Germany, and in June, Paris—the fashion capital of Europe—fell. There was great uncertainty about what the future held. Sweden was never directly involved in the Second World War, but Swedish fashion was affected by limitations on imports, restrictions, and rationing. The fashion in Husmodern, as well as in similar women’s magazines throughout the war, was mainly intended to be sewn by home sewers or by a professional seamstress, as opposed to being factory made.[2] Women’s ready‑made clothing had begun to emerge in Sweden at this time, but the industry was still small in scale and the garments were relatively expensive.[3] With limited resources and a shortage of seamstresses during the war, many women were still required to sew their clothes themselves. And yet, as Kurt Jacobsson, head of the French section of the Swedish department store Nordiska Kompaniet and one of the leading Swedish fashion experts of the mid‑twentieth century, said in an interview in June 1944, “the average Swedish woman was probably the best dressed of all women in Europe” at that time.[4] Whether or not this was true, in this paper I offer a few explanations for the high quality of Swedish women’s clothing during the Second World War. I do so by focusing on the distribution of sewing patterns in women’s magazines.

Figure 1

In the winter of 1939/1940, the French fashion house Jean Patou launched a fashionable and warm nightgown in thin burgundy‑coloured woolen fabric for those who were forced to take cover in bomb shelters during the night. The fashion editor of Husmodern, where the nightgown was presented in the fashion spread in January 1940 together with some pyjamas designed by Göta Trägårdh, thought that it could be suitable even during the cold Swedish winter. Patterns for both Patou’s and Trägårdh’s pyjamas could be ordered according to personal measurements for those who wanted to sew for themselves at home. Husmodern [the Housewife], no. 4 (1940): 28.

Photo: Lund University Library

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Home sewing has long been marginalised and overlooked by historians, despite the fact that—or rather because—it was an activity to which many women devoted much time and care until the 1980s. And although it has begun to receive international attention in the fields of textile and fashion studies in recent years, home sewing has attracted only limited scholarly consideration in the Swedish context.[5] In this paper I will highlight the important role of Swedish pattern magazines in the production and consumption of clothing during the Second World War, and situate these print materials in the fields of fashion studies and book history.

Clothing acts as a marker of class.[6] What was “fashion,” and not merely “clothes,” was in the mid‑twentieth century largely stipulated by the press.[7] The publishers, producers, and retailers of pattern magazines, sewing machines, and paper patterns all argued for the ability of home sewing to offer fast and accessible fashion, and to create unique garments, regardless of geographical or social circumstances.[8] Yet following fashion requires a certain financial surplus that can be used to buy “the right kind” of clothes or fabrics.[9] The pattern magazines were intended for those who could afford to follow fashion, and either you were a home sewer or you engaged a professional seamstress.

At this time, general interest magazines directed at women, as well as dedicated pattern magazines were a common way of selling and distributing patterns. Indeed, these fashionable and practical designs were used as bait to sell the magazines. The pattern sections were both a kind of reader service and a necessary and conscious strategy to capture the female target group. The magazines’ marketing strategies influenced which patterns and fabrics the editors promoted, just as they shaped the magazines’ content more broadly.[10] Indeed, the types of patterns that emerged in magazines confirm the basic book‑historical assumption that form affects content, and that what can be communicated and expressed at a certain time is largely dependent on the conditions and limitations of the book market and the media at that time.[11] Book historians have traditionally used this lens to analyze text, but it can be applied to instructive images such as patterns, too.

Like texts, patterns pass through the stages traditionally studied by book historians: production, distribution, and consumption.[12] In this paper I study how pattern magazines gave women the opportunity to dress fashionably and practically during the war years, and I do so by viewing the magazines themselves as distribution channels. In particular, I explore the distribution of patterns for the private production of women’s clothing in Swedish homes, with attention to three Swedish magazines, published by three different publishers: Allers Mönster‑Tidning [Aller’s Pattern‑Journal], the aforementioned Husmodern, and VårMönstertidning [Our Pattern Journal].[13] These have been chosen because dressmaking patterns were an important part of their content, they were on the market for a long time, and they reached a large and diverse audience. Throughout the war years, all three magazines offered hundreds of pattern models (i.e., the clothing designs for which one could order patterns): around 1,040 per year in Allers Mönster‑Tidning, 780 in Husmodern, and 160 in Vår Mönstertidning. Due to the format of the pattern sheets, they were distributed, with some exceptions, as order items in the magazines.

Figure 2

The covers of the pattern magazine Allers Mönster‑Tidning [Aller’s Pattern‑Journal] showed colour illustrations of glamorous women, which were not directly connected to the content of the magazine. This one offers a distinctive commentary on wartime: a woman reading a ration card. Allers Mönster‑Tidning, no. 23, November 1942 (36 x 26 cm).

Photo: Gunilla Törnvall

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Figure 3

The covers of the women’s weekly Husmodern [The Housewife] were adorned with high‑quality colour photographs of important or famous people. The text on this cover says: “Husmodern’s readers have now sent more than 5,000 snow suits to Finland. Here is the daughter of Husmodern’s energetic sewing army commander, Mrs. Gerda Swärd; like many others she sews between her studies.” Husmodern, no. 9, March 1940 (30 x 22 cm).

Photo: Lund University Library

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Figure 4

The covers of the pattern magazine Vår Mönstertidning [Our Pattern Journal] showed women using patterns, fitting clothes, or sewing garments, often together with a friend or a daughter. This is the first issue of Vår Mönstertidning, autumn 1940 (34 x 26 cm.)

Photo: Lund University Library

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Despite the fact that many pattern magazines were bestsellers, they have attracted limited scholarly attention in media history. Historian David Reed calls content such as pattern models “mindless.” In his review of American and British popular magazines between 1880 and 1960, he examines the British Weldon’s Ladies’ Journal, which was a bestseller in the early twentieth century, although according to Reed only 4,5% of it was “genuine editorial material.”[14] Here Reed makes a traditional valuation of text in relation to image, whereby a greater proportion of text is taken to represent more intellectual content. Elsewhere, pattern magazines are mentioned rarely or only in passing in research on media history and women’s history. In research on fashion journalism, there are some references to magazines that also contain patterns, but the focus is on other issues.[15] Pattern models, sewing descriptions, and women’s reading of them have therefore been largely underappreciated and overlooked in terms of their cultural and historical importance. This paper starts with a presentation of the three magazines in question. Then it continues with a discussion of how the war affected various aspects of home sewing, and finally it highlights the circulation of fashion trends through the magazines.

A Short History of Allers Mönster‑Tidning, Husmodern, and Vår Mönstertidning

The pattern magazine Allers Mönster‑Tidning was started in 1874 by the Danish lithographer Carl Aller and his wife Laura Aller, initially under the name Nordisk Mønster‑Tidende [Nordic Pattern‑Journal]. It was the first magazine of the family‑owned publishing house Aller Media, which is still among the most important firms in the Nordic popular publishing industry.[16] During the Second World War, Allers Mönster‑Tidning was a 32‑page magazine published every two weeks. The models were presented in illustrations both in black and white and in colour, or in some cases in black and white photos. About a third of the content consisted of models for dressmaking. In addition, the magazine contained patterns for embroidery, knitting, and crochet, plus fashion news, current affairs reports, home furnishing advice, a Readers’ Queries section, practical tips, recipes, and advertisements.[17] Each issue contained about 40 models for women’s and children’s clothing, and sometimes a few models for men’s clothes. The dressmaking patterns were marketed in one size per model and cost 60 to 75 Swedish öre each.[18] In Allers Mönster‑Tidning, it was presupposed that mothers sewed clothes for their children, even as it was also acknowledged that many had access to their own seamstress. The magazine’s position, however, was that the solution to the family’s clothing issue was to sew yourself, as ready‑made clothing was too expensive and seamstresses so busy that they had to be booked several months in advance. According to the magazine’s editorials, the featured patterns were so simple that most people could manage to sew their own garments without having taken a sewing course.[19] Even though Allers Mönster‑Tidning showed items from Paris’s exclusive fashion houses in its fashion reports, the magazine’s own models were directed at the ordinary reader. The number of patterns gradually decreased after April 1944 when the magazine merged with the fashion magazine Cosmopolite and another new title, the decidedly glamorous Femina.

The women’s weekly Husmodern was started in 1917 by the “hemkonsulent” [domestic science consultant] Thora Holm and the journalist Elsa Nyblom as a kind of trade magazine for housewives.[20] In 1920, the magazine was taken over by the publishing house Åhlén & Åkerlund, which was bought by Bonnier in 1929—a major step for the latter toward becoming the media conglomerate it is today.[21] Home sewing of garments was just one of the many housewife interests that Husmodern would cover: recipes, home furnishing and home care, current affairs reports, short stories, needlework, Readers’ Queries, and more. Nevertheless, in 1920, Husmodern established its own pattern department. During the Second World War, Husmodern had three different pattern series, and printed a total of about 15 pattern models per issue, illustrated with black and white photos or drawings with colour details, on glazed paper.

The first and most elegant series was presented in the so-called “modeuppslaget” [the fashion spread], often at the beginning of the magazine. The patterns for these models could be ordered according to personal measurements with a coupon, and each one cost between 2 and 4 Swedish crowns. In the fashion spread, readers were sometimes offered a “gratismönster” [free pattern] or “reklammönster” [advertising pattern], which came in a single size, for 25 öre. Occasionally, photographs of models from finer Swedish ready‑made clothing companies, from which it was not possible to order patterns, were also shown here. The magazine recommended that the most difficult models should be sewn by a professional seamstress. The second pattern series in Husmodern was presented in a less prominent place in the magazine. This series featured “free patterns” or “advertising patterns” similar to those in the fashion spread. These patterns were pre‑cut, and they were sold on the same terms but offered different models. In 1941, they were supplemented by “Åhlén & Åkerlund STIL‑mönster” [STYLE‑patterns]. These were also sold as individual pattern envelopes in selected stores. The new patterns cost 60 to 85 öre and were available in a single size. They included more detailed work descriptions, illustrated with photographs, and diagrams showing how to place the pattern on the fabric, which the cheaper patterns lacked. These new and more generous instructions were apparently a result of the magazine receiving more and more inquiries about patterns and dressmaking during the autumn of 1940.[22] In this vein, Husmodern’s third pattern series consisted of direct responses to reader requests. These patterns appeared irregularly until 1942, but after that they featured, under the new name of “Önskemönster” [Wish patterns], in almost every issue for the remainder of the war. They were a way of maintaining an important connection with the magazine’s readership.

The pattern magazine Vår Mönstertidning was started in the autumn of 1940 by Kooperativa Förbundet [the Cooperative Association]. At this time, the Cooperative Association in Sweden was closely associated with the Swedish labour movement and the governing Swedish Social Democratic Party. The magazine was published in two 32‑page issues per year, with about 80 pattern models in each. It functioned primarily as a kind of product catalogue for the Cooperative’s patterns, named “Vi‑mönster” [We‑patterns] after the organization’s weekly journal Vi [We]. In addition to descriptions of models, Vår Mönstertidning contained a few pages with fashion advice, practical tips, embroidery patterns to order, and a free knitting pattern. The models were presented in colour or black and white illustrations. The patterns were sold in the Cooperation’s stores, but could also be ordered using a coupon that came in the magazine. They were available in one or two sizes each. Vår Mönstertidning was aimed directly at home sewers who wanted to sew their own garments. The magazine offered patterns at a “självkostnadspris” [cost price] of 25 öre, which was less than half the standard price of the patterns in Allers Mönster‑Tidning, and the same as the “free” or “advertising” patterns in Husmodern. Vår Mönstertidning was printed at the Aller printing house in Helsingborg, on the same kind of uncoated paper as Allers Mönster‑Tidning. Indeed, Vår Mönstertidning had numerous links to Allers Mönster‑Tidning, including a joint editorial staff in the beginning. In some cases, the same pattern model is found in both magazines, for 25 öre in Vår Mönstertidning and for 75 öre in Allers Mönster‑Tidning.[23]

The target readership for the magazines is not directly stated in any of the three cases, but Vår Mönstertidning was aimed at a slightly lower social class than the other two titles. Vår Mönstertidning, which was probably distributed free of charge in the Cooperation’s stores, exclusively advertised the Cooperation’s products, such as fabrics, sewing machines, and sewing accessories. This separated it from Allers Mönster‑Tidning and Husmodern, which were commercial magazines that depended on advertisements aimed at the upper middle class—although many of their readers might also have been in the lower middle and working classes.[24]

Home Sewing as Military Preparedness During the Second World War

Following the outbreak of the Second World War on September 1, 1939, the Swedish government issued a declaration of neutrality with the aim of keeping the country out of the conflict. In December, a coalition government was established; its policy of neutrality meant in practice that more consideration was given to Nazi Germany, although this changed in the autumn of 1944 when the policy became more favourable to the Allied forces. With Germany’s occupation of Denmark and Norway in the spring of 1940, Sweden was enclosed by the Axis powers and cut off from trade with the Allied countries.[25]

Unlike many other industries, the weekly journal market did well during the war. Reading popular periodicals was a relatively cheap pastime, despite the higher paper prices and material shortages, which were mainly seen in the gradually deteriorating paper and print quality.[26] Magazines with practical advice and patterns for home sewing had obvious appeal.

The outbreak of war did not immediately affect the models presented for home sewing in the magazines examined here. Although there was great anxiety about what would happen, life largely went on as usual. Husmodern immediately set up a general advisory bureau in the country’s three largest cities, as well as a telephone line for its readers.[27] In several issues, Husmodern urged readers to sew and knit for the needy in Finland, Norway, and Denmark, or to otherwise help the people in those countries. Among other things, the magazine provided patterns free of charge to those who wanted to sew snow suits from sheeting for the Finns to use as camouflage during the Winter War against the Soviet Union (see figure 3).[28] In autumn 1940, Husmodern opened a special bureau for altering and re‑sewing clothes in Stockholm.[29]

When the Cooperative Association decided to enter the Swedish pattern magazine market in the autumn of 1940, the shortage of raw materials and the need for savings had become palpably noticeable. Fabric was still available at an affordable price, but paying a seamstress cost as much as the material. So, there was money to be saved for those who could sew at home. As long as they had a sewing machine, with the help of the patterns most people would be able to sew their own clothes, according to the pattern magazines: “Being your own seamstress is easy, if you are a little handy and have an Aller’s pattern, which gives all the necessary instructions.”[30] It has been estimated that about 90% of working‑class and middle‑class households had a sewing machine at the time.[31] When restrictions and rationing took effect during the Second World War, home sewing also became necessary for many of those women who had earlier relied on professional seamstresses to make their clothes.

According to the pattern magazines, women were expected to sew both their own and their families’ clothes: “It is good preparedness to be able to sew one’s own clothes,” Vår Mönstertidning explained in autumn 1942.[32] The magazines argued that it was both fun and economical, as well as “playfully easy” with the offered patterns.[33] A pattern made the task simpler, but the notion that it was easy to sew is contradicted by the fact that the patterns were only available in one or two sizes, that the garments had to be tried on and pressed, and so on. It was standard that clothing would need to be altered; this practice was much more common than it is today, when we have ready‑made and more casual fashion. Vår Mönstertidning addressed this issue in spring 1946:

For sewing at home, patterns are a good help. But it is not enough to follow a pattern directly, no matter how reliable it seems. And one should not think that alterations are unnecessary. There are a few people with standard measurements, and not even they should completely avoid making alterations when they sew.[34]

Home‑sewn clothes could be a sign of respectable thrift, but for those who were used to clothes sewn by professional seamstresses, it was important to ensure that the homemade garments did not in any way appear poorly sewn or out of style: “They should be stylish and splendid,” stressed a 1946 edition of Vår Mönstertidning.[35]Husmodern made a similar point in 1939: “A home‑made undergarment should look as if it came directly from Paris.”[36] In a 1944 interview in Femina med Cosmopolite och Allers Mönstertidning, Sven Salén, director of the then‑important Swedish ready‑made clothing company Saléns, explained that Swedish women were uneasy about ready‑made garments being manufactured in too‑large numbers.[37] The main advantage of homemade clothes was that they could be more tailored and unique than ready‑made clothing.[38]

Shortages, Restrictions, and Practical Clothing

In June 1941, price and product regulations for textiles were introduced in Sweden to prevent inflation and to ensure that the price, quality, and manufacturing of goods would cover the basic needs of all citizens. Luxury production was banned.[39] At the same time, clothing rationing was introduced in Great Britain. This approach had much farther‑reaching restrictions, especially after May 1942, when, for example, skirt lengths and pocket numbers were limited.[40] When the United States officially joined the Allies in December 1941, raw materials had to be set aside for the war industry there, too. Regulations were introduced for manufacturers, which in 1942 mirrored the British rules. The American paper pattern producers followed the restrictions even though they were not forced to do so.[41] In Sweden, textile rationing with coupons was introduced on December 31, 1941, due to a shortage of raw materials. Some of these regulations remained until the early 1950s.[42]

At the end of the 1930s, the majority of all fabric consumed in Sweden had been made in the country, mainly of wool, but the raw materials were imported. Even before the outbreak of war, the Swedish textile industry had begun to manufacture fabrics out of synthetic material from wood (cellulose), which is today called viscose. The production of synthetic fabric increased during the war and met most of Sweden’s textile needs.[43]

In Husmodern, the impact of textile and clothing regulations can be seen beginning in issue 43 in 1941, when the synthetic replacement materials were presented in a positive light. Allers Mönster‑Tidning did the same in 1941: “Do not be afraid of cellulose‑wool, because it is not a crisis product but a good Swedish product that is both beautiful, strong and durable.”[44] It was important to keep the population in good spirits during the crisis, and one way to do so was to enable women to acquire new clothing and keep up with the changes in fashion.[45] Most Swedish women had more limited wardrobes than we do today, and the rationing of the number of garments was not in itself a major problem for most households. This view was repeated in a number of interviews with different women published in Husmodern. The women of the upper class already had overcrowded wardrobes, and the less well‑off had not previously been able to buy more than the number of garments that the coupons now permitted.[46]

Over time, the war increasingly affected the magazines’ regular models. Patterns for warm woolen and flannel pyjamas featured frequently during the cold war winters (see the epigraph, above). Furthermore, patterns were offered for various fabric‑saving and otherwise practical clothing items, including fashion options suitable for women who needed to perform heavier men’s work. Trousers for women became more common during the war, due to a lack of stockings and for other practical reasons. When petrol was rationed, cycling increased, which placed new demands on the pattern designers. The answer was culottes that looked like skirts but could be cycled in, as many women felt uncomfortable in trousers (see figure 5).[47] At the same time, the Swedes were not directly affected by the war, and garments were needed for many different occasions. The models in the three magazines examined are of all kinds: coats, everyday and evening dresses, underwear, some menswear, and many garments for children and teenagers. There were clothes for women who worked at home and for women employed in a range of industries; for everyday life and parties as well as for sports and leisure. As before the war, many pattern models were about dreams of beautiful clothes, which were not always meant to be realized. Now it became important to keep the dreams alive: to believe that there would be a time without war, hopefully in the near future.

Figure 5

“The culottes are up‑to‑date.” Husmodern recommends and offers a pattern for a pair of culottes, as an answer to a request from a “Pedal enthusiast” for a suitable bicycle dress. The answer is signed by “Madelon,” or Märta Adelsköld, head of Husmodern’s pattern department. Husmodern, no. 22 (1940): 34.

Photo: Lund University Library

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Mending, Alteration, and Reuse

The Swedish state had its own version of the British and American “Make Do and Mend” campaigns. Its 1942 brochure Pengar och poäng [Money and Points] emphasized the importance of conserving materials through initiatives such as recycling and re‑sewing old clothes—which of course required good patterns. Regarding the purchase of such patterns, the brochure referred to “some of the larger weekly magazines, the sewing machine factories’ sales, dressmaking schools, etc.”[48]

As the war proceeded, mending, alteration, and reuse took up increasing space in the pattern magazines. Some models were specifically designated as “alteration models,” although they could be sewn with new fabric for those who had the opportunity. A common model of this type was a dress sewn from two different fabrics, where remnants of two older garments could be used (see figure 6). Another suggestion was to buy a little more fabric than was needed, or to first sew long sleeves, in order to end up with extra fabric for future alterations.[49] The pattern magazines also often gave recommendations about how to plan carefully and combine different items of clothing with one another, which was another way of managing resources.

These practices, which eventually became necessary for the majority of women, had been common even before the war, as the purchase of clothing was a carefully considered investment. As one the editors of Allers Mönster‑Tidning said in 1942: “Now that we are all in the same boat and have to re‑sew and alter old to save our points, these are exactly the alteration models you are looking for.”[50] It was only natural to see fabric of garments as a raw material that could be reused. With a pattern from the magazines, it was possible to follow fashion by modernizing old clothes without using one’s ration card.

Figure 6

“Alteration models for autumn and winter,” in Vår Mönstertidning, no. 11 (1943): 12–13. See for example no. 31010: “A playful young girl’s dress, which can be sewn from a pair of discarded dresses.”

Photo: Gunilla Törnvall

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The Circulation of Fashion During the War

The occupation of Paris by the Nazis on June 17, 1940 affected fashion throughout the Western world.[51] Due to Sweden’s policy of neutrality, news and images from the fashion houses in occupied Paris could reach here, similar to neutral Portugal and Switzerland.[52] But for most other countries, when the fashion capital was closed, domestic designers gained more self‑confidence. This was especially true for the United States, which through Hollywood in the 1930s began to conquer the market with more practical and sporty fashion for modern women. The high fashion of the warring countries was primarily intended for export, to bring in money and to maintain knowledge and contacts in order to be able to resume operations as soon as possible when the war ended.[53] However, fashion is easy to copy, and the copyright for clothes is complicated, as fashion has not always been considered in terms of original authorship.[54] In the magazines, it is rarely clear who was the designer of the pattern models.

To the extent that fashion news reached Sweden from different directions, it was shared in the pattern magazines. Closed borders forced the use of Swedish textiles and garments, which is considered to have led to a breakthrough for Swedish ready‑made women’s clothing during the Second World War.[55] This took place in parallel with the rise in home sewing. Home sewers needed simple patterns, just as mass production required them for reasons of rationalization. This led to plainer and more practical fashion. Good taste and sustainable style became more important than high fashion. The models needed also to be easy to sew and alter. See for example Allers Mönster‑Tidning, no. 1, 1942:

For those who cannot afford to get something new too often, these models are absolutely ideal, as there is no risk that they will become unfashionable all at once. In addition, they are also not difficult to alter if you get tired of them, and they are easy to sew, which is undeniably also a small advantage for those who want to be their own seamstress.[56]

Husmodern published reports and images from Paris almost every week during the war years, albeit to a lesser extent than before the war and with some irregularity. News also came from Berlin, Italy, and Vienna, from neutral Switzerland and occasionally from England. American film stars became more and more common fashion idols. In the magazine’s fashion spread, while Parisian and Swedish fashion houses were often named, the American models were presented along with the name of the film star who wore the garment, and her associated film company. For the other pattern series, the designer was rarely specified, but the magazine often claimed that they were inspired by Parisian labels, and American film stars also appeared as models. The magazine kept readers well updated on the latest news and developments, even though the printing process for each issue took two weeks. Patterns for the foreign models could be obtained based on personal measurements in just a few days. Through the anonymous fashion editor, the reader was given instructions on what was appropriate clothing based on their figure and age, and how the models could be adapted according to fabric availability and Swedish tastes. The editor of the fashion spread was sometimes quite critical of the models presented, as in this description of a suit by the French fashion designer Maggy Rouff in 1940: “The shoulders have a military cut, but the question is whether the model does not do better without that kind of decoration, which we have become quite tired of by now.”[57] Along with the foreign models, the magazine presented designs by Göta Trägårdh, fashion designer and co‑founder of the newly started Beckmans Skola för Reklam Illustration Mode [Beckman’s School of Advertising Illustration Fashion], who was Husmodern’s house illustrator and came up with a number of designs for the fashion spread throughout the war (see figure 1).[58]

Allers Mönster‑Tidning, meanwhile, sometimes stated that the models were “from our own workroom,” and in some instances they were by named designers, but the identity of the designers was in most cases not given. They, too, printed reports from Paris throughout the war, albeit more irregularly than Husmodern, and patterns were missing from the reports on the most influential fashion houses. Allers Mönster‑Tidning also presented American models with less frequency than Husmodern, even though they had been offering designs from the American pattern magazine Pictorial Review as early as 1913. During the war, however, it was most often Vienna firms who supplied the models for home sewing in Allers Mönster‑Tidning.[59] The clothes worn in Swedish films also affected fashion. In a general question column in Allers Mönster‑Tidning, there were requests for the “overalls with braces” that were seen in several Swedish films. The editor recommended that the reader look for ready‑made clothing in larger department stores, or else contact the magazine’s pattern department and sew it herself.[60] Also, the emerging Swedish fashion firms were highlighted: “it is not only beautiful and chic models they have composed but above all practical garments that suit us and our climate.”[61]

Vår Mönstertidning, finally, did not have as its purpose the presentation of the latest fashion trends. In its first issue in autumn 1940, it highlighted the major capitals with an introductory report illustrated with photographs from Rome, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and London. But the report also stated its intent plainly:

We have realized that the times are not suitable for parties and luxury, and therefore in the journal that we now present to our readers we have selected plain, practical, and easy‑to‑sew models and children’s clothes, which take into account that we, in these times of raw materials shortages, may have to use remnants or alter old clothes.[62]

Paris was liberated in August 1944, but it was not until May 1945 that the rest of France, as well as Norway and Denmark, were freed. In the years that followed, the shortage of raw material would persist. The popularity of home sewing continued, even in peacetime.


For those who wanted to dress fashionably at an affordable price during the war years, the best option was to buy a paper pattern distributed through a reliable pattern magazine. These magazines do not show the clothes that were actually sewn. However, through a book historical study of what the editors of such magazines considered appropriate clothing for the public, I have offered new insights into Swedish fashion, and of Swedish society more generally, during the war. The magazine’s pattern departments had to anticipate what their female readership wanted to sew, and they based their judgments on readers’ letters and requests, among other things. They also had to account for the state restrictions that applied on fabric quality and consumption. Moreover, a study of this kind also reveals, when compared with international research focused on the British, American, and French experiences, how Sweden’s fashion industry was largely spared thanks to its wartime neutrality. Of course, rationing and wartime restrictions affected all aspects of Swedish life. But Sweden produced synthetic fabric domestically that could be used for garments, and Swedish women probably had more time for leisure activities and dressmaking than their European counterparts. Through pattern magazines, Swedish women also had news from leading fashion designers in several other countries. Despite the relative lack of materials, the Swedes had an opportunity to be fashionably dressed every new season throughout the war, unlike most other countries in the world.

In this study of models for home sewing, I have highlighted the pattern magazines and shown how they conveyed, interpreted, and adapted fashion for their readers. My close study of lesser‑used source material has revealed how important these features and practical sections of the magazines were to women, who were responsible in that era for the time‑consuming duty of keeping up the appearance of their families. The pattern magazines gave crucial instructions on how to dress—whether you altered old clothes, sewed new garments yourself, or let your seamstress sew them for you. Such features explain the popularity of these magazines.

My survey of Husmodern, Allers Mönster‑Tidning, and Vår Mönstertidning between 1939 and 1945 has shown that the patterns for home sewers were sold as the latest fashions, and that the models were often created or inspired by foreign fashion houses or American film companies. On the pattern pages, the war itself was relatively absent. The magazines kept up “business as usual,” as far as possible, and fashion was not mixed with politics. The magazines seemed to have no qualms about featuring models from German‑occupied Paris, annexed Vienna, fascist Italy, or allied Britain and the United States. This meant that the transition to peace went largely unnoticed too—though this was partly also because the restrictions would remain for a long time to come.

Home sewing increased during the war, and the pattern magazines tried to facilitate its pursuit by novices, with easy‑to‑sew models and detailed instructions. The magazines were filled with models that were fashionable but adapted to the particular circumstances of the war. Fabric savings and alteration models had existed before, so the main differences in the magazines’ output during the Second World War were an increasing focus on practical fashion—for doing manual labour and cycling, for example—as well as increased use of new synthetic materials. In fact, the wartime restrictions were even considered to have contributed to an improvement in fashion, encouraging new looks with cleaner lines. According to the fashion editors, good taste and style should replace both the slavery to high fashion of the elite and the gaudiness of the less affluent. This sensible ideal was distributed through the pattern magazines, and it took practical shape in readers’ homemade clothes. Home sewing was the most economical option for obtaining clothing, and it could allow for higher quality and a better fit than ready‑made clothing, as well as faster fashion than the workroom. Homemaking garments also had the advantage of ensuring that each item was unique. Obviously, this appealed to Swedish women, who were ultimately among the most fashionably dressed in wartime Europe.