IT seems the Miss Haslam System of Dresscutting was a popular way for Bolton folk to create their own, individual and unique items of clothing.

When I asked for help in tracking down the origins of this interesting sewing scheme little did I expect such a wonderful response. Ray Breen contacted me after discovering the dressmaking system and patterns among his mother’s belongings.

Isabelle Breen, who died in 2006, had been a keen dressmaker and needlework teacher.

Thanks to Bolton News readers we now know such much more about this system of dressmaking.

I heard from one reader who learned to sew her own clothes thanks to Miss Haslam and other readers who had relatives who worked with and for Miss Haslam.

Sheila Evans, who lives in Thicketford Road remembers husband David’s aunt, Edwina Short, working with Miss Haslam.

Not only that but Sheila’s wedding dress was made by Edwina from a Haslam pattern.

Edwina lived in Over Hulton and was a tailoress working for Proffitts — a dress shop on the corner of Bolton’s Market Hall.

She travelled with Miss Haslam teaching her system to women keen to make their own clothes in the forties and fifties.

When Sheila, now aged 71, married David, now aged 76, 50 years ago at Deane Parish Church she wore a wedding dress created from a Miss Haslam pattern and the Miss Haslam system of drawing — so it fitted her like a glove.

“I still have patterns and the system. It was very popular as most women would make their own clothes,” explains Sheila.

Sheila is a convert of the system and still makes clothes using the special board and patterns — with a little help from The Bolton News. “Rather than using tissue paper I use the Bolton News, once I’ve read it, to make patterns,” she said.

Jean Schofield attended the Haslam system of dresscutting in 1948 when she was aged 16. She says: “It was run by two maiden ladies and held at a church at the top of Knowsley Street — I think it’s Bath Street now, a no entry.

“I used the chart to make paper patterns to my measurements and made all my own clothes. I also remember running all the way home up Daubhill to listen to Donald Peers on the radio at half past nine.”

The system was devised by Miss Grace Haslam who had a house in Seymour Road which it is believed she shared with a sister.

There was an office in the house which doubled as a business as well as her home.

She would travel the country teaching her system of dressmaking, which was revolutionary at the time, and is still much admired today.

There would be trips to study the new clothing collections of the season and Miss Haslam would then create patterns to replicate the more expensive shop-bought clothing meaning women could look as if they had stepped out of a fashion magazine at a fraction of the price.

Jo Ward, aged 69, has a copy of the 11th edition of the system in her book case at home in Harwood.

It features items on creating button holes, pocket making and embroidery.

“I remember my sister-in-law giving it to me but I’d forgotten I had it until I read the article in The Bolton News,” says Jo, who has always been a keen sewer, and says she used to make clothes for her sons when they were young boys. “It must have been given to me about 50 years ago,” she says.

Carol Vickers said Ray’s mother, Mrs Breen, had been her needlework teacher at Breightmet School until Carol left in 1967.

“She was also my favourite teacher. She taught me to sew using the method you described and I made several outfits including a cap and apron for cookery, a blouse and a pleated skirt which I was very proud of.

“She had a cupboard in class and you could go and choose what you wanted to make and we then made a bespoke pattern for each garment based on our measurements.

“She taught us how to pin, tack then stitch our projects and hand finish the hems which took ages but the finished garment looked wonderful.

“She had several volumes of these patterns and I remember looking through them and seeing army uniforms from the Second World War so some of these patterns were obviously used in the make do and mend era.

“I remember the day I left school and she told me not to give up sewing as I had a talent for it and I’m proud to say I still sew now,” says Carol, who said she believed the Tailors Guild may hold the patent information for all patterns registered.

Hildred Lord says she was taught needlework and dressmaking by Miss Halsam at Hayward Bilateral School from 1959 to 1964.

“The school was formed partly by Breightmet County Secondary School so I suspect she came from there and worked with Ray’s mother. I do not know any more about the system but it sounds so like her. She was a bit of a tartar for sure and did not treat us lightly. Yet I always thank her for my own needlework skills which were all learned by her hands. I can see her vividly even now in my sixties,” she says.

Mrs Winifred Taylor, aged 85, learned to use the system at night school when she was in her twenties. She came into The Bolton News complete with the homework she dutifully completed while attending classes at the Bethel Institute in Bolton.

Winifred, who worked in the offices at three mills in Bolton, also brought in patterns and her card template.

The patterns — some in colour — would be the envy of vintage clothing aficionados today.

Mrs B Kitchen, who lives in Heaton, remembers her mother learning the system. “My mother went to classes in the mid fifties to learn the Haslam System. I’ve no idea where she went — may be the Spinners Hall or the Co-op in Bridge Street.

“She made a lovely winter coat. I think she made the coat in class.

“The card template board was in a cupboard for quite a while and she probably used it to make other clothes for herself,” she says.