RARELY has a Looking Back article attracted as much attention as the story featuring local sewing legend Grace Haslam.

So many Bolton women have learned to sew thanks to her clever system of dresscutting, and many felt they wanted to share their stories.

Irene Smyth worked at the Seymour Road home that doubled as a work place. Irene worked in the office, but would also accompany Miss Haslam on tours of the country.

Here 85-year-old Irene tells her fascinating story.

“Each spring and autumn Miss Haslam embarked on lecture tours to towns and cities across the UK.

“She demonstrated her System of Dresscutting using the chart to create a basic pattern from the foundation book, and the foundation pattern was then used to create fashion designs from her illustrated drafting books. The resulting pattern gave the garment a perfect fit.

“Also on display were a variety of garments made from the patterns in the drafting books.

“After the demonstration Miss Haslam was available to answer questions from the ladies.

“A few days later ladies enrolled for the new course of classes. These were held in a central location, often a church hall. The teacher was an experienced dressmaker or tailoress who was also expert in the use of the chart and system.

“In Bolton, the lecture and demonstrations were held in the Spinner’s Hall and the classes in Bethel Church Institute.

“This pattern of lecture, enrolment and classes was followed throughout the country involving Miss Haslam in a vast amount of travelling. Sometimes I accompanied her on these journeys.

“Ahead of the tour, lectures were advertised in the local press and posters were printed and distributed. I well remember the lovely old office of Tillotsons in Mealhouse Lane, Bolton with the statue of Mercury at the foot of a flight of stairs.

“Miss Haslam kept a keen eye on fashion and made trips to London each year to view the fashion scene. She visited Manchester on a regular basis, evaluating the changing fashions in the big stores such as Kendal Milne and Fenwicks.

“She also kept in touch with fashion by magazines such as Vogue and Harper. From all of this came the inspiration for the new Illustrated Books of Draftings which were produced each spring and autumn. There were patterns for each season, for lingerie, fuller figure and children’s wear.

“Designs were decided upon and patterns constructed. The patterns were then reduced in size and to scale using ivory charts producing the patterns printed in the books.

“Work continued with cut and paste. Each illustration and every pattern was cut out and pasted on to the sheets and every measurement and instruction carefully added. The proof-reading was time consuming but essential. No mistake could be allowed to slip through. The prepared pages then went to the printer.

“When it came to order time envelopes were addressed to all the old pupils and all done on a hand-turned Gestener machine.

Circulars describing the new pattern books were folded by hand and put into each envelope for posting. Orders came back, often requesting a supply of drafting paper.

“In those days payments were made by postal order. It was a very busy time at the Haslam office.

“All the work was done at 45, Seymour Road, mainly by a staff of three, and later by just two full-time staff with some extra part-time help. This was in addition to general correspondence, booking halls and classrooms, hotels and transport for Miss Haslam on lecture tours. She was industrious and hard-working and appreciated it in others. She encouraged younger people to make the most of their talents and get the best out of life.”