Discovering Halston’s bias cuts

A beautiful book I ordered on Halston (at great expense to the management) arrived during the week.

Halston – An American Original, by Elaine Gross and Fredd Rottman. Harper Collins, 1999.

I’m too young, and lived in the wrong country, to remember Halston’s fashions. I was a child in the swingin’ 70s, spending much of it on an actual swing.

I phoned Mum to ask if she remembered fashions by Halston in Australia in the 1970s. She didn’t think Halston made many inroads here (although to be fair she spent that decade in maternity wear), but he did release over 100 McCalls sewing patterns, and earlier Vogue hat patterns, so maybe he did in the home sewing world.

Roy Halston Frowick (b1932-d1990) was an American fashion designer who was very influential in the 1970s and 80s. He started as a window dresser in the late 1950s, then became a milliner, famously designing the pillbox hat Jacqueline Kennedy wore to her husband’s inauguration in 1961. When hats moved out of fashion, he went to women’s wear and launched his ready-to-wear line in 1969.

Halston believed in simplicity, femininity and comfort. He became famous for clean, minimalist lines and wearable everyday clothes – what we think of when we say Classic American Sportswear. His evening wear was luxurious and often inspired by flowing ancient Greek robes.

Design themes included bias cut, ruffles, clothes which were wrapped, draped and tied, jumpsuits, cashmere knits, bodysuits, Ultrasuede shirtdresses and flowing caftans. Early on, he considered trousers a wardrobe staple.

Modern, wearable shapes that mixed and matched. Less structural and more casual.

I vaguely knew that Halston cut on the bias, to achieve the modern, fluid shapes he was famous for, but I just didn’t fully realise how innovative his cutting was.

Some of the photos in the book show the patterncutting alongside.
A “flying saucer” dress, made from two circles of fabric. The proportions of the dress will change depending on where the neck and hem openings are placed.

He pursued a simple and pure line, which patterncutting-wise can be very complex to bring about. The bias cuts that dominated every collection were rarely attempted by other designers because of the difficulties involved with cutting, fitting and sewing. Often there were no buttons, zippers, darts, seams or trimmings – nothing to detract from the fabric and shape.

The concept of how rectangular fabric is folded and sewn to create a bias tube.

With bias tube cuts like the one above, the goal was to eliminate all unnecessary closures and trims, and have as few seams as possible.

Interesting: according to the book, when his bias cut garments were replicated for mass production, they were stitched on paper that was torn away, to prevent stretching and rippling. Many styles then needed to hang for several days to allow the fabric to “grow” before hemming.

A Halston sewing pattern from 1976. You can see the bias cut pattern pieces.

Have you made a Halston pattern, or even have a Halston garment at home?



  1. SunShine on August 14, 2023 at 7:14 pm

    I didn’t know much about Halston but I looked him up and his work on bias is fascinating. I saw some examples
    and there is a lot to combine with 0W design like you do. Can’t wait to read more

    • lizhaywood on August 14, 2023 at 7:48 pm

      Thanks for that link – I don’t know much about Halston either but agree that bias cut and zero waste can be a great combination.

  2. Victoria on August 14, 2023 at 8:05 pm

    Some of the first dresses I made to wear were wrap dresses from one of the McCall patterns. I was in high school and they were light years beyond the stuff we’d made in home economics in terms of style.

    • lizhaywood on August 14, 2023 at 8:18 pm

      I bet they were!
      While writing this post I looked through my substantial pattern collection but, alas, no Halstons.

  3. juliana bendandi on August 14, 2023 at 8:59 pm

    I had no idea about Halston: What an exciting post! So many possibilities!

    • lizhaywood on August 14, 2023 at 9:12 pm

      Me neither – I really had no idea until this book arrived.

  4. Juliana Bendandi on August 14, 2023 at 9:42 pm

    I may have ordered this Halston book…(I need to join a group for people who can’t stop buying sewing books! But I fear that I’ll just hear about more interesting books!) Helmersson’s book on Zero Waste Patterns is sold out btw and the publishers are having more printed! Isn’t that cool?

    • lizhaywood on August 15, 2023 at 8:37 am

      I tried to order the Halston book (or any book or DVD on Halston) via the state library system, but they had absolutely nothing. No option but to buy it (sigh!). You will enjoy it; it was $$$ but totally worth it.
      Very thrilled to hear BH’s book is doing so well! It has introduced lots of people to zero waste patterns.

  5. Michelle on August 15, 2023 at 12:32 am

    Being American, I have heard of him but had no idea his designs incorporated zero waste. I’ll have to pilfer through my Mom’s pattern stash to see if she has any from back in the day!

    • lizhaywood on August 15, 2023 at 9:29 am

      I hope you find some – I went through my (sizeable) pattern collection but didn’t have any. Too many Buttericks and Simplicitys!

  6. Susan on August 15, 2023 at 2:33 am

    I was aged 15 – 25 in the 70s, loved nice clothes and sewed most of them. The Halston aesthetic: simple, elegant, wearable, shaped my ideas of the kinds of clothes I wanted to wear in a huge way hat I didn’t entirely recognize at the time. But just look at those patterns, they would still look fabulous today. And the way he included those beautifully shaped pants in so many of his classy outfits has meant that I’ve worn pants for all occasions my whole life. Thanks for bringing him to life, he is not acknowledged enough, given his influence on fashion at that time.

    • lizhaywood on August 15, 2023 at 9:27 am

      Agree – those patterns are still totally wearable today. I found some catwalk footage on YouTube of his shows, and seeing them worn and moving on a person made me appreciate them even more.

  7. jane a butters on August 16, 2023 at 8:18 am

    thankyou you a hundred times for showing this book,I love books,may I ask if there are many cutting diagrams in the book,am seriously thinking of asking for it for christmas if there is.thanks again and I hope you are resting x
    ps have several email addresses so may put the wrong one in ,sorry

    • lizhaywood on August 16, 2023 at 8:40 am

      Hi Jane, just checked, the book has 230 pages with photos on all but 7 and there are 8 cutting diagrams. It’s an excellent book – some reviewers say it’s the best book written on Halston.

      • jane on August 19, 2023 at 8:25 am

        many many thanks …have locked my credit card away for a while but my fingers are itching,not the same but do you have the books sewing magic by mary brooks picken and quick and easy dressmaking by diana crutchley,both have some almost zero waste designs in ,my late grandmother explained to me how they cut their skirts in the 1920’s and here is a book -the sewing magic one with diagrams doing the same
        sorry dont mean to “tell your grandmother to suck eggs” thing,just that I have been collecting sewing books since 1977 and only ever seen one copy of each…..but the internet has opened many doors ,again thanks x

      • lizhaywood on August 19, 2023 at 4:21 pm

        Yes Sewing Magic but not the other one, although I haven’t seen it since we moved house but I’ll look for it – I remember it had some innovative construction details in it. Easy Dressmaking sounds good, maybe one for the Christmas list. Many thanks, Jane.

  8. Vanessa on August 16, 2023 at 8:28 am
    • lizhaywood on August 16, 2023 at 8:41 am

      Haven’t seen this but would love to (don’t have Netflix).

  9. Wendy on August 18, 2023 at 6:40 pm

    The flying saucer dress and Clair skirt could be related!
    I also spent a lot of the ‘70s on a swing – the frame of mine was painted ‘cherry red’ (that was the name on the tin) by my Dad.

    • lizhaywood on August 18, 2023 at 7:08 pm

      They could be!
      Vionnet explored something similar with her Barrel cut which uses quadrants of circles (if anyone reading this owns Kirke’s book on Vionnet, it’s Pattern 17).
      I still don’t mind an occasional swing on a swing 🙂

  10. LinB on August 19, 2023 at 2:08 am

    Am pretty sure that more than one of the patterns he designed for McCalls are lurking in my sewing room. I know that #6135 was — and still is — a workhorse in my wardrobe. (Have to adjust it for a larger-than-in-my-twenties body, now.)

    That simple shirtdress saw use by others in my college dorm, who admired it on me. Made me some much-needed pin money in the late 70s-early 80s.

    • lizhaywood on August 19, 2023 at 4:29 pm

      #6135 is a beauty, I can see why you still use it. I hope you find some others.

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