Life On The Job


Famous or Historic People

Famous Australian Clothing Patternmaker, Johanna Weigel (1847–1940)


Johanna Wilhelmine Weigel (1847-1940), paper-pattern manufacturer, was born on 11 February 1847 at Bromberg Stadt, Posen (Posnan), Prussia (Poland), second of five children of August Astmann and his wife Emilie, née Sachs.

Catalogue Summer 1953

As a young woman she went to the United States of America and in New York worked as a designer at McCalls, a leading paper-pattern establishment, where she met August Louis William Oscar Robert Carl Weigel (1844-1915), an engineer who had been born in the German dukedom of Brunswick. In 1876 she and Oscar married in New York; they travelled to Melbourne for their honeymoon, arriving in March 1877 in the Mysore, intending to stay for six months.
(Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography)


Education & Training:

Johanna was raised in a wealthy estate in Poland. At 16, she came home to find the Estate paddocked and there was no one around. Someone suggested that she go to Vienna to stay with her Godmother and it was here that she learnt to sew. She discovers that she is talented and also does translations from the French and German fashion journals and sends them to the New York Fashion Journal where they were well received. The Editor of the New York Fashion Journal met her in Vienna in the early 1870s and offered her a job in New York. (Source: ABC: Madame Weigel: colonial fashionista: Audio file: July 2015)



"By her own account, after many requests from friends who admired her dress sense Johanna Weigel started to cut patterns from her own clothes and give them away. The easy-to-follow instructions for measuring, cutting and sewing made the patterns popular and their increasing success led her and Oscar to start their fashion business in 1877 in premises in Lennox Street, Richmond. They imported all their printing machines and tissue paper and soon established offices in central Melbourne and Sydney and agencies throughout Australia and New Zealand.

In 1880 they started Weigel's Journal of Fashion, a monthly subscription journal that claimed to be the first fashion magazine to be designed, published and printed in Australia. It included illustrated fashion articles, housekeeping hints and serialized fiction. The impact of her patterns and journal on women and their families, particularly in country areas, was considerable. Miles Franklin later wrote that her mother was a regular subscriber to the Journal:

It was an 'elegancy' to which she clung through the leanest lean years . . . Mother always dressed herself and us by Madame W's paper patterns . . . Madame Weigel was to me a figure of legend as Mrs Beeton or 'The Ingoldsby Legends'.

In 1893 Oscar (and therefore his wife) was naturalized. In 1890 they had built Drusilla, a two-storeyed house with twenty-six rooms on twenty-seven acres (11 ha), at the foot of Mount Macedon, where they developed a substantial garden. The house burned down in July 1903. They subsequently moved to South Melbourne. The Weigels were frequent contributors to charity, much of their philanthropy being anonymous. On 7 February 1915 Oscar died at Los Angeles while he and Johanna were on a business trip. Johanna returned to Australia in April with Oscar's ashes. His estate in Victoria was sworn for probate at £32,740.

After her retirement from active association with the business, Weigel travelled extensively overseas." (Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography)


Did You Know?

The Lady

(Source: Veronica Lampkin: Madame Weigel's Patterns)

Dr Veronica Lampkin
Dr Veronica Lampkin received her PhD from Griffith University in 2013 for her study of Johanna Weigel titled: "Mining the archive: an historical study of Madame Weigel's paper patterns and their relationship to the fashion and clothing needs of colonial Australasia during the period 1877 to 1910."

Dr Lampkin has also written a book about Johanna Weigel called:
"Madame Weigel: the Woman who Clothed the Australasian Colonies", was published in May 2015.

"Madame Weigel's girlhood had been Prussian until a family crisis saw her move to Vienna in the early 1860s. From there, she migrated to America in 1872 and spent five years working in New York where she met and married Oscar Weigel, a pivotal character in her life and in the business they later established in Melbourne, Australia, after migration in 1877.

Madame Weigel offered a vital new development for Australasian seamstresses – paper patterns for home sewing. Issued through her fashion journal, Weigel’s Journal of Fashion, Madame Weigel's paper patterns soon gathered a loyal following that often endured for decades.

The couple worked hard to achieve success, then in the 1890s left on their first long tour to Europe. Whilst away, Madame Weigel provided a series of letters for publication in Weigel’s Journal of Fashion. Three more series of travelogues followed, each giving fascinating detail of the woman that she was, the life that she led, the fashions, nationalities, and people that she saw.

Madame Weigel was a keen observer of life in Australia and overseas. Having stayed in many of the grand hotels of Europe, Canada and America, her fellow guests fascinated her, as did the many conversations she overheard.

Her greatest passion was as a motorist. She had learnt to drive in Paris in 1900, and much later in life wrote that she was the first woman in Nice, on the French Riviera, to hold a motor driving license in 1901. She had driven down through France in these very early days of motoring, proud to have travelled without incident.

Madame Weigel was willing to be seen as radical, taking on motoring, winter sports, cycling and sea bathing when women should not have, including the rational clothing needed for such new activities. More than able to address the critics who opposed such outrageous developments in women’s lives, she wrote - and signed - many articles for her journal's readers to empower them towards change.

After a long life of 92 years, Madame Weigel died in 1940, her business continuing on until 1969 in the care of her employees.

Many of the artefacts that are Madame Weigel's journal, patterns and catalogue, as well as items made from her patterns, have been found and collected by enthusiasts. She was, and continues to be, the most remarkable of early Australasian business women."
(Source: Veronica Lampkin: Madame Weigel's Patterns)


From her Richmond factory, Madame Weigel was the first to manufacture paper patterns in Australia and established a network of agents in rural towns across the country.

Next came her eponymous fashion journal which, among articles on clothing trends, included travelogues from her regular trips to Europe.

“Quite a lot of her agents were women,” Veronica says.

“A few of them were trading behind their husbands, but quite a lot were trading under their own name."
(Source: Weekly Times)

Weekly Times

Did You Know?

Weigel's created over 6900 paper patterns for women in Australia and New Zealand

Used over 350 mostly women as distributors across Australia.

Looked after their employees even well after both Oscar and Johanna had died because of their wills.


Madame Weigel's Patterns by Veronica Ruth Lampkin

Madame Weigel's Patterns
ABC: Madame Weigel: colonial fashionista: Audio file: July 2015 - Michael Cathcart interviews Dr Veronica Lampkin

ANU: Australian Dictionary of Biography

Trove: Obituary Madame Weigel


The Mysterious Weigels

Mysterious Weigels

Wikia: Vintage Patterns: Madame Weigel's


Knitting: Cottage Cosy (for Teapots) - instructions

Cottage Cosy instructions


Drawing Today's Fashion - the Covers for Clothing Patterns

PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle  High SchoolSecondary

ICT Capability Australian Curriculum General Capability: ICT Capability

Critical & Creative ThinkingAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical & Creative Thinking

1. You are to go to Popsugar's website to see the latest trends in fashion for women. (The selected photo is from the Victorian collection to line up with Madame Weigel's era)

Popsugar Fashions

2. Select on dress to draw as the cover for your Clothing Pattern company in the vein of Madame Weigel: see below:

Pattern 1797

3. Draw your selected photo - with the three aspects of the dress as shown in Madame Weigel's cover. Don't forget to add the accessories!

4. Extension: Do you think you could make up a paper pattern for your selected dress or garment?


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