Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Choosing, storing and using vintage patterns

Hi everyone! How's your week going? 

I was having a little ponder the other day when shopping for patterns about challenges that new sewers might have when it comes to picking out vintage patterns to work on for the first time.

When I started using original vintage patterns, my main concern was the sizing as well as what pattern would suit me best. 

So hopefully in this post, I can give you some tips about how to choose vintage patterns, how to use them and finally how to store them so they are yours for many more years. 



Choosing a pattern

The great thing about vintage patterns is that they're honestly not all that popular with most sewers. Just like vintage clothes, you may need to have an interest in a certain era to want to replicate exactly what was being worn many years ago. Within the Spoolettes only myself and a few others sew with vintage patterns, so I am in the minority. But I can't blame them, there are so many beautiful modern patterns out there especially from the indie pattern makers!

Vintage patterns are really easy to come by, so the market has plenty of stock to offer. Considering that home sewing was at its height in the 50's, 60's and 70's, you'll tend to find a lot more patterns from these years as there were so many being printed. Pattern companies also had a habit of reselling the same pattern with a new pattern number or copying each other (with some differences) so if you can't find a particular pattern in your size from Simplicity, you may just find an exact copy from Butterick for example

The Vogue and Simplicity patterns shown here are very similar and both from 1967. The Simplicity version was cheaper and had a tie belt and Nehru collar. The Vogue version offers a maxi length, but otherwise they are exactly the same

How much should I pay? 

If you’re lucky to find the perfect pattern at the opp shop or goodwill, chances are it's not going to cost more than a dollar, so that’s a win! 

If you like to buy from places like Etsy, eBay or other private pattern sellers, the majority of patterns from the 50's onward will sell for around $10 to $15. Which is around the RRP of brand new patterns from the store.  

Expect to pay more for patterns preceding the 50's, designer or couturier patterns from Vogue or if they are considered rare. Rare in my understanding are patterns that wouldn't have sold a lot originally like patterns for hats or stockings or were included as part of a limited offer from a magazine etc.

If you come across a pattern labelled as rare, but you’re not too sure, give it a quick Google and see if it really is rare or if the seller is maybe over stretching a bit. 

My limit on regular dress patterns is $15 to $20. I might pay more for a particular pattern or designer. The most I have paid is $40 for a Vogue Couturier design pattern. 

My only Vogue Couturier pattern which I paid just over $40 for
I have seen on eBay and Etsy regularly available patterns being sold for $80 and one for even $200!! Not sure if it was a typo as the patterns were not rare, but keep your wits about you when buying patterns and have a limit. Some sellers may just be selling something they found at an opp shop and assume is rare or special, but the actual value of paper sewing patterns is actually quite low because of the amount there are available to buy

Sizing is also another interesting point to look out for. In the mid-60's most of the pattern companies underwent a sizing change. This meant that if you were buying a size 14 last week, you would now need to buy a size 12. A nice little high-five for your self-confidence! 

The above size chart is for a McCall's dress from 1959 and the below chart is for McCall's pyjamas from 1968. Noting the differences in a size 16 (highlighted). When buying these two patterns, the 1959 shopper would buy a 16, but the 1968 shopper would buy a 14

To know whether you need to be wary if this, take a look at the front of the pattern. It will say something like 'New sizing'. Be sure to check your measurements in the photos of the pattern. If the seller doesn't include a photo of the back, send them a quick message asking for them to do so.


As an example, I know if I am buying a pre-1965 pattern I would need to buy a 16. Anything after that I would need to by a 14. (But in modern clothes I buy a size 12!)

Vintage patterns were also only sold as one size per envelope, so picking the right size is pretty important, unless your quite good at adjusting patterns to fit you, then you can buy a different size and make the adjustments yourself

They also had other sizing methods like junior for girls or teenagers and petite for smaller women. Simplicity also had a slenderette range - which means they were designed to visually slim your silhouette down using clever panelling, pattern placement and other decorative details.


The first vintage pattern I bought was Butterick 2624 - A simple shift with a coat pattern. I chose it because it was simple and I could be sure to know exactly how it would look. No high neck ruffles or kitschy collars to scare me! I wasn't ready for that look back then. When buying your first pattern, you're of course free to choose what every you like, but patterns such as Butterick 2624 and other "wardrobe building" patterns are also a good investment as you get many pieces to practice with and modify to suit your style


In addition, because these are original patterns, the fit, look and length are all totally different, so you may need to lop a few inches off the hem, do a full bust adjustment or make other changes to adapt to our modern bodies.

Most patterns will come under the names of the big four - Simplicity, Vogue, McCall's and Butterick. 

But there are also plenty of other smaller companies like Maudella, Kwik Sew, Burda, New Look, Advance, Weigels, Le Roy and Style and also mail order patterns which usually were unmarked. They will often make indications to a catalogue or a form you can order from.

Smaller pattern companies Maudella, New Look and Weigel's. Facile was a mail order pattern company from Queensland, Australia

Storage

Storing of patterns varies for most people. Some (like me) like to carefully document the patterns and make a catalogue. Some people are OK with just popping them in a shoebox. 

Ideally, because they are old and are paper some more care should be taken to ensure they last another 50 years. The most damage happens to the envelopes themselves considering they are the part protecting the pieces. The paper they make patterns from is quite sturdy, even though it looks pretty flimsy

The best preserved patterns I own had been taken care of well by their former owner. Usually packed in a box away from damp and sunlight. This is probably the best technique, but you can of course be a little more careful and put them in plastic sleeves to keep away dust and insects. 

My pattern draw, with the patterns in individual plastic sleeves

Some of my patterns are in pretty bad shape, with bits of envelope degenerating every time I handle them. Over the years, this can happen to your sewing patterns to if you’re not careful with them now. 

Probably the least well taken care of pattern I own. The paper is brittle and little bits flake off all the time. It also looks as though it has sunlight damage at the top

If you receive a pattern that you bought online that's in pretty bad nick, you can attempt to repair the envelope yourself with some archive quality tape. You can use regular sticky tape, but the glue on this could break down over time and leave stains. Newer sticky tape may not ever do this unlike its counterparts from yesteryear but do take care when using it.

Other alternatives to keeping the damaged envelope are checking online to see if someone is selling just the envelope. The contents may have been lost or damaged, so some sellers will still sell the envelopes for a few dollars as replacements or as scrap-booking supplies. You can also colour photocopy the old envelope to make a new one from regular paper or laminate it, making a card that you put into a plastic sleeve with the pattern pieces. 

Using 

So how should you use your vintage pattern? Some people may argue for preserving the pattern wholly and tracing off the pieces onto modern pattern paper. Some, like me are happy to use the pattern pieces, pin them and cut around them.

If you’re a fan of the former, be sure to get yourself some good tracing paper. Swedish tracing paper is the current favourite for dress makers, but can be a little pricey. Other acid free paper on a roll is suitable too. If you're in Australia, your local supermarket should sell home brand baking paper which is about 69c a roll. There is branded baking paper as well for a few dollars more. 

Once you've traced off your pattern, you can then make adjustments and trace and retrace until you have the perfect fit!


If you are happy to actually use the vintage pattern pieces, I think there should only be one rule. Do not cut the pattern!! 

Cutting off hems or making direct alterations won't help the next person who may inherit your pattern! Also they don't take so kindly to sticky tape like the envelope might. Because they are vintage, cutting the pattern reduces their overall value. You may never want to sell your pattern collection, but you can be sure that unaltered ones will always be favoured over cut up ones.

If you need to alter a pattern, trace over it and then make your alteration. And once you've finished with the pattern piece, fold it up neatly and pop it back in the envelope. Leaving it out on the floor or the table is just inviting it to be sun damaged, ripped accidentally or perhaps chewed on by a pet. I remember when I was little, the family dog running inside and making a meal of one of my mums pattern pieces. She was able to trace off a replacement piece luckily!


Well now that was rather long, but I hope it was helpful! Using vintage patterns is a great way to get the look of your preferred era and they even use techniques that may now be skipped by modern patterns. I fully encourage you to give them a try! 

If you have any questions please leave a comment! 

Cat xo 

26 comments:

  1. I adore vintage patterns as well and have a lovely stash that unfortunately is in storage right now until I get more room. I do delve into them every now and again. I have been lucky enough to stumble across some amazing ones at St Vinnies and other charity stores but finding this less and less. Doesn't stop me poking my head in anytime I pass by one!

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    1. Ooh yes, you have some great ones that I've seen. I remember seeing a funnel neck dress of yours on Burdastyle! That's a great pattern! My opp shop hasn't been that great with patterns lately. They just have the left overs from what I think was a really good pile to start with.

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  2. This made me wish i'd start teaching myself to sew. Very helpful if I ever did so in the future! I enjoyed reading through it nonetheless.

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    1. You should totally learn! If only I could give you lessons from afar! There are lots of really good tutorials on YouTube about starting to sew, but once you're ready and have the machine and some nice fabric and patterns, you'll make the time for it I'm sure!

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  3. Very helpful post Cat, I'm sure lots of new sewers will find this useful. I completely agree, using vintage patterns is a great way to get an authentic look and if you are lucky enough to find some vintage fabric it's like having a brand new vintage dress!

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    1. Glad you agree, I've never seen you're whole collection, but from the dresses you make I am sure they are quite lovely! And yes! Getting vintage fabric is whole other deal! Especially when people keep cutting it up to make quilts and little crafts! Eeeekkk!!!

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  4. Great post for the newbies! I've started taking the pattern pieces and instructions out of the envelope so they can all be stored flatter, and I'm not further destroying it taking things in and out. All live together in their own bag though so nothing gets separated! I am also attempting to keep an electronic file of all of my patterns so I can flip through them when looking for what to make.

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    1. Oh good idea! I am sometimes a bit rough with my patterns, so yes keeping them separate in a little plastic sleeve is a great idea! And yes, having them on file while you're out shopping is so handy! Ever since I put mine up on My patterns page and Flickr I can be more precise when shopping for fabric. That's a great idea! There are also lots of pattern apps that can help with that too, but you have to manually enter the data which is a pain

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  5. As a beginner at sewing and someone who would live to get into vintage patterns, I found this really helpful - thank you! Also was interesting to see some of the lovely patterns you have collected. Georgia x

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    1. Oh I'm so glad you found it helpful! There's no need to feel intimidated by vintage patterns even though the instructions can be really way off and they assume you know how to do certain things already, so make sure you keep a proper sewing book handy just in case! I should also have mentioned vintage patterns often don't come with facings! So you may have to draft these yourself sometimes! But they really are a joy to be able to get the look of the era that you're after! Good luck and I'm always just an email away if you need any advice!

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  6. Very interesting, you are such a mine of info! xxx

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  7. This is a great post! I don't own many patterns as I'm not much of a sewer nowadays but I'm particular about the ones I do own, keeping them in plastic sleeves and tracing them. I'm trying to build up to tackling a vintage pattern I got a few months ago but I need to completely adjust the size and just keep procrastinating about it!

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    1. How very good of you! I'm sure you'll get around to making that pattern, which one is it by the way? If you need any help let me know or I can point you in the right direction!

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  8. Great post! A helpful storage tip - comic book covers are good for storing sewing patterns. They tend to be the same size as the standard pattern, and don't cost too much. You can find them on line, or if you have a comic store near you they usually sell them in packs of 100.

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    1. Oh yes indeed! They would be perfect! I don't a get to go to many comic book stores, and when I do, they only sell the comics and not really any thing else! I'll have to take a proper look around next time

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  9. Tip for repairing tears in old patterns - cut a thin strip of tissue paper and carefully glue on the back of the tear using PVA (white) glue. PVA dries clear and the tissue paper will become almost invisible. Doesn't have to be fancy tissue either - the stuff wrapped around your new shoes will do! Or use the scrap tissue from around pattern pieces you cut it out.

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    1. Oh good idea! I often pull out vintage patterns that have been repaired with tape and or even worse, masking tape! That stuff is stiff as a board and shrinks over time!

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  10. Lovely and very useful post! Vintage patterns are such a great resource. Every sewer should have a collection (in my opinion), even if it's a small one!

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    1. Thank you! Yes I do agree, a few vintage patterns never hurt anyone. I'm sure deep down everyone has a secret vintage dress that they'd love to sew but might not have the chance!

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  11. Great post - lots of handy tips and info. - thanks for sharing :-)

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  12. This was a really great post, Catherine! I learnt a lot of things, all very interesting, and I'm sure that next year when I (hopefully!) start getting into sewing my own clothes I'll come back and read all your sewing related tips and knowledge!

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    1. Thank you Lucy! I can't wait to see your first make! It really is very satisfying getting exactly what you want with the right fit and so on! And it wouldn't hurt to start building your collection now, to give you extra motivation ;)

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  13. This is such a great pattern, I learned so much. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge with us. What kind of plastic sleeves do you use to store the patterns in?

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad you liked it. I get my sleeves at Daiso in the stationary section. They usually have different types of plastic sleeves, some with a fold over sticky flap, some without. None of my ones have perforations, theyre just straight plastic. And cause it's Daiso it's only $2.80 for I think a pack of 10 or 20?

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