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Article 48 - Sept 12, 2011
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Vintage Inspirations:

Reading Vintage Sewing Pattern

Reading Vintage Sewing Patterns

By Jessica Lynn Harris

     Even if you are an experienced sewer, there are a few important differences to note when starting to make a project from a vintage sewing pattern to create a successful look. This article will help you understand the nuances of vintage patterns, as well as give you tips for purchasing them. 


Many times, when you purchase a contemporary patterns from one of the leading companies (Simplicity, McCall’s, Butterick, Vogue), one pattern envelope contains a wide range of sizes, either covering every size from 6-20, or half of the sizes (6-12 and 14-20). This is not so with vintage patterns.
Earlier patterns were usually purchased in one size. Sometimes, the sizing was listed on the front of an envelope using the pattern sizing system we see now (ex. Size 6). Otherwise, the bust measurement was printed on the front of the envelope (ex. Bust 32”) and customers were expected to know the standard measurements for waist and hips that corresponded. 
This one per envelope sizing system can be difficult for alterations for women who are different sizes in their bust, waist, and hips. With contemporary patterns, sewers can simply cut at one size and gradually move to a different size along the gradation lines. With vintage patterns, you will have to wing it. Keep this in mind when purchasing vintage patterns. It may be best to begin with separates (as opposed to dresses) wherein size changing is less necessary. 

Where to Buy Vintage Patterns: 
Vintage patterns can be sometimes found at yard sales, antique shops, and thrift shops at a very minimal expense. If you are not lucky enough to have found a steal in those places, online shopping is the way to go. Websites like ebay and etsy are wonderful places to start. There are many vendors, and you can search for specific needs (ex. 1940s night robe pattern) and receive a wide variety of results. If you’re not a fan of online bidding, many patterns on ebay can be purchased at a “Buy It Now” standard price. 
Otherwise, there are websites specifically for vintage patterns, like So Vintage Patterns, which I feel is highly overpriced (with patterns generally priced $55-$75 USD). 
Reproduced patterns are a great way to go if you’re worried about the sizing issues--many times, companies that reproduce patterns print them with our current size model. A great website for reprinted patterns is Decades of Style, which has a range of beautiful options from the 1920s-1950s.  


Expected Pricing: 
Pricing for vintage patterns can vary greatly depending on the decade the pattern was printed, the style of the garment, the rarity of the pattern, and the place purchased. Oftentimes, the older the pattern, the rarer it is and the more the price goes up.
Patterns from the late 1960s and newer are in such high abundance that I would be very reluctant to spend more than $15 or $20 on them. This pricing is more commonplace for 1950s and 1940s patterns, but you can find even better deals if you search well.     


How to date a vintage pattern:
Patterns, unlike books, inconveniently don’t have a publication page. Therefore, we can only make an educated guess as to the time period the look represents. Judge by silhouette and the fashion illustration. 
Patterns pre-1920s are usually very different, because the 1920s were the beginnings of modernism in fashion design and daywear. You can find e-book like productions of Victorian, Edwardian, and earlier patterns here, but this is considered more historic costuming than vintage. 


  • Authentic vintage patterns are even more delicate than the translucent pattern paper of today, because they are aged. Be sure to be very careful when taking the pattern out of the envelope and pining. 
  • Notches are pointed out rather than in. Sometime during the 1980s, triangular notches (which help sewers align fabric correctly) started to be printed inwards to save space on the pattern paper, but they should always be cut out. This is one of the few things that I found easier about using vintage patterns.



Chic Weekly: on-line Fashion & Sewing Magazine
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copyright 2010 - 2011 Love To Sew Studio
Article 48 Sept 12, 2011




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