What’s Old is New Again: Sewing Vintage Patterns

Posted by on Mar 19, 2013 in Sewing | Comments


Sewing from vintage patterns is a fun way to expand your sewing repertoire while challenging yourself at the same time. Even if your style is more 2013 than 1953, vintage patterns are worth a look. Many have classic lines, and in a modern fabric you won’t look like an extra on Mad Men (unless you want to!). Vintage sewing patterns are fairly easy to come by; they are plentiful on Craftsy, eBay and Etsy; any of which are good options if you are hunting down a particular pattern. Estate sales and thrift stores are also great places to look if you’re not afraid to dig for patterns.

Vintage Sewing Patterns

When looking for patterns, keep in mind that sizing has changed quite a bit. Vintage patterns were sold according to bust measurement (it’s a good idea to use your high bust measurement, which is more indicative of your overall size, rather than your actual bust measurement) and weren’t multi-sized, so knowing your measurements while shopping for patterns is very important. If you fall in love with a vintage pattern that isn’t quite the right size, rest easy. Grading up or down one size is fairly straightforward. If you differ by more than one size though, you might be better off continuing to hunt for the pattern in a better fit.

If you’re new to sewing with vintage patterns, start back at square one. Even if you’re an accomplished sewist, start with a simple pattern with few pattern pieces, like an a-line skirt, to get your feet wet. Also consider picking an era when the clothing styles were flattering to your figure. Would you look better in a long, lean, 1920s flapper dress or a 1950s frock that flatters your waist? This will help narrow down your options when you’re hunting for patterns.

Once you’ve found a great pattern and are ready to get stitching, here are a few tips to make it a successful project:

First and foremost, get a roll of butcher paper and trace your pattern pieces (don’t forget to transfer all of the markings). This will help you preserve the original, and the pattern will be easier to work with. Vintage patterns typically don’t have as many markings as modern patterns. Some patterns don’t have any markings at all and rely on perforations (which aren’t consistent across manufacturers). It might take a bit of sleuthing to figure out which pattern piece is what.

Sewing notions have improved in recent decades. For example, you might encounter a pattern written before fusible interfacing was available that instructs you to use muslin. Constructing a garment the way it was done back in the day can be a great learning experience, but if you’re not a purist, feel free to substitute the modern equivalent.

Making a muslin might seem tedious but it will give you a chance to decipher the instructions and make adjustments for fit. Proportions and undergarments have changed a lot, and this will affect how the final garment fits. Don’t risk your expensive fabric!

And finally, consult a vintage sewing book. Vintage patterns include less instruction than modern patterns because it was assumed that everyone knew basic garment construction. A vintage book will use the same vocabulary that your pattern does, so whatever you’re hung up on will be easier to decipher.

Have you sewn anything from a vintage pattern? Let me know in the comments!

Come on back to the Craftsy blog on Thursday to learn how to take the right measurements for sewing garments with the perfect fit!

Comments

  1. Elisabet says:

    I just love those old patterns! I have bought some over the net, also historical patterns. The ones from 1930s are just so stylish!
    I recently sew a dress made of at retro pattern.

  2. Rochelle New says:

    I love vintage patterns! I just finished sewing a wearable muslin of an unprinted Hollywood pattern from 1946 for my 40′s themed “Sew For Victory” sewing challenge. It’s been so much fun to sew vintage and help others explore vintage patterns. Some of the directions in my ’46 pattern are in fact a bit strange, but it’s truly not that hard to sew vintage once you get into it :) These are great tips!

    This is my dress: http://luckylucille.com/2013/03/sew-for-victory-completed-muslin/

  3. Jeanette says:

    I love using vintage patterns, this article is fab! I love to see how garments were constructed before modern fabrics and notions were available. I’m currently teaching a young woman to sew, and her first choice of garment is a 1960′s dress. There is so much attention to detail, I really think she’s learning a lot.
    I’m glad you mention about undergarments. I often visit vintage fairs where dresses obviously made from vintage patterns are on sale, and sadly so many people don’t realise they need vintage style undergarments to get into the dresses…and sometimes even then it’s not possible due to changing body shapes.
    Much better to make your own to fit.

  4. Laura says:

    If you go to Waechters Fine Fabrics you can see a pattern line called: Decades of Style, fabulous patterns! They alsoi carry Folkwear patterns as well.
    LAURA

  5. Catharine Donnelly says:

    Loved your piece on vintage. I have made vintage dresses and sure enough the sizes are a lot smaller to our sizes now. Do make one and then adjust. I use modern methods and materials and they work out well. Do agree that the undergarments make a difference also. But just love the look and style!

  6. thepatternlady says:

    When I sew with old patterns I feel very connected to the women that purchased them. We all chose to sew our clothing to express ourselves, show our best selves and maybe even create an illusion of what we would like to be! I’m certain that the those ladies that lingered and deliberated on the artists renderings in the catalogues felt the same way!

  7. Kathleen says:

    I have every pattern that I have bought over all the many years that I have been sewing(over 50)! I love to reuse them.

  8. Sheree says:

    I am looking for a vintage apron. The type that ties at neck and waist. Where can I obtain one?
    thanks

  9. Tammy says:

    I have a large collection of children’s vintage patterns. I’ve sewn with several of them and really enjoy it. I also have some adult patterns but I’ve yet to sew with any of them. I don’t sew much for myself but I’d love to start.

  10. Elaine Pannell says:

    I have both my mothers stock-some from 1950′s, and mine dating back to 1970′s. I have customers who like vintage clothes and have used many
    of them recently. My favourites I will have to trace off soon as they are falling to pieces! (Cheap vilene works well too, and I often use cheap lining to test a pattern)

  11. I have built up quite a collection of vintage dress patterns. particularly 1950s prom/evening dresses. I love remaking these patterns and try to source vintage fabrics where I can. Although sizing has altered and must be taken into account when sewing a garment, it is fascinating to find out about construction methods – garments were so well made in those days – how often do you find a garment these days which incorporates a waist stay, or those little keepers to secure a bra strap? Those are the kind of details which I miss and yearn for!

  12. Kait says:

    Yes! I sell vintage patterns in my Etsy shop, and I just recently used one to sew a cute, and classy, swimsuit. =D I love carefully unfolding the old paper and seeing how much care the previous seamstress had taken with the pieces, and occasionally her alterations. There’s something so… I don’t know. I guess it’s as the Pattern Lady says above, you feel connected to whoever it was, as though she were your grandmother and you had just been rummaging about in her sewing room. If only we had her with us to tell us the stories. =)

  13. Carolyn says:

    Thanks for the info. Do you know what the standard seam allowance is for vintage patterns, if there is a standard? I’m sewing the circa 1945 polka-dot full apron. Accordin to the instructions, the seam allowance is included in the pattern, but no measurement specified.