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.
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!