More Vintage Pattern Stashing & Destashing: 1940s edition!

By on April 24, 2010

My recently acquired crayon-colored assortment of 40s pattern gorgeousness


OK, I think I have a problem. Perhaps stemming from a frustrating deficit of actual sewing progress lately? (I do have my machine working again, though and hope to have several new finished objects by this weekend!).

But when I spied the above lot of eight early 1940s DuBarry patterns on eBay, I couldn’t resist putting in an eensy little bid, even though they will all require grading up a size or two. And to my surprise, I “won.” (If you can really call adding to my over-squeezed pattern drawer “winning”).

Really, could YOU say no to a princess-seamed button-backed peplum two-piece dress like DuBarry 5505?

Note how the lines of the bodice seams continue in the gored skirt. And I love the gathering coming from the yoked neckline (though I’d probably make it a very narrow band–it’s too high for me as is). Yellow isn’t my color, but I love the red.

And how about DuBarry 5525? Isn’t it wonderful how the sweetheart neckline is mirrored in the hip yoke?

On the more nursing-friendly front, there’s DuBarry 5613–it’s technically a “beach/brunch coat”, but it looks like a wrap dress to me:

And button fronts provide far better access than button backs:

Is it just me, or are these 1940s DuBarry illustrations particularly lovely? I’m just crazy about the style and styling of these envelopes… well, aside from the fact that they exclusively feature tall skinny white ladies–but that’s a blog post for another time.

So yes, I am a bad, bad girl.


HOWEVER! As promised in my previous pattern stashing/destashing post, I have made excellent progress towards destashing any and all patterns that I am 75% certain I will never sew, either for style or size reasons. No matter HOW enticing their seductive little illustrations!

The first step was donating a box of 24 patterns to Pattern Rescue (which I discovered via Color Kitten). They were mostly 70s and 80s patterns that while fun, would be too much trouble to sell, but I tried to put in a few nicer ones as well.

These are patterns I will be getting rid of.

Simplicity 2876. It’s a glamourous 1949 V-Neck gown… but despite my grading ambitions, there is no way I’m doing the work to get a 30″ bust pattern over my 41″ bust — that would involve going up three sizes to my 36″ high bust, and THEN doing a major FBA.

Simplicity 2309. Lovely 1948 pleated bias-cut skirt with side pockets. But even before my waist vanished under my uterus, it was nowhere near 26 inches.

Mail Order 1447. This 1960s shirtwaist was featured in my “A Life in (Mail-Order) Patterns” post–the tabs and pockets are SO cute, and it’s in a 35-inch bust… but it’s a half-size, I have MANY other shirtwaist patterns, and I’m a relatively tall girl.

Style 2876, 1970. This was HARD–it’s a 38-inch bust and I LOVE the seaming (and these hairstyles–almost a Princess Leia look, no?)… on someone else. Repeated dressing-room experimentation in vintage stores has proven that these clean-lined high-necked mod dresses just Do Not Work on my curvy figure.

Photographing the envelopes is quick… but assessing the condition, determining whether all pieces are present and cut/uncut, setting a fair price, writing descriptions and adding tags? Not so quick. Now I know why so many vintage patterns seem to be so pricy! That’s real work!

But I figure if I can list them all now, it’ll be relatively quick to ship them if they sell while I’m on maternity leave. And any extra cash will certainly come in handy for laundry money to wash all those cloth diapers

(Crossposted to my blog!)

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1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s

A Life in (Mail-Order) Patterns

By on April 20, 2010

Vintage Marian Martin Mail Order Pattern T 9096 Dress

Some vintage patterns come in pristine factory folds. Some come carefully cut and refolded, with handwritten hints at their former owners’ tastes (such as: “very good skirt pattern for me” or “make in brown check”). And some come with a history.

Enter Mrs. D. I first met Mrs D. in a 23-piece eBay lot entitled simply “Vintage Sewing Patterns – LOT DEAL @LOOK@”:

You will be getting all of these patterns. Each envelope has the pattern and pattern guide for cutting. I don’t know if all of the patterns are complete, but this lady seem to keep them all together but not guaranteed.

I tore the tape off the box barehanded when it arrived, crossing my fingers that a reasonable number of the patterns would be cute and within a few grades of my bust size (and they were, but we’ll get to that!) But as I gingerly opened each brittle mail-order envelope and photographed the contents, I felt as if I was traveling through time.

Most vintage lots I’ve acquired are random mixes of envelope patterns from the 40s to the 80s, with little clue as to who owned or used them. But thanks to the mailing address that appeared on every one of these pattern envelopes, I knew they were all ordered by one particular woman in Missouri as she sewed throughout her life.

The oldest patterns in her careful collection seemed to be from the late 40s or early 50s (most of the postmarks are undated, but I used this Cemetarian article for reference). For example, this gorgeous deep-V Marian Martin 9279 day dress with pocket detail: bust size 32, postage, 1 cent.

Vintage Marian Martin Mail Order Pattern 9279 Dress

The most recent ones are from 1990–I didn’t even know mail-order patterns were still available then! The last one is a multi-size pattern, but from her 80s purchases I gather Mrs. D was sewing a bust size 42 at this point. And the postage had gone up to 18 cents.

Vintage Mail Order Pattern 4209

Here’s what I learned about “this lady”:

  • She probably had a daughter or two. There are four 1950s girls patterns in the collection, and I am so keeping the below two for when Cartoonist Baby gets old enough. The first one, Mail Order 3863, is from 1954 or earlier–I was able to date it by the newspaper comic strip pages she used to trace the bolero pattern. I think the second, Mail Order 9276, could make a fun modern party dress, with that lovely notched neckline and sash.

    Vintage American Weekly Mail Order Pattern 3863 Girl's Dress

    Vintage Mail Order Printed Pattern 9276 Girl's Dress

  • She was probably on the shorter side. Many of the patterns in the lot are “half-size” patterns, meant for women 5’3″ and under. That said, none of the misses’ patterns seem to have been shortened for a smaller torso, so perhaps she either traced them, or never actually sewed them up. And I see no signs of any FBAs, but perhaps she was busty as well, as suggested by her note on the below Mail Order 1447 shirtwaist pattern from 1963: “cut shirt bigger.” LOVE the tab details on the shoulder yoke, but I’m too tall for this one.

    Vintage Mail Order Pattern 1447

  • She loved a trim button-front shirtwaist day dress, with pockets if possible. (Witness the Marian Martin 9096 at the top of this post). From her 50s and 60s orders, you’d almost think no other style of dress existed:

    Mail Order (Anne Adams) 4750, from 1958. Wouldn’t this be great made up in perpendicular stripes as illustrated?

    Vintage Anne Adams Printed Pattern 4750

    Mail Order 9213. Check out the gored skirt with partial yoke and those cute cuffs (collar optional):

    Vintage Mail Order Printed Pattern 9213 Dress

    Mail Order 4874, with its collar and pleats, is a more dressy variation on this theme–I imagine this in a polka-dot silk, especially with those gloves and bag. Though she could just as easily have done it in a cotton.

    Vintage Mail Order Printed Pattern 4874 Dress

    It wasn’t just her–the shirtwaist seems to be a staple of the mail-order pattern business, as evidenced by this pink tissue poster (enlarged version here) in one of the envelopes featuring “Pattern Hits of the Month–Voted Tops by Our Fashion Council for Style, Sewing Ease, Flattery.”

    Vintage Mail Order Printed Pattern 4540 Poster

  • …At least until the mid-1960s, when things got a little looser. Mrs. D had gone up a bit in bust size, and was trying out less fitted styles. Here’s 8349, from 1964:

    Vintage Mail Order Pattern 8349

    And 9066, from 1963. It’s not even belted!

    Vintage Mail Order Pattern 9066

    By the 70s and 80s, she was in bust sizes 40 or 42, and had gotten into relaxed jumpers (4785) and culottes (9069). I wonder if she made this tank in a polka dot and wore with sunglasses?

    Vintage Mail Order Pattern 9069

    It’s not 50s style, but it is belted and pocketed:

    Vintage Mail Order Pattern 4785

  • She made at least occasional forays into embroidery and crochet. Or not–the transfers on the three apron and embroidery patterns are unused, and I can’t tell if she ever made the very 70s owl crochet pattern:

    Vintage Mail Order Embroidery Transfer Pattern 7032

    Mail Order Crochet Pattern Design 595

    By 1983, she was quite relaxed!

    Vintage Mail Order 9459

Of course, there’s much more I don’t know about her, such as:

  • Did she also sew with envelope patterns? There was one mixed in–a 1950s Simplicity envelope pattern for a girls dress–but the pattern was so shredded that I could barely see the illustration. Perhaps she stored those separately.
  • Did she ever wear pants? Evening dresses? Blouses? Suits? Perhaps she bought those ready-to-wear, but her mail-order sewing preference seems to have been strongly in the day-dress camp.

So there you have it! A life in mail order patterns! I’ve made a Flickr gallery so you can see the whole collection and I’ve been entering all the patterns into the Vintage Pattern Wiki (here’s one, for example). I’m keeping all the non-half-size shirtwaists, but as soon as I set up an Etsy shop I’ll be selling all the larger sizes, half sizes, and styles that don’t quite suit me, like this “Patt-o-Rama 8356” (too bulky in the bust area for me):

Vintage Mail Order "Patt-O-Rama" Pattern 8356.

Crossposted to my blog, of course!

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1940s | 1950s | 1960s

Vintage Pattern Stashing/Destashing!

By on April 16, 2010

Vintage Simplicity 2428

In the first part of this series on my blog, I covered the modern patterns I picked up recently in anticipation of the post-preggo return of my waist. In part two: a look at my recent vintage stashing and destashing!

Although I’ve bought individual vintage patterns here and there on Etsy or eBay (like the one for my orange silk floral maternity dress), most of my collection are the result of lucky bids on poorly photographed and/or described eBay pattern lots. The ones with clear pictures and detailed descriptions usually sell for too high, but there’s less competition on the fuzzy ones. Said lots tend to contain some patterns way out of my size or taste zone–but I can resell those or give them away (and I will, I swear!)


First up–the pattern at the top of this post, a lovely scoop-neck dress with circle skirt from 1948. Here’s a less frighteningly faceless view from the Vintage Pattern Wiki:

I’d definitely go knee-length in a lightweight cotton, and I’m not sure I’d do the swirly lace treatment. But I don’t know that I’ll get to it anytime soon, as it’s hardly nursing-friendly.

From 1945, a crisp, practical shirtwaist day dress with nice big pockets and a center front pleat. I’m loving the striped cap-sleeve look. The handwritten penciled note reads “very good skirt pattern for me.” Me too!

Vintage Simplicity 1381 dress

The below ruffled sweetheart neckline housedress is actually a “maternity dress or pinafore”, and is super adjustable thanks to the back tie belt. It reminds me of Gertie’s recent ode to housedresses (and this 40s housedress in particular). I’d lower the neckline and go for the tinier ruffle treatment. And I have no idea why her eyes are closed.

Vintage Simplicity 4635

This 1941 button-front makes me wish I was a hat and gloves girl. It’s begging to be made up in polka-dot rayon… “The button fronts are top-stitched to the side fronts for a smartly tailored effect.” For sure!

Vintage Simplicity 4046 Dress

Oh goodness I love a shirtwaist–and with a gathered bust over a fitted midriff, too!

Vintage Mail Order Printed Pattern 4729 Dress

I mentioned this one in a recent post on my blog, but I’ll show it off again because I love it SO much (and thanks to Sarah, I’ve learned it’s officially from 1940). In case you hadn’t noticed, the “vertical seaming in the front of the frock lends slenderizing flattery to this design.”

Vintage DuBarry 5005B Dress

And before we move on from one-piece dresses–I’m not usually a 60s gal, but this one is my size with a wonderful tie-neck detail. Both the pencil and full skirts are fabulous, and I love the layered polka-dot view:

Vintage Simplicity 5891

In the two-piece department… This jacket/skirt combo is undated but the (unprinted) pattern pieces are still in factory folds–1940s, right? I love the shaping so much I could be inspired to bend my “no high necklines” rule…

Vintage Butterick 4165 Suit

Here’s a “Simple to Make” two-piece dress from 1943, with more hand-written notes (“brown + white check”–no thanks!). I wonder if I could make this work for the office?

Vintage Simplicity 4527 2-Piece Dress

It’ll be a while before Cartoonist Baby is old enough, but this 1954 sundress and bolero mail-order is worth holding onto:

Vintage American Weekly Mail Order Pattern 3863 Girl's Dress

I’m uncertain about this Hollywood men’s shirt pattern — it’s in Cartoonist Husband’s collar size, but I find the men’s faces in this illustration strangely terrifying:

Vintage Hollywood Patterns 486 Men's Shirt

So that’s some of what’s staying around. Since I have a 36″ high bust (and a 41″ full bust), I’ll have to grade some of these a few sizes (I hear that even if you lose all your pregnancy weight it takes up to 9 months for your ribcage and hips to realign). But that’s a skill I’ve been meaning to learn anyway, and I’ll have some help from the latest addition to my sewing library, Grading Techniques for Fashion Design. The book explains manual pattern grading in detail, and has incredibly detailed, illustrated step-by-step directions for accurately grading dozens of styles of bodices, skirts, sleeves, dresses, pants, shirts, etc. by one or many sizes; the 1974 edition can be had used for about $10.

As for what’s (probably) going…


It’s super cute and in my size, but it’s just too big and blousy up top for my figure:

Vintage Butterick 9499 Shirtdress

Similarly, double-breasted + full-busted can = total disaster (with the exception of trenchcoats). This fabulous 1946 suit probably deserves a better home:

Vintage Simplicity 1866

And once again, I just need to admit to myself that square-dancing is not in my future:

Vintage Simplicity 3431 Dress with full skirt

By the way, speaking of the Vintage Sewing Patterns Wiki–I do try, whenever I acquire a vintage pattern–whether or not I plan to keep it–to check to see if it’s in the Wiki. And if not, I add it–you can see my contributions here.

(Crossposted to my blog, Polka Dot Overload).

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1910s | 1940s | 1950s | Sewing Machines

Beauty in the Basement: A Vintage Singer Unearthed!

By on April 9, 2010

96 years old, and she still has perfect tension!

My parents’ basement flooded recently and in the process of mucking it out, my mother came across a beautiful Vintage Singer. She didn’t remember its source at first, and my Bobie (grandmother) didn’t think it was hers either.

But after some thought and digging around in her own basement, Bobie realized that it was indeed her first sewing machine, the one she learned to sew on in the 1950s–she even found the thread, bobbins and projects she had for it, and the table she had it installed in. She apologized for not recognizing it instantly–but I told her that when you’re 87, you’re allowed to forget things occasionally!

So here’s the story, as she recalls it: she didn’t do much sewing at home, or right after she was married (in August 1944)–and soon, she had four young kids to take care of in a small apartment, not leaving her much free time. She did do some crocheting and knitting, however, like this lovely baby blanket she made for my Aunt Elissa in 1947, and which has now been passed down to me for my little girl (due in 7-11 weeks). (Sorry for the weird cropping, but I was making a bizarre face!):

Baby blanket crocheted by my Bobie in 1947

Eventually they moved to a bigger house and she decided to learn to sew dresses for her two daughters–who had particular ideas about what they wanted to wear, unlike my dad!–and clothes for herself. She thinks she got the machine from her family, and that they had had it for quite a few years before that. When she upgraded to a newer machine many years later, she gave the old Singer to my parents, and into the basement it went.

Here’s a photo of Sylvia (that’s her name, by the way–Sylvia Katler, born Sylvia Fishman) in the 1940s looking sharp in her Coast Guard uniform–she’s on the right, and that’s her sister Sarah and brother Milton. Most of her nine brothers and sisters were also in the service during WWII (Milton was too young, but served in the Korean War).

Here are some photos of her with my grandfather Leon Katler, also from the 1940s–don’t they look glamorous?

And here they are in 1947 as new parents:

Here’s a picture of the four kids with Leon from the 1950s, but I don’t know if she sewed that dress (and I can’t tell which is my dad and which is his brother, they looked a lot alike back then!):

Here’s a recent photo of me and Sylvia at my baby shower, with my grandmothers-in-law Theresa and Wilhelmina!

And should you be interested, in college I put together a short collection of some family stories she told me about her life growing up in old Jewish Boston, her time in the Coast Guard during World War II, and beyond.

I at first assumed it was a 1930s or 1940s model, but my blog readers tipped me off to the serial-number lookup on Singer’s website–they even had a PDF of the instruction manual. It’s a Model 66 (G-Series), manufactured at the Elizabethport Factory in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1914, along with 25,000 others of the same model.

As you might guess, it was originally treadle-operated, but at some point before my grandmother got it it was retrofitted with a motor and electric foot pedal.

My mother Beryl took it for a test drive (see her photo gallery here) and reports it has perfect tension. Sadly she lives 5 hours away, and I’m too close to delivery to want to travel anymore… so I probably won’t lay my hands on this beauty until well after Cartoonist Baby arrives!

Luckily this reminded me that my good friend Mary has a similar machine right here in Brooklyn, so maybe I can play with hers.

No offense to my computerized Viking and her 60+ stitches, but I doubt she’ll still be in service in the year 2101… and she was never this pretty!

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1940s | 1950s | Skirts

Greetings from the Shirred Skirt Test Lab

By on March 28, 2010

Shirred Skirt Inspiration from the Sears Catalog

Shirred Skirt Fabulousness from the 1949 Sears Catalog

In between muslining my Sencha blouse, schmoozing over falafel with the fabulous Bloggers and Blogettes (more on this later!), fighting off a nasty cold and decluttering the apartment for Cartoonist Baby, I’ve been working out the pattern-free pattern for my reversible shirred-waist full skirt:

Reversible Shirred Skirt Sketch

This skirt is the foundation of my spring mini-wardrobe contest plans–like the no-elastic yoked knit skirts I’ve been making, it should be stretchy enough to accommodate the most pregnant of bellies, but will still work just fine post-maternity.

But, horrors! As you recall I hit a roadblock recently when I discovered that my purchased Burda shirred-yoke skirt pattern was a circle skirt that just Would Not Do with my vertically patterned purple cotton lawn.

What I really needed was a pattern for a full skirt, like this 1950s number:

Shirred Girls' Skirt and Dress from 1940s Sears Catalog

Or like this RTW reversible Gap skirt (the reverse side is a solid). It’s not a maternity skirt at all, it fit me just fine before I gained 30 pounds of belly, bustage and baby, AND it is still quite comfortable in my third trimester!

RTW Reversible Shirred Skirt

Except no pattern is really needed at all for a dirndl/full skirt–as Gertie revealed in her tutorial on a non-elastic version, it’s just a bunch of gathered rectangles. All you do is choose how full/gathered you want the skirt to be in relation to your hips (two times? three times?), “draft” a waistband piece, gather, cut and sew.

Construction is a bit different for a reversible elastic-shirred version with a deep yoke instead of a waistband, of course. And I’ve never shirred a stitch before in my life. So here’s a peek at the Mikhaela test lab:

The Shirred Skirt Testing Lab

As you can see I’ve worked out some measurements and a likely construction sequence and cut out my (wearable) test garment pieces in a small-scale gingham ($1.50 a yard from Fulton Fabrics!). Right now I’m playing with different elastic shirring techniques on some muslin–none of my sewing reference books are very detailed on the subject, and online tutorials and advice differ widely on ideal stitch length/tension and how tightly the elastic should be wound on the bobbin.

I don’t know yet if the test tube version of my shirred skirt will be a success, but once I achieve World Shirring Domination I promise not to take it too far:

Shirred Cotton Play Dress w/ Attached Panties from 1940s Sears Catalog

Mommy and Me 1940s Playsuits

(Crossposted to my blog, Polka Dot Overload).

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Vintage Sewing

Sencha Sketch

By on March 22, 2010

Colette 1007 Sencha Blouse Maternity Modification Sketch

Today is officially Muslin Monday, and here’s the first one of the day–a maternity modification to Colette Patterns famous vintage-style cap-sleeve Sencha blouse. Gertie recently described some different ways to play with a basic button-back blouse pattern like this one, and I’m so far planning to do the following:

  • Scoop out the neckline (high necks never really work on me, plus I’m a necklace fiend)
  • Move the tucks up under the bust to make room for the belly (I asked pattern designer Sarai about this on her Flickr group where she answers questions about all things Colette, and she suggested sewing it up without the tucks to see how it fits, then tucking as needed)
  • Do a 2-3″ FBA on the pattern (for an added total of 6″)
  • Lengthen it a bit in front to go farther over the belly

I’m about to trace the pattern pieces (since I want to be able to use the pattern again post-preggo) but deliberating over size 6 (bust measurement 36″) vs. size 8 (bust measurement 37″). I usually choose patterns by high bust (which used to be 34″ for me but now as my ribcage has grown during pregnancy is more like 36″) and then do a major FBA but I’ve heard Colette Patterns are more generous in that area than the B-cup Big Four standard. I’ll still need a serious FBA either way, as my full bust is 41.”

I think I’ll go put my hair in the mesh roller set I just bought while I think about it…

(Crossposted to my blog).

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Circle Skirts and Vertical Stripes? Ask the Sears Catalog!

By on March 19, 2010

What was I thinking? Last night I sat down to wash the fabric and tape together the skirt pattern for my mini-wardrobe contest entry–it’s an elastic-shirred waist circle skirt in a purple lawn print, which I planned to make reversible by lining with a black dotted swiss cotton lawn. Here are the flats and planned fabric again:

Burda 7910 flatsMaggie London Purple, Black and White Cotton Lawn

As I ironed the fabric dry last night, I realized that the bold motifs ran in vertical stripes down the fabric–how would I ever lay this out with my bagel-shaped pattern pieces?

In my doubts I turned to one of my favorite fashion reference books, “Everyday Fashions of the Fifties: As Pictured in Sears Catalogs” (second in my heart only to “Everyday Fashions of the Forties”). My worst fears were confirmed–there was nary a vertically-striped (or otherwise vertically patterned) circle skirt in sight, though there were a few horizontal or chevroned striped numbers. All the vertically-striped gals were wearing full or fitted skirts:

I trust the Sears catalog ladies, so I’ll be “drafting” a full skirt (i.e. taking a big rectangle and gathering it around my pregnant “waist” with shirring elastic.)

As a bonus, how much fun is the 1952 children’s circle skirt spread the top image came from? If I ever do make any circle skirts, I will be sure to take every opportunity to pose sitting on the floor with my perfect circle spread out around me!

I’d love to be proven wrong here, by the way–have you ever made or seen a workable vertically-striped circle skirt? Am I just not thinking creatively here?

Cross-posted to my blog.

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