I love old patterns and their mysteries!

May 7, 2010

It’s no secret that I love vintage patterns. And not pattern reprints, specifically originals. I love the connection to another human being that you get through their sewing patterns. The notes, markings, alterations, seeing how someone you never knew looked at the construction of the same dress. A small note on yardage makes me giddy. Changed seam allowances? I’m ecstatic. I especially love seeing patterns that have been shortened or lengthened. I like to sit and wonder who the garment was being made for. I love to discover that said person had short arms or a long torso.

Sometimes if you’re lucky you get an even closer look into the world of the previous seamstress. One of my favorite patterns isn’t the most attractive design, but the note scribbled on the front of the Butterick 2110 envelope makes it wondrous. The note reads “Ramona, dear — My conscience would not permit me to finance the wearing of pants by a girl, not event to the small extent of furnishing a pattern, so I have removed that portion.” The lady did indeed remove the pants portion, but apparently Ramona didn’t particularly enjoy the skirted version of the outfit. The pattern remains uncut.

I recently came into possession of a huge box of patterns. About 41 pattern envelopes or so. The patterns were from an estate sale and very likely were owned by the same lady. The markings and handwriting on the various patterns confirm that most of them had been used by this lady. As I open and use each pattern I feel like I’m learning something more about her. For example. She only purchased Simplicity patterns or she kept all her patterns organized by brand and I happened to receive her simplicity supply. I know she lived in Florida. She also very often bought the same pattern in multiple sizes. I assume she had children or grandchildren that she made matching clothing for. The box included four patterns for a men’s shirt/vest combo. One in boy’s size 1, one in boy’s size 8, one in boy’s size 10 and one in an adult 15 inch neck.

She was a very talented sewer and she took very good care of her patterns. Each is folded very carefully and not one of the patterns is showing its age. I very often find her alterations to the patterns and the pattern that I’m working with now (Simplicity 5616) is no exception. You can see a close up of some of her alterations on one of the facing pieces.

And on the shoulders of the back and front pieces.

You can read more about this project at my blog: $25 Vintage, but what I’d really like is to ask this group a question.

Why do you sew vintage? Do you like to touch the past like I do? Or do you absolutely love vintage styling? Do you make dresses that remind you of your mother or grandmother? I’d love to know, please share!


  1. I sew vintage for many of the same reasons you mentioned. I love the look, the illustrations of the envelope put me over the top with joy, and I love re-cycling them, knowing I am bringing them back to life. I have just come into possession of a large lot of uncut patterns, I love to think that after 50 years they are joyful too for having something finally done with them.

    I love every aspect of it!

  2. Good on Ramona for boycotting the pantless pattern!

    My favourite pattern find is a neatly cut bodice piece in a beautiful 50s rayon taffeta. Was it to be used as facing but then judged superfluous, or did the seamstress mistakenly cut out one too many? Whatever the case, it adds a lovely sense of history.

  3. I think the reason I buy patterns which are vintage is because of the illustrations, when I go through my collection, I may have 4 patterns which are so close to identical, but I keep buying them anyway because of the pictures.
    I dont know why I sew vintage, too many reasons I think…
    *I prefer the femininity of the clothes,the nostalgia of when girls dressed like girls, in dresses, or pants with soft blouses.
    *I find most trends are better suited to girls with less bust and hip than I have (eg skinny jeans)
    *I don't like the concept of fast fashion, it seems wasteful and, well shallow
    * Vintage sewing somehow reminds me to take my time and do it properly knowing that this dress/blouse/pant is one I will be wearing for years to come because it is a more 'classic' piece
    *Because it links me to my past, I am making dresses from patterns my Mum used to wear, or my Grandmother, and in some invisible string way, it bonds me to them

    Thanks for asking the question, I mean I knew why I sewing vintage, but putting it into words, makes it more special somehow.

  4. Nancy, I'm just crazy about the styles. I've found that I gravitate to patterns from a 6 year period – 1957-1963. These clothes just seem to suit me better than modern styles or other vintage eras.

  5. I love finding evidence of a vintage pattern's previous owner, too, and have several patterns with notes on them that I'd never trade for a pristine copy! As for why I sew with vintage patterns … I love the designs! I see no reason to limit myself to modern patterns (though there are plenty of those I enjoy) when there are 80 or 90 years' worth of options to choose from.

  6. I really liked your post comments here. I think I buy vintage out of nostalgia. Many of the patterns I have bought are ones either I had or my mom had. Like you I find the handwritten comments on the patterns so wonderful, especially when they include names!

  7. Thanks for the post. She would rather throw the pant pattern away than risk it being worn in public. It's very interesting that she changed the shoulder line, but not the slope. She was not only a sewing expert, but a lady too!

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