Vintage Sewing

The value of vintage patterns.

March 6, 2011

I have been doing a lot of ‘searching’ on Etsy lately. An act not motivated by shopping, but by the desire to learn more about vintage styles throughout the decades. And I think sewing patterns really are a good place to start this sort of ‘through the decades’ research.

When vintage sewing patterns were first printed, they were current for the era. The older pattern envelopes feature illustrations by artists – impressions of the finished garments. The artists interpreted not only the silhouette of the pattern, but also what the fabric colour or print might be if made at that time. The artists also included the hairstyle fashions current to the era on their garment models. Vintage patterns therefore provide great insight for the would-be vintage sewer who not only wants to sew with a vintage pattern, but emulate an outfit that would have passed as fashionable for the time.

Through my ‘research’ however, I have been struck by the significant differences in the pricing of vintage patterns. I can understand a bit of a difference in price due to the condition of the pattern pieces/envelope, but it appeared to stretch further than this. I began to ask myself “how is the value of a vintage pattern calculated by sellers?”

It seems to me that a lot of factors come into play when deciding on the value of a vintage pattern. From my searching I can conclude there are many factors that are considered before a vintage pattern is priced, which I have written about on my blog. Do you think I have missed any factors out?

Where do you shop for vintage patterns?

Sam xox

Psst. On a side note – all the patterns pictured in this post are available from Etsy seller Savage Spider. Please be clear that I am in no way affiliated with Savage Spider, I only came across their pattern collection during my ‘research’ and was impressed with their variety of patterns and their reasonable prices.

  1. I don't think its a secret that the styles of the women illustrated on the pattern envelopes were styled of the time. Patterns were released quite often, and the ads as they are today were for the latest and greatest, hence the cutting edge of the stylish women.

    I did a blog post on this exact topic last year.
    Cost effective patterns

  2. Hi Shelleyj, Great minds think alike 🙂 I like the part in your blog post where you say "don't put too much stock in a factory fold", that is a great tip! It would be incredibly disappointing to receive a nicely folded pattern with a piece missing.

    I too enjoy looking at what was the cutting edge styles of the time. Thanks for the tip! Sam xox

  3. I think a lot of beginners get sucked in by pricing guides that are entirely based on personal opinion. I'd caution people to be skeptical of blanket statements like "x is worth z" or "don't pay more than x for y"

    Patterns sell for whatever the market will bear. You might see a pattern priced at $50 and think "WTF" but to the woman whose mother made her prom dress from that pattern, $50 is a steal because she's been searching for it for years and it's memories not just a pattern that she's buying.

  4. The $ value of an item is whatever someone is willing to pay for it, period. I get so irked when people tell me "I saw this same thing listed on eBay for x." Listed for and sold for are two totally different things. Just because someone has listed a pattern for sale for a certain amount, doesn't mean anyone is going to pay that. And, as much as I enjoyed Shelley's post and suggestions, I broke one of her rules not too long ago and bid $40 for a pattern from 1960, and someone wanted it more than me! That 60's pattern was obviously worth over $40, because that is what was paid for it. I also read your post about pattern pricing, and you are very right that there are a lot of factors that come into play. Consider also that the selling is seasonal. I bet swimsuit patterns are up right now, and coat patterns that I searched high and low for last fall are now available for a few bucks.
    Did you see the short post I wrote here a few weeks ago about a lot that sold for $675? I saw the dollar amount and choked, but as many pointed out, those patterns would sell for much more individually. Anyway, have fun pattern hunting!

  5. Katherine – That is such a good point. I know I would pay a high price if I found a pattern that had sentimental value to me 🙂

    A.J.A – Seasonal, I hadn't even thought of that but you are spot on! Yes I did see the $675 and my jaw dropped a little, but there were so many patterns and it would be such an adventure sewing them all. Sam xox

  6. Of course there is a difference between value and what someone will pay for it (and my tips are not rules, but suggestions 😉 ). But like with any market, some people want to abuse the pattern market to gouge at pricing just because.

    Someone wants a pattern more than you because of the panic of the bids last seconds. How many times have we all gotten swept up in that and just felt awful after we realized what we spent? I think a lot of new people get mixed up in that and rather than have a level head and think, 'hm, thats a later pattern, chances are if I wait, Ill see it again (happens to me all the time), 'perhaps Ill set a limit, then see what happens'.

    Ive often been told Im over reasonable.

  7. I know you are right about the "bidding panic." I am a limit setter. How funny are some of those listings where people have seen pattern lots sell high, so they list 10 patterns from the 70s for $40? I crack up sometimes. I recently sold a whole bunch of 60s & 70s patterns in lots for very little. I like the idea of pattern karma- passing the ones you don't want on cheaply, and hoping some come your way too (as they have in my thrifting expeditions). I've often been told I'm a hippie 🙂

  8. The way I think of it, buying vintage anything is buying an experience, rather than just a product.

    There's a big difference with picking up the fashion-item-du-jour at a chain store and purchasing a pattern that is going to enable you to lock yourself away in your sewing nook and create a functional object that you can be proud of because you put time and love into its construction.

    That's true of modern patterns, of course, but when you know another woman a couple of generations ago sat and did the same thing, it really adds to the whole experience for me.

    I think people see patterns at a thrift store and think their presence there means they're not worth much. All it means is they weren't worth very much to the person who gave them away. I've picked up massive collections from ladies who had passed away and just seeing the care with which they had refolded and stored their pieces, filed away their swatches and so on…I can't help but feel they'd be heartbroken to think of their collection left out by a dumpster.

    A lot of people don't think anything of spending $5 on a coffee from starbucks. How can that possibly be worth more than something that has so much history packaged along with it.

  9. it's the granny phoenix55 again (not my age, i just like the two 5s) anyway, i saw some 30s patterns for $90!!! can you believe that! I do not agree with reselling older patterns you may have picked up cheaper for exorbitant amounts, when you can get them at the goodwill for 99 cents, or at yard sales, or your aunt…I have boxes of 1930s and 1940 patterns I give away to those who need them, often, and I am also donating them to the vintage pattern library in oakland calif, the only library who lends out these patterns, (after they copy them on amazing heavy-duty white paper so the originals will always be available) and they sell them on their non-profit site so they can keep going..they have mailed me some collar patterns from the 1860s from a contest and i was so impressed. so i will renew my dues, and when i find the time to get them organized, i will donate them free to their wonderful lending library. my daughter-in-law is a teacher with small kids and she cannot afford $15 for a pattern and does not go to starbuck's either. i know many a young woman who could not afford those patterns, unless they are $6 or less…truly!! it's a hard economy, with ins., utilities, groceries, house payments, car payments, upkeep, etc, it is harder and harder, so we should all attempt to sliding scale ourselves to the condition of our countrie's economy. we would make more money by lowering prices and selling more, and also people would NOT run to wal mart–the bane of american artisanship, etc…as it IS cheaper, and we must all do our part to get the cintizens to BUY AMERICAN..if that means being competitive with the box stores, so be it, it will change when we help it change. that's the granny advice, youngsters.

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