Vintage Sewing

Things That Are Gross, Volume One.

September 12, 2012

On a whim, I decided my daughter needed another dress, and by amazing coincidence I like to make dresses! Who knew? I had a perfect pattern from a huge eBay lot, and while all the pieces were present, when I opened them up I found that…

SOMETHING had been nibbling on the pattern tissue! Gross!

I have three questions for you:

1) Is it weird that I am totally using the pattern anyway? (I patched over the holes with some fusible interfacing.)

2) Am I going to get some weird mouse disease, or what?

3) What is the grossest thing YOU have come across while hunting down, using, and generally loving on vintage patterns? I can’t possibly be the only one!

  1. I trace my patterns, anyway.

    Seriously, I work in an historical archive. We’ve seen it all: Bugs, rubber bands melted with age; Band-Aids of undetermined vintage; things in bottles that can no longer be described.

    Don’t sweat it.

  2. No kidding…lol If I freaked out every time I came across a pattern that had been nibbled on Half of my amazing wardrobe would never have been made. Take my advice and either laminate so that you can wipe down the plastic or just wear latex gloves and wash the dress after is is finished. As for me as long as I can still see the lines and the paper is still in tact I just shake them out and keep on truckin 🙂

  3. Whenever I go rooting through my vintage patterns, I end up with a stuffy, irritated nose and often start sneezing. I’ve often wondered what causes it – paper mites, mould, dust, mouse droppings, a combination of all these things? Whatever it is, it won’t stop me from using them!

    1. I totally feel you on this. I’ve accumulated a mold allergy in the last year and I have to wear a face mask and gloves now when I handle old patterns, and sit by an open window. So. Not. Fun. But I still love them anyways 🙂

  4. i’m an archivist and constantly encounter icky stuff in the papers i work on. be glad you only found holes 😉 currently the bane of my work existence is what comes out after they eat the paper 🙁 i hope this little guy (these little guys?) didn’t eat any important pattern info.

    in the future, you could house your patterns in plastic ziplocks. this also helps with not having to refold them perfectly or keep putting them in and taking them out of the sleeve. which preserves the sleeve. ooor you could trace your patterns and just use the traced copy. this is what happens when archivists sew….

  5. Oh yeah. I’ve found all sorts of things going through and counting pattern pieces! Dead bugs are probably the grossest thing to me. Old bandaids are pretty yucky too…;) However, like you, I totally still use the patterns. 🙂

  6. Hmm, once a dried, ancient cockroach fell out of my vintage pattern envelope into my lap. (I thought “Oh! How simply WHIMSICAL!” and poured myself another cup of tea while fondling some sweet vintage lace inherited from my grandmother.) Seriously though, I rather enjoy the juxtaposition between the nasty things you can find in old patterns and the compulsory sweetness of vintage sewing community discourse.

  7. To me the grossest aspect of vintage sewing has nothing to do with patterns (mouse nibbles? dessicated bugs? shrug!) but old buttons. Have you ever handled a tinful of old buttons? There’s a certain kind of button material that seems to break down with age and it turns gummy and distributes itself over every other button in the tin, not to mention the interior of the tin itself. The longer you pick through the buttons, the gummier you become, too. It is a nasty feeling! (But it does wash off, thank goodness!)

    1. 100% agreed! I’ve been through so many bags of ancient buttons I can’t imagine anything more disgusting. I don’t know what happens to those things, but it is nasty.

  8. The grossest thing for me is some of the places I’ve been pattern hunting. We’re talking clambering over piles of boxes and dead animals in 110 degree heat while watched by the cast members of Deliverance. I feel like I need to walk through a carwash when I get home.

  9. Oh boy, some of these stories make me laugh!
    Parts of dead bugs, actual mouse droppings, live mold, band aids, even something that looked suspiciously like dried blood.
    But then there’s the fun things… like kid’s doodles on pattern pieces or paper, little handwritten notes, snips of cloth or threads, old newspaper clippings.
    Eh, we take the good and the bad.
    I’m not dead yet, and I’ve *just* taken to wearing a mask and gloves. And I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t get my new allergies.
    You’ll be fine! Just don’t go sucking on your fingers, and don’t stick the pins in your mouth after they’ve touched the paper 😉

  10. I bought a box of 1920’s-50’s patterns (for $3!!!) at a yard sale this past summer. It stormed literally RIGHT as I started taking my stash to the car, so I felt like the sky was angry at me for making such a steal!

    The sad thing was, about half of the box was unusable because mouse nibblings had destroyed the contents and mucked them together. Still I got some amazing patterns. I’m not big on the 50’s though, so I ended up listing a number of them on etsy. (shameless plug (hey, grad school isn’t cheap) -the store is Chronoillogical, if you care to look!)

    The other sad thing was, germaphobe that I am, I have never ’til just now thought about the germs on my patterns. Hmm.

  11. i haven’t found anything too terribly gross in a pattern, but i once unfolded a piece of pretty vintage fabric and found an ENTIRE HUMAN FINGERNAIL stuck to it.
    it was horrifying to say the least.

  12. I’m with Jessamyn, I’ve found more gross-ness in buttons than in patterns. I’ve found my share of bugs and boogers but what really gets me is when you are given a tin of old buttons and they all smell like cat pee! ewwww!

  13. Well, it was bugging me (what IS that stuff in old buttons?) and apparently early plastics, including Bakelite, were made with stuff like formaldehyde. When they break down, those chemicals are released. Yuck!

  14. oh yea.. i decided to try out buying “vintage” sheets from a thrift store to use as dress fabric only to get home and discovered blood stains all over them. everywhere, not just one spot, splattered. how i missed it at the store is beyond me. yuck.

  15. Uh, I don’t have any vintage patterns so forgive me for asking, but what’s with the bandaids? Why on earth do they seem to be so common?

  16. I love it when I find magazine clippings showing their inspiration for the dress they were about to make! I also have boxloads of my grandmother’s patterns and every time I find a penciled in note, it’s a treasure to me… But on the gross side, I guess the worst was finding termites in a box of vintage patterns happily lunching on all that lovely paper. I’m talking a whole colony of live termites. Yeah. And I bought 5 boxes of vintage patterns from a Craigslist seller, his old auntie had passed away and he was clearing her house. I didn’t have time to check everything out too well, but when I got them home (and took them straight to the garage, you can’t be too careful with other people’s stuff) I realized they had the strong odor of cat pee. Charming! At least 1/2 of those patterns were ruined, and I mean soaked, so I gave them away on Freecycle (fully disclosing the problem). Had them out of my place within 2 days. I still wonder about the woman who took them, but I guess she had a stronger stomach than me.

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