Sewing with Vintage Patterns - Part 1

Monday, July 19, 2010
Sorry this is so late everyone! I thought I had scheduled it to pop up on Friday, but I guess I hadn't.

I hope you enjoy the first part of the series - though I've kept it very simple, keep your eyes open for the next installment which will be here at the end of the week.

Now onto part one of my series on Sewing with Vintage Patterns:

Home Journal November 1st 1949

Before we start, a little disclaimer - I am in no way a pro or an expert on the subject so please take what I say with a grain of salt and a touch of whimsy.

I only started sewing with vintage patterns last year and this little series will merely be full of what I hope will be helpful tips and tricks that I have gleaned along the way. There are probably a myriad of tips out there already, and a lot of the things I have to say you may probably already know - but bare with me - I had fun writing them!!

Home Journal November 1st 1949 2

Part 1, Choosing the pattern -

1) Difficulty level.

We've all seen them - those patterns that make you melt, that make you want to have the dress on the front so badly that you'll do just about anything to get it - the ones with the complicated pleats and ruffles, the ruched and gathered necklines, the scalloped edges - the ones that are really really too far out of your skill set...?

If you are starting out, it really is better for your sanity (and those around you, I dare say) to choose something simple. While it would be lovely to be able to jump right in and tackle that ruffled filled, ruched dress, it will only make you never want to sew ever again. Trust me. I've had my fair share of crying (literally bursting into tears!) out of sheer frustration for jumping into something that I knew was well above my skill level, I probably didn't sew for weeks after that.

Like anything, you must learn to walk before you can run (phew, I very seriously need to take a leaf out of my own book on this one!!) - it's best to build up your knowledge bit by bit.

You'll find it amazing how much this helps with your sewing confidence. Though just because you choose something simple, it doesn't mean it cannot be striking - try a fun fabric or add some lace, and a full skirted dress with a simple bodice will always pack a punch.

Home Journal November 1st 1949 3

Home Journal November 1st 1949 4

2) Style

If you are going to go to all the trouble of making yourself an item of clothing using a vintage pattern, at least make sure its in a style that suits your figure and that you would be comfortable wearing. There is no point making a skin tight pencil dress a' la Joan Holloway, if you'll never wear it.

The joy of making your own clothing is the wearing of it, the compliments you'll get and the feeling of elation when you can say 'Thanks, I made it!'. There are oodles of vintage patterns out there, find something you'd wear on a day to day basis and go from there.

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Home Journal November 1st 1949 6

3) Size

I will have a whole post coming up on sizing your vintage pattern at the end of the week - this section is just for when you are choosing and buying a pattern.

As everyone who has ever worked with a vintage pattern will know, the size number means nothing! Just because you are a size 12 these days, does not mean you would have been a size 12 back in those days. Vintage patterns are not like modern patterns where you can buy one pattern which has a range of sizes. Most vintage patterns come pre-cut and in one size.

When buying a vintage pattern, you should go via the bust size - all of them should have it labelled on the front of the packet (and for some reason, they also feel the need have a token size number - which, as I mentioned above, really doesn't mean anything, so please ignore it). When starting out making garments from vintage patterns, I recommend only going 1inch either side of your bust size - this will make it much easier for you when it comes to re-sizing your pattern to fit your proportions. For example, I have a 35inch bust and therefore try to only buy patterns with either a 34 or 36inch bust (though I have many lovely vintage patterns that are very much outside of this range. I'll tackle them at a later date when I feel more comfortable with re-sizing patterns).

Buying something too far out of your size zone will cause endless headaches for beginners and advanced sewers alike and that, my friends, does not lead to increased sewing confidence - it leads to crying in frustration and not sewing for weeks in defiance. Eventually the garment will end up hidden in a box somewhere in the recesses of a dark wardrobe, only to conjure up bad memories in the future when you find it again, which then probably leads to more frustration and more not sewing in defiance - a vicious and violent cycle....

So that is the end of part one - a few simple and basic tips for choosing the right vintage pattern for you. I hope you found that somewhat useful, and now that you have your pattern, stay tuned for next week when I'll give you the run down on fitting your vintage pattern to your specifications!!

XX Jen

* All of the images are ones that I have scanned from a copy of the Australian Home Journal, November 1st 1949. I had a small-ish collection already of about 3 that I had found last year, and for some reason this year, I seem to be finding them everywhere. I absolutely love them, especially when they still have the original patterns, as this one does.

I am planning on making the little pink striped sailor dress soon and am planning on sharing some more scans from these magazines. A few of them are slowly disintergrating (the cover fell off this one as I was scanning it) and so I feel like its the best way to save these beautiful objects for others in the coming years.

I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do. Especially the advertisements - they make me laugh. I can just imagine Don Draper and Peggy sitting around designing them (albeit, 10 years later).

Check out my Flickr stream for more images from this magazine.
6 comments on "Sewing with Vintage Patterns - Part 1"
  1. I am trying to get a little more info on the subject of vintage sewing as that is something I want to do now that I have a sewing room. You are the first of many...a ton of...blogs I have visited that the information is clear and makes total sense. I THANK YOU FOR THAT! I have bought some retro style patterns, in other words printed out now but design is based on retro style. I have been looking for some vintage patterns that are my size (an impossible goal it would seem) and then finding that the price will be the second obstacle. Looking at prices online, I feel literally a bit ill at the thought of all the original 50's patterns we threw away when I moved my mom. Can't wait to follow your next installment.

  2. This is great! I seem to be waiting for a sewing machine fairy to fly in my window and show me how to use the sewing machine I have on long term lend – and I know loads of people that sew, so I really should ASK someone to show me...

    But it is really interesting to read about your sewing adventures with patterns. I have seen a LOT of amazing vintage patterns at work lately, and oh, how I want those dresses to come to life!

  3. I have always wondered how to resize patterns, I have had many of the tantrums you mention above, when things just don't do what you want them to do.......!

  4. Amazing post! I've got a few vintage patterns but they really look so daunting. This is very good advice :)

  5. So glad you're doing these posts! My lovely boyfriend gave me a sewing machine for christmas and I'm slowly teaching myself how to use it (thank god for compulsory textiles classes in school teaching em how to thread the thing).

    I LOVE those pink and blue dresses on the cover.

  6. A little unrelated but I also have some of those magazines. They're great! But not so easy to find in Adelaide. I did find a whole heap scanned in a HUGE .pdf file somewhere on the internet, though. They don't have the sewing patterns but the knitting patterns are still in there.
    -Andi x


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