I recently wrote an extensive guide on where to buy new dressmaking patterns, but ‘new’ may not be your style! Vintage clothing is very popular these days, with fashion trends from the 19th and 20th centuries inspiring modern-day designs. If you’re looking for the original vintage charm and adore old-school quirks, here’s a fantastic guide to vintage patterns: what they are, finding the originals versus finding “reissues” and nifty sewing tips.
What Is A Vintage Pattern?
Patterns are paper-based sewing patterns that provide the details and specifications needed to create specific dress styles. They are available in different sizes and are usually sold in envelopes that contain the uncut sewing pattern and instructions for sewing.
The original paper patterns were created by Ellen Curtis Demorest and circulated through the fashion magazine, “Mme. Demorest’s Mirror of Fashion”. These patterns had basic instructions for garments of a specific size. Later, the Butterick Publishing Co. (still around today!) introduced graded sewing patterns on tissue paper, with notches and drill holes as marking indicators. They also included detailed instruction sheets, called “Deltors” with the pattern description which made sewing easier. In the 20th century, vintage pattern companies switched to using printed patterns, and multi-size patterns on a single tissue paper were made available.
This article on the Vintage Fashion Guild sheds light on the history of vintage patterns and famous pattern companies of the time.
There are plenty of sources for actual vintage patterns. However, there are also places that sell reissued patterns, which are different from the original. So, how do you know whether the pattern you see is an authentic vintage pattern or a reissue? Here are the differences.
Original patterns are usually available in one size per pattern purchased, whereas reissues offer access to a range of sizes for a single pattern.
Reissues are usually re-sized to make it easier to sew garments for modern sizes.
Original vintage patterns had notches and drills, and they weren’t printed in ink, whereas reissues are in ink.
I suggest you take a look at this article, if you want to get to the nitty gritty and learn more out more about the differences between authentic vintage patterns and reissues.
Where To Find Vintage Patterns?
Some of the best sources for vintage patterns are as follows.
Ebay: Ebay has a huge inventory of various sewing patterns from different eras and from various sellers. Most sellers provide pictures and descriptions of the patterns they are selling, and this information will help you determine the quality and price for the purchase.
Jaycotts: A big supplier of sewing accessories and gadgets, Jaycotts also specialises in vintage sewing patterns that are sold online. Their available designs are listed on this page.
Rusty Zipper: This was one of the first online vintage clothing stores. Apart from unique vintage garments, they also sell sewing patterns from previous eras at reasonable prices. Check out their inventory here.
Etsy: The best place to find unique items, Etsy has an impressive range of vintage patterns from sellers and curators. Here is the link to the collection available on this website.
Eva Dress Patterns: This website sells original and reproduction vintage patterns from the 1860’s to 1950’s, in single and multiple sizes.
Tips On Using Vintage Patterns
It can take time and practice to understand and use vintage patterns. So, it is best to start with a simple pattern at first. If you are using real vintage patterns you will need quite good dressmaking knowledge to give it a go as they tend to have a lot less information and instructions. Back then, almost everyone had basic dressmaking skills, and they assume that you already know a lot! Plus, printing onto the pattern paper would have been expensive, so you may find there’s no writing on the pattern at all, like in this picture above.
To get used to it, I’d recommend starting with a reissued pattern that has been updated to fit in with the modern patterns we are used to seeing – and then moving onto the older patterns.
Another factor to consider is size. Vintage pattern sizing varies from modern dress sizing. The silver lining? It’s great practice for adjusting sizes! Still, make sure you find near enough the right size by simply checking the actual bust/waist/hips measurement on the envelope before buying it.
When using a vintage pattern, it is sensible to trace off the pattern as it is risky to use the delicate original. You can transfer all markings to pattern papers and use these in place of the original.
Vintage patterns often involve plenty of details and techniques that have to be done right to recreate the original look. This is fun, but often challenging. This article on Threads can help you understand and navigate this better. Or, consider the suggestion on Sew Mama Sew of buying an old school sewing book for reference.
Now that you are armed with these tips, aren’t you all set to tackle the interesting world of vintage patterns? Whether it is to reproduce a favourite from the past for your wardrobe, or simply to collect patterns as a fashion document of bygone eras, vintage sewing patterns are great assets that every sewer should own.