Handmaker's Factory

Sewing with Vintage Patterns-Tips & Tricks

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After spending the last few weeks sewing my dress for Lara's wedding from a vintage pattern I was reminded how different they are from modern day patterns. So, I thought I would put together some tips and tricks for those of you about to embark on some vintage pattern sewing.

  • The first thing to remember is that sizing has changed over the years. Women's bodies have changed shape and what was a size 12 in the 50's may well be more like an 8 in today's patterns. We can also thank the various types of undergarments women have worn over the years! So check the measurements on the envelope and measure yourself well. Even if you're measurements match it's always a good idea to sew up a muslin first to double check the fit and make any alterations that might be needed before cutting into your good fabric.

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The measurements above are from patterns from the 50's and 60's.

  • Your vintage pattern has most probably been used in the past by it's previous owner. Check that all the pattern pieces are there before starting! 
  • Trace your pattern. By doing this you will preserve the delicate pattern paper and will also be able to make any alterations you might need.

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 Simple instructions which assume you know what to do!

  • Read the instructions carefully and learn the terminology. It is assumed you have some knowledge of garment construction. Use a good sewing reference book. 
  • Until the 60's patterns were not printed but had notches and perforations instead. Check the instruction sheet for details of tucks and darts etc.

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Tissue paper with perforations and notches.

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 A printed pattern from the 1960's

  • Check for seam allowances. These are often not included but some patterns allow for hems.
  • Fabric requirements are noted in yards and widths of fabric that are often no longer available. Expect to do some yardage conversions when you shop for fabric. Use a conversion chart like this one to help figure out how much you will need.

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 Some patterns included some 'practical dressmaking hints'.

  • Understand the materials and notions used in the patterns, names have changed. For example, what was once referred to as a slide fastener is now a zip. Again, it is worth sourcing a sewing reference book from the same period of time the pattern was printed or ask your friend Google.
  • As with modern patterns, choose appropriate fabrics. They will usually be listed on the envelope of instruction sheet.
  • Vintage patterns often have wonderful details such as collars and pockets. The overall style of a vintage garment may be too much but consider adding the details of vintage patterns to modern patterns to make them more interesting.

There is so much more to learn about sewing vintage patterns. There are many hand sewing techniques that vintage patterns use which we now have machines to do such as zips and buttonholes. Many trims and finishings are also done by hand. Sewing a vintage pattern is a great way to improve your sewing skills!

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