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Vintage Sewing Patterns

Discussion in 'Vintage Sewing Patterns 2005 By Laura' started by Laura, Dec 2, 2005.

  1. Laura

    Laura Alumni

    I don't actually do much sewing because I'm so busy copying patterns. It's kind of a catch 22! Every New Year's one of my resolutions is to do more sewing, but it hasn't happened yet. :BAGUSE: I do sit down and sew once in a while, though.

    With vintage patterns, it's best to trace off a copy to use. It seems that everyone has a favorite method. You will need to trace each piece onto new paper. I actually use 36" wide paper to trace patterns; I know a lot of people who use interfacing (available at your sewing store). One of the benefits of interfacing or quilter's grid (a soft kind of interfacing that has a 1" grid printed on it) is that it is flexible and even sewable, so you can pin it together to test the fit.

    I've found that regular pencil is best for tracing the pattern. You don't want to use pens or markers, because the ink will mark the original pattern permanently.

    And you should copy the instruction sheet and the front and back of the envelope right away. Otherwise, you're almost certain to damage them from referring back to them during the construction process.
  2. Jennifer O.

    Jennifer O. Registered Guest

    Thank you for putting so much valuable info together into one place!
    This is a great source of information.
    --Jennifer O.

    I will add that if a close date is important with a Vogue pattern, Vogue fashion magazine had a monthly article on sewing with Vogue patterns. This always included small drawings of each garment. There is usually a good number of patterns shown, so it's worth the effort to scan the issue for these pages.
    I cannot say when this type of article was discontinued. But it would be there in the 40's, 50's, and 60's.
  3. Laura

    Laura Alumni

    Hollis, it's hard to say and I don't have a definitive answer. In large part, it depended on how popular the pattern was. The more popular or basic the pattern, the longer it stayed in production. In modern patterns, classic sheath dresses and pajamas still stay in the catalogues for years, because they don't change much. Trendy, fashion-forward styles would be discontinued more quickly, since they show their age sooner and are marketed toward fashion-conscious women.

    As a rough number, I would estimate that a pattern would stay in the line for a few years before being discontinued.
  4. Laura, thanks so much for this workshop! I am sure I will refer back to it often. Going to go reread everything and I am sure I will have some questions!
  5. Laura

    Laura Alumni

    Thanks, Jennifer!

    You're right, the fashion magazines, including Vogue, included a segment that discussed current patterns and fashion trends. It was a significant marketing tool. I've seen magazines feature patterns as far back as the 1870s, and I know they continued at least into the 1950s.

    I don't have many magazines from the 1960s, so thanks for mentioning that Vogue continued the pattern segments at least until then.
  6. bartondoll

    bartondoll Guest

    Laura, this is a wealth of fantastic information! I had the same question as Hollis, wondering how long a particular pattern was in production?

    I know that I will be referring back to this many times - I have a
    large bin full of vintage patterns and many of them, I generally know the
    decade of, but pinning the date down further is going to be wonderful!

    THANK YOU so much for doing this execellent presentation!

  7. Hattysattic

    Hattysattic VFG Member

    Laura, this is great! I am bookmarking this for the timelines alone. I have a box full of patterns that I've never looked at properly before, as well as a number of catalogues and pattern magazines.
    It's teatime here so I'm going to get that out of the way then come back and sit, read this through again, and try and date some of the patterns.
    Fantastic info, well done!! :clapping:
  8. Jennifer O.

    Jennifer O. Registered Guest

    I do have a question now-

    I have read your info packed page here and I would like to know (you may have answered this somewhere above, and I just missed it):

    Do any of the pattern companies have inventory lists of their published patterns by year? (I am puzzled why we can't just grab a listing from the pattern publisher). You mention lists in "Blueprints of Fashion", and I will definately track those down!
    thank you, Jennifer O.
  9. Laura

    Laura Alumni


    To my knowledge, none of the pattern companies has produced a pattern list to date vintage patterns. That would certainly make it much easier!!

    Butterick and McCall each have an official archives and historian, and I contacted them about a year ago while I was doing research on 1930s patterns. However, they were very slow to respond and I never did receive the information they promised to send. I got involved in another project and put that one aside for now.

    From what I've heard and read, The Betty Williams Pattern Archives at the University of Rhode Island is kind of "The Source" for pattern information, but I haven't done any research there so far. I plan on contacting them once I start my 1930s research again. Wade Laboissonniere knew Betty Williams and says he used her archives extensively in writing his books.

  10. Laura

    Laura Alumni

    I'm going to leave for a while to take a break and have lunch....I'll check back in later this afternoon, so keep the questions coming! :)

  11. Jennifer O.

    Jennifer O. Registered Guest

    Thank you,
    I did go to the University of Rhode Island pattern web site you linked up to in your discussion.
    They seem to be selling CD's that are pricey, but could come in handy for dating, I think. Do you know anyone who has one of these CD's? It isn't clear if all patterns are dated and good for reserach, or if they are copied for design purposes instead, and may not all have dates etc.
    thanks, Jennifer O.
  12. NovaFashions

    NovaFashions VFG Member

    Hi Laura,
    I'm just quickly checking in but this is facinating!
    I do believe I want to start sewing. :)
    I'll be back with a few questions once I go over everything again.
  13. BagDiva

    BagDiva Guest

    oh my gosh....what detail, what info!!

    thank you sooo much, l usually pass up on patterns, thinking it'll take me ages to list them etc.....

    and so have had some good sales speciallizing in wedding patterns on my ATTIC wedding page...
    now l think l'll start gettng some more.... they're like books on fashion actually, it occurs to me....a slice of fashion history...
    l'm sold!!

    thanks you so much for this very comprehensive lesson!!

    sara x
  14. lauren

    lauren Registered Guest

    This has been fabulous! Thank you very much for the refresher :)

    Oh, where do you get your acid free storage? I usually store mine in clear comic book envelopes. Is that damaging them?

    And on the Mccall patterns- there is a double line, which you refer to as the "safety line" I believe. Was the seamstress to cut on the inner or outer line?

    Out of curiosity, what would you recommend as basic pattern price breakdown- I know evening gowns are popular, but say you have a complete day dress from the 40's with a worn envelope? Or a great 30's pattern but missing a few pieces? Thanks!
  15. Laura

    Laura Alumni


    Yes, I saw the CDs on the RI Pattern Archives site, but I forgot about it when I answered your first question. I haven't seen the CDs in person, and I don't know anyone who owns them. However, they look like a great resource for dating patterns.

    Did you try the demo they have set up? If you click on "Sample" in the navigation menu on the left-hand side, it will take you to a search feature. A few of the search results have photos online, but the site says that the CDs contain a lot more information and photos than you can view online.

    I agree, it's a lot of money ($260 for a set of 3 CDs), but the entire set covers 1868-1968. According to the site, the CDs contain information for 25,000 patterns.

    I think that is probably the closest thing to a comprehensive resource to date patterns that is currently available.

  16. Laura

    Laura Alumni


    I buy my comic book bags from a local dealer who specializes in packaging supplies for comic books, magazines, coins, etc. He has the best prices I've found, and I just buy in bulk (usually 300-500 at a time). That way I'm set for a while.

    There are several different types of comic book bags. Apparently, comic books vary in size depending on when they were produced, so they make several different sizes. You can just choose the size that will fit your patterns. I mostly buy bags/boards for the Silver Age comics, and they measure 7 3/8" x 10 1/2", and it says right on the package, "Archival Quality - PVC Free - Acid Free."

    I just make sure that the products I buy and use are labeled archival/acid-free.

    Regarding McCall patterns, the seamstress generally would cut outside the seam allowance, on the solid outer line. (I say "generally" because some seamstresses, then and now, prefer to cut off the seam allowance.)

    Thanks for bringing up pricing! I didn't think to put that in the workshop. I'll put that in a separate post.

  17. Laura

    Laura Alumni

    <h3 align=center>Pattern Pricing</h3>

    This is a very general guide to pattern pricing. Condition, brand, style/fashion design, age and rarity all factor into the final price. Fashion-forward brands (i.e., Spadea and Vogue Couturier) and brands with outstanding graphics (think early McCall) often command the best prices. Pricing also depends on who your clientele is. Some sellers command higher prices because they have a loyal following of customers who know and trust the seller.

    I usually won't sell an incomplete pattern unless it is missing only minor pieces (like a sleeve cuff or facing) or it is very rare or unusual.

    The prices below are based on my personal experience. They assume that the pattern is complete and in good condition.

    <h4>Common/General Patterns (such as day dresses):</h4>
    1920s - $15-$25
    1930s - $10-$20
    1940s - $10-$15
    1950s - $8-$12
    1960s - $7-$10

    <h4>Formal/Evening Dress Patterns:</h4>
    1920s - $30+
    1930s - $50+ ('30s evening dresses are hot right now, especially early to mid '30s)
    1940s - $15-$25
    1950s - $15-$25
    1960s - $10-$15

    <h4>Give-Away Pattern Booklets:</h4>
    1920s and earlier - $15-$25 (These tend to be hard to find, and when you do, condition can be a problem. Excellent condition - not brittle or crumbling - will increase the value)
    1930s - $15-$20
    1940s - $8-$12
    1950s - $6-$10
    1960s - $4-$6

    <h4>Fashion Magazines, such as McCall's or The Delineator.</h4><h5> These always have values on the high end if they are intact with color fashion plates. FULL COLOR illustrations generally make the magazine much more desirable than if they're missing, in black & white, or in one or two-tone color.</h5>
    1900s - $12-$30
    1910s - $12-$30
    1920s - $15-$30
    1930s - $15-$40 (Early to mid '30s tend to be more popular & priced higher)
    1940s - $10-$15
    1950s - $7-$12

    That's all I can think of off the top of my head. Are there any other areas/items you're wondering about value?

  18. siouxie12

    siouxie12 Registered Guest

    Hi everyone. This is my first time on this workshop, and I'm very grateful for it!

    On dating: One place I've been able to find info on old patterns is the public library. They often have materials dating as far back as the 1920s for Vogue and McCall patterns, as well as others. The pattern magazines and other publications are often library-bound, with the same hardcover bindings used for scientific journals and popular magazines.

    Sometimes with the older issues, you may have to request them a day or two in advance, as many libraries store older materials off-site and it takes some time to retrieve them. Others may be available by Interlibrary Loan. But once you've settled on the decade, if your library has the pattern magazines, or you can obtain them via ILL, you can flip through them to find the exact copyright date for the pattern. You will probably have to use them on-site in the Library, because these are rare materials that are irreplacable if lost.

    Thanks for such a wonderful workshop!
  19. Laura

    Laura Alumni

    Another thing I thought of is something I only recently found out about when I was re-reading Laboissonniere's books. Several of the pattern companies produced small display mannequins to display samples made from their patterns, as well as small mannequins marketed to young girls so that they and their dolls could dress alike. Such dolls are usually 12"-15" tall. Laboissonniere writes that McCall used the display mannequins from the 1930s to the 1950s.

    He also mentions "half-scale" mannequins for use in fashion schools. I suspect that may be what <a href="http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=6017777184&rd=1&sspagename=STRK%3AMEWA%3AIT&rd=1" target=blank>this one was.</a> She's 37" tall, which seems too large to be intended for store display use.

    Here are two smaller dolls.
    <a href="http://cgi.ebay.com/1942-Latexture-12-1-2-MANNEQUIN-DOLL-Patterns-NEAT_W0QQitemZ5640851407QQcategoryZ2388QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem" target=blank>1942 Latexture 12 1/2" MANNEQUIN DOLL & Patterns NEAT!</a>
    <a href="http://cgi.ebay.com/VINTAGE-1942-LATEXTURE-DOLL-MANNEQUIN-W-PATTERNS_W0QQitemZ5642357103QQcategoryZ2388QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem" target=blank>VINTAGE 1942 LATEXTURE DOLL MANNEQUIN W/PATTERNS</a>

    Prices are all over the place on these. However, I've seen dolls sell for anywhere from $35 to $150.

  20. Laura

    Laura Alumni

    Welcome, siouxie!

    You're lucky to have a library that has so many materials available on patterns. Do you mean your local library has that information, or is it a university library?

    My local libraries have next to nothing about fashion/pattern/dressmaking history, and I almost always have to get things through interlibrary loan. It is a wonderful service and well worth the wait!

    I am lucky in that I'm pretty close to Ohio State University and only about 4 hours from Kent State. I'm told that OSU has a good costume/fashion section in their library, and I know Kent State does (due to the fashion school there). University libraries can be great resources!!


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