On sewing with vintage patterns::what I’ve learned
The pile of patterns from my mum were best categorised, for the most part, as “dear goodness the 90s weren’t good for anyone were they?”, but in between the wide-collar jumpsuits (adults) and smocked dresses (toddlers), I hit the jackpot.
Based on the newspaper on which a pattern piece was traced on, the pattern dates from at least 1957. My favourite snippet of the paper comes from the classifieds, an advertisement for a small farm with a house “wired for electricity” and the added luxury of “phone line available”.
A few weeks back I finally got around to buying the fabric to sew up this coat for myself, and over the last week or two I’ve slowly started cutting fabric & assembling the coat. As if the coat wasn’t cool enough, it has pockets large enough to hold an iPad. It just gets better and better, really. Until I started sewing, at least, and then I got a rapid education in exactly how much the sewing world has changed in the last 60 years.
The fabric requirements are simple. Fabric A, 36″ wide, 7yds. Fabric B, 54″ wide, 4.75yds. That’s it. No details on what each fabric is for. Presumably Fabric A is the outer since it needs more? I pulled out the instruction sheet (singular) and the only further information it provided was a layout guide. Fabric B had the skirt cut in two sections. Ok. B must be lining. I bought my outer fabric, and my lining. I cut the outer fabric, and this weekend just gone I got busy doing all my tailors tacks so I could remove the pattern to cut the lining. With the only markings on the pattern being large perforations which presumably are to be marked with tacks, and punched numbers, and no details in the instructions, I went to town and marked everything. Then, I happened to glance at the back of the pattern envelope.
Do you want to know how many sets of four perforations I marked with tailors tacks before this realisation? Too many.
It wasn’t long before I had my second epiphany. That lining, that I spent so trying to decide between hot pink & fucshia? Not required. Fabric A & Fabric B were not two seperate fabrics, but two different quantities for the same fabric of different widths. It took me reading step 8 (of 11), dealing with the assembly of the sleeve, to finally twig that there is actually no lining. Whoops. Anyone need 4+ metres of fucshia lining?
So I saved time skipping a heap of markings that weren’t actually markings. I saved cutting and marking lining I didn’t need. I have been garment sewing for a long time, I consider myself a competent sewist, but the change in pattern conventions over the last half decade really threw me. No pages and pages of step by step instructions with illustrations. On page, less than A3 size, with the top 1/3 for layout diagrams. 11 steps start to finish. There was a huge amount of assumed knowledge which was less sewing knowledge but more how to read this pattern knowledge.
My tips for attempting your own vintage sewing project:
-Read the instructions. Not in a “I’ll glance at it and work through it” read but a thorough read. Check to see where they are assuming knowledge and make sure you know how to fill those gaps.
-Read both sides of the pattern envelope for extra information that may not be in the instructions.
-If you are uncertain about fabric requirements, check the layout diagram, as well as follow the instructions through to see how each fabric is used. My instructions referred to Fabric A & Fabric B in a couple of places but it wasn’t until my third run through that I realised it was talking about IF you use Fabric A, do this, OR if you used Fabric B do this.
-Check check check. How is the pattern written? How is it marked?
-Some older patterns won’t tell you to overlock/serge your seams (for obvious reasons!), so think about how your seams are placed and where they will butt up again an opposing seam, and overlock before those secondary seams are in place. I have managed to sew a lot of my bodice before I’ve needed to overlock anything, so I can run a heap of seams through in one go – after re-reading the instructions again to check if I need any seams left open!
-Be gentle – really old tissue & envelopes can be very delicate & rip easily. I also VERY lightly ironed my pattern when it was laid out as it had been folded for a long time, and the ironing just made it sit that bit better & gave me more confidence in the accuracy of my cutting.
-Have fun!! Vintage patterns can be real gems of a find – I have another three waiting for me. The differences can be a bit scary at first glance, but once you have the hang of it and undertsnad how the pattern works, you end up with a beautiful, unique garment.
Have you sewn with vintage patterns? What advice do you have for newbie vintage sewers? Let us know in the comments!