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  • Writer's pictureSew Retro

A Guide to Using Original Vintage Sewing Pattern

Who hasn't fallen in love with the fabulous fashion of past era's ? What is your favorite era ? The roaring Twenties ? with stunning beadwork and dropped waist lines ? The amazing and super flattering bias cuts of the Thirties ? Or maybe like me, you love the forties, tea dresses, high waisted wide legged trousers ? and gorgeous blouses ? Maybe your style inspirations is not so far back in time, but closer to today with the, the cool Seventies, embroidered hot-pants, Demin flares, summery smocks with Angel sleeves, and cool kaftans in awesome prints ?

I love nothing more than finding a original sewing pattern or stumbling across vintage fabric, buttons or trims, and wanted to share with you the do's and do nots of sewing with vintage patterns and fabric.

1. You can search on line for vintage patterns and fabric, but my best finds have been at Charity Shops, Emmaus, Antique Markets like Ardingly Antique Fair , car-boot sales and asking family if they have any vintage or retro patterns, I promise you will be surprise how many people used to sew and still have treasure tucked away in drawers !

2. Vintage illustrations can be deceptive, that fabulous 1950's skirt with not keep that shape without a net petticoat. If the pattern asks for a lot of fabric it will be a full skirt, but will need a little net to mirror the shape.

3. Check all the pattern pieces are in the packet. Sadly some times pattern pieces are missing, it maybe a small piece that you can draft yourself, but if you don't yet have this skill you maybe wasting your money and rushing home with a pattern that you can not use.

4. Patterns from the 1940's and the 1950's do not have ink marking on the pattern, darts, the placing of pockets, the straight of grain etc are shown, with a series of dots, as shown below. These patterns are more challenging to use for less experienced sewers BUT DO NOT let that put you off using an incredible original vintage pattern. Give yourself time to study and understand the pattern.

5. If you have fallen in love with vintage fashion, but don't feel confident to use an original pattern without markings, most of the big names in commercial sewing patterns have dived into their archives, and are printing some of their best styles from the 1920's onwards in todays sizing with all the markings, seam allowance etc, that you would expect from a modern pattern.

Original 1950's design - modern pattern

6. Size's have changed over the years !! and today's size 12 is not a 1940's size 12.

7. Check the pattern carefully for the measurements of the finished garment. You will find this information on the back of the pattern. But before you cut into your fabric make a toile. In American they are referred to as muslins. Toiles are made in calico, but you could use an old bed sheet. A toile doesn't have facings or a zip, it's made for the fit and if you use calico its easy to use a pen to mark any adjustments, that you will have to transfer back to your pattern. If you feel very confident that the pattern is going to fit, but you wish to be extra careful you could make a working toile using an cheaper alternative fabric to test the pattern. In this case you would insert a zip and finish the item ready to wear.

8. When you are choosing your original vintage pattern you need to bear in mind that armholes were much higher than today, necklines were higher and tighter, sleeves were quite narrow with not a much ease as we have become accustomed too. Again making a toile will help you understand the fit of the pattern, and any adjustments you may wish to make to the pattern.

9. Some vintage patterns will quote yardage for fabric widths that are no longer made to day. As todays fabric is wider, you will need less fabric, its a good idea to check, by laying out your pattern pieces on the floor or table.

10. Always hand wash your vintage fabric or trims before cutting and sewing. If you know you will never hand wash the items once its made, measure a square of your fabric 10cm x10cm and pop it in the washing machine on the normal program that you would use, with your weekly wash. Let it dry, check that it hasn't shed dye, re measure and that will indicate weather a machine wash is an option.

11. Carefully check your recommended seam allowances, these will be in imperial not metric, and may change i.e. you maybe asked to use a smaller seam allowance to sew the collar.

Enjoy :-)

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