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How and when did you start collecting vintage sewing patterns?I used to buy the odd one or two that caught my eye, intending to use them but never actually getting round to do so. Instead, I just stashed them away and forgot about them in the meantime. However, I started to sew again seven years ago when my daughter was a year old. I wanted to make her some retro dresses as the ones in the shops didn’t appeal to me much and I preferred the 1970s style of children’s clothes that I grew up in (minus the very short hemlines!). A shift dress pattern turned up in a charity shop and I decided that this would be perfect to ease me back into sewing. It had six very small pattern pieces and fastened at the back with buttons instead of a zip, whilst its size and simple design meant that I could easily run one up in a day.
After this bout of dressmaking, I revisited my old stash and started to regularly buy vintage children’s and women’s patterns. At first I didn’t really discriminate and just brought any old pattern whose packet design appealed to me. However, as I started to accumulate so many and began running out of storage space I decided to be more selective and only buy ones that meet my sewing needs.
Two 1950s patterns
How many patterns do you have, and how do you store them?
I have 156 patterns, of which 105 are vintage and range from the 1940s through to the 1990s. I did have more vintage ones, but decided to have a purge and either sold some on eBay that I knew I would never make or gave them away to friends and other bloggers. They were also taking up precious storage space that could be filled by more appealing patterns – that was my incentive to start purging!
Boxes 1 & 2 contains the vintage patterns that I will be definitely be using and don’t need any grading;
Boxes 3 & 4 holds those that need grading and significant alterations;
Box 5 contains my modern patterns; and
The carrier bag is full of random vintage patterns that I’m holding onto ‘just in case’.
It’s not the perfect storage solution and I’d like to have them all stored in one place and in more orderly fashion, but the above will have to do for time being.
What attracts you to collect the patterns you have?
Apart from particular design details such as sleeve and neckline styles, pockets, Empire lines and maxis, I’m attracted to the illustrations on the packets; they’re like mini-artworks. Usually there’s so much detail in those images - even in the hairstyles and accessories - that they’re very much evocative of the era. In fact, one of my fashion heroines, Barbara Hulanicki of ‘Biba’ fame, started out her career as a fashion illustrator and designed some pattern packets for Le-Roy, which I’m always on the look out for.
It has to be the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s. It’s all about the shapes: minis and maxis, bell, angel and skinny sleeves, peplums – the works! I find that quite a few patterns from these eras suit my body shape and they’re a lot easier to modify too. I can never have too many maxi patterns either; although the Style 4797 is probably my go-to pattern as I’ve used it the most and it’s always turned out well. Maxi skirts are brilliant on so many different levels and perfect for every season.
Selection of 1970s maxis, including Style 4797
Can you pick three favourites - and have you made them?
This is a tricky choice as I have so many favourites, but I’ll go with these as I think they best illustrate the type of patterns that I can’t get enough of:
1) Vogue 7591 – I just love this 1970s pattern! Like it says on the packet, it’s so easy and an absolute doddle to modify too (I adjusted the darts and waistline for a closer fit the second time I used it); plus it’s got some of my ideal features with its scooped neck and patch pockets. I’ve made two dresses from this pattern, one being my first Pledge for this year (see here), and I’ll certainly be re-visiting it again.
2) McCall’s 6334 – This is my perfect summer dress and appeals to me with its flattering ‘v’ neck, two sleeve options and sash detail - I first thought that it dated from the 1980s, but it’s printed 1978 on the packet. I found the pattern by chance on Etsy and was so pleased to find that was in my size, so no grading was needed either. I’m actually making this dress as my second Pledge and am halfway through. If it fits well and suits me, I’ll be making another one for sure.
3) Simplicity 7895 - Just look at the packet design on this 1968 pattern, isn’t it so of its time? Those puffed sleeve heads are fabulous! I can imagine some far-out chick grooving out to Jimi Hendrix in one of these dresses. This one is stashed in my ‘Box 2’ and I reckon that I would go for Figure 3, minus the bow.
Is there a pattern you think you’ll never make, but will never get rid of?
Yes, it’s the Simplicity 6901. My days of wearing a crop top like Figure 3 (my favourite one) on the packet are long gone! However, I could lengthen the body on Figure 2, which would make it more wearable, but to be honest I think it’ll just remain in my stash because of the designs and the packet illustration.
The majority of my patterns are from charity shops. I love the adrenalin rush that I get from finding a big haul of patterns, especially those that are in my size (I’m a modern UK 14 which equates to a 1970s’ 18). One of my tips for finding great patterns is to look in the smaller regional charity shops instead of the mainstream ones that have had a make-over in recent years. I find that the more tatty and untidy the shop is, the better the finds are some for reason. Also, I’ve noticed that some shops don’t put out their patterns, so I often ask if they have any ‘out the back’. Recently, I asked a charity shop worker this and the elderly woman in the queue next to me said that she had thrown her entire collection of patterns away the previous week because she didn’t think that anyone would want them!
Some recent purchases
Apart from charity shops, I sometimes buy patterns online from eBay and Etsy. I prefer Etsy though as US-based sellers have an amazing range of patterns from all decades and I can find lots of great ‘60s and ‘70s ones that are in my size. The one thing that I have noticed though, is that the prices can vary greatly for the pattern and shipping to the UK; sometimes the shipping costs are more than the pattern, which is off-putting.
Thanks for asking me to ‘flash my stash’!
Thanks for taking part Liza! It was great to have a nosey in your stash and I will definitely be keeping my eyes open for those Barbara Hulanicki Le Roy patterns.