How and when did you start collecting vintage sewing patterns?
My mom taught me to sew when I was a kid, but after college I got really into it. I always loved history (one of my college majors) I graduated college in 2006 and got a Singer 15-91 sewing machine for free from freecycle.org. I was expecting a cheap little starter machine, and I got a wonderful vintage machine in a table with all of its original parts; the woman was so generous! I started collecting vintage patterns around 2007-08. I tried a few modern/Big 4 patterns and was horrified by the results (mostly things that I thought would fit, but turned out to be enormous. Thanks for all that ease!)
At the time, I wore the smallest sizes available and did not know how to grade a pattern. I thought that perhaps vintage patterns would be better suited for a small person like myself and I made a post on freecycle to see if anyone had some they did not want. A woman nearby did, but she wanted to be sure that I was going to use them and not just sell them online. I assured her I was here to sew and I got a bag of 15-20 vintage patterns all in a bust 30-32, which fit perfectly with no extra ease! From then on, I was hooked! The first one I made was an adorable 50s sundress, Advance 9077. I had been reading the old Sew Retro religiously and that successful dress inspired me to start blogging. I emailed her about a year later to tell her how grateful I was and gave her a link to my blog; she was very happy that I used them and enjoyed them.
How many patterns do you have, and how do you store them?
After I sew up a pattern, I store it in a gallon size freezer bag. I seal it about half way, but not fully. This is a habit I started when I lived in New Orleans because I was worried about the humidity leading to moisture inside the bags. This also means that I don't have to fold up the pieces and try to jam them back in the fragile envelope. Then they go in a large plastic storage container. I have filled one completely and should probably start another. Then they live in the tub on the enclosed back porch, to save space.
I have always been of the mindset that patterns are utility items and were always meant to be used and not just hoarded away. I don't trace them off or take exceptional measure to preserve them. I just use them like patterns, and fold them up to shorten them and pin them, etc. When I find great patterns that are not in my size and are cheap, then I buy them and pass them along to others in blog giveaways.
What attracts you to collect the patterns you have?
I typically collect what I can find in a variety of areas. My husband and I planned to start having kids at age 30, so a few years before that I started picking up vintage children's patterns. Like with sewing patterns today, for every one unisex/boy pattern, I have ten girl ones. They are too cute to part with, so I will hold on to them until I have a daughter!
Do you have any favourite style eras?
If practicality is not being considered, then I absolutely love the 1950s. I love the shape, the small waists and full skirts, the feminine details- basically everything. I have a lot of 50s patterns, but I have found that when I make them, I often feel like I am wearing a costume. When I taught sixth grade, I had an excited following of my girl students who LOVED all of my ridiculous creations. I could wear a pink, polka dot, full skirted dress with an exaggerated collar and feel great. (I forgot that I named it the Cupcake Dress ) Outside of middle school, I would feel conspicuous and silly. I am a shy person and don't really want extra attention in that way.
For practical purposes, I like the 60s and 70s for simple and flattering designs that are actually wearable. Some 50s designs can be simple and flattering as well. I love vintage patterns for the care that they put into drafting them, the style details and the fairly reliable fit; I want to use them and absorb the style without looking costumey.
What’s the oldest pattern in your collection, and have you made it?
I have a few patterns from the early to mid 1940s and I believe those are the oldest. I used to have more 40s patterns, but the big shoulders are not really my style and there are a lot of skirt suits. They aren't my favorite, so they were included in a variety of blog giveaways.
Can you pick three favourites - and have you made them?
Advance 9077 is one of my favorite patterns. It is a strappy 50s sundress with a full skirt and a gathered bodice. There is a classic picture of Marilyn Monroe wearing a really similar one in blue and white plaid. I see similar styles on Instagram from vintage sellers quite a bit too. It is vintage, yet flattering and still beautiful today. It also holds the place of honor as the only pattern I ever get emails about. People want me to give it to them, sell it to them, trace it for free and mail them copies, etc! I have made it twice and will make it again in the future, when my waist returns to pre-baby proportions!
McCalls 4885 is so unique and awesome. It is a dress with thin straps with an attached bolero. I have made it up exactly like the cover image in a bright blue. It is a little too out-there in the blue, but I would definitely make it again in another color or fabric. I would make the bolero separate because I remember being really warm in it. It was a little much for teaching, but it would be a beautiful and sexy cocktail dress or something.
Simplicity 3871 is a slim dress with a skirt with godets. It was my first time doing that, which was difficult. I made it in navy rayon and it had a beautiful drape! It has a boat neck in the front and V in the back with a scarf-like tie. I remember I had two sassy little sixth grade girls who came after class and asked me if my dress was on backwards. I explained that it wasn't and one later joined Sewing Club.
Is there a pattern you think you’ll never make, but will never get rid of?
I doubt I will make this hilarious 90s jumpsuit (haha sorry, the 90s aren't even vintage really), but it will forever stay with me because it makes me laugh so hard.
Most of my patterns have come from estate sales. New Orleans was small enough that I could visit all of the promising sales and I found some good ones. Visiting my parents in Oregon, my mom and I hit the jackpot- an estate sale for a spinster seamstress. She made clothes for people and had filled a ranch house with sewing stuff! Here in Chicago I find some every once in a while; I think there is more competition for patterns, plus the region is so much bigger that I can't visit even half of them!
I also used to buy lots on Ebay around 2009-10. Sometimes I will buy off of Etsy if I want a particular style. At one point, the Vintage Pattern Lending Library was getting rid of duplicates and I bought a huge box for $50. You couldn't pick the sizes or styles, so that fueled many blog giveaways. I try to just pick up patterns when I see them, if they are reasonably priced. If they are too big or not quite my style, I give them away in blog giveaways. That's always fun! Shipping is cheap because they're so light and instead of gathering dust at my house, or getting thrown away after an estate sale, they go to another person who loves vintage patterns and loves to sew!
Thanks for this opportunity to share my collection of patterns. I forgot that I had so many and digging though them brought back lots of good sewing memories!!
Thanks so much for sharing, Molly. I love the kids patterns and also the costumes - so cute!
Don't forget that you can enter this month's giveaway for Girl Charlee fabric over on A Stitching Odyssey