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Everything old is new again


Simplicity Pattern Company recently released its Early Autumn collection. Included are many cute new patterns, such as the “Project Runway” dress patterns 2145 and 2146 and our own SewStylish jacket pattern 2150. But what struck me is a vintage-style 1960s ensemble, pattern 2154. What I find amazing is that, though the design is 50 years old, it is completely in fashion! Included is a cardigan, a romantic tie-neck blouse, and a below-the-knee pencil skirt—all leading styles for this fall. It got me thinking about vintage styles and how they relate to us now. Do you sew retro, and how do you update it for today?

Check out Simplicity’s other vintage-style patterns and its complete new Early Autumn collection.


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  1. User avater
    vintagetailor | | #1

    Since I sew patterns from the 1930s, '40s and '50s, I suppose you could characterize me as one who "sews retro." But I always choose patterns for their comfort, visual appeal, style, and suitability for my figure and my life. I don't dress like a museum piece.
    And why should I limit myself to the caprices of the designers of the current season? A decade or so ago I got frustrated with the narrow range of choices for my figure in the pattern books. That's when I discovered the world of online auctions and started collecting patterns from eras that worked for my taste and dimensions.
    The unprinted pattern tissues mystified me, as did the sketchy instructions, until I hired a great sewing teacher who unlocked their secrets. Turning these patterns into clothes I routinely wear has been an adventure for both of us.
    I've received many compliments on the "retro" clothing I've worn to work and special occasions, but *never* any comments on the era it's hailed from--not even my very distinctive jackets from 1936 (for photos and pattern envelope search Reader's Closet, tag word "vintage"). My coworkers and friends see a beautiful garment, that's all. I confess I enjoy telling them, "This is a 'Misses' Mannish Jacket' from 1941" or a "'Belted Topper' from 1950," in a subtle effort to show that "retro" can be very wearable and current.
    How have I updated vintage patterns? I pair my 1936 jackets with simple, knee-length (not calf-length) skirts, more suitable for my height. I use buttons, patterned fabrics, colors and color combinations that are flattering to me whether or not they are period. My sewing teacher has taken darts out of sleeve caps, and simplified unnecessarily complicated construction to reflect today's fabrics and interfacings (and foundation garments!). The buttons on my 1936 seersucker jacket are from a different era, yet they look as if they were made expressly for my garment.
    When you "sew retro," you can reference design and cultural language with as much fidelity or freedom as you like. Why limit yourself?

  2. User avater
    Soli | | #2

    Should I be embarrassed to admit that I still have many of my original sewing patters from the 70s when I was a teenager? I know one's not supposed to wear things the second time around when the look becomes fashionable again, but I can't help wanting to make newer versions of things that made me happy back then. My pattern collection is a veritable who's who of designers from Vogue, McCalls, Butterick and Simplicity. I've also got a lot of the Folkwear retro patterns. The pity is that I live in a 1923 bungalow and don't have nearly enough closet space for the fantasy wardrobe from the Regency through the 1970's that I'd love to wear...

  3. threadjunkie | | #3

    As a professional costumer, I sew a lot of "vintage" and older. Honestly, I don't sew much for myself any more (it's a bit of a busman's holiday to go home and sew for me) but when I do it's rarely something strictly contemporary. My very large original pattern collection covers the 20th century and New Look really suits my figure, so that's what I pull from most often for myself. I also wear vintage and rarely get comments other than "You look great!"

  4. lemmonsc | | #4

    I have become very interested in vintage patterns. I recently inherited a LARGE collection of vintage fabrics from a cousin who worked for designers for Neiman Marcus during the 60's and early 70's. When they retired, they gave her all the fabric. There's some fabulous stuff here. I'm having so much fun planning what each piece of fabric will be. This Simplicity pattern would be great for a beautiful piece of black wool with silver lurex plaid. Perhaps add some Chanel style trim and pockets?

  5. SewMyGosh | | #5

    I sew on the side at the moment, creating aprons that have a modern take to them. It seems as though young women are now taking a liking to wearing aprons that look fun. A bit different than what this article is talking about, but still on the retro side. :)

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