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Vintage patterns

vintagevixen | Posted in Gather For A Chat on

Hey all, I am new to this forum and would like to introduce myself, I am a huge sewing fanatic and love to make vintage inspired things…
with that said, my newest project is making a 1940’s play suit , I bought the vintage simplicity pattern and have read it about 5 times now. I have made dresses with patterns before and so on, but these vintage patters seem to be so different than what I am use to, any one familiar with using vintage patterns? Thanks..



  1. Teaf5 | | #1

    One major issue with vintage patterns is the sizing.  The Size 16 printed on your pattern may very likely be equivalent to a size 8 in modern patterns, so you need to compare each piece of it to a current pattern that fits you well.  The amount of ease in older patterns differs from what we are comfortable with nowadays, too, so check that against a current pattern, too.

    I'm not quite old enough to have used that era of pattern, but I remember some of my mother's, which did not have seam allowances included, so that's another thing to check before cutting.  Making a sample/muslin of a vintage pattern is essential; if you use a cute, cheap print to make a sample of this one, you'll have a cute romper for around the house if it comes close to fitting.

    Keep us posted on your progress!

  2. SewistKitty | | #2

    What type of problem are you having with the directions? Maybe you could post a sentence or two that is puzzling you for us to help you understand. I know that most women made their clothing back then so that some of the people who wrote the directions may have made assumptions about their audience's knowlege which we may or may not have.

    1. vintagevixen | | #3

      Hi thanks for responding, the pattern is already pre-cut to the size I need, I ironed out the paper it is all ready to go, I know that the triangles are for the darts, and the small holes on the paper indicate where to sew for the inseam, but the pictures are not very graphic, and the instructions are very basic, as far not going into detail with how to lay it out which way etc. here are some things I am confused onstep three for the shorts, - FRONT GATHERS- at upper edge between v-v.
      Back Darts- from inside, match and stitch thru small .-.'to nothing at single .'s
      the last part is what throws me off, "to nothing" at the last dots
      also, when I do the gathering , how tight should I make it, or does that not really matter?
      thank you

      1. starzoe | | #4

        "Back darts...to nothing at single .'s" You are meant to match the dart legs at the waistline and finish the darts at the single .'s - in the usual V formation.If there are front gathers, they are meant to match the waistband (am assuming there is one and that is a measurement you want). Check the waistband, there will be markings and the gathers will lie between two (markings of some kind -one set each side front.Some vintage patterns have small holes where on a newer pattern will be notches, so check to see if you can match oos on the front to the oos on the back, and perhaps on the side seam as well.

        1. vintagevixen | | #5

          thank you!

      2. sewelegant | | #9

        How experienced are you?  What I mean is... are you familiar with making darts?  With gathering a skirt and applying it to a waistband or bodice seam?  I'll bet you are!  Just remember that almost all the patterns we purchase do not throw many curves so try not to read "difficult" into it.  Make a note by the v-v to call it notches.  Those notches have to match the notches on the piece you will be applying it to, just like in todays patterns.

        A dart is a dart.  Just sew it up like you would any dart.  They always tell you to taper it to nothing at the end, right?  They have just told you that the .-. is the starting place.  I can remember in my early days sewing a dart from the tip to the wider end and finally figured out it works better starting at the wide end (the seam) I probably didn't read the directions very well and no one ever told me how to sew the dart!

        As for the gathers.  They need to be just tight enough to match the gathered edge to the waist edge of the bodice - match the notches and pin the pieces together then pull up the gathering stitches until the gathered piece matches the length of the piece it is to be sewn to.   My favorite way to gather a section like this is to make two rows of gathering stitches, one 3/8" away from the edge and the other 3/4" from the edge.  Pull both threads at the same time so the gathers are evenly spaced, and then sew 5/8" from the edge (the usual seam width) and the gathers tend to lie flat instead of getting all caught up in the stitching.  To control the gathering thread so it stays where you want it, I wind it around the pin at the notch in a figure 8 and do the same at the other end of the gathers at the second notch.  It is usually pretty easy to distribute the gathers evenly as you sew, just go slowly.


        Edited 8/6/2009 8:50 pm by sewelegant

        Edited 8/8/2009 12:21 am by sewelegant

        1. vintagevixen | | #10

          Hi thanks so much! I have got the darts down , the v- v and notches is what threw me off, your advice is very helpful! progress is getting better, Im taking my time practicing on diff. materials so I can make the actual one very clean looking. Thanks again.

          1. sewelegant | | #11

            I edited my last post to make it more clear.  I hope you are progressing well.  Taking the time to do it well calls for a lot of patience.  Good Luck.

  3. gailete | | #6

    A lot of those vintage patterns had one layout on the back of the envelope and with usually only the 35-36" fabric that was it. All the major companies (and they were all separate at the time) kept trying to come up with ways to make their patterns better and more appealing to the customer so they were all a bit different. They also presumed that most women knew how to sew.

    If you are going to keep sewing vintage patterns, I would suggest finding a vintage sewing book or two that expands on the directions. They are out there and it is amazing the changes. I was looking at my old Butterick Art of Sewing 1927 yesterday and as it was the style of the time, the sketches of the ladies were all these flat chested straight up and down bodies that looked like flappers. Twenty years later all the women in the books had defined waistlines and pointy bustlines. But the books written by pattern companies were meant to help the seamstress understand how to make up patterns.

    Sounds like the advice you have gotten so far is right on the money.


  4. Palady | | #7

    Being off-line for some weeks, I just read your post today.

    I learned to sew using patterns before printed ones were on the scene.  First lesson from Mother was my having to "study" the pattern piece and identify what each size circle, triangle, square, or rectangle meant.  Initially I had to locate the grain.  From there it was on to the other geometrics cut into the tissue.  This was done as the tissue was lightly ironed to remove any folds or creases.

    As was mentioned, sizing in the vintages is quite different.  Because the "play suit" is likely one piece, it would be most helpful to you to do a muslin.  Ease on your motion when wearing will be paramount.

    It's been posted, there being a given.  That is the pattern company's approach with the instruction sheet, was the sewist either already knew certain doings, or had someone at hand to explain.   This leaves the current day sewist searching for sites like Gatherings.

    If you get a piece of tissue you're unable to "decipher" maybe posting a photo of it will have one of us old timers try & explain.

    Please drop by as much as you can as to how your progressing. 


    1. vintagevixen | | #8

      Thank you! I have been reading the same thing over and over, it really does help. Thanks

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