Collecting Vintage Sewing Patterns

Vogue Couturier sewing pattern from the 1950s

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I started sewing with a vengeance back in the 1980’s so I have collected a wide range of sewing patterns from that period onwards. It wasn’t until about two years ago that I started collecting patterns from the 1950s and earlier, but I’m so glad I started! I love the fashion illustrations on the front of the envelopes – so gorgeous that they are perfect framed and displayed on the wall, but I also love the styles and glamour from these past eras and the fact that you can make perfect, authentic reproductions of these glamorous styles.

It was the American tailor, Ebeneezer Butterick who first introduced graded sewing patterns for the mass market. Originally, these patterns were not printed and just featured notches and holes to help the dressmaker construct the garment. Printed patterns were introduced in the 1940s, after the Second World War, and patterns with multiple sizing weren’t seen until the 1970s.

I found my first 1950s dress pattern in my Mum’s sewing collection when I was a teenager. It was a simple pencil skirt from Butterick and I think I made it many times, in different fabrics.  But I was inspired to collect them when I found a beautiful Vogue couturier pattern at Ardingly Antiques Fair. Since then my collection has grown extensively. I source patterns where ever I can. Ebay and Etsy are always good hunting grounds, but it is worth keeping  your eyes open at antiques fairs and shops, jumble sales and charity shops, though patterns from the 50s and earlier are becoming increasingly difficult to source and more expensive to purchase, with some 1950s designer patterns now selling for over £200!

Vogue Couturier sewing pattern from the 1950s
I found this Vogue Couturier sewing pattern at Ardingly Antiques Fair – it’s one of my favourites!

I only collect what I like and what interests me, which is why I focus on the 50s. Because of this, the condition of the pattern and envelope doesn’t bother me too much, as long as there are no major parts of the pattern missing. I also rather like it when a previous owner has made their own jottings on the pattern and envelope, such as sizing alterations, or a swatch of the fabric they made the pattern up in – to me this all adds to its history. If you are buying  to resell, you need to consider the condition of the pattern. Ideally the pattern envelope should be pristine, and it is better still if the pattern is uncut. Some designer patterns were made in limited numbers and therefore they are quite sought after, hence the high prices.  Spadea patterns are highly collectable; these featured designers from the 1950s and 60s,  such as Cecil Chapman and Suzy Perette. Also collectable are Hollywood Patterns from the 1940s and 50s, which feature a picture of a film star such as Lucille Ball on the envelope.

Hollywood patterns which feature a picture of a film star on the envelope are quite collectable
Hollywood patterns which feature a picture of a film star on the envelope are quite collectable

If you just want to recreate the look of the era, there are plenty of reproduction patterns available at reasonable prices. Butterick and Vogue both have a range of vintage patterns reproduced from designs in their archives.  On Ebay the Vintage Pattern Shop http://stores.ebay.co.uk/The-Vintage-Pattern-Shop has a wide range of patterns which the shop owner has had reproduced from her own collection of vintage patterns. You could also try Eliza M  http://www.elizamvintagesewing.co.uk/ and Sew-La-Di-Da  http://sewladidavintage.com/index.php/vintage-sewing-patterns

These sewing patterns from the past give vintage clothing lovers the opportunity to wear a wide range of styles rather than being restricted to the sizing limitations and care concerns of authentic vintage garments. If you are not adept at sewing you have the option of finding a local seamstress to make up the patterns for you in your choice of colour and fabric – there are no limitations!

Pictured below are some of my favourite patterns from my collection – one day I hope to make them all!

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A Visit to Shepton Mallet Antiques Fair

Shepton Mallet Antiques Fair
Shepton Mallet Antiques Fair
Shepton Mallet Antiques Fair – a fantastic place to source vintage fabric, textiles and sewing patterns.

I’m currently on a quest to source vintage trims and fabrics for the 1920’s and 30’s inspired lingerie and loungewear I’m endeavouring to make. So last weekend I took a trip to the IACF Shepton Mallet Antiques Fair for inspiration.

Browsing antique fairs is one of my favourite pastimes, and I’ve made it my mission this year to visit as many as possible. I can’t resist stalls selling any form of vintage clothing or textiles, and my husband usually abandons me whilst he looks out for furniture he can revamp, or all manner of ‘manly’ things! This time he was on the hunt for a pocket watch which he could place on the dashboard of the 1973 VW Camper he’s restoring.

It’s strange how antique fairs seem to vary geographically. I’m a frequent visitor to the IACF Fair at Ardingly where there is a huge European influence, with lots of shabby chic and traders selling large items of furniture brought over from abroad. Shepton Mallet was quite different – there were far fewer large items and the emphasis was more on what I would describe as ‘proper’ antiques. This may have been partly due to the weather – the wind was very cold and most of the dealers had wisely chosen to stay under cover.

Many of the stalls were under cover
Many of the stalls were under cover.

My first find was a gorgeous 1930’s sewing pattern which I snapped up for a bargain price. I can envisage this made up in a gorgeous silk fabric. The instructions on the pattern envelope are sketchy so it will be quite a challenge to see how this turns out when I get round to making it up. Our ancestors must have been incredible seamstresses to cope with such brief instructions, unmarked pattern pieces and incredibly intricate design details.

1930s sewing pattern
This wonderful 1930s sewing pattern is going to be challenging

There were numerous stalls selling vintage lace, trims and textiles, so much so that I was slightly overwhelmed by the choice! Some stallholders had painstakingly removed panels of embroidery or beading from antique garments which were beyond restoration and these were just stunning to look at and examine in such close detail – the amount of work and hours these must have taken is just beyond belief.

La Cammionette Bleue
There are always beautiful treasures at La Cammionette Bleue

There were so many potential treasures that I was reaching that stage of indecisiveness where there was a good chance I would come home empty-handed, apart from my gorgeous sewing pattern. Luckily I came across one of my favourite traders; Liz runs La Cammionette Bleue and specialises in vintage and antique textiles and costume – she always has beautiful finds on her stall and is friendly, helpful and very knowledgeable about her stock. Three yards of beautiful fabric caught my eye, and it turns out it was original 1930s fabric – just perfect for what I had in mind! It shall soon be either an elegant  1920s kimono, or ‘Coolie Coat’ as it was then known, or an item of pretty loungewear. This find was enough to spur me on to purchase some vintage lace trim as well.

My beautiful 1930s fabric and lace trims.
My beautiful 1930s fabric and lace trims.

I didn’t go home laden with packages but I bought enough to get two more dressmaking projects underway. If you love textile crafts and have a penchant for vintage textiles I would strongly recommend that you pay a visit to an antiques or vintage fair. Part of the thrill is never knowing what you will find, and even if you come home with a full purse, your creativity will be fired by all the gorgeous items you’ve spotted.