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!
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.
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!