Wednesday 4 February 2015

Vintage Pattern Finds...

In the sewing world, we often hear the term vintage, but what does it actually mean and what era is it referring to? The Oxford Dictionary defines vintage as... denoting something from the past of high quality, especially something representing the best of its kind.

How far back into the past though? Yesterday is past, but that's not vintage. Nor is last year. How old does a pattern have to be to make it vintage?

On a recent day trip to the Blue Mountains, Mr TMW and I discovered Hazelbrook Cottage Antiques - a treasure trove of fascinating items and knick knacks from days long gone by. Much to my surprise, one end of the store was devoted to Vintage Haberdashery. What a find!!! 

Needless to say, I didn't have to time to explore the rest of the shop. I spent the entire time sorting through vintage patterns and looking at garments, hat boxes, boots... So many items associated with sewing and clothing attire from the past. 

I picked up a 1953 Australian Home Journal. The magazine makes for interesting reading, especially the adds - little things like boil tested buttons. That brought back memories of an old copper in my mother's laundry. I think she still used it when we were young. She also had a much newer wringer washing machine that did the bulk of the laundry. I think that the copper was used for boiling water. I'll have to check with Mum. Obviously it was common to wash clothes in boiling water, hence the ad.

Look at those skinny waists!!! They're most definitely out of proportion to the rest of the body. I'm sure the picture is exaggerated. I do remember as a teenage (MUCH later than 1953), having an obsession with having a skinny waist. Now-a-days, I think it's all about bust size. Ha, ha.. I wanted that too.

I bought the magazine for the patterns inside; not the women's dresses. I don't think I could ever wear a dress like these. I know dresses with waists and full skirts are back in vogue, but to me they will always be old fashioned. They're the clothes my mother's generation wore and you always want to dress differently to your mother.

I think the little girls' dresses are adorable. Add a little length and they could easily be worn today without looking out of place.The pattern pieces look like they've never been used. However, the only markings are perforations. When I began sewing, pattern markings were printed as they are today.

I'm sure it won't be hard to decipher them. With a quick look online, I've found a few resources. Tips for sewing with vintage patterns:

I also bought a few patterns in envelopes. Simplicity 3499 was produced in 1951. I think that little scalloped bodice is gorgeous. Don't think I'd make the bolero, but I could see the dress working for a young girl, maybe with a few less gathers. 

Note how it's just one size. When I began garment sewing (again, MUCH later than 1951), patterns were only ever for one size. I never bothered to trace the tissue patterns. If you were careful with the tissue paper, it was fine. And to be honest, I rarely ever made the same thing more than once. Remember, I was only sewing for myself at that stage.

According to Vintage Patterns Wikia, Butterick 2122 was made around 1961. I'm not so sure of that. Decimal currency was introduced into Australia in 1966. This is an earlier pattern than the one on Vintage Patterns Wikia, as this one has both currencies, which leads me to believe it was made around 1966 - give or take a couple of years. Anyway, still an old pattern.

Butterick 5342 has to be from the 70s. Garment styles from earlier eras usually spanned decades, but 70s clothing was distinctive. Bell bottom pants - I loved them!!! The wider the better. Not so sure that I'd wear them again if they ever came back into popularity. I can see possibilities for that tunic top, though. I can guarantee it has a properly constructed back opening. 

Standards for patterns were consistent. The same construction techniques were used throughout the Big 4 pattern companies - Butterick, Simplicity, McCalls and Vogue. Obviously there were degrees of difficulty and I always found Vogue to be harder to sew than the rest, due in full to my lack of experience. The more difficult the pattern, the more skills you had to know, or acquire, in order to sew them. 

As far as I'm concerned, the consistency between patterns covers the high quality I referred to in the definition at the beginning of the post.

So, back to my original question, how old does a sewing pattern have to be to make it vintage? All of my purchases were classed as vintage, even the 70s pattern. When I think of vintage, I think of before I was born. I don't like to think of anything in my lifetime as being vintage... LOL!!! Vintage Patterns Wikia talks about vintage patterns as being 25 years or older. By that definition, anything from 1990 or earlier is vintage. Almost all of you will have been born before 1990. Patterns produced after you were born are classified as vintage. Now I'm not alone.

At some point we'll have to stop relying just on when a pattern was made to classify it as vintage. Now-a-days there is not that consistency across patterns. I'm not sure if this has occurred solely with the introduction of PDF patterns. I don't often use paper patterns from the Big 4, but the sizing doesn't seem to be as reliable as it once was. I don't have the same confidence in the Big 4 as I once had.

Don't get me wrong. There are LOTS of wonderful modern day patterns, both paper and PDF. Unfortunately, there are others that are not up to the same high standard. That, however, is a discussion for another post.

We visited several antique shops that day, but Hazelbrook Cottage Antiques and Vintage Haberdashery topped the lot. We ended up at Everglades historic house and gardens at Leura. Well worth a visit if you are up that way, both for the spectacular scenery and the well structured gardens. 

I have no immediate plans to sew up my new to me vintage patterns. To say I'm thrilled with my finds is an understatement. What are your thoughts and experiences re sewing with vintage patterns? Do you remember sewing any of them first time around?

... Pam


  1. I love vintage patterns, even if I don't use them they are inspiring. I have quite a few of those 1950s Australian Home Journals and I find the advertisements in them just as interesting as the articles. And I have that Butterick boys pattern but funnily enough mine is numbered Butterick 422 and has a dollar figure on it so it must be post 1966?

  2. These are so cute! I love 1950s style dresses!

  3. Sounds like you had another wonderful date day. What a good husband you have...he goes to vintage shops with you :) I have never tried a vintage patterns. Since the sizing from those companies are usually off, I was wondering how they are in vintage patterns. So they used to be more accurate? Interesting!

  4. Pam, the patterns you found are wonderful! I would have loved to have been in that shop with you- it sounds like wonderful place to spend an afternoon (or longer!). Thanks for sharing your finds! :)

  5. Those children's patterns look fantastic! My friend gave me a vintage girl's cape pattern she bought at the markets (forgot which one), since I don't know anything about vintage patterns I have clearly never heard of the brand which was "Style". It has "Farmers" (NZ dpt store) stamped on the front so I guess it travelled from NZ! Tried to google the pattern # and came up with zilch, ha. Anyway, I am looking forward to sewing it this winter. And I will have to keep the Village Haberdashery in mind the next time I go up to the Blue Mt, hopefully soon!

    1. There used to be a Farmers shop in Sydney, Perhaps there were more, but I remember the one in the CBD. We used to catch the train to Town Hall and walk from there. At some stage Farmers changed to Grace Bros and later on to Myer. So, perhaps your pattern originated in Australia.

  6. I had that butterick pattern, I swear! Skooter skirts era, and short shorts. I used to make all my clothes in high school. The waists are impossible! I never had a defined waist, a smaller one, and always smaller than my chest but now they would call it an athletic build. Clothing is a different animal that quilting. Only has to fit the bed, a rectangle like me!! LeeAnna at not afraid of color

  7. I would classify vintage as 60's or earlier ... I learned to sew in the 70's so that probably explains my hesitance in accepting that it could be vintage, LOLLLLLL. I was in the fabric store today with my neighbour - the cashier called me his mom. I'm 53 ... he's 41. I guess I just bypassed vintage and went right to antique, LOL!!!

  8. I can't read patterns, I seem to have a mental block, so the new patterns are easier for me to understand.
    I wish I had the figure to wear clothes from the 50's, because I would if I could! LOL

  9. A couple of years ago the Oscars ceremony was awash with vintage dresses and they were talking about last season, so I guess the definition of vintage is relative :)
    A vintage haberdashery sounds like my idea of heaven too, I am not surprised that you didn't have time to explore the rest of the shop Pam!

  10. Vintage is 20 years or older coming from the word 'vingt' in french meaning 20.... so counting back anything 20 years or more is vintage Simple!!!!
    except I am feeling old now I know 1995 is a vintage year!!
    bestest daisy j xx


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