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5 Expert Tips for Working with Vintage Sewing Patterns

Sewing has been a beloved hobby for ages: In fact, the first tissue sewing pattern was made in 1863! Today, you can find many vintage sewing patterns online, in thrift shops, or even in your grandmother's sewing basket --but they can be a bit different than modern-day patterns. To help make the most of these patterns, read these five tips before you start your project.

Vintage sewing patterns can be captivating glimpses into garment stylings of generations past. I absolutely love the nostalgia of vintage sewing patterns. My favorite part about making a project from one of these patterns is the ability to bring a vintage garment from the past back to life in the fabric of my choice! A lot of companies, like BurdaStyle, are even adapting their classic vintage patterns to modern-day sewing-pattern technology, and offering them in digital format. Pictured here is the Vintage Boucle Dress originally published in the '60s.

For this project, you have the option of working with a vintage sewing pattern made digital, or sewing with the real-deal tissue patterns of the past. Either way, you will end up with a sewn garment that radiates retro style and nods to the design elements of the past. You may even find people commenting that your "vintage" garment is in such great condition! (It's up to you whether to tell them that you made it or not, of course.)

Tip 1: Take Sizing into Consideration

Vintage sewing patterns tend to have different sizing standards, much the way actual vintage garments in thrift shops do. So don't simply cut and sew according to the pattern's dimensions because it will be too small. Instead, make sure the size will fit you or the person you're sewing it for, and adjust the measurements accordingly. Also, many vintage sewing patterns do not accommodate multiple sizes, so only one size comes in the envelope. The best thing to do to get a good fit is to physically measure the pattern with a ruler or measuring tape to calculate the bust, waist, and hip circumferences.

Vintage_Suit_102015.jpg (skyword:190366)
A Vintage Suit pattern that was originally printed in the 60s'.

Tip 2: Pay Attention to Seam Allowance

Vintage sewing patterns had seam allowances that were set by the pattern manufacturer. There was no standard for seam allowance . So make sure you read the pattern carefully to know how much seam allowance is included. Back in the day, there was a range of 3/8" to 5/8", which is not a lot. If you sew at the incorrect seam allowance, seams and style lines will not align, resulting in a garment fit you didn't intend on.

Tip 3: Factor in "Ease"

In generations past, garments fit more snugly to the body's waist and more loosely around the bustline, so the basic ease allowance in the pattern could be sufficiently less or more than modern-day sewing patterns. Just make sure you measure the sewing pattern pieces against your body measurements to see if enough or too much wearing ease is included. The bust should have about 2 1/2" to 3" total wearing ease, and the waist should have 1" for a fitted silhouette garment.

Vintage_Dress_102015.jpg (skyword:190368)
This vintage dress was originally published in 1961 when the low cowl backs were in style.

Tip 4: Trace off the Pattern

Vintage sewing patterns were printed on very thin tissue, and the age as well as the wear and tear of the pattern weaken the tissue. To preserve your vintage sewing patterns, never pin the tissue to the fabric, as it could rip. Instead, simply place a piece of tracing paper and retrace all of the pattern pieces. This also makes it easier to do alterations to the pattern, whether it be changing the size or adding pockets!

Tip 5: Utilize Vintage Sewing Techniques

Since you're working with a vintage pattern and producing a vintage-style garment, consider trying out the sewing techniques described in the instructions. Sewers in the past didn't have the fancy sewing machines that we have now, so they had to apply different seam finishes to their garments. Embracing old techniques, like tailor's tacks and bias bindings, will give your garment a more authentic feel.

Vintage_Blouse_102015.jpg (skyword:190371)

Pictured above is our Vintage Lace Blouse pattern from 1952!

Tell me: Where is your favorite place to get vintage sewing patterns? Do you prefer the remade digital ones, or the classic tissue ones? Do you also use vintage fabrics?

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About the Author

Meg Healy

Meg Healy is the Online Editor for BurdaStyle.com, the world's largest online sewing community. She inspires members of the sewing community by documenting her sewing projects online, developing and instructing online sewing courses, and filming in-studio as one of the faces of BurdaStyle Vidoes, an online sewing video subscription site. She studied Fashion Design at Fanshawe College...

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