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I SO want to take up sewing with vintage patterns after discovering that it’s actually possible to find patterns from the 1930’s on the internet (reproductions as well as originals). My heart beats an extra beat when I see them, the designs are often just amazing!
However, before I buy one of them (they’re not cheap!) I’d like some advice on sizing.
I’m right in between two sizes (according to the old sizing system). If that was the case with modern patterns I’d go for the smaller size (they always come out too big otherwise) but I’m not sure with vintage patterns.
Does anyone have any experience with vintage patterns? Do they run smaller than modern patterns, or the same (I’m talking bust & hip-measurements here, not the actual size-numbering)?
Did they add more or less or the same amount of ease back then?
If I have to buy patterns of the wrong size, is it easier to grade up or down?
And does anyone have any other good advice for a beginner in the vintage pattern-world?
I’d be greatful for any information! Thanks!


15 Posts Sign in to add a post

  • 985f0154fdefdf284531d76b36fbffee7a42548e_large

    Sep 29, 2009, 07.53 PMby katexxxxxx

    If you are looking at the Vintage Vogue collection of patterns from their back catalogue, they have been res-zed fo the more modern figure. They use the same set of measurements for these repros as they use for their standard patterns. They are pretty true to measurements, so buy according to your measurements.

    Not so sure about the Butterick ones, but I’ve heard they work on the same basis.

    If you are looking for original vintage patterns, you need to measure carefully and buy the size closest to your measurements. There is a chart on my web site compiled from these sets of measurements: http://www.diceyhome.free-online.co.uk/KatePages/Learning/vintage+body-sizes/size%20charts.htm

    1 Reply
    • Vatten_large

      Sep 29, 2009, 09.22 PMby ichigogirl

      Thank you so much Kate for your reply! I had a look at your size charts (great info!) but I’m still not sure what size I’d better buy.
      I’m looking at original vintage patterns and reproductions on sites like the vintage pattern lending library (https://vpll.3dcartstores.com/) and Eva Dress (http://www.evadress.com).They use the vintage sizing system (pre 1970’s), and I’ve pretty much abandoned looking at the size numbers and instead look at the measurement.
      The problem is that I’m right in between sizes. I can either buy size 14 (fits a 32 inch chest) or size 16 (fits a 34 inch chest). I’m 32.7 inches, so I think a size 14 (or 32 inches) is better, but there seem to be SO many more nice patterns in size 16 (34 inches), so if the fit was closer back then (as I would have imagined it was, but I’m not so sure anymore…) I could go for the bigger size. Wishful thinking?
      But with modern patterns I always have to go down one size to make them fit (btw, could that have to to with the fact that the same amount of ease makes the ease a lot bigger in small sizes than in big sizes, proportionally, I wonder…), so if the amount of ease was roughly the same back then I’d be a fool to size up!
      Ah. I think I’ll get a smaller size to begin with and see how it works!
      Only one more problem, it’s almost impossible to decide what I’d rather sew, everything looks so so beautiful and tempting… I fall in love over and over again…. :-)

  • 1ea8f961776a5fe83ce32501b0f5b0b7d32f5d9d_large

    Sep 29, 2009, 09.42 PMby oscarthegrouch108

    personally i would rather take a garment in than let it out, but i’d rather grade a pattern up a little than down (i’m just full of contradictions!).

    i’ve made a few vintage patterns (both from reprints and original tissue), and it seems like the ease was a smidge less. of course these were 40’s and 50’s patterns, for the ease for other eras might be different.

    not sure what site you are going through for your patterns, but the vintage pattern lending library is pretty good too (vpll.org i think). they have a lot of teens, 20’s, 30’s if i remember right (it’s been a while since i’ve looked there).

    good luck!

    1 Reply
    • Vatten_large

      Sep 30, 2009, 08.35 AMby ichigogirl

      Thanks a lot for your reply. It’s very helpful to know your experience about the ease and taking in/out grading up/down! (and I’m sure going to look at your vintage-creations!)
      The link to the Vintage Lending Library is in my reply to Kate… ;-)
      They have so many patterns that I just can’t choose what one to order… loads of 30’s, I keep adding to cart and end up with 100’s of dollars worth of patterns (too many) and then cancel it all, ah, treasuregrove…
      Think I’ll put the limit on three.

  • 985f0154fdefdf284531d76b36fbffee7a42548e_large

    Oct 1, 2009, 10.09 PMby katexxxxxx

    Yes, ease was less way back then… But you need to buy the one closest to ALL your measurements, not JUST the chest/bust… If you are a smaller size elsewhere, but larger busted (c or larger cup), buy according toy your other measurements and alter the bust to fit on the FRONT of the pattern, using the full bust adjustment method. This alters the front half of the garment at the bust, but leaves the neckline,armscye, and shoulders alone. Make the garment with the designers allocated amount of ease, so that it fits as it would in its era, otherwise it’ll look odd.

    Always trace the pattern off and transfer all the pattern markings. Make your alterations on the copy, never on the orgiinal. That way you will always have that to go back to to check things and for corrections when/if things don’t go according to plan. Also those patterns will soon be antiques, and a valuable resource for the future: copy, don’t destroy! ;)

    1 Reply
    • Vatten_large

      Oct 2, 2009, 04.00 PMby ichigogirl

      Thanks again! I’m so greatful for advice!

      Fortunately/unfortunately, I’m not in need of an FBA, nor an SBA, phew. I may need to adjust the waist though, but I plan to check the measurements of the patterns to my own before making my muslin (have I finally learned that I must do so?).

      I just won my two first patterns on E-bay, yey! Not 30’s, but really nice 50’s Simplicity patterns. Can’t wait to get them!

      I’m going to treasure them, and definitely copy them before using them. I may even make photocopies of the envelopes and put the oringinals in safe storage, my mum works in an archive so I’ve been taught the value and fragility of old paper… but thank you for the advice! Hopefully it’ll help old patterns in other people’s care too :-)!

  • 985f0154fdefdf284531d76b36fbffee7a42548e_large

    Oct 2, 2009, 11.22 PMby katexxxxxx

    When copying the patterns, take them out and CAREFULLY separate the sheets. Smooth them out and iron them flat, with a warm dry iron. That way they will also fold up again and fit back in the envelope when you are done. :)

    Some older patterns come one size at a time – you only get one size in the envelope rather than several sizes printed together. The seam allowances will probably be marked. Just trace everything and alter the copy, and yes, make a muslin/toile!

    Also, when you measure tha pattern pieces, they will be measurement PLUS ease allowance. And more ease is allowed at shoulder and bust and hip than at the waist…

    1 Reply
    • 1ea8f961776a5fe83ce32501b0f5b0b7d32f5d9d_large

      Oct 3, 2009, 08.55 PMby oscarthegrouch108

      allowing a little less ease is how the waist gets nipped in so nicely!

  • 1ea8f961776a5fe83ce32501b0f5b0b7d32f5d9d_large

    Oct 3, 2009, 09.01 PMby oscarthegrouch108

    ichigogirl, what are your measurements? i have some vintage patterns (50’ and 60’s i think) that i’m willing to part with. i can e-mail you photos if you’re interested. i’d rather someone use them, than have them sit in my stash.

  • 0c467b97a0808407560cd1e032d85fe13edc9a62_large

    Nov 16, 2009, 08.57 PMby minkeymonkey

    I use mostly vintage patterns and have found that for the 50s and 60s, the bust is always too big even though the measurements are exact. I’m also a 32" bust and I have been able to size down just a wee bit and make it work. There are some half sizes too which might be closer to your measurements. I just search often.

    I have a couple 30s and 40s patterns that I have not used yet…gotta buy pattern paper and practice tracing a pattern before i use these fancy and antique ones!

    I recommend ETSY as well as eBay, Some vintage sites are painfully expensive. I can find 30s or 40s patterns for around $12-$20 on the above sites but some vintage sites sell them for $45-$95!! I do like Mom’s Patterns but I think she only carries back to the 40s.

    Another good thing to remember is that some vintage patterns are not printed meaning that instead of cutting along the line the pattern is already cut and there are tiny shapes punched out to designate what is what. Because there is nothing too hard about an unprinted pattern (but it can be a surprise if you were not expecting it), here is a really helpful article: http://sewing.patternreview.com/cgi-bin/review/readreview.pl?readreview=1&ID=1113

    Sounds like fun!


  • Da810f03a0d5db1cdb3b8d267111c9fcc7ad2eda_large

    Nov 18, 2009, 06.40 AMby auntchelle

    Just remember that undergarments where different back when. Girdles were used to get those waistlines so, unless you intend to wear a girdle, you will need to make some sizing changes. Unfortunately, I’m a plus-size so I haven’t been game to make any of my vintage patterns yet… I keep putting them off because of the vast number of changes I will need to make. Many of the vintage pattern selling sites offer a download on how to re-size a pattern. For example: http://www.sensibility.com/pattern/resizepattern.htm

    I would also suggest you read some different blogs and threads off websites to familiarize yourself with other people’s problems and solutions. Other people are soooo helpful. Heres some to look at:

    http://sewing.patternreview.com/SewingDiscussions/forum/28http://sewretro.blogspot.com/http://www.vintagefashionlibrary.com/homehttp://www.vintagesewing.info/index.html and, of course…http://www.blogforbettersewing.com/

  • Missing

    Nov 20, 2009, 01.41 PMby badkitty-1

    Hi Auntchelle, I have a lot of vintage patterns too but unfortunately I have the same predicament as you and some of the patterns are so small I would be better just drafting the pattern myself :(

    I would love to hear how you all get on with your patterns and if I ever get round to grading some of mine I’ll a) faint and b) post them here LOL

    Thanks for all the great links. K xx

  • Drink_thumb_large

    Aug 13, 2011, 05.12 AMby wintersky

    I had a feeling if i was going to cut out the original pattern pieces that there could be some adding to the waistline required (i think i was looking for size 16 wast being about 27inch and i would be just on 30 inch.

  • Drink_thumb_large

    Aug 13, 2011, 05.12 AMby wintersky

    Great thread :D

  • Missing

    Aug 14, 2011, 03.52 AMby Talia B

    I’m also having the same problem. The bust size might by perfect for me, but all other measurements are too small. Since I’m in love with the pattern, I may figure out how to adjust the other sizing, since ease on these patterns are often off. Also, they often require a “neck-type zipper”…what is this?

  • Patti_12-28-2011_large

    Oct 3, 2011, 12.54 AMby patti-r

    COPA (Commercial Pattern Archives) check it out some can be viewed.

    Thought this may be of interest to Vintage lovers. 1) http://www.uri.edu/library/special_collections/COPA/ 2) http://www.uri.edu/library/special_collections/COPA/buy.php Information / Application to view patterns. Sorry if this has been presented before.

    1 Reply
    • 985f0154fdefdf284531d76b36fbffee7a42548e_large

      Oct 3, 2011, 07.51 AMby katexxxxxx

      Very useful. Thank you. I’d forgotten about that, as I’ve never paid to join it. Now bookmarked in case I ever need it. :)

  • Missing

    Jan 4, 2012, 04.09 PMby laurenp

    A bit late I know, but does anyone have a good supplier of tracing paper to transfer patterns on to? I’ve got a few I’d like to transfer, so am looking for cheap and bulk (and UK!)

    1 Reply
    • 985f0154fdefdf284531d76b36fbffee7a42548e_large

      Jan 5, 2012, 07.42 PMby katexxxxxx

      I use ‘dot and cross’ (or the metric number/letter equivalent) pattern drafting paper from Morplan. It’s thicker than tracing paper, but easy enough to trace through, and it’s tougher than tissue. They do also sell acid free tissue if you want that.

  • Missing

    Jan 10, 2012, 01.27 PMby mickeygirl

    I find the vintage pattern have much less ease than the modern. You have to be careful about measuring.

    The figure silhouette of the 1930’s was rather slim. Women wore some type of corset over their waist and hips. They did not wear padded bras.

  • Purplefan_large

    Jan 15, 2012, 03.00 AMby purplefan

    The Jan. 2012 Threads issue had a tip about vintage patterns: cut inside the lines of a vintage pattern. Reason-the pattern outlines can be up to 1/8" thick, which means if you cut outside of the outlines, you’d be adding that measurement to the pattern piece. And you really don’t want to be doing that.

    2 Replies
    • This is a question
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