Saving the planet... one garment at a time!

... and one upcycle at a time... Welcome to my blog: A place to have an "over the fence conversation" about sewing, altered couture, upcycling, and all kinds of crafts using found objects, beads, ephemera and other vintage finds!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Vintage Pattern Handling

If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know I always like to think of sewing as a sustainability skill.  While perhaps not as immediate and primal as knowing how to start a fire, or use dried beans, sewing certainly comes in handy if you are trying to get the most out of your clothing and textiles.  Like so many young women of my generation, I learned to sew in home economics class and in Girl Scouts.  My mother was a home sewist, and sewing was deemed an inexpensive method of expanding one’s wardrobe.

Expand I did! I made dresses, formals, skirts and even costumes.  Here's the pattern for the first dress I ever made!  At the time, my clothing budget for school and social occasions was very small and I was a student of international folk dance with a limited budget for ethnic dance ensembles.  

As an adult sewist I have gained an appreciation for vintage patterns.  I use them to create period costumes, and also to enhance my everyday wardrobe.  I’m always thrilled when I find a pattern that excites my imagination.  The fact that the pattern is still around (and not at the bottom of some landfill) is impressive.  Even more impressive is the fact that this pattern can still be used to create a special piece of clothing evocative of a long-ago style. 

I scour estate sales, thrift shops, and yard sales to acquire vintage patterns.  I keep many for myself, and I also sell them in my Seams Sustainable Etsy shop.  When I get the patterns home, I open each one and go through it to ascertain that all the pieces and directions are present.  Some vintage beauties are very challenging because of unprinted pattern pieces and minimal directions.  In times when many women could sew, the directions seem very minimal compared to the step by step directions included with more modern patterns!  Also, they require some special handling due to age!

I then consider whether the pattern will withstand use.  Tissue paper is usually acid-free and remarkably resilient.  However, the pattern’s past use and storage play a role in its present utility.  I have encountered pattern pieces crumpled into the envelope, wadded together from water damage, and torn either due to past pinning or due to labeling perforations becoming tears. In all of these cases, I very gently peel back the onion layers and try to separate the pieces.  Some patterns will just not be salvageable, but most I find I can gently separate. 

Once I’m sure that everything is present and can be separated, I decide whether to keep a pattern or resell.  Though grading a pattern up is very doable, I generally only keep patterns close to my measurements unless I am seeking a challenge.  My sewing time is short enough without adding complex fitting problems! 

Whether I am reselling the pattern, or keeping it, I next flatten the pattern, either to fold it back into the envelope or to use it.  For this, I will often use my iron, on a very low dry setting.  If the pattern seems fragile, and I plan to use it, tracing it onto newer tissue, exam table paper, or other pattern paper will help to preserve the original for posterity.  If the pattern is made of sterner stuff, I recommend using pattern weights instead of pins to keep your pattern intact.

Enjoy your summer sewing!  Do you sew with vintage patterns?  If so, what methods do you use to preserve them?

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