Pinning Down History

Vintage Pattern.jpgI’m working with a vintage pattern right now. When I took it out of the envelope and carefully peeled it open, I found several rusted pins still in the pattern pieces, plus pencil marks, random cuts and brittle, yellow shards of sellotape.

These moments always leave me a bit emotional. Who worked with this pattern, how many years ago, and most importantly, was their make a success?!

What are the surprise moments you’ve had with a vintage pattern? I’ve heard tell of love letters found on patterns. Have you discovered something wonderful recently?


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36 Responses to Pinning Down History

  1. Taking out the pattern from the envelope is always for me a special moment – but having such experience is really special.

  2. Jacq says:

    That’s the thing about used patterns that I really love, finding those little bits of info from previous owners. I bought a handful of patterns from a charity shop and they had index cards inside where the previous sewer had made notes about pattern altertions, fabric used, who she had made it for etc – a wonderful find 🙂

  3. jude says:

    my gran gave me all her old sewing stuff when arthritis came along. I have loads of old embroidery silks, my great grans darning mushroom, scissors, and an encyclopedia of needlework which my uncle graffiti-ed when he was tiny!

  4. Geo P says:

    I’ve never found anything, but I’d get emotional too 🙂

  5. Grace says:

    I bought an early 1970’s one this weekend and found part of a letter from one sister to another. In it she taks about wedding plans and buying printed cotton from Laura Ashley at 50p a metre! It was touching, you wonder where they are now and if it was a marriage made in heaven….

  6. Mem says:

    I once found an address on the pattern envelope along with a name . The address wasn’t far away and one day I drove by . It was a lovely old Californian bungalow with some old lady nic nacs on the window sill . The stalking stopped their I assure you!

  7. I once changed my sewing plans because on opening the pattern I could tell the previous owner had made one ‘view’ repeatedly and left the others untouched. Who was I to argue with the 70’s sewing maestro? They were right too, that dress fits brilliantly!

  8. S says:

    Similarly to pennylibrarian, I pay attention to the view made by the previous owner. I try to imagine what fabric they used and the event to which they wore the dress!

  9. AnotherKaren says:

    I get wistful when I see a rubber stamp mark of the (long gone) department store or haberdasher that sold the pattern. How did a pattern from a shop in Nottingham end up in a charity shop in Somerset, I wonder to myself?

    • LinB says:

      Oh, and the ones where you had to order off for the pattern, out of a newspaper or magazine! I love finding those, with the addresses so simple that all you needed was your name and the name of your town … you knew the postmaster would find you, because the town had so few streets there was no need to list yours on the order form.

  10. Rachel says:

    Just before my mum passed away she asked me not to give her sewing patterns away without first checking the envelopes as that was where she hid her “emergency cash”. I remembered these words when I was clearing her sewing room. Sure enough stashed in the pattern envelopes was£300. What a lovely surprise it would have been if someone has picked up the patterns in the local charity shop and found a nice cash gift!

    • Angela says:

      What a clever idea! Forget hiding money in the freezer – no one would dare start sifting through my patterns. Not because I’m such a bear, but just the idea drives my family away – LOL!

  11. maddie says:

    That’s so wonderful that you found this. I haven’t experienced something like it, so I’m living vicariously through you.

  12. Grace says:

    I love finding the little alterations people make in vintage patterns, I often find rusty pins and a couple of times have found extra drafted pattern pieces (ie peter pan collars, sleeves) Once I even found an original magazine advertisement for the pattern inside… swoon..

  13. I sew with vintage patterns most of the time, and I often find hand-written notes about construction details, fabrics used, alterations, costs of items like buttons and zippers, and even newspaper clippings. Sometimes it is just a name on the envelope – I love the ones that are “Mrs. Husband’s Name”, as they say so much about the time when the patterns were new. (I’ve written about some of these findings on my blog, too!) I never used to write on my pattern envelopes or construction sheets, but seeing these in old patterns has made me realize that making my “mark” on patterns just adds to their story.

  14. Katherine says:

    I’m an archivst (and big into preservation), so my response would be AAHHH!! NO!! RUST!!!!!

    Rust and paper don’t mix too well. . .

    I like annotations though, they really add so much history to a vintage pattern.

  15. It’s like finding someone you share an interest with, across the years.
    When I was cleaning out my pattern stash last winter I found an apron pattern from my Grandma that I had completely forgotten about. And it was so typically “her” style; brought back some nice memories. Someday I want to sew myself one from her pattern.

  16. I haven’t found anything, but a few years ago I inherited a trunk of my Grandmas sewing stuff, fabric, books, tools and notions (a treasure trove), and in there was also a few ufo’s with the pattern tissue still attached to the fabric with pins, I keep meaning to sew these up (one is a fabulous geometric 70’s shirt) but always find an excuse not too. Maybe they should stay unmade as they remind me that the love of sewing has been passed down very successfully.

  17. Emma Jayne says:

    A love an old pattern with history (baggage) too. I had a vintage pussy now blouse with some extensive alterations but when I took measurements the alterations came up to my size bust, waist and hips.

  18. emsewcrazy says:

    This is why I love my job! As a vintage pattern seller I come across bits like this all the time. I love the ones that say “made for ….” or “good jacket pattern” I’ve come across many with little bits of fabric for facings or something still inside and the old newspapers are always interesting.

  19. I find it emoitional too, most of my vintage patterns are from my grandmother’s stash. Mixed up with one pattern was an smaller envelope containing all the little cut out pieces on oneside her address on the other was a plea to my uncle then in his late teens to remember to feed the cat (tiger) and let her out before he went to bed!

  20. I love this too. I have some patterns from old East Germany and I really want to know the stories behind them. My favourite is when the owner has written what kind of fabric they want to use on the front, it makes me want to recreate it

  21. Fadanista says:

    I now have several boxes of vintage sewing and knitting patterns and particularly love the ones bought in charity shops or inherited from my mother because of the pins (yes, I’ve had a few too), and the comments – my mother seemed to limit herself to “v.good”. I also spend hours thinking about the person who made the garment and what their circumstances were, but this is a thread through my life – I live in an old house and have old furniture, for exactly these reasons.

  22. Mary Beth says:

    My favorite was a 1940’s Teenage Dress pattern. There was a note that I have to assume was from the girl’s mother. It was pretty bossy telling her that this pattern would make what she should be wearing if she changes this, alters that, etc… It was funny. Another was a little girl’s jumper that had a scrap of fabric that was the exact fabric pictured on the envelope. Pins – way too many…

  23. scruffybadger says:

    I’ve found rusted pins too, but also not quite a love letter, but maybe a birthday card from a secret or unrequited lover….I found that quite poignant

  24. Fee says:

    I’ve not found anything in a vintage Sewing Patterns but I inherited a lot of wooden knitting needles from my Dads cousin. I love them because they’re really well used and the yarn just slides on them.

  25. Laura says:

    No love letters here (that would be amazing) but I’ve had magazine clippings and swatches of the most amazing 60’s gold lame and paisley fabric…if only I could travel back in time and buy a few bolts!

  26. LP Starr says:

    Wouldn’t it be cool if I took a vintage pattern out of the envelope and found that my own mother had made it. What great nostalgia!

  27. lemur178 says:

    I use almost exclusively vintage patterns, and so often find bits and bobs from previous owners:- pins (which I remove and re-use when not rusty); notes; visual amendments to drawings on the envelope; receipts; scraps of fabric presumably used for the make (once, an amazing taffeta). One of the most fascinating however came with a 40s boys’ pattern. When ‘Little Jimmy’ ( as was marked on the envelope) outgrew it, his mother simply redrafted it using cut-out newspaper pattern pieces (also included). If that sounds lovely and sweet, the startling contrast lies in the actual news articles on the pattern pieces, including a story about a “15 year-old estranged bride of six months (!)” who was being charged for the “dish-towel strangling of her 6 year-old stepsister”. Truman Capote would have had a field day… And way to kill my rose-tinted nostalgia for all things vintage!

  28. Melody says:

    I was at a yard sale and asked about sewing patterns. The hostess showed me a table where there were some and then she lifted this box and in the box was a dress she had cut out and completely forgotten about it. She was delightful and laughed about it remembering how busy she was with her kids and how her projects got put aside. The dress and fabric were vintage 60’s and she told me to finish it for her. We shared a common moment of busy moms, projects put aside and marveled at how fast time passes. I have her patterns in a special place and enjoy thinking of her when I see them.

  29. I only have one or two vintage patterns, and yes, it was a happy-sad moment when I took them out their enveloves for the first time. Sad for somebody who is probably dead and not sewing any more, and happy becasue I have their pattern and thus honour them in some way… saddest thing of all is to think who is gonna have my magazines and patterns when I dont sew any more… 🙁

  30. How cool! I think about the history of my vintage patterns too, and for me, that’s part of what makes them so special. I got some patterns from a 80-something year-old family member (an in-law, at that!) and just knowing that she made some of these is really neat; her girls even colored on some of the envelopes when they were little, so I chuckle every time I look at those, mostly because those same girls are now in their 50’s! =) Most of my vintage patterns come from online sellers, so I don’t have as much knowledge of their “lives,” if you will. I’ve un-taped pieces that were altered, but have never found pins. I did open one that was uncut, which was both really special (because it’s 70 years old and I get to be the first to have a crack at it!) and sad (because it’s 70 years old and nobody ever even unfolded it in its prime!) all at once. I’ve got dozens to open yet, so who knows what I will find–and that’s kind of exciting!

  31. I’ve never discovered anything quite so great as a love letter or even scraps of fabric, but I’ve seen measurements noted, yardage used, names of people being sewn for (lucky ducks). Every little mark makes me kind of giddy, wondering about the seamstress whose hands touched that pattern before me!

  32. I find all kinds of funny things in sewing pattern envelopes. Once I found a list of dirty jokes in a pattern from the 1950s! She must have had a great sense humor! Another time I found some blank checks from the 50s as well. My favorite find has been a detailed drawing of a pirates costume with a very detailed list of how the seamstress was going to create the outfit. At the end she wrote “#@^k it … have someone sew this for me” Poor thing must have been very frustrated but I laughed because I never expected to find something like this.

  33. Jenny says:

    Yes, it feels a little bit like you’re an archaeologist or something doesn’t it?! That feeling like you’ve just uncovered some little personal details from the past. It kind of reminds me of Antiques Roadshow when they would say that the provenance of something can add so much value.

    I was given a Simplicity sewing book from the 40s which had what seemed to be self-drafted peter pan and pointed collars (also with a couple of rusty pins) tucked inside. These days I keep all those little extra bits in my patterns too in the hope that one day our patterns will become treasures in the same way the patterns of our forebears have done.

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