Adapting Vintage Patterns

vogue vintage pattern

Do you keep up with Lisa Comfort’s Youtube channel? I LOVE it. When I’m too tired to do anything else with the day, I watch it on my laptop in bed as my eyelids droop, letting Lisa show me all her lovely fabric hauls and sewing. I don’t have to think at all; I just let that lovely fabric wash over me.

In the latest episode, Lisa spoke about how she planned to adapt a 1970s pattern to make it less clownish, adjusting collar depth and sleeve head volume. Working with a vintage pattern isn’t just about adjusting for fit, it’s also about adjusting for lifestyle.

vintage dress sewing patterns

Do you think I have a preferred vintage silhouette…?

Vintage Vogue Collage

With my Vogue 5098, I adjusted the skirt a lot. I removed four inches of length and pegged it to make it less box-ey.

eighties sewing patterns

Eighties patterns can be challenging. Fabric choice helped steer my make of the Simplicity 5599.

Eighties Collage

One of my early makes was the Butterick B5605. I ended up chopping a lot of length from this skirt, avoiding the 1950s tea length that ends mid-calf. I still have this dress in my wardrobe. I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of it.


What are the adjustments you make to vintage patterns, in order to make them more wearable for the modern day? Do you have a favourite era? There are great details that you often won’t find in modern patterns, but it’s definitely worth knowing which details you want to keep and which to put aside.

belt detail

vintage day dress patterns

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19 Responses to Adapting Vintage Patterns

  1. Naomi says:

    Looking forward to checking out te YouTube channel you mentioned. I make quite a few vintage patterns and I’m with you – it’s fabric choice. If you choose fabrics that don’t feel like they are from the same era then it avoids the whole costume party issue. It depends what current silhouettes are doing too. I think it’s styling too, like wearing vintage. I always include modern elements. I have made some adjustments: For a 1969 shirt pattern I redrafted the collar because it was getting into Bee Gees territory. I love seeing your makes from vintage patterns. They feel really fresh and unique.

  2. I just “favorited” an 80s Laura Ashley (yes for real) pattern because I’ve been searching high and low for a particular front/back neckline on *any* pattern (modern or vintage), and it has as close as I’ve come. Suffice it to say, if I do buy it, it won’t feature a tiny floral or a floor length skirt, or the accompanying matching bolero with what I can only describe as the sleeve equivalent of MC Hammer pants (puffy on top, tapering down to slim at the wrist).

  3. Sheryll says:

    Like you I have had to do some shortening – I have found that a lot of vintage patterns are much longer than I expected them to be. Some of my patterns look mini on the pattern illustration, but aren’t mini at all by today’s standards!

  4. Love your Vogue dress. It does have a very contemporary feel to it. I do have a collection of vintage patterns and have a tendency to pick and mix with the design features. I very fond of seventies fashion, but those collars can be really out there (literally!)

  5. New Capel Street: Fabric Division says:

    Shorten everything! I like a short skirt, and calf length does me no favours at all.That’s about it really, I tend to favour patterns with clean lines that look good in solids, so I don’t need to do much.

  6. Helen says:

    Shorten a lot. I have also vastly reduced the collar size of a 70’s shirt dress.

  7. Robin says:

    Take a look at Folkwear Patterns. I have been buying them on and off since the ’80s. They take vintage, national costumes, ethic styles and folk styles and give the sewist two versions – the original use, and a version adapted for conventional use, so you can get the effect without feeling like you are wearing a costume. These people love clothing, clothing throughout history and the world, that’s obvious from the effort and professionalism they put into every pattern

  8. Robin says:

    Oh, and you do a fabulous job Karen. You seem to have a sixth sense about bringing a vintage style up to date and and making it quite chic!

  9. kaitlynssimplyvintage says:

    I am starting to sew more vintage patterns as opposed to vintage inspired. I do find with the 1970s ones its the sleeves I have to watch out for otherwise they end up much to puffy. And I am convinced I am currently using that same pink roses fabric for Simplicity 1459

  10. Your floral frock is gorgeous – it’s quite different for you isn’t it both in terms of colour and print?

  11. Rachel says:

    Ditto the use of a modern fabric to avoid the repro look, (which looks great on others but not me), and shortening. Again, mid calf looks great on others, but does me no favours. I love the modern brocade you used for that vintage dress – it’s ace on you!

  12. i have lots off vintage patterns and it is weird but they are all from 1967,68, 69 so that must be my bag. i don’t know the year until I buy them and Boom! there the year is printed as one of the above – it is a bit spooky. I sometimes open the neck line on these patterns as they are too close to my neck. There will be one day when you need a floral dress just like that – keep hold of it. Jo x

  13. I almost always shorten the skirts on vintage styles. I like the huge 70s collars though!

  14. B5605…be still my heart. I think I may sew this with the bow on the back although I do love the band version that you made too.

    A favourite era? I’m a little bit of many, but recently more drawn to the sixties!

  15. fabrickated says:

    I think you look amazing in your v 5098 Karen. Getting the right fabric is crucial – often the 1960s dresses that I like so much require cloth with a bit more “heft” than is generally available (which is why scuba seems, oddly, to work).

    I usually use second hand patterns as they are inexpensive and well made, and shun “modern vintage”. Like you and many other commentators I tend to shorten everything – my most recent Courreges skirt has had three inches lopped off and he is the man who “invented” the mini skirt. Generally I leave the vintage details to honour the original designers’ concept, but with classic looks eg princess seam dress, pencil skirt, double breasted jacket any decade will do as you can modernise it very easily. The only exception, I think, is with the 1980s patterns which are normally cut on completely different lines especially in terms of shoulder and sleeve. I only use these patterns if I want a voluminous look.

  16. norma says:

    I’m going to watch the Youtube channel – sounds good.
    I love 1930s clothes and am about to start a dress- I am not planning to make any major changes to the pattern but I am intending to wear it with more modern accessories.

  17. Mary says:

    Vintage McCalls 9071 was one of my first solo makes. I didn’t think to pre-shrink the fabric, and so only got to wear it once. So many compliments from old men, “you look just like my wife did when she was young”. The brown version, but in a green and white check, if you wondered.
    Have always pre-shrunk from then on.
    Am not going to share the name here. (Because I’m not trying to figure shame. Perhaps due to her health, I can’t/won’t judge this.) There is a sewing/crafting blogger with a less than fit figure, whose quality of work is superb. Her fitting skills appear fine too. Unfortunately she keeps making styles that do not play up her assets. Except for this one time, when she went way out of her comfort zone, and made a vintage style dress that involved a waistline. She looked really good in that, and got many compliments on it. Reminded me of the ‘what not to wear’ tip, where you pretend to have a waistline even if you don’t have one. For her, it really worked! Her post made me re-think vintage… look at line drawings more closely, ignore the dated hair styles, etc.

  18. Nelba says:

    This is where I have to be honest: I simply don’t have the skills yet to change a pattern too much. With patterns from the 1960-1970s I don’t find that a problem. Even if the silhouettes are different to what we are currently used to, they are mostly flattering – taking into account individual tastes and body types – using modern fabric. (Aren’t we all glad that cimplene is not the height of fashion any more?) If there is an element of the pattern that I really cannot live with, I simply don’t sew it. Changing the length is usually easy enough. With the later styles (80s – early 1990s) the problem is often that the pattern has a certain element that I would like to use, but that the rest of the pattern is totally useless to me as I don’t think the general shape would be flattering. I’m totally stuck when it comes to a dropped shoulder or extended shoulder seams to accommodate huge shoulder pads. Or even a sleeve head that is really wide and shallow. My most recent dilemma was that I wanted to make an informal jacket pattern from the 90’s into a shirt dress. It had all the elements I wanted, but the sleeves were impossibly wide and unfitted. In the end I just dropped the whole idea. Which is a shame, really!

  19. Bridget says:

    What a surprise! I got married in 1983 and my two bridesmaids wore that Simplicity blouse v3 made in white self-striped cotton with pale blue and green sprigged cotton gathered skirts. I still have the pattern, but had dismissed it as never to be used again. Now you have really got me thinking! Thank you for your thoughtful, intelligent blog.

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