Calandra Cooper

Part 1: Working with vintage sewing patterns

Calandra Cooper
Part 1: Working with vintage sewing patterns

Knowledge Up

You can be about it, think about with, but you can't do it if you don't know about it. 

Stocking up on good sewing books and magazines is the very first thing you'll want to do once you've decided to work on a project using an authentic vintage sewing pattern.  

The resources you decide to work with are a personal choice, but I believe old sewing books, manuals and magazines are the best source of information hands down. Plus, they're wonderful reads. 

Some of the better books are hard to find.  And if you do find them the sticker price could shock you.  I don't fault sellers that know what they have. I myself have forked over more than a hundred dollars for a good book on an occasion or two.  No regrets.  I have a wonderful useful collection of fabulous books. Key word: useful.  They're worth their weight in gold. 

I say this because old books "show and tell".  Most modern books on the market center on the greatness and celebrity of the author. That means absolutely nothing if the book is full of useless text and photos that don't demonstrate.  

I've also become creative in finding books 

This is not to say there aren't some wonderful "modern" books on the market worth buying--here are my suggestions:   

Tools & machines

Working with vintage patterns doesn't require alot of specialized tools.  A sewing machine that can sew a straight line. A tailor's square. Pencil. Erasure. Chalk. Iron. Ironing pad.  Measuring tape. Dress form. Shears (cutting/paper).  Dressmaker carbon.  Tracing wheel. Pins. Tracing paper. Comfortable workspace.  Ironing board. table. Chair. 

Pattern Choice

I'll keep it real. If you're a new sewer, are intimidated by vintage sewing patterns or not very comfortable with your skills--don't attempt something too intricate as your first, second or even your third project. There are many, many beautiful, but simple vintage sewing patterns you can use to get your feet wet. 

  • Vogue basic

  • Jiffy Patterns

  • Unmarked vintage sewing patterns


Sounds simple. It is. R-E-A-D the sewing pattern. The entire sewing pattern, including the front and back of the envelope and the instruction sheet.  You'll find important information on every aspect of a vintage sewing pattern.  For example, it's fairly common to find seam allowance information on the instruction sheet or on the envelope. A pattern envelope may list supplies and notions needed, but you can also find that the instruction (or guide sheet) may also include other supplies and notions needed that weren't listed on the envelope. When working with perforated sewing patterns the symbol keys on on the guides/instruction sheets-not on the paper pattern. Instruction sheets also provide "how to" suggestions on performing certain sewing tasks. 


Examine the paper pattern pieces. Yep.  Examine the pattern pieces so that you'll know what you're working with.

  • Make sure all of the pattern pieces are present and iron them flat.

  • Read any printed instructions on the pattern pieces.

  • Examine the perforations-comparing them with the key.

  • Rule the grain lines the entire length of the pattern piece.

  • This is also the perfect time to copy or trace the pattern.

  • Prepare them for storage.


Vintage sewing patterns aren't made to fit you. And the sizing is deceiving because of the vanity sizing practiced by some (many) old school pattern manufacturers. Personally, when I purchase vintage sewing patterns---I could care less about the sizing.  Because I know in advance I'll size up (or down the pattern) and definitely mock up a muslin of my project--to help perfect sizing to fit my needs.  In the end, be prepared to use the old slash and spread method of upsizing your pattern. 

Prepare the sewing pattern

  • Rule the entire grain.

  • Decide what you want to do about the seam allowance

Laying out, marking & cutting


This is where you'll work out all flaws and get the fit right before constructing in your final fashion fabric. 


God....please don't use cheap fabric and keep your fabric choice to something that fits your project. 

Go for it! 

Now, it's time to sew.