Repairing vintage sewing patterns
Proceeding with caution
The main purpose of sewing pattern envelopes is to display visuals of the design. Visuals are nice—collectors especially enjoy them. Sewers love them and so do pattern makers.
As a seller and collector of vintage sewing patterns, generally, I’m not as concerned about the condition of the illustration on the sewing pattern envelope as I am with the condition of the pattern pieces and the instruction guide.
This is because even if the envelope is in ill-repair-the guide usually depicts illustrations and drawings, including other important construction details, of the design. But,without the guide and pattern pieces my task just became considerably harder if I want to construct the garment.
As far as age, I know vintage patterns are:
1) Old-they’re antique (vintage)—not hot off the press. Depending on who you’re speaking to there are varying definitions for “old, antique and vintage”. I keep it simple. If a pattern is more than 20 years old—it’s vintage. Vintage is old. The older old becomes it becomes antique. Antique is old. Old is Old. Old is not new.
2) Made of paper. The paper they were printed on was most often acidic. The acidic paper they’re printed on is mostly in a folded state. Paper doesn’t last forever. Paper…no matter what…will eventually disintegrate. There are things we can do, just like in a museum, to prolong the life of the paper patterns are printed on, but in the end (even if it takes a long time) paper will tear, rip, get dusty, fade, crumble and fade away.
3) In general, aren’t properly stored—for years. I have a pretty large stash of vintage sewing patterns. Thousands. And I have them probably stored better than most averagel home sewers—and I can still do alot better. The average persons idea of storing patterns is putting them away in plastic drawers (or tubes or boxes) in a nice, neat and orderly fashion. Others step it up by placing the patterns in plastic sleeves.
You know what—that’s still not the right way of storing vintage patterns. Further, you’re probably making it worse. So, when most aren’t even doing anything except throwing patterns in boxes and sticking them in an attic or basement—in the dark or in light—you can’t expect the patterns to be perfect.
4) Sewing patterns are utilitarian items-their purpose is for use more than it is for for show, research or preservation. The purchaser (or tiny people that belong to them) may have written on the pattern, pinned it, taped it, stuffed things inside of it, glues it and/or stapled it. Sewing patterns were meant to be used-mostly they were.
5) The original pattern seller-for example a store like Brandeis, Woolworth, McCalls, TG&Y, Turn Style or others probably stamped the pattern “no returns, exchanges” or something of the sort.
An antique/vintage sewing pattern should not be automatically expected to be in PRIME off the press condition. As a buyer-it’s a pretty unreasonable expectation. So, at least I, don’t expect perfection.
Buying an original 1954 Vogue in 2018; expecting the pattern to be in the same condition as it was in 1954 off the press, just pulled from the Vogue counter in 2018, is….well…a bit of a stretch.
This isn’t to say that I don’t take condition of the illustration and overall condition of the pattern into consideration when purchasing or selling.
I want the major pattern pieces to be in good readable and usable condition. I want the instruction sheet to be the same way. This is extremely important where all of the instructions are printed on tissue pieces of the pattern. Yes, some older pattern manufacturers actually printed all of the instruction on tissue. Also, depending on the age of the sewing pattern, the envelope may contain all of the garment construction instructions-in this case-the envelope must be in good readable and usable condition.
As a seller, I don’t sell patterns that are in poor condition. I’d rather keep them, repair them, use them or add the pattern to my collection. They still have a purpose.
As a buyer, depending on the reason I want the pattern (the purpose) I may still buy a severely damaged pattern.
When it matters can vintage sewing patterns be restored?
Yes. Not to perfection, but yes.