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Jan 29, 2010

In Search of Vintage Patterns

From male pattern boldness

I was recently asked where I find my vintage patterns and if I have any favorite sellers.  I'd like to share some of my shopping strategies and recommend my favorite resources.

Most of the patterns in my collection I've purchased online.   The sites I use most often are (no surprise) eBay, Etsy, and the less popular Bonanzie and eCrater.  With few exceptions, sellers accept Paypal.

Of all these sites, only eBay is auction-oriented.  When I'm shopping for patterns on eBay, however, I always narrow my search to "Buy it Now."  I'm simply not willing to wait days to know whether I'm going to be able to buy a pattern or not.  (By the way, if you feel like you absolutely MUST win an auction, I highly recommend using esnipe.  It costs hardly anything to use, you set your top bid, and you don't have to think about the auction again -- until you win!)

I generally search "Lowest to Highest" or "Price: Low to High."  This is because I am a frugal person (read, cheap) and am reluctant to spend more than a few dollars on a pattern.  I try to keep the cost to $5, including shipping.  The same pattern is often for sale from many different sellers at dramatically different prices and it pays to shop around.  You'd be surprised how much great stuff is priced at $3 or less.

On Etsy, I make sure the search is set to "All Items" (as opposed to "Handmade" which I believe is the default search category).

There are no particular sellers I follow, though I might look at what else a seller I'm purchasing from is offering on the odd chance I could combine shipping for more than one item.

Below are the search words I use most frequently.  Yours will depend on what you're looking for and your size.


"vintage dress pattern 14"  (the "new sizing" that came out in the late 60s meant that a 14 has a 36" chest; that's what I need.  If I want an earlier era, say 50s or early 60s, I look for a size 16.)

"dress pattern 70s"

"sewing pattern 36" (the chest size)

I might also limit the search to "Vogue," "Simplicity," and so on.  Or even narrower, to "Vogue Paris Original" or "Designer Original" or "Yves Saint Laurent."

It usually pays to try a few different searches because you never know how a seller might list an item. Someone who doesn't know much about patterns is less likely to list the size, or label it "vintage."

More savvy sellers might include a word like "groovy," "mod," "Austin Powers" or "Mad Men."  The patterns could be great but the prices will usually be higher.  I generally write down the name of a pattern I like and see if I can find it cheaper elsewhere.  (If you're one of these savvy sellers, forgive me; I'm on a budget!)


Mens patterns are easier to search for because the selection is much, much smaller.  There are probably 25 womens patterns out there for every mens pattern.  Search words I'll use include:

"mens pattern 36" (again my chest size)

"mens pattern small" (depending on the pattern, this could be anywhere from a 34" to a 36")

"men's 30" (this is the waist size)

Many mens patterns include both shirt and pants.  Be careful that if you're looking for a small shirt pattern and the pattern is listed as 36" that it's the CHEST size and not the waist size.  Otherwise you're going to be making pretty big pants (and an even bigger shirt).  I've made this mistake myself.  If you're not sure, ask the seller first.

It's amazing how the Internet has allowed us to find just what we're looking for.  But it pays to know how to look.


I have also found patterns at the Chelsea Flea Market, open every Saturday and Sunday from around 8 am to 5 pm, on 25th St. off 6th Ave., just blocks from where I live.  (Call me and we can go together!)

I recently found a pile of complete Vogue Paris Originals (pic below) in good shape, five for $5!  One of them was even a sloper (i.e. fitting) pattern.  Unfortunately, four of the five are a size 12 (the sloper included) and don't fit me.  They're still nice to have for research purposes and who knows when I might be sewing for a size 12?  Plus, you can't beat the price.

Since I started sewing, I've been surprised to discover how many vendors have patterns from time to time.  Last week I almost picked up a great Butterick 50s sheath dress pattern, but changed my mind at the last minute.  That's not really my look right now.

I have never found patterns at thrift stores but I haven't been looking that long.  How about you?

I'd love to hear about others' strategies and great finds!

From male pattern boldness


  1. I haven't found a pattern at a thrift store in years. I would never have guessed you can find patterns at the Chelsea Flea Market, I haven't been there in...I don't even remember when I went last! Some weekend I will have to check it out.

    I agree with you on the men's patterns - there are so few you come to recognize them!

    And you should definitely hang on to your 12s - now that you're reading pattern making books, you'll be able to redraft those to your size in no time! That dior looks fantastic.

  2. wow, i am so jealous that you found patterns at The Garage! i am going to be extra vigilant now whenever i go over there.

    keep up the excellent work.

  3. Not only patterns, a lot of vendors also sell vintage notions and occasionally a great vintage sewing machine.

    I saw a Featherweight there this summer for $150 but at the time I didn't know much about Featherweights. I also bought my vintage 50s Pfaff there for $45. Most vendors just want to move the stuff.

    I'm waiting for a Singer 201, so, Hands Off!

  4. Hey Peter, I don't know if you'd be interested or not, but there are some 70's mens patterns on ebay by Jean Hardy. I have never heard of him or her whichever the case may be, but if you type in Jean Hardy patterns in ebay they will pop up.

  5. I am an internet shopper too. I find very few anywhere else, although I did find a really nice 1950s shift dress and matching jacket at an antique market near here called Schupp's Grove. My mother-in-law is an avid garage-saler so I've got her sniffing out any finds. She called me one day with about 25 patterns she got for under $5. Unfortunately, most of them were hideous 1980s atrocities, but I did get a decent men's jacket and women's shirt pattern out of them.
    I bought most of my vintage patterns from Mom's Patterns. Good service and nice selection.
    What I really need to do is start garage-saling, but I just don't know if I have the stomach for it.

  6. Alice, thanks for turning me on to Jean Hardy patterns. I'll add that to my pattern search!

    Melody, remember: today's 80s atrocities are tomorrow's sought-after vintage treasures! It kills me that you don't go to garage sales. That's all I'd do all weekend if I lived in the 'burbs.

  7. Peter - you're the same size as my fiance; I used a vintage women's coat pattern to make him a pea coat and used Vintage 14, 36" chest (maybe it was a 16 from an earlier decade). Anyway, you guys are the same size, and he's been bugging me to make him a dress. He has an alter ego - Samantha - who occasionally makes an appearance at parties, and he thinks she needs a better dress than the boring princess seam turtlenecked affair he got from some online retailer. He's seen your photo essays of your cousin Cathy and he's kind of jealous, so you've inspired him. Now I need to find a dress that works for him, and your DVF style wrap dress is perfect. You have the same build, so I know if it looks good on you (I mean, your cousin Cathy) it will work on him too.

    Keep up the sewing, your taste is impeccable.

  8. OMG, feldmanTcat! I love your stuff, Kerry, and I'm honored to have you follow my blog.
    I totally remember that pea coat: I voted for it in the menswear contest.

    For Pete's sake, make something pretty for Samantha. She can't be running around in an RTW TURTLENECK dress -- blech! I hope it's at least vintage but I'm picturing the Limited.

    Of course, if she does want some neck coverage, there's always my metallic Vogue dress. It's a very conservative cut; very little depilation required (Samantha will know what I'm talking about). But a wrap dress is ALWAYS appropriate.

    I loved your refashioned curtain pants, btw -- a lot more creative than a dog coat but alas, it's hard to compete with a cute puppy.

  9. I live in Florida (we don't have the shopping of NYC, but the weather is USUALLY not as cold either). I have two thrift shops near me where I can sometimes find old patterns. Since they are usually quite inexpensive (less than $1 per pattern) I will buy them even iof they are not my size just for the inspiration.

    I love your blog. I read about you on "The Selfish Seamstress" blog. I cna't believe you sew as well as you do. I have been sewing for years and don't sew anywhere near as well as you do. Great job!!!!!

  10. Mickey, I think it's time I moved to Florida. The dogs would love it and so would I.

  11. Good morning! I just saw that
    has listed a bunch of vintage patterns on her etsy shop, some for 4.9 and some in larger sizes. NAYY of course, just saw that you were looking

  12. Thanks, LHC! I just took a look and I couldn't resist her vintage boxer shorts pattern.

    I charged it to you, is that OK? ;)

  13. Peter, thanks for buying them, glad it's going to a good home. I will be listing more on and off as I get time. You do an amazing job on your clothes, btw!

  14. Ah, the hunt for vintage patterns! Here in L.A., I never find them in thrifts in the center of the city -- but in outlying areas (really not that far!) like the San Fernando Valley, I often find them for a whopping twenty five cents. Mostly newer stuff, but I have encountered a gem from the 60s once or twice.

    I haven't done it in a while, but I like bidding on pattern lots on eBay -- you can often get a lot of patterns cheaply, and then get the fun of going through a box of surprises. My grand plan was always to sell the excess on etsy, but I haven't done that as quickly as I thought (or as Mr. Pattern Junkie would like...)

  15. When I know exactly what pattern I want, I tend to type in the brand and number. I've yet to hit the jackpot at flea markets and such, though I've bought large pattern lots with different things off ebay. And if anybody finds a Simplicity 8201 (toddler dress and coat) from 1987 in about a size 2, let me know. Baby needs a new dress, and I'm in love.... (I'm no good at resizing. I have it in size 3 and can find it in size 1)

  16. Estate sales are where I get many of my patterns. Sometimes, the sellers price them too high for my taste though. I'm super cheap! At one sale a few years ago there were about 40 patterns mostly in my size, mostly 50s, 60s vintage but they were $3.00 each. So I put in a bid for all of them for $8.00. I knew they wouldn't sell at that price and I won! 40 great patterns (only one of which I've actually sewn up!) for $.20/each!

  17. Stories like that make me green with envy!

  18. I just found your blog and love it! Oh my god, I wish I had known about it a couple months ago when I came upon a whole slew of men's vintage patterns for a quarter apiece at a local thrift store. I'd have bought the whole works and sent them to you. Instead I bought just a couple of them, mostly because the cover art made me laugh. I've gone back since and the rest are gone, darn it. I'm going to go check if the ones I bought are your size. Cheers!

  19. P. that would be fantastic. Thanks!

  20. Laura, I tried to contact you directly,but couldn't. I have the pattern you are looking for;

    Hope you find this!

  21. All my patterns come from thrift stores! I pay .25-.50 each and often get patterns that have not been cut. Albuquerque NM is artistic, but not hip or modern and nobody dresses up so the demand is very low. I've seen patterns stay at the Salvation Army for months! I rarely buy anything that I have to size up significantly because the first time I tried it, it was a disaster, but I'm learning. Modern multi-size patterns have taught me quite a bit in the area of how a size 10 pattern is graded up to a size 16. But I'd still rather find those size 16's!


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