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Apr 7, 2011

Lust and the "Designer" pattern

Readers, I am a man of strong passions.  Not typical passions, perhaps, but strong passions.  And sometimes fleeting passions:  remember the identical cream-colored Samsonite train cases and (still) stinky vintage American Tourister luggage set?

My latest passion is for a certain kind of sewing pattern: the designer pattern.  I'm a little embarrassed about it, though.  I mean every pattern was designed by somebody.  They didn't just materialize out of thin air.   So what's the big deal?

Designer patterns are different.  They tended (and still tend) to be more complicated, dressier outfits, and they cost more (35 cents -- ouch).  They were also often physically larger.

Vogue Paris Originals (the best known line) even came with a special sew-in label!

And they (generally) boasted a famous designer's name: Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Pauline Trigère, Mary Quant, Givenchy!

Sometimes there was some confusion about provenance, as Paco Peralta has shown so hilariously on his blog.  Whose dress is this, anyway?  (Nina, Yves -- GET IN HERE!) 

Kind of makes you wonder...

There were men's versions too, of course.  Perhaps slightly less special, and never requiring gloves.

I'm guessing that in the days when a handful of European cities, like Paris, dictated style, the designer pattern lines were the first to introduce the latest trends, and then, later on, the same or similar trends worked their way down to the regular pattern lines.  Anybody know for sure?

From 1949 to roughly 1952, Simplicity had a special Designer's Pattern line.  Of course they didn't share the actual names of the designers, we just had to take their word for it.  I love these patterns, friends.  It's not that they're so elegant -- they're not.  In fact they're fussy -- nearly every one has a few too many bows, trim, gathers, and other frou-frou -- but they're lovably fussy.

Cathy and I have decided that the early Fifties is her best era, style-wise (she's just not naturally Youth Quake, let's face it), and I've been digging around in search of these Simplicity patterns, which I only recently discovered.  Naturally, I hate to pay big bucks for patterns, but anything with a lace overlay seems worth a little bit more, don't you think?

I was looking at the back of the pattern at the top of today's post, Simplicity 8243, and realized in short order that this is essentially two rather simple garments combined: 1) a slip, and 2) a kimono-sleeve one-piece dress (not unlike the one Cathy just modeled!).  Make the slip in taffeta, do the dress in lace or similar sheer fabric and voilá -- a designer original, no?  (click on pic for larger view)

I mean, it might require drafting a detachable Peter Pan collar, but how hard could that be? 

In closing, friends, I ask you:

Are you a sucker for any pattern that has "designer" in the name (or the name of an actual designer) or are you just as happy to use the knock-off -- of which there were always many.

Do you have the confidence to go the Frankenpattern route, or do you feel you must adhere slavishly to a pattern as originally drafted?

Are you willing to tweak, or even perform major surgery, to achieve a "designer" effect by copying elements you've seen elsewhere?

Are you sitting on a large collection of Simplicity Designer's Patterns in a 36" bust you're eager to part with?

Do tell!

P.S. You can read my latest BurdaStyle piece here.


  1. I think I frankenpattern everything. I'm planning a knockoff of an Anthropologie dress using a Very Easy Vogue as the overdress and a 30's slip as the slip bit (why not?). And the dress I'm working on at the moment, I decided I didn't like the construction at all, so I'm flying by the seat of my pants. Of course, I *just* made a tactical error but I think I can wiggle my way out of it.

  2. Vintage Vogue reprints come with labels still, which is adorable.

    Funny you should ask about slashing and so forth to make what you want. I read that after I pillaged your scans of the first dress, the envelope back, and the last dress because I saw elements I want to use later. Those pockets from the early 50's- I could carry around a baby in those. Maybe that's the idea.

    Great era, I'm rather fond of 1953, I have several favorite items made from patterns with that date. Go for it, I think Cathy will enjoy it immensely.

  3. I have a lot of 60s patterns by Simplicity, but I have no idea if any of them are designer. They're my largest group of vintage patterns so I'm cataloging them last. (in PatternFile, have you seen that program? I'm in love) I *do* have too many, so even tho most are my size (36 bust), I'm going to be weeding out some. And for sure the ones that are too small or too large will be going unless they have some super compelling feature.
    I think the dresses with the big skirts are adorable, but they use SO MUCH fabric!

  4. I definitely live by the frankenpattern method.
    Not only do I do that with patterns, but I also "mash up" thrift shop clothes to get the
    desired look. I like to use vintage patterns, but I find, for the most part, the interesting ones have become unaffordable. And anyway, I suppose I should be using the skills I aquired in all of those tedious drafting classes in school! I have been thinking lately it would be nice to somehow start a vintage pattern swap for those of us who love to sew for ourselves. I just haven't been able to work out a way to make it viable. Any ideas, anyone?

  5. The cool illustrations on the patterns are what make these special for me. They also seem to have value just for the inspiration they give. If ever I need to be given a quick jolt of creative energy, a peruse through my vintage pattern stash does it for me every time.
    PS: I too have Simplicity 3261 as shown. It is so beautiful.

  6. Clean that luggage with STRAIGHT AMMONIA and then spray some more on it... don't wipe ... don't close them, leave them open.... and allow it to air dry.

  7. I confess to being drawn to the designer tag on patterns. I just love that they make their beautiful creations accessible to the home sewer! It must have been thrilling to the 'typical', 1950's era American housewife to feel that she was making something for herself right off of the Paris runways. When shopping for these patterns now I am drawn to the used, complete ones, Pin and pencil marks on the tissue; even better! That means that many years ago a fashionable woman was bent over that very item, visions of swishing taffeta dancing in her head.
    Happy sewing!

  8. Patterns make me weak in the knees! Especially vintage patterns. I also fall for the reissues, but there's nothing like a real vintage pattern. So much joy in such a small package! And they're usually cheap to free! What's not to love! *sigh*

    Having said all that, I don't think I've ever, in all my 30 years of sewing, used a pattern as it was intended. I franken-pattern, redraft, and just plain copy from pictures all the time. I must confess, though, I don't treat them very well. I really *use* them.

    I actually have a condition called "Pattern Brain". It's a bit like "Mommy Brain", except that instead of being constantly preoccupied about the well being of my son, two thirds of my brain is always thinking about patterns.

    It's a curse, really.

    Enjoy your 50s "Designer" patterns. They're lovely!

  9. "Cheap to free"??? Sondra, we have to go shopping together.

  10. I do buy mostly vintage designer patterns (only if found at bargain prices!), but I think a good knock-off is equally fine or better. For example, I just bought a Hot Patterns bag pattern "inspired" by a YSL bag.

    I *always* change patterns, but they are usually very small changes. I like to keep things simple.

  11. i only have one designer pattern... vogue 1587 (a simonetta design... who is simonetta?). i was thrilled to discover the vogue label still in the envelope. yay!!

    i don't know if i'll ever sew this one up, though. those 60s shift dresses look really awful on my body type.

    anyway, i'm totally willing to frankenstein a pattern to get the result i want, but i haven't really needed to since most patterns deliver accordingly.

  12. only recently have i begun to feel confident enough to frankenpattern my vintage pattern collection. it just got to a point where my pattern stash had so many common elements, and i was looking at patterns on etsy and ebay and noticing pieces i already had. i've had one trial so far, and it was a success--it's emboldened me to try again!

  13. hey, I lived in the 50s (as a small child) and a lot of people lived in small towns then. Designer patterns were a way for women to make something special that they never could buy and show off their skills, if only to their friends, wear something beautiful and feel sophisticated. As for myself, I make patterns myself so I can wear whatever I want to, unfettered by fashion. I say tweak away.

  14. Yes, Peter! I scoop patterns from my mom and my aunts for free, but I buy them at Antique shows for about a buck a piece. Here in Southern Ontario people toss out treasures all the time. They have no idea. I'll keep you mind next time I'm pattern shopping at my local antique shows and shops.

  15. My mom would use a can of open coffee grounds to get the smell out. And I love old patterns, especially the pictures. I frankenpattern all the time. Why not?

  16. I do adore designer patterns, but it has been years since the last time I sewed anything from a pattern not of my own making. And to be honest, directions written by other people scare me a little! I can do elaborate designs I make, but to make even something simple by another designer I have to very carefully read the directions and double check everything.

  17. If it takes Frankenpatterning to get what I want, then I do it. I'm making a Supergirl costume for the Little Bit. I'm combining copying a picture of the 90s Lois and Clark:The New Adventures of Superman cape, two different ice skating costume patterns, a legging pattern, and a 'boot' pattern. All of them have extra added pieces to make it look right. She'll be the cutest Supergirl anywhere....

  18. Just wanted to bring up that Rain has been posting on Yahoo Vintage Singer Sewing Machines, so it would appear he intends to return your machine at some point, as he is making himself visible...

  19. lissa of the muslinettesApril 7, 2011 at 1:44 PM

    i'm a total sucker for 'designer' patterns - the styling is usually better and i'm just starting to be able to see the potential in line drawings and not be turned off by terrible envelope styling.

    as a relative newbie, i haven't yet felt comfortable frankenpatterning, but after all of the changes I've made to Negroni as part of the sewalong - I feel I can take on the (pattern) world :) So thanks again for hosting an amazing sewalong!
    Speaking of designer patterns, I'm planning on frankenpatterning Colette's Sencha blouse with a Vogue Rachel Comey blouse - combining the former's deep tucks with the latter's cool neckline and arms.

  20. I'm trying to go on a vintage pattern fast as I have... several... and have sewn up ... none.
    Also several Australian Home Journal mags with the patterns in them, they are fab.

    I frankenpattern everything. I don't think I've ever made anything straight from the pattern as intended. It's actually because I lack confidence, so I often want to make a fitting version of something I have already tried on. I get a pattern that is somewhere close and then proceed to mess it up. Takes longer but you do learn a lot about why it wasn't done that way in the first place.

    Def agree, Cathy is such a 50s girl. There's something of the 60s about her too, though.

  21. I am a total Vogue Originals sucker. Did you see the link to the "Garment District" Etsy store on Paco's blog today? The stores sells only VO patterns. Total pattern porn.

  22. Just love this post, Peter. I have a ton of older Designer Vogues, and have been happily reading them of late. And, yes, I would morph/modify them, to get the look I want. As well as morph/modify other patterns. But with the designer ones, you have such a great base. Must sleep. Cats waiting. Got my new Hoover at a church sale, to vacuum up threads, etc. Cathie, in Quebec.

  23. Frankenpatterning is the way to go!

    That being said - I ususally do it with childrens's clothes. I myself have too many fitting-issues to have the courage to do it to my own stuff.

    But once the fitting issues have been worked out, the sky is Bob's oyster-uncle!

  24. I would give anything for a Balenciaga pattern with interesting lines. I cannot reverse-engineer that stuff.


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