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Jul 4, 2012

The Glory Days of Mens Patterns or "Those Sexy 70s Butterick Studs"



I often receive emails from male readers asking me about patterns.  There's usually a photo attached -- something right out of The Sartorialist -- of a beautifully attired man in Tribeca or London or Milan, and the question is always, Where can I find a contemporary pattern to make that jacket (or pants, or coat)?  And the answer is always the same: You can't.

Photo courtesy of The Sartorialist

Here is a confession that won't win me friends in the pattern companies: I have never seen an in-print mens pattern that excited me enough to purchase it.  Sure, there are some nice things at Vogue, a few Burda patterns that aren't hideous, perhaps a Kwik Sew with possibilities, etc.  With men's patterns it's all about tweaking:  Can you take that middle-of-the-road jeans pattern and do it in toile de Jouy? Can you narrow the lapels of that 1977 suit pattern and make it look less Saturday Night Fever?  It takes perseverance and patience and creativity -- or the willingness to trace from a book in Japanese.

For men (and those who sew for men), the pattern pickings have always been slim because:

a) Most men don't sew and not enough do to make mens patterns profitable (i.e., supply and demand);

b) Most men don't follow fashion, plus mens clothes don't really change much from decade to decade (let alone year to year); and...

c) Men's tailored clothes require sewing and tailoring skills (and tools) that very few home sewers ever acquire (or have access to).

So it's mainly scrubs, pajamas, and fleece for us.

The late 60's and 70's were an exception.  A lot of mens patterns were printed and they can still be found today, often uncut and like new.  From this period of plenty, there is one pattern company that stands above the rest, and that is Butterick.  Sometime during the 70's, Butterick added the tagline "The Fashion One."  Once you start paying attention, you will notice that many of these patterns are fashion-forward and sexy and, despite being forty years old, hold lots of possibilities for contemporary sewers

All the pattern companies were putting out more body-conscious clothes during this period -- bold-patterned leisure suits and bum-hugging disco pants.  But Butterick did it with more style.  The illustrations were often provocative and, in my opinion, openly courted the "queer eye."







Think men's swimsuit patterns are boring and sexless?  How about this number for your next South Beach vacation?



Want stylish separates seemingly inspired by The Mary Tyler Moore Show?  Try these!





Attending a Boys in the Band theme party?  Try this floor-length caftan cut up to here!



What happened to Butterick, you might ask?  How did we go from "The Fashion One" to total blandness?



My hunch is that the more flamboyant patterns didn't sell very well and the target customer changed: more Main Street, less Christopher Street.  Perhaps a few heads rolled at the company too.

It's sad, really, because while there aren't a lot of male sewers out there, we that do sew already have all the bowling shirts we need.

I encourage guys -- and the women who sew for them -- to explore the wonderful world of vintage patterns, particularly those groovy old Buttericks.  They're not always available at all times in every size, but they do show up frequently on eBay and Etsy.

If more men sewed, things could change, of course.  But the investment it takes to create and market patterns, and the accommodations that must be made to common-denominator tastes and fit, make it very unlikely we'll be able to stitch up high fashion for ourselves any time soon.

Hermes, Spring/Summer 2013: You have a year!

Be creative and don't give up.

You can read more about the dearth -- but not death! -- of mens sewing patterns here, here, and here.

You can see more vintage Butterick patterns here

Happy 4th of July, everybody!

50 comments:

  1. I love vintage patterns, but I have not ever seen any in big and tall sizes (I'm 6'5 and, well, "big boned" at that...). I'm brand new to the sewing world, so I'm not ready anyway, but do you know if they made these or if there are any good references on how to 'edit' smaller patterns? I LOVE your blog - it is very inspirational and a post I read of yours a while back really encouraged me to give this all a go. Thanks!

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    1. Stephen, every commercial pattern has designated places where you can lengthen or shorten for height. For width, you usually have opt for a larger size. Having some basic drafting skills can really help.

      There ARE larger sizes out there but, of course, the proportions are going to be the standard ones used by the pattern company: i.e., a 36" chest corresponds to a 14.5 neck, a 30" waist, etc.

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    2. Thanks! I'll keep looking and look forward to trying my first pattern!

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    3. I'd recommend the old, original (late 60s, early 70s) Vogue Sewing book. There's a useful section on alterations for men's fitting, general tailoring stitches, etc. I like it because it shows common problems like tight upper sleeves and baggy bums and how to fix them. There are also the sewing for men books out there, too. The older ones are just as good as the new ones. Have you looked at "The Cutter and Tailor" website? It's more advanced, but you can get good info just reading the posts.

      Sounds like you could do with a body double (paper packing tape is light and strong) for a tailor's dummy, too. Threads and the Sewing Guild sites have how-tos.

      Good luck! And have fun!

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    4. PS Look at the Pattern Review site for reviews of mens wear patterns and fitting men issues, mostly clothes made by women for men. Peter is there, too.

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    5. Excellent resources. THANKS!!!!

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  2. Those are great! I didn't realize that Butterick had such fashion forward men's patterns in the 70's! You are right though about why there aren't any patterns for men. Most men's clothing, besides the bowling shirts, require a lot of tailoring techniques.

    What happened to Butterick in general? They are not my favorite pattern company. MCalls use to be really good, now not so much. Simplicity stepped up their game, and I think they have the most creative patterns, besides Vogue of course.

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  3. I am so with you on this. It's incredibly hard to find good mens patterns. To make it worse, my husband has a hard time going beyond the illustrations on a pattern envelope and imagining the possibilities from the line drawings. One look at a vintage shirt pattern done up in some kind of 70's trendy plaid or paired with anything that looks like a leisure suit, and that's the end of his even considering letting me measure him for a new shirt. We're working on it.

    I obviously set myself up for disappointment with the debut of the show Fashion Star. They promised a pattern tie-in for some of the designs. I only ended up watching a couple of episodes, then lost interest and forgot to watch later ones. Of the episodes I watched, there were actually some decent menswear designs being created. This would have been the perfect opportunity for the pattern companies to debut a couple of trendy mens patterns.

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    1. Something I learned doing sew-alongs, Carolyn, is that many husbands are not open to wearing something home-sewn.

      IMO, most men don't want to stand out, fashion-wise. Maybe that's a topic for a future blog post!

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    2. I agree...men, for the most part, don't want to stand out. My husband once got a very fashion forward and flattering haircut, which he really liked until everyone he knew complimented him on it. He hated the attention he got, and was combing his hair back into it's old style within a couple weeks--what's up with that?

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    3. I findit to be quite the opposite where I live. I'm small boned and I have to ask guys to be my fitting model when I'm making something and they always expect me to give them what I'm making to sell!! They love the attention, but then again I'm not married to them!

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    4. I agree...most, and let me stress MOST men don't want to stand out. I make mod styled shirts etc for my business, and even the guys that order some of these custom items dial it down....they want the 60's-70's rock look, but want it modernized...which is fine, but I really dig it when someone goes all out with trims and ruffles and fancy buttons. Granted, it's stagewear, but they ARE stepping out of the comfort zone. I'd be curious to read a blog by you Peter, about men not wanting to stand out. Would be interesting.

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  4. Didn't know that Willi Smith and Betsy Johnson did patterns for men in the '70s! I still have a few of their women's patterns, bought for inspiration as I never built up the skills to actually make them. . .
    -- stashdragon

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    1. I had that very same Willi Smith pattern, I made the jacket. I also had another pattern for elasticized waist pants.........they turned out horrible!! The pattern must have been designed for a man that at minimum had to be 6ft tall....I swear I could fit in one leg!!! LOL!!!

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  5. mari.hafenstein@att.netJuly 4, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    I see a pattern line in your future. Many of us really like the indie companies. You typically spend more, but get what you want. You could do a download pdf (tape together type thing) The biggies are doing it and you have enough fashion and design sense to attempt it. I don't sew for men, but would love to see the patterns out there.

    Just a thought.

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  6. I'm the only female in our nuclear family, with a husband and two teenage sons who are all tall with very broad shoulders. I'd love to be able to sew more for them than jammie pants and Hawaiian shirts. But you're right, there's little out there otherwise. One advantage of the newer patterns, though, is that more of them are available in larger men's sizes, which they need.

    It would be especially great for my older son, who as a college student can't afford to buy the beautiful clothes he craves. He's my thrift store buddy, and we sometimes find things that fit (rare) or can be somewhat easily altered.

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  7. We need to teach our sons to sew. That would change the tide I think, but it's an uphill battle. I keep trying with my son (age 8) and he already has it in his head it's a 'girl thing.' I bet he'll wish he had some facility with a sewing machine the first time he needs seat covers for a car (not to mention how attractive a man who can sew for you is), but I digress. I want so bad to sew something 'cute' for my little boy now that his sister has outgrown me, but once we got passed the reversible bowling shirt and authentic Hawaiian (with real coconut buttons I had to order) we had run the gamut---every pattern book just has the same stuff. Sure would like to see the men around here in something other than polo shirts and chinos....

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  8. I don't think it's entirely a "men don't sew" issue. I think that part of it is that there aren't many variations one can have on mens style. It's the same with boys stuff.

    Look at kids patterns--the kids aren't the ones sewing, it's the moms that are sewing. Moms that sew are equally likely to have boys as girls, but there are probably 50 girl's dress patterns for every 1 boy's pattern. There are many more variations to a dress than to t-shirts, button down shirts, pants, and shorts.

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    1. You make an excellent point, Brenda. But seriously, how different are those 50 girls dresses from each other?

      My hunch is that an experienced sewer could probably draft most of those differences herself (a gather here, a ruffle there, etc.). But Mom (and daughter) are more sensitive to pattern envelope styling and are willing to shell out the cash for a pattern not radically different from one she already owns.

      I mean, think of all the Jackie-O inspired sheath dress patterns of the Sixties -- they were, like, all the same! And yet dozens were turned out every year, with slight variations -- primarily in hairstyles, shoes, colors, on the pattern envelope.

      But it's also true: there are only so many ways you can draft a pair of mens pants!

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  9. Butterick's illustrators in the 70s created very desirable looks.I carried around Butterick patterns for years without using them, just because I loved the look.Only problem is they didn't always correspond that well to the way the patterns really fit, and by the 80s the tide turned to pattern fronts with photo illustrations.

    For women, pattern makers seem to be selling dreams. You can see 6 versions of what seems to be the same dress with minor variations. Woman A bought her version because she like the look of the model, woman B liked the fabric in the illustration.

    Sewing for men requires a different mindset for me. I'm not going to spend a lot of money collecting patterns, because the fit is more important than anything on the pattern front. I can change the collars and pockets myself. If the fit is baggy, I can take it in. I not as willing to buy a dream rather than content.

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  10. Terrific post, and it brought back memories for me. In the late 70's, early 80's I made several pieces for the boyfriend. He loved and appreciated that I was able to sew for him.
    (Theresa)

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  11. What I find interesting is how many of the 70s pattern illustrations look like Robert Redford. Now, that's a reason to buy a pattern if I ever saw one.

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    1. Have you noticed how much Brad Pitt is starting to look like Robert Redford as he gets older? Now there is someone I'd like to see on a pattern envelope.....

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  12. I really like those illustrations!
    About the ridiculously low number of men' patterns available: I think it's a combination of 'men don't sew' and the slow rate of change in menswear. That said, in RTW, the supply of 'trendy' clothes for men seems to be increasing. Maybe that trend will spill over into the sewing pattern market.

    I sew a lot for my boyfriend, and I draft the patterns myself. A good instruction book like Winifred Aldrich's metric pattern making for menswear is readily available (at least online), and provides the opportunity to make to measure.

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    1. It seems that is one of the very few options for male sewing. What type of paper do you use? Also don't you have to a lot of altering and recutting of the pattern? It sounds so daunting and intimidating! I guess I shouldn't be such a wuss about it, I did make a one piece spiral seamed t-shirt pattern after studying one of Halston's dresses in the book "Halston: An American Original" I was so inspired that I just dived right in
      and it worked! I'm going to check your lead out.....thanks!!

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  13. 70's menswear was so flamboyant and groovy! And it filtered right down to the small towns too. I suppose because it was quite casual, most of the groovy menswear I see today is quite dressy or urban - like the citron suit above. And if it's not, it's retro 70's - funny that!

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  14. I've been casually looking for a mens single breasted peacoat pattern from the 70s. I want to recreate a thrift store jacket my husband has that's too short for him and stained.

    I've had good luck with Kwik Sew's mens patterns for basics. I do make design and fit tweaks, but they're a good place to start.

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  15. I have been eyeing these vintage Men's patterns for so long.I love the fit and the bum hugging and the tall silhouettes taken into consideration. I am a tall man 6 2 and I plan to have all my pants flatter me in the vintage way. I really love those styles and I wrote the author of this blog about my love for high waist men's pants. They came back for women and can be found everywhere, but not for men. I have been reading more sewing books and alteration books before I begin to sew so I can at least have some know how when I began to do so. I plan to be the best that I can be at it. I really hope my high waist dreams come true. I admire a lot of those patterns. I havent touched one bc ive been going through some weightloss and I dont want to mess with anything until I get where I want to be physically. Id hate to make things then have to alter them when I could just wait and read up on my basics.

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  16. I love those vintage Butterick illustrations. It is as if the illustrator secretly had a thing for Tom Selleck (but didn't we all?)
    My first successfully sewn coat was from a Butterick pattern in the mid 80's and it had a little booklet on tailoring methods included.
    I hope they read this post and do something similar with a fashionable men's jacket with a booklet. I think it would sell well.

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  17. As someone who sews mens garments (often from vintage patterns) I have learned to take inspiration from wherever I can find it. Fortunately the bloke I sew for likes the retro look (and even sports a kaftan not unlike the pattern you have here). I've made a vintage bowling shirt look funky and modern with current fabrics and colours and I've made some well fitted shirts by adapting a pattern from a Burda magazine a few years ago. If guys are open to interesting fabric choices or colours, like your recent jeans, then it's pretty easy to make an interesting wardrobe out of a few basic patterns. My bloke patterns consist of a fitted shirt (with long and short sleeves) a loose casual shirt, a well fitted pair of pants with pocket variations, a pair of jeans and a jeans jacket. I made a whole 11 piece menswear SWAP out of them a few years ago. I love when you sew for Cathy, but I love it even more when you sew for you and Michael. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  18. Great posts!!!!!!! I adore (!!!!!!!) the Butterick illustrations on pattern envelopes from the 70's. A lot were variations of Vogue patterns (simplified). I am thinking of framing some. I did give mine away, but now re-buying and finding more I didn't ever have. Funky and also casual. I'm talking about women's patterns, but the guys ones too. Cathie, in Quebec.

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  19. Would you be interested in buying men's digital patterns? I'm willing to make some if there is enough demand. I prefer to design women's clothes, but if there is a need for men's, I could do it...

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    1. OOooh Renata. I am so in!!! That is a fabulous idea. I was hoping id find some online for download like maybe someone had scanned some of the ones from the 70s but no luck. I am dying to get a hold of a few styles of those lovely high waist pants butterrick designed in the 70S.

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  20. Celeste, you are joking, right? Looking at Brad Pitt him recently, I was thinking that any resemblance to another movie star would be more "David Spade than "Robert Redford"...speaking if which, I wonder what the supreme mediawhores of all time are thinking about being eclipsed by the breakup of "TomKat"; the scientology angle makes it particularly compelling! But I digress.

    I would like to point out: there's absolutely NOTHING stopping any "man of the cloth" from revamping and re-interpreting those 70s patterns;and nothing stopping anyone from wearing them: I mean just look at that idiotic men's suit; could one look any sillier in, say, a cleverly "deconstructed" 70s leisure suit than one would in that absurd shrunken chartreuse horror that some idjit is going to pay a very high price for in the near future? I mean, if one is going to spend large amounts of money to look like a "blamed idjit", one may as well look like one OWN version of an "blamed idjit", and not "someone else's" version thereof!

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  21. Great - I had a really good laugh seeing the Butterick 6464 pattern. The designer, Margit Brandt, later was associated with matronly designs in Denmark. Seeing that pattern totally turned my view of her designs on its head. Thanks a lot for that eye opener.

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  22. Totally in agreement on Butterick in the 70's, I just loved their patterns when I was teenager. It's almost hard to believe what that brand has now become.

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  23. Those illustrated man-sirens of the 70s all had two speeds, showing lots of leg, or none at all, but always with some fetching facial hair (side burns, moustache).

    Mmmmmmmmmmmmm, 70s men! They certainly still hold appeal for most ladies, and select gents.

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  24. It's a shame,really. A few years back in a fit of unselfish sewing, I decided to make my husband a Western shirt. A quick jaunt to the local fabric store revealed . . . nothing. I didn't even see anything that I thought I could modify without tearing my hair out. It was all baggy shapelessness which I did not want. I too turned to the patterns of the '70s and found the perfect one. Hmm . . . maybe you could start a pattern company for stylish men who sew or people who sew for stylish men?

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  25. Peter, I totally agree with you on the Butterick patterns of the early 70s. Not only did they have fashion forward men's patterns, but the womens were also the best, IMHO. That was the period when I did the most sewing I ever have and Butterick was the place to go. I remember alot of those patterns from looking at men's wear from my brother. During the early seventies I made most of my clothes and his shirts, as well. I don't remember ever having a hard time finding a pattern that was suitable.

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  26. It's so much easier, cheaper, and satisfying in the long run to self-draft patterns. Especially for men. Pants/shorts are, by far, the easiest, and are fairly simple to adjust to match a specific look (add pleats to the front, make bell-bottoms, on-seam pockets, etc.). Next would be vests, then shirts, then jackets. The problem is that the instructions for self-drafting (making basic slopers) aren't easy to find and sometimes require some adjusting of measurements to get it really close. However, once you have it, you have moved overnight from a ready-to-wear to measure-to-wear fit, and, with some patience, can move to a custom fit over time. . . . Also, hiring a tailor to custom make some slopers it is a quick way to get in the ballpark with fit.

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    1. It is hard to find books that start off very basic....let's face it, you can be a expert sewist but not necessarily a whiz at pattern-making. Those who do it, seem to forget that most sewist don't have a clue on making a basic sloper.

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  27. Alright Chris, start naming names, of books and websites you think us virgin drafters should read or visit.

    Your point is a strong one, self-reliance coupled with superior execution.

    At present I'm sidled up to Scorpionblue on this one, as pattern drafting and sewing are more like cousins than twins.

    Awaiting word, in a manly pose Butterick would have approved of some 40 years ago,

    Testosterone

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    Replies
    1. Two that come immediately to mind are Dorothy Moore's "Pattern Drafting and Dressmaking" -- she specifically shows how to draft a mens shirt though you can use her methods to draft anything -- and Lori Knowles' "The Practical Guide to Patternmaking for Fashion Designers: Menswear." The latter is much more expensive but covers menswear specifically.

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    2. Thank you Peter!!!

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  28. I'm in love with pajama patterns from the 30's and 40's. But I think I have to many pajamas now.

    Perhaps I'll just grow a porn stache, and start wearing leisure suits to bed.

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  29. I can't believe it! My partner and I are throwing our annual winter party in a few weeks time and we decided on a 70's theme.. I have made our costumes and not realising it until Ive read this post that I have picked two Butterick patterns. I have made for myself the full length Kaftan (Butterick 3625) and for my partner, the Butterick 6464 Margit Brandt Jacket... mmmm I think I might go through my pattern collection to see exactly how many Butterick patterns form the 60s and 70s I have.

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  30. Firstly, has to be said, I LOVE your blog, and can get hooked into reading it for HOURS.

    Secondly, OMG! That Butterick #3625 kaftan! I still have that pattern I think, and originally made it up for my dad in about 1979/80 [with the thigh high slits]...it was in deep blue cotton, and he wore it for years and years, to the horror and embarrassment of my younger siblings, and anyone who came to the front door. He used to wear it in the evenings of course [not exactly office wear] and when it was time to feed the 8 or 9 cats [he'd downsized the fur family] he used to fold up the front and back flaps and use clothes pegs to secure them. And yes, he answered the doorbell that way too. Sigh. A character..ahem.
    I also made one up in a more glamorous burgundy velvet for my ex. Without the slits...

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  31. Peter, in the 70's I occassionally sewed for my 6'4 boyfriend. I recognize several of those patterns. These are some of the problems. I remember spending approximately 10 hours on Calvin Klein shorts with tons of pockets, and top stitching. He really doesn't care about clothes. He wouldn't let me spend time really fitting them. When I finished he declared the crotch too short and never wore them. We have a child together. He still asks me to hem up ( or down) pants he got at goodwill!
    Maybe this is a good niche for a new pattern company? I love the pockets on this jacket. They're like expandible cargo pockets.
    I gave away most of my men's patterns when I moved 5 years ago! I had some Robert Green patterns.
    Kwik Sew had an excellent western shirt pattern and it had very nice construction techniques. I should make it for my son in law!

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  32. I don't know what is available in other areas, but here in Mpls we have a Textile Center "garage sale" in the spring. You pay $25 to get into the preview night on Friday. It is worth it. Then the last hour, everything that fits in a bag is $1. It's an excellent place to buy vintage patterns. I also got Threads mags for 10 cents each and great fabric.

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