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Aug 6, 2012

When Bad Instructions Happen to Good (Vintage) Patterns



Holy mother of Zeus, friends -- I nearly pulled my hair out today trying to parse the instructions of my vintage Forties swimsuit pattern, Advance 2467.  I had an easier time with Beowulf.



Let's look at Step 2.  Notice anything strange?  Perhaps it's that Step 2 is composed of twenty-five steps.    Hello?



I can't really rag on Advance, at one time the house brand for J.C. Penney, since they went kaput long ago.  But imagine trying to decipher Burda instructions for a lined bathing suit with a double-layered crotch gusset, and you get an idea of what my afternoon was like.



Truly, I love old patterns, and I learn something new about clothing construction every time I use one.  I can deal with the lack of printed pattern pieces.  I've learned to read all the little perforations, notches, and what-not; it's pretty straightforward.

This is the back armhole -- see that double notch along the curve?



Line up these holes and you get the grain line:



These double perforations mean "cut on fold."



These three small circles designate a dart:



But the written instructions and drawn diagrams, while very detailed, are very dense.  Since it's a garment type that's new to me, I have to read what's written again and again, then compare the diagram to my actual pieces of fabric (in this case, a muslin), and then read them once more.



I still mixed up the inside and the outside of my lining, so that the seams on two sides of the diamond-shaped gusset are on the outside of the lining, and the seams on the other two sides are on the inside.

Quick: which side of the lining is actually next to your skin -- the inside or the outside?  I'm still wrestling with that one.

Good so far...

Crotch Gusset of Shame.

It's incredible to me that the directions for both a beach jacket and a lined swimsuit (in two different styles!) are contained on only one page of instructions.  If this were a contemporary pattern there would be four, easy.

In closing, readers, do you think instructions were so densely written back then because...

1) garment construction was generally more complicated so there was more ground to cover.

2) people had better sewing skills and didn't need as much hand-holding.

3) the average person was more literate.

4) paper was more expensive to print so instructions had to be brief.

5) all of the above.

I'm up for just about any sewing challenge, but I hate getting confused because I can't figure out what the instructions are telling me to do.  It feels like a waste of my time.  Then again, perhaps it's keeping my brain sharp.

Readers, what's your take on vintage pattern instructions: are you ever flummoxed over old-timey techniques or do you just say, to hell with it, I'm gonna serge the whole thing?

Finally, does anyone out there miss the swimsuit crotch gusset?  Please don't tell me they still exist!

Have a great day, everybody!



UPDATE -- 10:30 am dumpster diver alert!

38 comments:

  1. Just the phrase "double-layered crotch gusset" had me snorting with laughter. And to think it will all be covered with the skirt. If you were flummoxed, I would have been schlimazeled. It (the directions)looks horrific...it's not you. The whole idea of the gusset does look uncomfortable. I never thought I loved spandex, but I do see it as an improvement over this. Hang in there. Cathy will appreciate it.

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  2. That's just what the gusset allows you to do -- hang in there!

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  3. I think the reason is either 2 or 4, or both.

    And if I could work out what a double layered crotch gusset was I would tell you if they still exist. I do remember a little pocket in the crotch of my swimmers when I was a kid that used to fill up with sand at the beach.... maybe that was a double layered crotch gusset...???

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  4. I adore vintage patterns, but just use them for shapes (of pieces), and style. I would read them, and substitute techniques. Also grade them up or down, in a haphazard fashion. Thanks for Casey on this most important topic!!!!!!!! Re: gussets, for those of us with larger thighs, and larger derrieres, can be a good idea. I swear by my Gilda Marx rayon/lycra tights (footless), with a gusset. want to add to others I sew. But in swimwear - maybe No. Cathie, with her tea, in Quebec.

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  5. I'd have to give you a major high five for attempting this. These patterns were created for an era where every girl had at least two (usually four) high school credits in home ec. And everyone's mother/aunt/grand-mother/older sister sewed since birth.

    My mother refused to allow me to take home economic in school. I had a mandatory semester in junior high in which I had like six weeks of sewing and six weeks of cooking. I'm not really gifted with either now. My mom said, "if you can read, you can take care of a house!" I'm not sure she was quite right about that, but that was the way it was. She was a lousy cook, but could sew anything.

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  6. Crotch gussets, back gussets, gathers, linings. Wow. Give me the spandex quick! I'm afraid I would either fall into the give up and serge everything category or get really stubborn with it and make as clean a finish on the inside as I could.
    I can't wait to see Cathy in this and I am also eagerly awaiting the birth.
    moohoohaha

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  7. Crotch gusset??? I'm glad you're sewing this and not me. I can't imagine going in to work tomorrow and explaining to my non-sewing coworkers that I was sewing a crotch gusset...

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  8. Don't try it on a hot day. Wait until it cools off.

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  9. I made a childs overcoat from a 1940's Advance pattern that was as complicated as a finely tailored Savile Row piece once I finished the insanely complicated and sparsely illustrated instructions. I almost tore my hair out doing it.

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  10. I reckon it's an age thing. I love old books and those from the 30s to 50s usually have about a size 6 font, which is half as big as the standard now. So people were used to it. But whether they are well written at all is another matter. I've been trying to help a friend making a frock coat from a relatively new Neue Mode pattern and the instructions might as well have remained in German for all the sense they make!

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  11. I think I would have to say "all of the above".
    I tend to travel quite well even with minimal instructions by following the pattern marks but I have just been sewing a swing jacket from a 50s pattern and spent the best part of 3 hours trying to decipher one small step... I basted and pinned and unpicked and pinned again and eventually worked it out more by chance I think... Scared the spots off the dog when I whooped and yelled YESSSSS after working it out. Felt pretty darn good after that.
    Sometimes I wish there was a sewing hotline :)

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  12. The most recent time I made a vintage pattern (unprinted, it was a Weigels 1950s dress with some gorgeous styling and pleats on the front) what really frustrated me was that I COULD NOT get the waistline of the skirt match the bottom edge of the bodice. They simply wouldn't fit together! I ended up doing some minor gathering of the skirt where there weren't pleats to force the two sections to fit together. Looked lovely on me (and it was a toile de joie fabric too!) but long gone now, as is the pattern when I outshrunk it.

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  13. Lining - I would presume the wrong sides of the outer fabric and lining go together so that there are no seams against the skin.

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    Replies
    1. I agree with this. No seams against the skin!

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  14. I'd have suggested that patterns back then were more complicated because 6) they were written by James Joyce. But that could just be me.

    I too am now thankful for spandex. And store bought swimsuits.

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    1. That's funny! Perhaps written by Henry James. A lot of words, but nothing happens.

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  15. I think Cathy's cousin will be thankful for a double-layered crotch gusset. And Cathy could've used one herself, about 9 months ago.

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    Replies
    1. Ooohhhhhhhhh...not a good time to mess with Ms. Lane. I'm just sayin'.

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  16. If you are having problems understanding the pattern, this gives me little hope of actually being able to do vintage patterns, because I am having problems with the instructions on some modern patterns.
    Hopefully someone will read this and have done the pattern before or understand it well and be able to help you. I am crossing my fingers for you.

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  17. My laugh for the day- "crotch gusset of shame". I don't know what else to say....

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  18. I've dealt with vintage patterns in the past (primarily for period theatre costumes) and I'm hanging with Reason #5.

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  19. I think that the clarity of the instructions are a factor of the complexity of the design and whether or not I have ever encountered a particular design element or not. I've worked with both vintage and modern pattern instructions that are easy, and some that are difficult. The difficult ones are the ones where I can't "visualize" what the instructions are describing. Sometimes that is due to me not grasping the concept and sometimes the concept is difficult to grasp because the instructions are vague or poorly-worded.

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  20. I've had a few patterns with really bad instructions but nothing I couldn't figure out. I actually find the markings on printed patterns to be distracting and confusing now.

    I had one dress that had a neckline facing that could be either an interior facing or an exterior contrast facing, except that the dress also buttoned down the left-front and had another facing for the opening. It didn't tell you how to reconcile the two facings if the neck one was external.

    I also just finished a blouse with wide, contoured, armscye facings. The instructions tell you to seam the ends of the facings . . . but don't point out that if you do this, you'll have a seam that is perpendicular to the side-seam of the blouse. You actually need to measure the armscye and seam the long side of the facing to match the length of the armscye.

    I swear that the people who wrote these knew they were half-@$%ing, it, too, because the directions seem almost deliberately vague.

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  21. I've had nothing but trouble with Advance patterns. Their fit is shocking so rag away!

    As for confusing instructions, I've just finished a 1940s blouse with a bow neck and I had to get my boyfriend to decipher the instructions for me! I tend to skim over the instructions and just use the markings on the pattern pieces & envelope illustrations to put things together.

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  22. I vote for 5) all of the above.

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  23. You are all brave. I mainly sew crafty things. However, I made a 1960's jump suit (short) for my daughter. It was a vintage pattern and easy to follow. I even tried darts. There wasn't much to it. I did buy a pattern years ago for a 1930's gown. I looked at it and put it away.


    Josette

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  24. Well, now I feel better about the hard time I had with an Advance pattern from the 1940’s for a suit dress.

    There is only one sheet of instructions and Side 1 is taken up by cutting layout. Side 2 is all about the jacket, yet is still too vague for me to get the collar and lapels to work properly.

    I guess they ran out of room for skirt instructions and didn’t want to add another sheet. A nine-piece skirt with pleats and gores basically says, line up seams of skirt and sew together. Glad I did a muslin. My first try had the pleats backwards and gore things were sticking out with nowhere to go. The entire project is now carefully packed away until I get the time, patience and ambition to try again.

    To answer your question on instructions, I say, "all of the above."

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  25. I vote for "all of the above," plus an expectation that clothes would last a long time, so the effort was worth it to make it just right. Without spandex, gussets and darts and elastic bands could make a swimsuit more comfortable and more streamlined in appearance. For most of my aunts, it was worth it to make the effort because they couldn't afford to make mistakes--sewing really was cheaper, and they had tight budgets.

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  26. I just added a crotch gusset to my boxer short design. I like it. Adds some ease and cuts down on the number of layers in some seam joins. I'm contemplating using them in a pair of pants I want to make soon.

    M

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  27. Who knows why they made instructions like they did, but I just ran into some vintage instructions that had me lying in bed that night trying to figure out what went where, into the wee hours of the morning! Your post had me giggling!!! I really can't wait to see the swim suit!!

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  28. Great Sewing table. Do you have a machine head in mind for it?

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  29. GAH! I HAVE that sewing machine table! I got so excited when I saw it cause I hoped you would know what machine it was made to fit. Any advice/resources for figuring that out?

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  30. "Crotch Gusset of Shame" - ROFLMAO.

    I think all of the above! Plus maybe less technical drawings?

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  31. I have several modern 'make your own clothes' sewing books with extremely sparse sewing instructions. They assume beginners would automatically know how to finish the ends of a waistband or apply bias binding with limited diagrams or photos.

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  32. I have that exact style of table. My Rocketeer fits in it.

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