Male Pattern Boldness is proud to be the world's most popular men's sewing blog!

Mar 31, 2010

Vintage or just plain OLD?

I've made up my mind: my next project will be Simplicity 3873, a two-piece dress pattern from 1941.  (Sorry, Maria -- it's back to the convent for now.)

I mentioned this pattern on Monday; I'd ordered it on Etsy and received it last week.  I wanted something classic Forties, but simple.  It cost only $5.99 with shipping; the somewhat ragged envelope no doubt kept the price low.

I'll be honest: I have some trepidation about this project.  Maybe it's those bound buttonholes, which I may not even bother with.  I've never sewn anything this old.  Frankly, I think this crosses the border between vintage and antique.

I hunted for the right fabric but didn't find anything that felt appropriate to the period. 

I've had this in my stash since the fall and badly want to use it:

It's cotton and definitely has a vintage feel but I don't think it would work.  For one thing, the skirt has twelve separate panels and I don't think those roses would look good broken up that way.  I'll save this  for something more flowing (I think both Gertie and Elaine have picked up rose prints too -- spooky, huh?).

I tend to honor the pattern artwork: if a dress is shown in a solid, I'll go with solids.   I did get some fabric on Monday -- four yards in fact -- of a purplish-blue cotton with a vertical stripe in the weave, but when I got it home I realized it was too heavy.  I'd been thinking of this as a suit -- it looks like a suit -- but it's a dress.  The skirt has to move and the cotton is too stiff.  It would make a great summer men's suit and maybe that's what I'll do with it.

I've decided to use sheets again -- clean sheets.  I'm going to use this yellow one for the top...

...and the black one pictured here with the yellow for the skirt:

I don't know; maybe if I have enough fabric, I'll do the whole thing in yellow.  We'll see.

Yesterday I started to prepare my pattern pieces and imagine my surprise when I saw this:

This pattern pre-dates seam allowances printed on the pattern pieces!  I recalled reading something about this on somebody's blog, I don't remember whose.  The patterns of this period had no printed markings, but rather only different size punched holes.  Here's how individual pieces are labeled:

Cool, right?

This marking is for a dart in the top of the sleeve:

I should mention that straight out of the envelope, the pieces looked like wadded up Kleenex:

I managed to inventory and press everything yesterday and am happy to report that all the pieces are accounted for.  Today I'll start cutting and we'll see how far I get.

My goal is to make this version:

Readers, have you ever sewn from one of these old unmarked patterns?  Would you?  What's the oldest pattern you've sewn?

Do you prefer contemporary vintage patterns to authentic ones?  Is there a difference?

I'm in uncharted waters here.  Wish me luck!


  1. Antique?! Hey now! This isn't a Victorian pattern. If it wasn't still considered stylish by some I don't think you'd have considered buying it. :) I know you follow both Gertie and Casey who sew from vintage patterns occasionally.

    I've sewn plenty of perforated patterns, and they're not any scarier than printed ones. I might actually prefer them. I've never copied the seam allowance marking so that hasn't stopped me.

    I'm confused at what you mean by "contemporary vintage", though. Repros? Vintage inspired?

    I haven't done bound buttonholes yet. I think I'll wait until it actually seems like they add something to the pattern, but right now they aren't worth the headache to me. I love the 1930s and 50s so a pattern from the 30s is the earliest I own and have sewn from.

  2. I have gotten as far as tracing one of these old patterns and putting marks on the traced patterns. My pattern was so old that there were nicks and tears etc and required alot of careful pressing and scotch tape. I decided, after this experience, that I would still buy vintage patterns to learn from the pattern pieces but would rather use a new vintage OR take a pattern with similar lines and adapt it to a vintage "look". I have no vested interest in it actually having to BE vintage, like some do. I totally admire all this effort, but just not into using patterns without markings. It exhausts me. ;-) I do enjoy reading instructions from vintage Big 4 patterns too. They are better than today by a long shot. IMHO

    I think this black and yellow look might be interesting.

  3. I only sew from vintage patterns! In fact, I don't know how to use a new one..LOL. What multiple sizes on one pattern?? I don't get it :-) I made my 1942 blouse from an unprinted DuBarry pattern and found it to fit perfectly and it was really easy to make despite my trepidation. I also find the 1940's instructions much better than 1950's ..... I can't wait to see how you find sewing this up and I can't wait to see the dress!

  4. Doesn't Vintage only really start in the fifties (and then counts backwards, of course?) So this is your first vintage project and there is no need for being afraid of unprinted patterns - there is no difference at all :-)

    Good luck!

  5. My oldest patterns are toy patterns from the 30s. And they were photocopies, so I haven't had that problem. (Then again, I have never, ever ironed a pattern, either.)

    Laura (who has just reached an impasse on Evie's Easter dress due to lack of the correct size of buttons...)

  6. I've only sewn vintage from repro patterns, but have to say I quite like the look of that system of holes for the pattern markings. My eyes tend to glaze over when presented with all those helpful lines, notches and shapes and forget (or is am too careless?!) to transfer vital information to the fabric.

    Good luck!

  7. The oldest pattern I've done is oone I'm working on now from the 20s, a pair of pajamas. McCalls actually printed photos for the instructions on the pattern pieces at that point in time!
    You should go here:
    and check out all the vintage sewin' ladies. You'll see that your two piece dress can come out quite fine. And the rule is antique is 100+ years old, vintage is 20+ years old.

  8. My oldest pattern is a Vogue bolero from the early 50's, which seems like a spring chicken as far as the other readers here goes. I love pajama patterns from the 30's and had a chance to buy a really nifty one on Ebay months ago and stupidly forgot about it. I keep hunting for that lovely curved waist yoke. Arghh, I hate acting dumb.

  9. I love sewing with old patterns. The oldest I have sewn was from 1940 and I believe it was a pajama set. I love using them, but you always have to be careful handling them, as they tear easily. Good luck with this, I'm sure it will turn out marvelous.

  10. Holy crap, I've never seen a pattern like that! I use a lot of "vintage" patterns, but they've all had the usual markings that we see in today's patterns. I think the oldest pattern I've used was a late 50's skirt, and it had all the traditional markings. What I did notice is that the instructions on these old patterns are very brief, and they seem to assume that you already have a fairly competent level of sewing expertise. I'd sew your vintage dress pattern in a heartbeat, but I'd leave off the bound buttonholes . . . I think it's a classic, timeless silhouette. And I agree . . . I think you're wise to set aside the lovely rose print for this dress, but be careful when you're combining that fabulous yellow with a black . . . you don't want to look like a bumblebee!!!

  11. I'd say about half the vintage patterns I sew with are unprinted! :) It's a bit of a learning curve with these, only because you have to spend some time figuring out what all these darn holes and notches are for (a real pain, which is why I tend to trace mine and label everything--so I don't trip myself up in a bought of late night project work and miss something! lol.). You'll do fine though--just go slow and enjoy the process! :)

    ♥ Casey
    blog |

  12. Isn't that crazy?! I know I was shocked when I saw my first vintage pattern (from the 40's) which was blank like yours. Before then I had only worked with reprints of vintage patterns (like the Vintage Vogue series), which are fully printed. This is where tailor's tacks come in handy, although you are probably past that stage now. Good luck!! I can't wait to see how it goes :)

  13. Best of luck Peter! It looks challenging - great color choices too!

  14. My oldest is from the 40's and is perforated-not marked but I've used a lot of vintage patterns and I think the scariest part is making sure you have all your significant pieces and then ironing the wrinkled little things out so, as far as I'm concerned, the hard part is over for you, the rest is all fun!
    I've also sewn from "colette" patterns which are vintage-inspired and are way awesome!
    and, call me crazy, I love a bound buttonhole! I think they come out so much nicer than my regular buttonholes, which still, quite frankly, scare me.

  15. I haven't tried any vintage patterns. The closest I've gotten is buying modern patterns with a vintage look. I'm still only on my third project since I started sewing again so those are probably a ways off from getting cut out. In high school I made renaissance clothes but those were pretty easy. Hardest part was the bodice really. Costume patterns for the win.
    I would like to try vintage patterns some day but I just don't think I possess enough sewing skillz just yet to make anything that looked good.
    I can't wait to see the finished dress! I love yellow! You could also look around for some brown maybe instead of black or a deep navy. mmmmm color.

  16. I'm working on a ruffled wrap dress from the 60s but its marked. You're so brave to have a go at it unmarked!

  17. Ok, I'd written a whole comment and Blogger ate it.

    I just found your blog recently via Pattern Review, and I love it, and I'm making all my crafty friends read it.

    I've worked with reissued Vintage Vogues, and also repro patterns from and also from - really old patterns, from the teens or 30's have instructions and markings that are either communicated via psychic link or they're just totally funny. Lots of fun.

  18. Don't be scared, Peter! I find it helps to look through the instructions thoroughly and figure out which perforations are essential and which aren't. For instance, I never transfer the seam allowance perforations. But note what all the squares and circles represent. This way you really understand what you're working with. Can't wait to see it!

  19. I examined an old Advance pattern last night that I got in the mail recently. It's partially printed, but also has holes. The instructions say the seam allowances are 1/2" EXCEPT for the "underarm", which is 3/4" for alteration purposes. Glad I looked. So be sure to read through ALL of the instructions. And, personally, I'd go with navy skirt instead of black unless you want to look like a traffic sign!

  20. I think the oldest I patterns I've used were from the 30's. I made a series of clothes from patterns dated 1938. Just read the directions and work your way through it and you'll discover it's not that hard to do. Good choice of fabric!

  21. I like the red roses. So what if they're cut up? I think solids will look, well, Jane Hathaway. -- San Antonio Sue

  22. I just made my first unprinted pattern- it was a blouse from 48. It was almost easier, since it made me pay attention as I went instead of just slapping it together like usual! :) I love your blog!

  23. Many of my vintage patterns are unprinted like that, though I haven't tried those ones yet. And I've heard complaints that reproduction vintage patterns aren't the same--they have a lot more ease added than originals, for example, though I haven't tested this.

    Your pattern is vintage--not old or ancient! However, the styling on the envelope might be a little on the more mature side, perhaps aimed at a different age target range than many 40s patterns I've seen. It reminds me a little bit of the clothing spreads from the 1940s Sears Catalog aimed at "gracious ladies" (usually showing women in their 60s and 70s).

    Can't wait to see your results on Cathy!

  24. On the other hand, Cathy could really ROCK that Jane Hathaway look! -- San Antonio Sue

  25. Mikhaela's right, that is a pattern for a "matron" (the grey hair is the giveaway)! I admit to being surprised that you picked it when I saw it the other day. But I think it will be lovely in a two-tone!

    I personally love perforated patterns, it's so much easier to transfer the markings. In fact, I started punching holes in my tracings after working with perforated patterns, I like it so much!

    As far as repro vs original, it seems to depend on the company. From what I've read, Vogue changes very little, Simplicity changes a lot and no idea on Butterick.

    Have fun!! I'm sure Cathy will love the result.

  26. GRAY HAIR??? I looked at that envelope again; those are HIGHLIGHTS -- honestly. LOL

    (Let's hope Cathy never sees these comments; she'll never wear it.)

    Are you saying Barbara Stanwyck wouldn't have worn this exact outfit in 1941?

  27. Gertie probably already sent you this but here's the blog post you're thinking of

  28. I've used thee patterns before and at first I was terrified. I found that if I marked the fabric up in ways that I was accustomed to, it was OK. For darts, I marked the dots and then ruled in the lines and I made notches for matching armscye and sleeve where there were none. The first one I used had some type written instructions with no pictures which I read through first and made some notes so I didn't panic when actuallys sewing. Once you get going, though, you'll have no trouble. I found I was so used to slavishly following the pattern instructions that I couldn't think my way through. Time and patience is what you need. Can't wait to see the finished dress. I know Cathy will love it.

  29. I don't think the pattern is matronly at all. It's classic, and classic 40s.

  30. When sewing with vintage, antique or just old,
    There's really no difference, or so I've been told.
    It's in your approach, in your skill and demeanor,
    If it comes out 'pristine' or just 'a bit cleaner.'
    Club collars and ruffles, Vera prints and stained sheets;
    Peter's done them with gusto and his comic relief.
    From Cannon to Vera, he transforms 'em with glee;
    I'm already addicted to my MPB.
    Both Peter and Cathy are rockin' my world; I'll stay tuned tomorrow for more fabrics unfurled.

  31. Lynne, that is SO great! I'm flattered, truly.

    (I think from now on I'm going to ask people to leave only comments that rhyme. LOL)

  32. I absolutely prefer vintage patterns (pre-1980) to modern ones because the pieces actually go together, imagine that! Modern patterns are a crap-shoot..

    I did sew one Marfy pattern recently that had no seam allowances, no markings, and no instructions. It certainly is a test of what you've learned! Not hard, though.

    Good luck with your pattern. That's a lotta yella, you know?

  33. Hey Peter

    You shouldn't be too scared of bound buttonholes - they aren't that difficult, and they can be fun. Contrast welts and other design features can look quite good. Anyone who can produce good top-stitching or killer sleeve plackets (and yes, I mean you) should find bound button holes and welt pockets a breeze.

  34. I used a men's shirt pattern from 1946 that I bought on Etsy for the top half of my Halloween costume last year, a recreation of the Rockford Peaches uniform from "A League of Their Own":

    It was tricky at first just to work out the slightly different sewing terminology, but the pattern worked out perfectly for what I needed. I thought it was easier to use than some modern patterns I've worked with.

  35. This is exactly what I call vintage. Things from the seventies and later I call retro. They're old, but not quite old enough to be true vintage. I primarily sew things from the thirties and forties and absolutely love them. Now if only I could find more time to actually make them for myself!

  36. Wow, now that is a vintage pattern! Good luck, but I know you'll do great with it.

    You know, I just bought my very first vintage pattern last month - I'm fully blaming it on you, Elaine and Gertie with all of your posts on vintage eye candy. Gah! Like I needed another source to buy more patterns. I'm excited about it though and it'll be up later this month, I hope.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts with Thumbnails