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Vintage Sewing: Using a Pattern Sheet

If there’s one thing I love more than wearing vintage clothes, it’s sewing vintage clothes!  It took me a while to discover them, but pattern magazines have become absolutely necessary when I sew.  They give you so many different looks and pieces, in many different styles, and very often even include patterns for accessories too.  What else is great is that, if you have friends who sew vintage too, it’s really easy to trace out and trade patterns for each other, as they  aren’t cut up when used.

However, there are two main issues you need to be aware of if you want to dive in and get your first one: first, neither I nor anyone I’ve talked to has managed to find any in English.  The easiest ones to find are from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and there are many different ones up on ebay ranging from the 20’s to the 70’s.  Some titles you can find are Das Blatt der Hausfrau, Beyers Modenblatt, Bunte Mode, Wiener Mode, and lots more.  A search on German ebay for Schnittmusterbogen (pattern sheet) will get you the results you’re looking for. If you’re really lucky, you can find French pattern magazines (like La Petit Echo de la Mode) with the patterns.  Other than one person on ebay selling photocopies of the originals, I haven’t been able to dig up many of the French pattern magazines with the pattern sheet still in them, so you really have to keep your eyes open.  The Swedish ‘Alles Mönster-Tidning’ is also up from time to time, though I’ve only found them from the 20’s and 30’s.  Even if you don’t speak German, French, or Swedish, anyone with an internet connection and a translation engine should be good to go.  Do keep in mind that the older German script can be near impossible to read, though this is only a problem for the ones before the 1950’s.  Also, when you buy a pattern magazine, make absolutely sure that the matching pattern sheet will be included, and that what you are bidding on is the original one!   There are a lot of people selling digitized magazines, which are basically useless.

The second and biggest problem is that once you get your first magazine and are ready to start sewing, you realize that the pattern sheet looks like it was designed by a mechanical engineer after a hard night of absinthe.  BUT, once you know what you’re doing it not only is really easy, but, if you’re like me, you’ll never go back to single patterns!

Step one is to pick your look.  Remember that there is only one size of each model included in the magazine.  If you don’t mind resizing your pattern, this isn’t an issue.  If you do, then you need to find something in your size.  Each magazine and time period uses different sizing methods ranging from I-VI, to bust size, to modern styles of sizing, but there is usually a chart somewhere in there to help you figure out what is right for you.  For example, I want to make this vest:

Once I see its catalogue number, I need to find the matching description, like this:

This particular pattern will be too small for me (it’s for bust size 88 cm), so I’ll have to resize it once it’s traced (but that’s a whole other articleJ)

Next, I look at the side bar on pattern sheet and find the catalogue number there.

Now there are a whole lot of things going on here in this description area, and all of them are important.  See those little sketches of the pattern pieces with the numbers in them?  Those are the numbers you need to find and trace on the pattern sheet:

There will also be a list of those numbers that tells you what on earth each of those pieces is, and also has some different patterned lines, like here:

Those special patterns are the ones you need to trace.  In this particular instance the vest part is using the double line and x line, while the pants have a different one.

Now I’m sure you’re thinking “how on earth am I supposed to find a few numbers in that mess?”, but never fear!  Just look at the top or bottom of the pattern sheet and you’ll see random numbers printed there.  Those numbers show you the column where you can find that pattern.  Just scan down from there and you’ll find it in no time.  Like this:

And then:

So all you need to do now is get tracing paper, a pencil, and some scissors.  Just lay the tracing paper over top and trace the appropriate lines.  Sometimes the line will hit a corner, and is replaced by a  line that looks like this  —–   ——   ——.  This shows that this line needs to be placed on a fold.  These will generally be labeled, like this:

The mini pattern pieces on the side bar will also have all the markings that will be on the full sized one, so make sure you locate them and trace them too.

Then cut it out, and you’re good to go!  I like to use the Ziploc bags with the labels on them to store the patterns I’ve traced out, and label the magazine, year, original size, catalogue number and what it is, so I don’t end up losing them or forgetting where I got them.

Good Luck!


3 responses to “Vintage Sewing: Using a Pattern Sheet

  1. Cat ⋅

    Awesome! Thanks for that wonderful description. I wasn’t so intimidated by the visual craziness of the pattern sheet, though my boyfriend’s eyes about bugged out of his head. And he knows how to read electronic schematics. 🙂 But I was a little confused about the sizing. I wasn’t certain if they were multi-sized and I was missing it, or if they were single sized and had to be adjusted. And I look forward to seeing the finished vest. 🙂

  2. Racaire

    I also look forward to seeing the finished vest 🙂 …and to trade patterns as soon as my first magazines arrive 🙂

  3. Pingback: Pattern Sheet instructions « The Mad Seamstresses' Vintage Pattern Forum

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