Sewing with Vintage Patterns

Vintage Style Goes Modern

Everything old becomes new again, and vintage and vintage-inspired clothing is definitely a hot trend. Thoughtful tailoring and design details, fabulous fabrics, timeless style-what's not to love about vintage fashion?

Re-create vintage style with patterns from the 1950s through 1970s.

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I love working with vintage sewing patterns-whether it's re-creating a vintage look or giving an old pattern a modern makeover. One of my favorite places to find sewing patterns is thrift stores. It seems there's always a shelf hidden away in the back somewhere, stuffed with patterns. They usually cost less than a dollar each, and with a little digging, you can usually find some great treasures. Estate sales are another great place to search, and there's a host of online websites dedicated to selling vintage or vintage-reproduction patterns.

Pattern sizing and fit standards change over time, so sewing from a vintage pattern can also give you a chance to practice on your pattern alteration skills. Here are a few tips and tricks from the Spring 2010 issue of Stitch to get you started on the right foot.

Vintage Pattern Alteration Basics

1. Create an accurate chart of your key measurements: This includes bust, waist, neck to waistline, hip, shoulders (from base of neck to shoulder bone), arm length, and neck circumference.

2. Shop by measurements, not by size: Older patterns tend to be smaller (a size 10 from 2010 will have larger measurements than a size 10 from 1960). For best results, try to buy as close to your measurements as possible so that you don't have to alter up or down more than a size.


Vintage-inspired dresses by indie designers. (Photos courtesy of

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3. Basic tools: Measuring tape, a French curve (plastic curve for tracing curved areas of the pattern such as armholes or necklines), tracing paper, tissue or vellum, a pencil or marker for tracing, pins, scissors, and cardboard cutting surface.

4. Simple alterations: The simplest alterations are hemming changes. Reducing the size of darts and using a ½" seam allowance instead of the standard 5/8" measure are also easy fixes to enlarge a pattern slightly overall-enlarge the darts and/or bump the seam allowance to 1" for the opposite sizing issue. Plus, many vintage patterns have areas on the pattern that show where a bodice, sleeve, or skirt can be lengthened (usually a double line). However, it's more common to need to resize the waist, bust, shoulder, and hip areas of patterns, each of which you can do by following the next step.

5. Complex alterations: The process is really the same, regardless of what body area of the pattern you need to size up or down.

– If needed, iron the pattern pieces with an iron on a nonsteam setting to smooth folds and wrinkles.

– Place the pattern pieces that require adjusting over vellum and trace the outer edges.

– Enlarge the front bodice of a dress by drawing three lines-a vertical line from the middle of the armhole to the waist, a vertical line from the middle of the shoulder to the waist, and a vertical line from the middle of the neckline in front. These lines indicate the areas of the front bodice that should expand. Cut the traced pattern along all three lines, spread the pieces on a larger piece of vellum, and tape. To calculate the spreading, subtract the pattern's measurements for the shoulder, bust, and waist from your actual measurements. Then divide by 2 to account for left and right bodice pieces. Place the tracing paper over the pieces and carefully pencil the outlines to create a strong new pattern piece. Repeat this sizing process as needed for each remaining pattern piece.


Vintage buttons are the perfect finishing detail.

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6. Muslin pattern samples: It's a good idea to create a muslin sampler with your altered pattern. Use machine-basting stitches and sew together only the major pieces of your pattern. This way, you'll save your precious vintage fabric for your prefitted, altered pattern.

Take these tips and try your hand at creating your own vintage style! You can find more great information and resources about vintage sewing in the "Vintage Modern" article by Marlene Blessing in the Spring 2010 issue of Stitch. If you need to stock up on back issues, now is a great time-they're 40% off during our Spring Cleaning sale!

Happy sewing!


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How To Sew

About StefanieB

I'm the Managing Editor of Stitch magazine. I live in Fort Collins, Colorado with one fat cat, one very active dog, and lots of books, crafting supplies, and video games.