Anatomy of a vintage pattern

Last week I was lucky enough to find a huge stash of secondhand sewing patterns in a local charity shop. I bought a couple, just to see what they were like. Here’s a look inside the oldest one…

Sewing pattern envelope for pattern V7941 from 1953. The illustration shows two variations of a pintuck blouse.
The envelope is a bit torn, but the pattern pieces and instructions are in good condition. And best of all – it was only £2

It’s a Vogue blouse pattern, and the copyright date on the envelope is 1953. The styling and illustrations seem to fit with that – making it the sort of thing that my Grannie might have made using her Singer 201k.

Close up of the pattern envelope showing the copyright date of 1953.
You can just make out a copyright date of 1953 in the bottom left-hand corner.

As with most patterns from this era, it’s for just one size. It’s labelled Bust 36″ which was then a size 18! (In today’s Vogue patterns that would be a 14.) The other details on the envelope are pretty much as you’d expect – fabric suggestions and quantities, notions and some basic measurements.

Reverse of vintage pattern envelope showing the sizing chart and fabric requirements
The back of the pattern envelope is pretty similar to a modern Vogue pattern.
Close-up of the size and yardage chart on the back of the pattern envelope
The size chart shows just how small the sizing was back then.

Inside, the first thing you notice is that the pieces are ready cut-out, and that there are no markings printed on the pattern. Instead, there are holes punched in the pattern pieces to indicate which piece is which and all the other markings you would normally find on a pattern – including the seam allowances. That’s an awful lot of tailors’ tacks to make.

Close-up of the word 'sleeve' punched in a pattern piece
There are no marking printed on the pattern – all the markings are indicated using holes punched in the pattern.

I was pleasantly surprised by the level of detail in the instructions. Considering that this was designed in an era when almost every woman would have learned to sew, I think the instructions give you quite a lot of information that you wouldn’t get from most modern patterns.

Pattern instructions saying how to prepare your fabric and lay out the pattern for cutting
These instructions on preparing your fabric definitely don’t appear on many modern patterns.
Close-up of pattern instruction sheet explaining how to correctly fit a garment
Wow – some great advice on fitting. If only this was included in more patterns today

The sewing process would have been slower in the 1950s – my Singer 201K only has a straight stitch, so seam finishing would have been a painstaking process if your fabric frayed. But I suspect that my Grannie’s generation were also much more experienced and faster at sewing than me.

I think this pattern’s been used – there are some pinholes in the pattern pieces. But I’m not able to tell whether it’s been cut into to make any alterations. If I want to find out, I’ll just have to be brave and try making up a toile.

Have you got any vintage patterns in your collection? And have you sewn from them, or do you just like looking at them?

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One thought on “Anatomy of a vintage pattern

  1. I don’t have any vintage patterns so interesting to see some of the details, thanks for sharing! Especially like the fitting advice – overfitting is definitely something I need to be wary of!

    Liked by 1 person

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