September 5, 2011

On retro sewing

In my garment posts, I use the term 'vintage inspired' quite a lot. And looking at other blogs, I think it's fair to say I'm not the only one. Sewing vintage style clothes (most often dresses), either by using actual vintage patterns, reproductions, modern patterns inspired by vintage style or, like in my case, one's own vintage-inspired patterns, is a big thing in the sewing blogosphere.

It's a trend I first encountered a few years ago. I had just started my pattern making lessons and through the beta version of Burdastyle, I first met the sewing community on the world wide web. It was through a link on Burdastyle that I came to a dress a day, and as a result, I became fascinated with 1950's dresses.
In fact, I can honestly say I liked the retro look before I ever saw an episode of Mad Men...

Despite my many creations 'inspired by' I have never sewn with vintage patterns. I haven't even touched the two reproduction patterns I own.
Of course, this is partly due to my addiction to making my own patterns. Do that long enough and your mind adepts to it. To me, fitting a purchased pattern to my body now seems awfully labour intensive. I'm very aware it may not even be true, but it just seems more straight-forward to just incorporate the elements I like into a pattern of my own.

I know I'm not in a lot of company in this particular habit, so I wonder what others do. Do you seek out vintage patterns for many reasons, and only sew from designs made before you were born, like the amazing Debi and Shelleyj? Do you enjoy vintage style but use patterns both vintage and modern (and sometimes start adding patterns of your own) like Gertie and Peter? Do you dabble in vintage style sewing occasionally, when the right pattern just happens to come your way? Do you love the look, but it's not for you? Or do you just think this entire vintage-thing is an overrated hype?

All the images in this post come from other websites. I've pulled them off as inspiration months, sometimes years ago, so I don't remember where credit is due.


  1. It depends what I'm doing - usually I find a commercial patterns that has the core shape I am looking for and then alter away until I get what I want. Sometimes I start from scratch and draft my own pattern, but as I have neither an accurate dummy to drape on nor a sloper to work from, it becomes rather time intensive.

  2. I mostly make my own patterns - I, too, like to take inspiration from vintage styles and incorprate them into my own ideas. It's why I enjoy reading your blog - you execute your ideas so beautifully! BTW, I LOVE that '30s top at the beginning of this post - and the 'wiggle dress' at the end!

    AllisonMM: if you get too frustrated, you can always develop your own slopers (or blocks, as I call them here in Australia). Use something you already know fits well and go from there. And if you get really inspired, make your own mannequin based on your own measurements - or take the easier route, which is to buy one and adapt it to your own shape (get one slightly smaller than you are and pad it out where needed).

  3. I self-draft my own patterns so i can't say i reproduce vintage patterns, though there are influences of them (Indian outfits) from the bygone era.

    Please join the Month Long Celebration of SKirts @ Sew Skirt September I have linked up your adding vents to skirt back - explanation post you made for me remember in the recent skirt sewing tute i have made.

    Adithi's Amma from Adithi's Amma Sews

  4. I know exactly what you mean! I think copying, cutting out and then adjusting existing patterns is a lot more tedious work than if you make your own patterns from scratch. But not everybody feels that they are able to do that. Do you actually make your own paper patterns or drape on your doll?
    I sometimes like to make 1:1 vintage patterns. Alas, as nice as those dresses turn out, I end up not wearing them a lot. When I sew my own stuff, it is actually very modern and doesn't look vintage at all. But I find vintage patterns much more interesting than new ones, and while I might only take one little seam as an inspiration for a new garment, you could still say it is vintage inspired...

  5. I really like vintage styles, but the few times I've tried vintage patterns, I've found the fit to be very odd, inconsistent, and just WAY too much work to get right. I'm so spoiled by the great fit of modern magazine patterns that I just can't be bothered sewing much vintage anymore. And 90% of vintage patterns are dresses, I swear, and they only make up about 20% of what I wear. So if there were more vintage patterns for, oh, knit tops, jeans, cropped jackets, and silk blouses, then I'd probably be tempted to sew more of them.

  6. I started buying vintage patterns about 10 years ago on ebay but never got around to making them, and then the vintage-sewing explosion happened and I keep pulling them out and putting them back away. I'm sort of on the fence about vintage-style, partly because I don't dress formally very much and partly because I think it's an age thing; it has a type of irony and experimentation that I feel less drawn toward as I get older. But I do like some of the style elements and it's almost easier to figure them into a newer pattern (or my own). Also, I get frustrated with the construction and am always trying to modernize/industrialize my techniques--I'm not romantic about hand-sewing and vintage sewing techniques...

  7. The only "vintage" patterns I've used are 70s patterns. 60s styles don't much appeal to me and 50s styles don't really suit my figure, plus 70s patterns, unlike anything older, can be found readily for very cheap at a thrift shop near me ;). (I notice that a lot of the details I love in 70s patterns are inspired by 30s styles, but the 70s versions are much more available, affordable, and easier to adapt to my daily life, so I don't think I'll be hunting down any 30s patterns. I wouldn't turn up my nose if one found me, mind you...)

    I can certainly see the appeal of sewing with vintage patterns (and techniques ;) ), especially if you're drawn to that particular era's fashion. On the other hand, I can also see the appeal of drafting your own and adding the elements (vintage or otherwise) that appeal to you.

  8. I have a few 1970s Simplicity patterns. I bought them because I was looking for certain styles that I couldn't find in the current pattern catalogues, but I think I went for Simplicity ones in particular because the 70s ones have appealing envelope art with strong colours and outlines. Modern pattern illustrations always seem to be done in a delicate, washed-out style which I don't like so much.

    But normally I stick to sewing modern patterns. I like looking at styles of the 40s and 50s but don't enjoy wearing them.

  9. Although my degree is in fashion design, I tend to buy patterns and go from there rather than drafting my own. I might make my own if I ever could be bothered to make myself a block. The other thing I like about the old patterns is the little ingenious design features and techniques that I would never think to do myself. I love the construction features that I probably would overlook.

    When I was in school and drafting my own patterns, I do recall looking to old movies from the thirties and the forties for inspiration. My senior collection was inspired by Schiaperelli and I was wild about everything retro. I guess I still am.