Storing Vintage Sewing Patterns

Nina Ricci
Nina Ricci

Long term care and preservation of vintage sewing patterns require three major considerations:

Make it Acid-Free!

Spray sewing patterns with Krylon Make it Acid-Free Spray before making any necessary repairs to damaged sewing patterns. This removes paper deteriorating acids from the papers.
To repair rips and tears use an archival safe tape like Lineco Document Repair Tape or use an archival glue like Lineco Neutral pH Adhesive.

Keep the storage area clean, cool, dust-free, humidity-free, uncluttered and dimly lit.

Control probable contaminates in the storage area by keeping the room clean and the air fresh and free flowing.

If storing patterns in a basement or attic change the furnace filter regularly and clean the air ducts periodically.

Purchase a dehumidifier to take moisture out of the air and keep the room smelling fresh.

Ideally, humidity levels should be approximately 35% and below 72 F.

If a dehumidifier isn’t available add a floor fan to the room.

The point is to keep the air flowing freely throughout the room.

It’s better to not store patterns in the basement, but many of us don’t have the necessary room or storage in our homes to avoid doing so.

In that case it’s better to store the patterns in an appropriate container along the inside walls of the room. The inside walls are generally drier than the outside walls because moisture tends to collect along the outside walls of a basement or attic.

Care in Storage
Why is care important?

  • To protect patterns from oxidation and acid hydrolysis it’s vital to store your patterns properly.
  • Extreme temperatures and humidity will destroy the papers that vintage patterns are made of byway of discoloration and dampness.
  • Dust and dirt speed up deterioration.
  • Insects and rodents can spoil and destroy a collection of patterns.
    Mildew and mold are harmful to humans and just about everything (except cheese) crossing its path.
  • Take care of your stash by storing vintage sewing patterns in metal pattern cabinets, if available, because they won’t leach acids or other corrosive chemical.

Preparing sewing patterns for storage

  • Check the pattern paper for acid using a acid checking marker. If the pattern is printed on acidic paper remove the acid from the pattern and pieces using an acid removal spray.
  • Place the pattern on top of an acid-free cardboard backer. The cardboard acts as a protective barrier between the pattern in front and in back of it. It also helps preserve the shape of the pattern itself.
  • Place the pattern and the backer in un-coated archival quality plastic. No zip-lock bags.
  • Place the pattern in your storage container in an upright position. Continue the process until the drawer is filled loosely with sewing patterns.
  • Add a silicon packet to each container to help absorb moisture and humidity in the air.
  • Store the pattern drawers in a cool, dry location.


Dating Vintage Sewing Patterns

Dating Vintage Sewing Patterns might become just a bit frustrating, if you’re not willing to put in a wee bit of effort.  To make it simple though-know despite even your best efforts-you may not be able to date vintage patterns without guesstimating in the end.

For the most part, the oldest sewing patterns aren’t dated because at the time makers didn’t believe it was important to date patterns or the envelopes-just it just wasn’t done.

Luckily for all of us-this is most vintage sewing patterns are in the public domain today.

Vintage Butterick

First, check the sewing pattern over completely. If there is a date most likely it’s located on the pattern envelope’s front, back, pattern flap or on the guide sheet.

Even though some sewing patterns, in particular apron patterns, were manufactured over a span of years, postage stamps are good sources of information when it comes to dating.

Check with the USPS for more information on dating mail stamps.

Pattern manufacturers often advertised in newspapers, books and pattern catalogs (for example, McCall’s and Vogue Pattern Books). Skim books and use the pattern number and manufacturer as starting points when researching old newspaper archives, books and magazines.


Take note of the magazine’s publishing dates and any other information included ads that may offer hints.

The most unlikely tools I’ve come across when investing pattern dates come from items tucked inside sewing patterns I’ve picked up at estate sells.  Buttons, fabric remnants, old store receipts and newspaper clippings provide a wealth of information.

Google has a patent database. Check it out to see what information you can uncover byway of generic searches for sewing patterns by manufacturer and number.

Over time makers changed the appearance of their sewing pattern envelopes to attract buyers. Illustrations, photographs, drawings, font, fashion styles (and even the colors and information) on the front and back of patterns offer hints on dates. Use similarities and differences of the same pattern manufacturers over a span of years or the same years to get clues.

Price is helpful in dating patterns.  Lower priced patterns tend to be the oldest; however vintage Vogue had prices as high as a 1.00 in the 1920s-be careful.

Designer vintage sewing patterns manufactured in conjunction with well-known fashion designers of the time can help decipher dates, but it gets tricky.

For example- French designer, Jean Patou died in 1936, but his designs were featured on Vogue sewing patterns in the 50s and 60s. Most likely, in this case Patou sewing patterns will not date earlier than the 50-60s—leaning most favorably towards the 1960s.  Vogue is the only manufacturer of Patou patterns–and didn’t begin its lines featuring well-known designers until the 50s-60s.

The point is- use the designer information to a limited degree in conjunction other research.

In the end it might be virtually impossible to determine a date exactly, but with a little work and research you can come up with a good educated guess.

Vintage Sewing and Patternmaking Books

Dress Design
Dress Design

When you’re in the mood for a good read, an old sewing book probably isn’t the first book that comes to mind.

BUT–they can be comforting.  Maybe you should give them a second look.

Here’s why:

Authors weren’t afraid of sharing information or their skills.

Creative Clothing Construction
Creative Clothing Construction

Back in the day authors didn’t over promote brands or self. They were about sewing, teaching the art and mastering the skill of the art.

The very best vintage/antique sewing books are old college textbooks offering lessons and suggestions on etiquette, makeup, beauty, and fashion.  Those providing little extra “helping aids”: templates, scale drawings, full-size patterns and instructions for making sewing tools.

Most are filled with pages of pages illustrations, charts, photographs, drawings and plates.

They may not be easy to find and not necessarily inexpensive, but vintage sewing books are worth their weight in gold.

Intended primarily as a college textbook on pattern making and dress design using flat pattern methods, Practical Dress Design: Principles of Fitting and Pattern Making (1954) by Mabel D. Erwin is a gem.

Hardback with 16 complete chapters covering foundation patterns to the principles of dressmaking, Practical Dress Design is perfect for the dressmaker or individual with an addiction to vintage silhouettes or anyone interested in making their own designs.

Creative Clothing Construction (1966) by Allyne Bane isn’t written (according to the preface) for those wanting a quick and easy method to sewing. Sewing is serious business and Creative Clothing Construction stresses taking time to master the art. More than 300 pages of text and 28 chapters of relevant sewing information are included.

Smart Sewing: The Making of Clothing by Catherine Doer (1967), focuses on clothing construction and is for those wanting to make smart well-made clothing.  It’s a complete guide to how-to sewing.

Pattern Making: A Clear and Easy Guide (1975) by Norma R. Hollen is a simple, but complete illustrative guide to flat pattern making. Photographic illustrations. 16 chapters.

Designing Apparel through the Flat Pattern, Ernestine Kopp, Vittorina Rolfo, and Beatrice Zelin, hardback book containing more than 345 pages and 11 chapters.

Flat Pattern Design (1972) by Allyn Bane. Simply put–it’s “simply marvelous”.

Shorthand Fashion Sketches (1966) by Patricia L. Rowe. Tracing and coloring in lame illustrations–then calling them fashion and design illustrations-is remedial. Anyone truly interested in learning how to make and draw fashion illustrations should get their hands on this how-to and highly illustrative book.  It is THE BEST.

Dress Design: Draping and Flat Pattern Making, by Marion Hillhouse and Evelyn Mansfield (1948) explains in detail the principles of draping on a dress form, the principles of flat pattern designing from a master pattern block and the dependence of successful flat pattern making on the  understanding of draping. Seven chapters and more than 300 pages.

Dress Design: Draping and Flat Pattern Makingthe introduction states “the purpose of this book is to put into your hands in one complete package the means of attaining one of the happiest experience of a woman’s everyday life. Sewing, when it is done with skill and confidence, can be exactly that, for it can mean the satisfaction of family needs and wishes through the work of your own hands.”

Precision Draping: A Simple Method for Developing Talent (1948), by Nelle Weymouth Link. A beautiful book on draping.

Go find them! Hopefully, these little tidbits provided are enough to get your curiosity going.