I’ve wanted to do some posts for a few months now on how I use patterns. I very rarely make anything “on pattern”, or exactly how the pattern suggests. Being able to adjust for fit and omitting a feature that just isn’t working for you are some of the best things about sewing for yourself. I think this is true for most sewists, and pretty common. I like to take this one step further and use multiple patterns to build a completely new look. The first step in doing this is finding patterns with designs and details you can apply to your own ideas.
I have a lot of patterns, but I don’t own very many modern patterns at all, keeping my focus mostly toward vintage. In browsing patterns, I’ve found that those circa 1970’s and earlier are usually much more interesting than contemporary patterns. My theory is that as home sewing fell out of style, the pattern companies tried to dumb things down, making their designs more and more simple, less and less fashion-forward, resulting in frumpy, boring looks. There are certainly exceptions, and companies like Colette Patterns are leading the move towards higher-quality designs, but by and large, vintage patterns have much more interesting style lines and techniques than what I’ve seen in the file drawers of JoAnn. Just my experience.
You can always find fun vintage patterns on Etsy and eBay, but I’m cheap and rarely, if ever, looking for anything specific. I have found dozens and dozens of amazing patterns at thrift shops, never paying more than .50cents/pattern. My first, and often only stop, at any thrift shop is the the pattern section. I go a few times a month, even when I have nothing in mind to sew. Now in all honesty, the majority of pattern choices at the thrift stores are, well, crap. Jumpers and basic a-line skirts, MC Hammer pants, and boxer shorts, you know, the cast offs from Home Ec classes through the ages. But if I keep digging, I’ve never once walked away without a vintage find. The trick is to not look at the complete look, but to look for interesting style lines.
I collect patterns, but think more of it as collecting details. My goal in shopping for thrifted patterns is to find a technique or design I don’t currently have in my collection. For the most part, I ignore sizes, I ignore completed looks. I’m just looking for a design feature I don’t already have in my collection. Even if it’s kind of funky, if it’s unique and interesting, I go for it. Here are a few examples…
The yokes in this pattern are really fun, it has funky pockets, and even includes some sweet embroidery transfers.
Another fun yoke design. These bib looks aren’t completely my style, but I grabbed the pattern because I thought it was interesting
Some awesome 70s fashion. My sister had asked me to make a shirt like one she’d seen in a catalogue, with a cross-your-heart type of structure around the chest, and I found this pattern by chance a few weeks later. Plus, it’s “extra carefree”!
This pattern is one of my most modern patterns, pretty sure from the ‘80s, though I can’t find a date on it. I bought it for the drawstring and casing. I don’t love it at the shoulders, but thought for 50 cents, it would be good to have in my collection for any future projects where I may want an encased drawstring. I also like the cuffs of the sleeve on View D.
I could go on and on. Each of my thrifted patterns was purchased because there was a feature, a detail, a technique that I found interesting and wanted to have on-hand for if and when I wanted to employ that specific detail into a completely different look. With dozens of patterns in my collection, I can almost always find the instructions and pattern pieces for nearly any detail I’m trying to work into a design. Or at least something close enough that I can figure out the rest on my own.
Next week I’ll show you how I actually combine patterns, take details from patterns, and generally use patterns as building blocks and infrastructure to execute my own designs, and make them work for me. In the mean time, we have some amazing guest bloggers lined up this week and a giveaway coming, too!