Most of us have seen boxes of old patterns in our grandparents’ attics or at yard sales, but have you ever considered putting them to use? For those who are interested in doing just that, Vintage Patterns Wikia has posted over 84,000 out-of-print patterns from before 1990 in a searchable archive. Not all viewable patterns are available for purchase, but the crowd-sourced database is growing each day. Visitors can search by all sorts of categories – decade, garment type, designer, or vendor. You can also view projects that have been completed by other visitors.
If you find yourself in possession of a vintage pattern that you want to use, it is important to take several things into consideration. Many older patterns are extremely fragile and their paper envelopes may be delicate. Take care to remove and spread them out and NEVER cut from the original pattern; you risk damaging the delicate paper and ruining your entire project. Carefully trace each piece onto pattern paper and store the vintage patterns in their original envelopes or other sturdier folders.
Older patterns also use different terminology and read differently from modern-day commercial patterns. This article is a great resource on how to decode and clarify instructions and terms used on vintage patterns. Keep in mind that sizing can be very different on modern patterns than on older ones. Do not cut your normal, modern-day size without first carefully examining the measurements on the original. Vintage patterns are known to sew up smaller than modern patterns. (If necessary, you can refer to Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns for assistance with modifications.)
The Vintage Sewing Pattern Wikia is still a growing database with a large collection of patterns and original envelopes to view and some resources available to purchase those patterns. Their goal is to create a massive one-stop-shop for patterns 25-years old or older. Members can help to grow the resource by posting their own pattern photos, reviews and tips for making garments, and linking to sellers who can provide original patterns. To find out if a pattern is available for purchase, click on the pattern link in the wiki and scroll down for information on the vendor who sells the item you are interested in. Not all patterns are yet available. You can also browse the member community and see finished garments made from available patterns. There is a forum of makers who discuss sources, techniques, and memories of garments past. Visit their starter’s guide to learn how to contribute to the database.
There are dozens of vendors for vintage patterns and original patternmakers will often sell reproductions if you are not up for the unique challenge of navigating vintage garment instructions. The wiki provides links to a number of reputable sellers for those interested in working with originals. For those who just want to window shop, click here for hours of reminiscing and daydreaming of wearing that perfect Katherine Hepburn pant or Ginger Rogers dress. As it continues to grow, this wiki is a resource you can return to again and again for inspiration.