5 Vintage Sewing Pattern Tips to Help You Effectively Wear the Past

5 Vintage Sewing Pattern Tips to Help You Effectively Wear the Past

Vintage sewing patterns are a world unto themselves, but you’ve got this. Consider the size, follow the seam allowance and trace for your life!

Sewing has been a popular pastime for hundreds of years – and it doesn’t just have to be something that your grandmother does. Although if you’re working with vintage sewing patterns, maybe you’re trying to recreate the feeling that your grandmother felt!

Working with vintage sewing patterns is a little different to working with most of the patterns we see today. These five key tips will help you can make the best out of whatever vintage patterns that you’ve got to work with.

Tips for Working with Vintage Sewing Patterns

Consider the Size

Times change, and so do the sizing standards for sewing patterns. Just like the size and shape of older clothes tend to differ from newer ones in thrift stores, you can be sure that many of the patterns in use decades ago were different as well.

You can’t just jump into vintage sewing patterns willy nilly. It can be counterproductive to use the original dimensions included, because clothes nowadays are a bit smaller (or larger, if you’re going right back to the Roaring Twenties).

First, make sure that the size is actually appropriate to you or whoever you’re sewing for. You’ll probably have to make some adjustments before you actually get to work on the pattern.

vintage evening dress

Vintage evening dress by Ana de Pombo for Jeanne Paquin, CC BY-SA 4.0

You also need to consider that most vintage patterns are only made for a single size. If you’re planning to make multiple garments, you’re going to have to make some extra adjustments each time. Make sure you measure the pattern with a ruler or something so you can figure out the size of the bust, the waist width, and the hip circumference.

Follow the Seam Allowance

Vintage sewing patterns usually have the seam allowances defined by whoever made the pattern – that means there was no standard. This means it’s important for you to figure out how much allowance you have!

Typically, ranges varied from 3/8” to 5/8” and that’s not much compared to what we usually work with today.  You’ll have to compensate because if you don’t follow the seam allowance then the design isn’t going to align properly and you’ll be left with improper designs and a garment that doesn’t fit the way that you want it to.

Consider the Ease

In days past, clothes were meant to be tighter fitting around the waist and a little bit looser around the bust. That means that there are probably going to be significant differences in the ease allowances when compared to patterns that you see nowadays.

The best way to work around this is to make sure that you measure the patterns up against your own measurements. This way you’ll be able to determine whether or not you’re using too much or too little.

Nowadays, a good bust ease is about 2.5 or 3”, whereas the waist should have about 1” if you’re fitting it tightly.


One of the best ways to make sure you get the most out of your old-school patterns is to trace them so you have another copy. A lot of older sewing patterns are made with very thin material, and the older they get the more fragile they get. Using them further weakens them, so it’s important to make some copies.

Make sure you don’t directly pin the pattern to the fabric you’re tracing onto because you might rip it. The easiest way to do this is to just overlay it with a piece of tracing paper so you can trace over them. This also allows you to make your own changes to the pattern so you can adjust the measurements and add things or take things away.

Master the Ancient Techniques

One of the most obvious yet easily overlooked things is that you’re going to want to adopt some vintage sewing tactics. Since you’re working with patterns that were developed in an age where different sewing techniques reigned supreme, you’re going to want to adjust your technique.

If you can find instructions that were written for the particular type of pattern that you’re using, then follow them. You should still be able to make adjustments to compensate for the sizes of the pattern.

Remember that older patterns were made when people didn’t have access to fancy sewing machines like we do now. That’s not to say that we can’t learn to use a sewing machine with these patterns – it just means that you’ll have to adjust the way you work with them.

Finally, look up for vintage sewing labels on Etsy and sew or embroider in your name or business name. These vintage sewing labels will make your sewing piece truly unique.

In conclusion

Just because something’s old doesn’t mean it’s not viable. In the case of vintage sewing patterns, this is oh-so true. Some of the older vintage designs can be used to make clothes that you just can’t find nowadays. If you learn to master the techniques necessary to create them, you’ll be on top of your game for making vintage-looking clothes.

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