Monday, September 5, 2011

Vintage for me, too?

Vintage and vintage inspired fashions are taking over.  Pattern companies are re-releasing patterns from their archives in more modern sizing.  Modern sizing?  Yes!  Measurements are everything with vintage patterns, even children's patterns.  Somewhere around the late seventies to early eighties, they redid the sizing, adding more ease and generally making sizes bigger.  So a 1934 toddler 2 is smaller than, say, a 1989 toddler 2.  While there are small differences between toddler/girl/and child patterns (all easily adjusted) I'm not going to talk about those today.

Instead, let's talk about the differences between modern little girl dresses and vintage.  Aside from sizing,(they fit closer to the body and actually fir Bit better) there aren't actually many differences between modern and vintage dresses.  Difference #1--the hemline. 

Bit is in size 3s now.  Well, close enough.  :) She's actually in between, which means that 2s aren't going to fit for much longer, so 3s are the order of the day!

Simplicity 1703 is one of my next dress patterns for her.  It's from the 50s, which means twirly skirts (which she loves).  But it will have to be adjusted.  The finished length for this dress is 17 inches.  Sounds short, doesn't it? 

Especially when you compare it to Butterick 4054, which is a modern pinafore dress.  Aside from the fact that the vintage pattern is much more interesting, ;) the length is vastly different!  The finished length for this one is 24 inches.  Granted, it's tea length, but that's a huge difference from the 17 of it's vintage counterpart.

For knee length, Bit needs 22-23 inch dresses.  Yeah, she's taller than average.  :)  I'd be lengthening most things anyway, and to be perfectly honest, there's just more variety in vintage than modern!

Difference #2-- neckline.  Vintage patterns tend to have smaller, more closed-in necklines than modern.  My usual solution is to simply cut off the seam allowances to open the neck up enough that she doesn't feel like she's being choked.

Difference #3--this one you have to watch for!  Up until the late 70s-early80s, patterns came in one size per envelope.  Personally, I think it was a ploy to sell more patterns.  ;)   So if you're lucky, you can find the pattern you want in the size you need.  Otherwise, you may have to learn how to grade a pattern up or down.

Difference #4--the hem.  Most modern patterns have a 1.5 inch hem allowance. Vintage, though, a 3 inch hem isn't uncommon.  Since dresses were the order of the day, they gave generous allowances for the hem so it could be let down as the child got taller.

Difference #5-- seam allowances.  This is where you have to look at the admittedly brief instructions.  Modern patterns tend to have a 5/8 seam allowance, but that's not always true with vintage.   Take the Hollywood dress I made earlier this summer--

The seam allowance on it was 1/2 inch.  Since the fit is closer, if I'd gone with the usual for modern patterns, even that much would have made it too small!  I'm not saying that your seams have to be perfect, but quilting has taught me that going over the requisite amount is generally a bad idea!

Difference #6-- variety.  Most dress patterns are some kind of yoke dress.  But by going vintage, you have about 80 years worth of patterns to choose from.  Since the 1930s, styles for little girls' dresses haven't changed that much.  Oh, drop waists came in and out, shapeless a-lines were queen, circle skirts took over and ruled the roost.  But since dresses were a wardrobe staple, there were more interesting patterns released.

I got started sewing vintage for the Bit last spring because I stumbled across a pattern that I just had to have.  It was from about 1946.  At the time it seemed surreal to me that I was making a pattern for my baby niece that my aunt could have worn!  I will admit that some look dated, but not all of them do.  :) I'm attracted to pretty, interesting, and different.  I didn't start out being a pattern collector (I can hear my collection jeering at me now!) but I pick up patterns that I'd like to make.  And they're vintage more often than not!


  1. This is really useful information, especially since as you mention, some vintage patterns have precious little information. But they are so much more interesting and worth it!