Monday, March 23, 2009

Mail Order Vintage Patterns

I learned to sew when I was 11 and I've been obsessed ever since! I did everything I could to learn more about sewing especially since my mom did not sew. I took free classes, joined a sewing club after school, and took every sewing class that I could in junior and high school...and of course, I read the local newspaper.

Because back when I was growing up, there was a "Family" section in the local newspaper. This section is now called, "Home and Garden," and it contained the recipes, home decorating tips, fashion articles, comics and of course the sewing columns.

It was the sewing column along with the mail order patterns that were featured next to that column that fascinated me. The Sunday edition of the paper was the best because it had the longest column and usually the prettiest pattern, sometimes even two were shown!

My local paper was, "The Star Ledger" and when I was younger, Louise Farmer wrote the sewing column. In later years, the sewing column was written by Sandra Betzina...but back to those mail order patterns that fascinated me so both then and now. You could get a pattern for 50 cents and a self-addressed envelope. Of course, I only purchased one every now and again because I had to use my allowance and because they featured girls' patterns only occasionally. But it was amazing to see the different styles featured weekly and imagine how wonderful it would be to make something from one of them.

That fascination has carried over for me as an adult...especially since I now know that I can still purchase some of those mail order patterns. I have tried to be discerning and only buy the ones that I believe I will actually use...however, my heart still beats a little faster whenever I run across one on the vintage pattern sites or on Ebay.

That's how this last bunch came to reside with me...Ebay! I don't really have much time to troll Ebay because it can be quite a time suck and I need to guard my precious sewing time! But I was enticed by an email containing a list of patterns with zero bids. Yes, I bit, but boy am I glad that I did!

These arrived in the mail last week:

Besides the fact that they were plus size patterns they also featured interesting design features. But I have to tell you, mail order pattern instructions are really just a step up from BWOF instructions...except they at least contain a few pictures of the construction process. Take this one for example:

Yeap, that's it. That little square of the bottom half of the instruction sheet are the instructions for the dress pattern. I even flipped the sheet over hoping for more...but no, that's it! *LOL* It is however, full of information and more complicated techniques than a pattern of today...but 1/2 of a pattern instruction sheet!

Of the three that arrived, I really would like to make the dress. No stretch of the imagination there right? And the jacket...I don't know about the third pattern but I'm not kicking it out of the pattern collection! *LOL*

So even though I'm not mind is still thinking about it! Hopefully soon...


  1. Carolyn,
    I remember very well the sewing column you describe. It ran in my local paper also. My mom and her sisters always would cut out the pictures for inspiration and the column for tips. There would also be knitting and crocheting patterns. There were so many more people that sewed back then. I'm happy that we are keeping the craft alive today. Thanks for a "trip" down memory lane!

  2. Congrats on your ebay win. Those are awesome patterns. I remember those newspaper patterns too. They always seemed to be next to some crochet patterns that you could order as well.

  3. The Star Ledger, Virginia Beach area maybe? That was the name of the paper in Norfolk when we were stationed there. I remember seeing mail order offers, too, in the paper in Houston. My mom said the older patterns have the condensed instructions since more people knew how to sew, many things were assumed. They look like the instructions for some of the 40's patterns.

  4. Eunice Farmer? From St. Louis?

    She came to Peoria for Sew Special one year, with her daughter; I think she was probably about retirement age then...

  5. I am just getting into vintage patterns and I have ordered quite a few over the last couple of months. I have a few of the mail order ones you mentioned. I hope they will be easy to figure out once I get around to sewing them. And yes, I have literally spent hours at a time looking at all the vintage patterns on Ebay LOL!

  6. I couldn't help but grin when you mentioned the lack of instruction on the pattern sheet. I'm doing my MA in an area of history of dress at a Canadian university with a good-sized clothing and textiles collection (approx 20,000 artefects). In the compacter unit there is one whole aisle of sewing patterns. These range in date from late 19th century to current. I used to volunteer there, and did a lot with accessioning patterns, so became familiar with the collection. Besides wanting about one of everything (we have one collection of 645 unused McCall's patterns dating from 1918-1923: the are AMAZING) I noticed a progression through time. Not only did sizing change, but so did the amount of instruction. Nineteenth century patterns has no instructions, just the pattern - on unprinted tissue. Early 20th century ones (1900ish-1930ish) gave the instructions on the back of the envelope, no separate sheets. From about the 1940s on (when there were instruction sheets, at first called "Deltor"s - don't ask me why) instructions became increasingly detailed and explicit until today you have "Sewing for Dummies" patterns.

    Sorry for the long-windedness of this, but I found it really fascinating the way one could chronicle the widespread popularity of sewing, and its gradual decline (hopefully on an upward trend again now) through commercial pattern instructions.

    Since I haven't been able to really sew on my machine since last June (hardcore MA project of too much handsewing got in the way) I've been medicating myself bu buying vintage patterns online, and have gotten a number of mail order ones - I can't wait till I can start using them this June!

  7. I don't remember a sewing column in the local paper (which would have been the Detroit Free Press). That doesn't mean there wasn't one! I do remember ads for these patterns. The ladies in the ads always seemed so sleek and put-together.

  8. Oh, this memory made me yearn for the "good old days"--but just for a moment or two! My grandmother was a professional seamstress. She didn't use purchased patterns for years. Back in her day, they didn't really need instructions, because they made their own patterns, and knew how things went together. We are so spoiled!

  9. You pattern trio has some very nice styles. We had the same pattern column in the Pittsburgh paper when I was growing up, but I always thought the styles were old fashioned looking compared to the Vogue patterns my mother sewed from at the time. Now I have quite a few of them myself because I find the styles to be classic and timeless. Looking forward to seeing the creations you make from your patterns.

  10. This was a fun post and thread to read!
    Growing up in SoFlo we didn't have sewing info in our papers. Soon we won't have printed papers at all. Many going out of business.
    I love to see really old patterns. They're like gold.

  11. I remember those patterns in the paper when I was a little girl. They were only in the Sunday edition. I looked for them before any other part of the paper. Like you I was only able to buy few, but I still have them and cherish them.

  12. very oldschool, very classy

  13. I still have copies of the Susan Betzina column in my sewing binder. I recently made a welt pocket and I have her article "10 minute welt pocket" I didn't use it but it was helpful, yep those were the good old days.

  14. Hi, Carolyn.I would be glad to send you some old patterns. I have been sewing since an early age too. My patterns would be from the 60's on. I was just going to throw them away. Send me mailing

  15. I know what you mean, there's just something about those vintage patterns. When I was pregnant I bought vintage and made myself some of the cutest angel wing tops, and big wide turtleneck dresses. I loved it!

  16. Carolyn, I don't mess with ebay. Too time consuming and I've had some problems with stuff I've bought. I go to Lanetz Living every day to see the gallery of new patterns and to search for specific ones. It just takes a few minutes to watch the gallery, and it's always inspiring and fun!


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