In terms of clothing and sewing patterns, the word “antique” usually refers to an item that is more than 100 years old. Vintage, however, is a little more openly defined. A vintage item can be anything less than 100 years old. It’s really subjective and basically depends on the person using the word.
For a teen, “vintage” might refer to a piece of clothing from the 1990s. To a middle-aged person, “vintage” might refer to the 1970s. So when talk about vintage patterns here, there are a lot of years covered in that terminology.
There are a number of reasons a person might want a vintage pattern. Maybe it brings back memories (like the caftan I mention below). Or maybe it is the perfect pattern for your need. Maybe you like the retro look or recall the great fit of that blazer or skirt you made 20 years ago.
Where To Find Vintage Sewing Patterns
If you are looking for a specific pattern, start by searching for it online by its description if you can’t recall its exact name. If you know the pattern publisher, that’s an even bigger help. If your search does not turn up any results, have no fear — there are plenty of online places to search for your vintage pattern (or simply browse vintage patterns to find one you love).
Search Amazon key words “vintage clothing sewing patterns” and just see what comes up! I was surprised to see that the first item I ever made by myself — a caftcan by Simplicity — was there. Simplicity has actually started a vintage pattern line. The patterns themselves are new but they are based on vintage designs.
Butterick patterns, also available on Amazon, have a “Retro” pattern line. Like the Simplicity “Vintage” patterns, the Butterick “Retro” patterns are based on popular designs from the past, like this dress and jacket from 1952.
It’s true — you can find just about anything on eBay. Vintage patterns are certainly no exception. If you know the pattern name or number, you can create a very specific search. Otherwise, start broad then narrow down. For instance, start with “vintage pattern” then move on to “vintage dress pattern” or “vintage dress pattern 1980,” or “vintage formal dress pattern 1980s.” Adding descriptors can help or hinder your search depending entirely on how the seller describes the pattern. Your search may take some time, but you may just find the exact pattern you’re looking for on eBay!
There are a lot of vintage pattern sellers on Etsy.com. Sometimes when I’m not looking for something specific, I still drop by the site just to browse and take a trip down memory lane. The patterns from the 1970s bring back so many great memories of my childhood, when my mother and grandmother used to make much of my clothing. (A less fond memory: how scratchy 1970s polyester was!)
If you’re looking for patterns published before the 1960s and 1970s, this is your website! The seller collects vintage patterns and resells them. Old Patterns’ categories are broken down into Women’s, Men’s, Crafts/Costumes, and Children’s.
5. Vintage Sewing Pattern Company
A group of vintage fashion lovers created the business together and the work to resize and recreate the vintage designs that were so loved. You can search Vintage Sewing Pattern Company’s website using the tabs at the top of the page: Women’s, Men’s & Boys, Infants, and Eras. They also offer a blog and share information about the history of fashion and pattern companies. Some of their patterns are even downloadable PDFs.
6. Vintage Stitching
Vintage Stitching offers patterns from the 1940s through the 1970s from major US pattern manufacturers — Butterick, Simplicity, and McCall’s.
7. Yard Sales/Estate Sales/Thrift Stores
You might be surprised at how many patterns you can find while perusing yard sales, estate sales, or your local thrift stores. Examine the pattern closely before buying it. Make sure the envelope is in good condition. If it is missing, make sure the directions are all there. Also take a look at the pattern pieces. Are they all accounted for, too? If the pattern is for clothing, make sure to compare the pattern’s size by its measurements (printed on the back of the envelope or in the directions) to make sure its vintage size will fit you or the person for whom you are sewing it.
Make sure there are no insects in the pattern envelopes. You don’t want to create a bug problem at home just by bringing in a vintage pattern!
Tips for Buying Vintage Sewing Patterns
- If buying from an online seller, ask if any pattern pieces are missing, or if the pattern has already been cut out.
- Also ask to see the pattern’s size chart. Sizes today are different than they were 20 or more years ago.
- Pay attention to the details of the back of the pattern envelope. There’s a lot of information there, including how much fabric to buy to make the item. Ask the seller if the back is still intact and readable if you cannot see the entire pattern envelop in the seller’s description.
- You can also find vintage craft patterns from the sellers listed above. If you had a homemade rag doll, it may well have come from this pattern. Some of my own favorite Christmas memories came from this McCall’s craft pattern. If you bought these patterns during their original release, chances are that you could also find the very fabric featured on their pattern envelopes. Don’t expect to find the same fabric today. While patterns may be timeless, fabric trends and trimmings change.
- If you have looked everywhere but still cannot locate the original pattern you desire, contact the pattern company. To do this, you will need to know the pattern number and have a description of it. The good news is that even if you cannot find the pattern online, you can usually find an image of the old pattern envelope that will give you the pattern number and date of publication. With that info, you can contact the pattern company to see if they can direct you to a vintage seller or to see if they have old patterns in stock for sale.