Remember Those Sewing Pattern Books?

Since old sewing patterns were always the leftovers at my guild’s sales, I was surprised to find that some people actually buy and sell them. I came across the Vintage Pattern Wiki that has 83,500+ patterns you can browse by garment type, decade, or designer. Their definition of vintage – 1992 and older – took me aback as my definition starts a few decades before 1992.

I haven’t actually used a paper pattern for sewing for a long while. No, I’m wrong. I used a paper pattern to make my silk vest. But, with that one exception, I can’t remember the last time I sat down at the fabric store and whiled away an hour or so looking through the Butterwick, McCalls, Simplicity, and Vogue pattern books.  So, it was quite the memory lane experience to look through this wiki.

I can’t believe the wiki has 92 pages of jumpsuit patterns. That’s right, jumpsuits – those impossible to use the bathroom without getting undressed “liberated” items of female clothing. I remember a nifty knee length number I made with a back zipper.

Stretch knit, held up with one tie. Figure flattering, I’m sure.

How could any seamstress go wrong with that bias cut large plaid?

For the devoted 1970s couple, his and her jumpsuits. Love his turtleneck.

Continuing with fashions that should never see the light of day again, here are my choices for best of the worst.

Nothing says the 1960s like a dashiki pattern.

If you want to make a fool of a man, sew up this intrepid explorer number.


That romper seems to be right off the “Three’s Company” set.

What was with those enormously oversized jackets?

This military inspired jacket looks great for smuggling small animals through customs.

I did find some I actually liked. In fact, it was hard to restrain myself from showing countless more. None are from the 1980s.

Deep pleated high waist trousers from 1937. Don’t know about the head gear, though.


A 1957 cocktail dress with deep shawl collar, back bow and burst of pleats.

Another 1950s full skirted dress. Check out the tiny waist and gored pleats.

A 1934 confection that would be wonderful in silk chiffon.

A wedding gown straight from 1963.

Pattern companies have been using celebrities to lend glamour to their work for decades.

An Edith Head suit complete with 3/4 length, fur trimmed jacket sleeves.

You could look like Claudette Colbert with this pattern. I see that a size 16 had a 34 inch bust in those days. The wedding gown pattern from 1963 shows a size 14 with a 34 inch bust. The fashion industry has been working for decades to convince us we’re a smaller size than we really are.

I should point out that the Vintage Pattern Wiki is designed to help sell old patterns, not to amuse the likes of me. If you want to buy old patterns, you can also find many on Etsy, which is where I came across this quintessential 1980s gem.




Filed under Commentary

16 responses to “Remember Those Sewing Pattern Books?

  1. That was great! Makes me want to sew garments again…almost 😉

  2. Love this post! I still have my original first edition copy of the “Illustrated Hassle-Free Make Your Own Clothes Book” from 1971. Was just thinking about it today, as a matter of fact.

    • I shudder to think of all the two hours or less patterns I whipped up, and how wrong I was in many of my pattern choices. I wonder if the hassle free in the book’s title was truth in advertising.

  3. Rebecca in SoCal

    What fun! I looked up the definition of “vintage” and top hit was 30-100 years. That does make the 80’s up next! Oh boy…Flashdance, Dynasty, big shoulders…what is IN the shoulders of New Look 6714 (the military-inspired jacket)?

    I just couldn’t refrain from making a peace sign when seeing the dashiki.

    I’ve been perusing sewing (garment) blogs recently, and am seeing that caftans seem to be making a comeback (or maybe I have a skewed perspective). I have seen references to looking like you’re about to board your yacht, but I keep seeing Mrs. Roper. ;-P

  4. Wow, this was a trip down memory lane! It is interesting to see the changes through the years and learn about the Wiki site, thank you. I really enjoyed your relatable commentary. The last purchased pattern I used was for a Obi-Wan Kenobi Comic-con costume for one of my adult kids. The best use of old patterns I’ve seen lately was someone using them in a layered mixed media artwork.

  5. 46eileen

    My heavens. I actually made clothing from some of those patterns. What a hoot.

  6. Barbara

    You really lived up to your moniker “snarky” with this post –I love it!!

  7. If you haven’t looked at pattern books in awhile the thing I noticed was the price of the patterns you showed. I’m dating myself by saying I remember paying less than $5 for a pattern that now sells for $30 – $45 in he current pattern books. Looks like sizes aren’t the only thing that they are trying to change for everyone.

    • And if I recall, each pattern now is one size for all. You have to cut the pattern out on the lines for your size. Vogue patterns were always more expensive, but $30 for a pattern that you don’t know will work for your body is a bit much. At least you can return store bought clothes.

  8. What a fun post! Your comments made me laugh–weren’t the 1980s the *worst*?? And those jumpsuits . . . OMG.

    • Always happy to spread the joy around. My clothes shopping in the 1980s was mostly for very conservative business suits, so I don’t recall some of the hideousness, but I understand that decade is next up for a revival.

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