>For the Love of Vintage Patterns- Organization and Storage

>I’ve gotten quite a few questions lately about pattern storage and care, so I decided to go ahead and do a blog post to share my method.  This is really just the icing on the cake.  Make sure you read the comments for more info from commenters who are much better versed in actual preservation than I am!

A Rough Beginning
When I started collecting vintage patterns over ten years ago they were a relatively undiscovered commodity.  I started collecting right out of high school and would just pick them up here and there at antique stores purely with the intention of sewing them “someday”.  I had NO idea vintage patterns would become such a precious commodity or that there was even the remotest possibility of a vintage sewing community! I treated them basically as tools and not as collectibles and just continued on that line until two of my best friends opened my eyes to the world of “preservation.”  Before I thought “they’re just patterns, never mind that they’re flaking apart everywhere, that’s what old paper *does*”, but there is a way to help prevent that from happening and I’m glad to say I’m now a convert.  One of these best friends is Vessangel on Etsy, who has several patterns listed you should check out.

Tools of the Trade:

Everyone seems to have a slightly different method of storage and organization, as the Blue Gardenia blog has made me more and more aware of, as she’s been interviewing bloggers about their sewing spaces.
Basically, my list of tools include a notepad, pen or pencil, plain labels, polypropylene comic book bags, comic book storage boxes (or pattern storage boxes, though I like the comic boxes better), and comic book backing boards.

The easiest way for me to describe start to finish is to describe my method for listing patterns on my Etsy store.  I start with a bin of unsorted patterns.  I’ll put patterns I find, ones I’ve weeded out of my collection, or ones I’ve specifically bought to resell in that bin.  I plop myself down in front of a movie on the couch and grab my notebook, pencil or pen, labels, and bags.

Checking Patterns for Completeness
As I go through an individual pattern I open up and inspect the piece, write on my notepad the number or letter or title, and write down any specific flaws (like pieces that have been cut in half or shortened).  As I go through I compare the piece with the pattern piece on the envelope or instructions and make sure it’s the same shape (sometimes creative sewists would combine patterns into one envelope, but not always), then when I’m done I check off all the pieces making sure they are all present, and the instructions of course!  While that’s fresh in my mind I’ll slip the pieces back in the envelope (if it can stand the wear- some are really too fragile and the pieces get stored behind the envelope), put the pattern in the bag, and write on my plain label the pattern condition, completeness (and note missing pieces if any), and any other factors I think are important.  That way when I’m going through the stash to make something or listing patterns on Etsy then I know the exact condition of my pattern.  Some people use post it notes or cross off on the back of the pattern envelopes themselves, but I prefer using labels on the bag, so no extra stress or writing is added to the original pattern. After this is done they get stored for listing or get filed into my boxes.

 Protective Bags and Backers

I can’t stress enough how important storage bags are for the life of vintage patterns.  Old paper is frail by nature so these bags keep your pattern all together and keep any pieces from going astray since many old envelopes end up splitting at the seams.  Many is the time before I had bags that I’d find stray pieces in my pattern box, but no more!  If a pattern is very fragile I’ve started buying comic book backing boards for them.  Eventually I’d love to have them for all my patterns but at $0.10 a pop they do add up quickly if you’ve got a lot of patterns to sort and list.  Well worth the expense to preserve, though!  For regular size patterns and McCall patterns I use the Modern Comic Book Size Polypropylene bags.  For large size bags, like the designer Vogues, Advance Imports, or Simplicity Designers I use the same large size zip lock bags I use to package the patterns in my pattern line, though I am looking for a better solution as they tend to be more fragile.  The years have often not been kind to the large format patterns especially!

Tracing Patterns

Even though it’s not specifically organization or storage I suppose I should add about tracing patterns, since you’ll eventually need to store your tracing.  There are as many ways to trace a pattern as you can imagine and everyone seems to have their method they prefer.  Personally I use a large roll of butcher style paper and roll it out over my cutting table.  My cutting table has a cork board like surface that I’ve covered in muslin, so after I iron out my pieces on a low setting I’ll carefully pin the corners of the pattern and trace around in pencil.  If the pattern is too fragile for that I’ll often weight the edges with small books.  I will scan the cover, back cover, and instructions, print them out, and store the traced pattern and print outs in a clear zip bag like I use to package the patterns in my pattern line. Sometimes I run across a pattern that is missing pieces, but has enough for a view I am particularly drawn to, so I’ll just trace the pieces and copy the pattern for that view.  Even if a bunch of pieces are missing sometimes there are enough for one garment in the envelope!


Storage and Boxes

I use long comic book boxes, pattern boxes, and plastic bins to store my patterns.  On the end of each box I’ll write what decade and sometimes what pattern company’s patterns are inside.  I separate by era, and sometimes company specific (I collect McCall patterns specifically so they get their own box and are often sorted by number and year).  I keep my mens, childrens, and costume and apron patterns separate from the rest as they’re not things I often sew.  If you use comic book backers you’ll need to store in comic specific boxes as the pattern boxes sold at fabric stores are not tall enough.  I personally think the comic book boxes are best, but they are somewhat bulky to store, but are very sturdy and hold a LOT of patterns.  My large format patterns, tracings, repro patterns, and modern patterns get stored either in plastic bins or in a WWII field desk trunk I have in my sewing space (which happens to have a little drawer the perfect height for early McCall patterns!).

Resources:
Boxes
http://www.bcwsupplies.com/products/Comic-Storage-Boxes/
Bags and Boards
http://www.bcwsupplies.com/products/sleeves-and-bags/comic-book-bags/
Or try Ebay or Amazon for supplies.  Don’t forget to check your local comic book store, especially for boxes as it will save you on shipping costs!

All this talk of patterns makes me realize I don’t have time for HALF the projects I want to do both for myself in terms of sewing and pattern making, for gifts, and for Etsy! But aren’t patterns fun?

I guess that’s about all I can think of at the moment! If you have any specific questions or have other methods you use please leave a comment.  I’d love to hear your system!

**Edited to add- make sure and read the comments! Many commenters know much more than I do about preservation.  I know I’ve certainly learned a lot and enjoyed hearing everyone’s input and techniques!**

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22 thoughts on “>For the Love of Vintage Patterns- Organization and Storage

  1. >Are these plastic bags and cardboard boxes archival safe, as in acid free? I'm concerned that your gorgeous vintage collection of patterns will deteroriate faster in the plastic bag environment. Perhaps the plastic bags are archival safe and all will be well. I love, love, love looking at all your work! Thanks for sharing!Laurie

  2. >Good question! I actually wondered this myself and forgot to look it up until right now when you commented. I assumed they were since I bought archival magazine bags from the same material.It seems these bags are acid free but Mylar are considered better. Hmm… maybe I should invest in some mylar bags for some of my better patterns.

  3. >My system is a little different but also based on comic supplies! The main difference is that I use silver age bags with modern boards — this way, there is a little extra space in the bag for those thicker patterns and for taking things in and out. Instructions go in front of the board, pattern pieces in the back (the two kinds of paper are bad for each other.)Also, I keep the envelopes separate, they go into archival sleeves – presentation sleeves I think they're called? And the sleeves go into binders. That way I can flip through all the pictures and then just go dig the pattern I want out of the boxes. If I did leave the envelope in the bag, I would definitely separate it from the pattern and the instructions to protect it from their acidity.Definitely check a local comic shop for supplies, but don't listen to any hard sell on the more expensive boards, they're all archival quality. I think our local shop charges about $6 for a pack of 100, can't remember what bags cost; it's been a while since I picked any up.

  4. >If you look at envelopes in bad shape, you can often see browning in the exact shape of the instructions and sometimes pattern pieces — probably it depends on the actual paper used (era, company, I don't know!) but I've seen it enough that I don't like to take chances. Also! I forgot, you can now buy comic long boxes that are made of a corrugated plastic; they are not cheap but can prevent water damage (which we've had although not to patterns or comics!). I've been switching over to them a few at a time. Definitely worth it!

  5. >My trick has to do with counting pattern pieces. I do it a LOT. And I've used several methods, but now I have a great tool. Buy a kids Magna Doodle. Use a permanent marker to draw a grid of one inch boxes on the screen. Then number the boxes and put the letters of the alphabet in the same boxes (the first box will have "1" and "A"…and so on). If you have extra spaces after "Z" add AX, BX, CX and so on till all your boxes are filled. Now you can mark off pieces as you count them with their letters or numbers, using the little magnet pen (you might want to cut the string off, I did). And when you're done just use the slide to clear your marks and start over. These are pretty cheap, come in different sizes and colors and make counting pattern pieces MUCH easier.

  6. >I've heard archivists and other museum professionals highly recommend http://www.universityproducts.com/They say that up is a great source for acid-free, buffered and unbuffered paper (you will hear different opinions on which is best to use when). As a PP said, Mylar is preferable, and I have heard that complete encapsulation (sealing) isn't necessarily a good thing as it can create other problems with the inherent vices within paper

  7. >This such a fantastic post, Lauren! I really appreciate you taking the time to share your methods. The past couple years are the first time I really started finding ways to store my vintage patterns more properly; I ordered some acid-free, archival bags to keep them in, and have started scanning the front and back of each envelope (though I'm a bit behind on my stack currently! ;) so I don't have to handle them needlessly. I really like your idea for checking each for completeness. I do that already for patterns I plan to sell, but don't do that for my own patterns–but I know some of the ones I plan on sewing are not complete!♥ Casey | blog

  8. >I don't know about the archival nature of this product, but the price is way better that 10 cents each!http://www.uline.com/BL_1852/Chipboard-PadsI remember them having comic book backing boards at one time but, of course, when I go to look I can't find them! Give Uline a call. They've got great customer service. If the quantity pricing is to steep, I've always found friends to buy with and I'm sure you can too!

  9. >I will also say this: go into a local comic store and get to know the guy that owns/runs it. I buy comics for my son from a local place now, and used to buy them from him when I was younger and he cuts me a deal on the boxes, bags and boards because he knows me. It might work for you, especially if you buy in bulk/frequently.

  10. >Great post.I collected comics for years and the cool thing about now, is that even most of the lower end sleeves are acid free. Yay!But Ive also done photography and printmaking, and archival storage is all that is talked about even when making a new work. If you are looking for different sized sleeves and backing boards, might do some good to check out a photo supply shop. I found mylar sleeves there in every size you can imagine. Also it might be more cost effective to buy large backing boards and cut them down yourself. That's what I did.

  11. >Adding my two cents… I'm a printmaker too just like NewVintageLady, and she's exactly right about archival being the name of the game. Everyone always talks about it. And I do some work as a conservator, as well, so I'm like an annoying double whammy of preservation :)The reason Mylar is used is because it is an inert plastic, unlike other plastics which can sometimes release chemicals slowly over time. And strangely, you can find Mylar at your local grocery store. You know those oven bags? The ones you use to cook turkeys and roasts? Those are Mylar :) So if you ever need a quick fix, those are pretty handy.Like Sarah @ ColorKitten, I like being able to see my whole collection at a glance, but I like my patterns to stay all together (though slightly apart, just like she does) so instead of keeping the envelope in a binder I scan in each pattern when it comes home (and the instructions, too) and then print out an image of the envelope, and put that into a binder where I write along one edge the pattern date, company name and number. So I have a quick thumb reference of all essential info should I need it (I'm beginning to… these things are like bunnies!)Sorry to be so windy, but I definitely am concerned and interested about pattern longevity and it's great to know so many others are as well!

  12. >Thanks so much, everyone, for all your comments and input! I've certainly enjoyed reading everyone's techniques and expertise in this area. I think it's an interesting thing about patterns- that they're both collectible AND can be used to create the item originally intended. They really are like blueprints for the history of fashion. We're actually very lucky as many have survived the decades of use and storage!I remember being so sad when vintage clothing became so popular that so many garments were getting ruined at dances and events. But I myself was guilty of that at first, too, and started learning over time. Same with patterns. Although I've been "collecting" for a decent time it wasn't until recently that I became a convert to understanding WHY storing them in more specific ways is important. They were always firstly tools to use and secondly collectibles. I firmly dug my heels in, actually- my poor friends were so patient. But I'm starting to understand more and respect both proper preservation and storage and people who do it well. My first thought it that it's a lot of money and a lot of extra trouble, but after coming thus far (and believe me, it took a while), it's not as far fetched to think of going whole hog, which is why I've really enjoyed reading about each of your techniques and expertise. I really just touched the icing on the cake in the post!With vintage patterns being so popular now I think it's especially important to share with others this sort of thing, so many thanks to everyone for their input!

  13. >Great post, as a costume history professor, I refer my students to vintage patterns as a great entry level and affordable (usually) way to collect historical fashion. This post is a gold mine of info for them and others who are starting to collect.p.s. The notes on how you begin working with each pattern by documenting every piece is also very informative. Its shows how/why patterns can be costly–there's more time and expense involved in creating a listing for sale than most shoppers are aware of.

  14. >I have an easy tool to help with counting pattern pieces. Buy a Magna Doodle from the toy store. Use a permanent marker to draw a grid with one inch squares. Mark the boxes with the alphabet ( add AX, BX, CX as space allows) and numbers. Then you can use the wand to check off the pieces as you count them. (I cut off the little string.) and use the slide to erase what you've marked. While nothing makes counting pattern pieces exactly fun, this does help. That and old movies!

  15. >Keeping this in mind to read properly when I have the time. I don't have sewing patterns but have been thinking of how to properly store/preserve my knitting patterns (especially after spilling tea on one – oops! – and cracking the spines on a couple of others =\) so this may help!-Andi x

  16. >Great post! You've prompted me to order some bags and other storage materials for my vintage patterns, something I've never quite got round to doing…