>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!
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!).
Bags and Boards
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!**