Lessons in a Pattern Envelope: What NOT to Do to Your Patterns

I’ve been collecting and selling vintage patterns for quite a long time now… 15 years collecting this year!  In the amount of time I’ve been doing this, I sure have seen some interesting things in pattern envelopes.


Now, granted, patterns were never meant to be something that would last through time.  They were made of cheap paper.  And, really, until relatively recently, people didn’t want clothes that were authentic to time periods past.  Just look at movies.  Even in the 1990s, historical dramas took on a 90’s flair.  Today, we’ve got period movies that certainly aren’t period.  Not everyone wants a time travel wardrobe, but more people do now than they ever did before.  So, really, people didn’t feel the need to bother with preserving them for decades in the future.  They were just to make fashion, and fashion is fleeting.

Still, there’s those of us who love these little bits of fashion architecture.  We’re thankful that some survived the ravages of time, use, and basements (or attics) and resurface now, so we can make clothing of the past.


But, doing this for so long, here’s some things I want to say to NOT do… because I’ve seen it all.

1)  Use a hanky, not a pattern.  Ew.  Boogers are so not classy.

2)  Blood on a pattern is gross.  I’m sorry if you poked yourself, but your bloody fingermarks make me think I’ve found the clue that was missing from a murder mystery.  Little did they know, the dressmaker did it.

3)  Include the piece lengths you’ve cut off.  It stinks when people chop patterns and don’t include the length for View A (etc), but just decide to chop them off.  We all know how accurate pattern illustrations are in terms of proportion (HA), so there’s always guess work involved with putting them back the way they were.

4)  If you’re petite, and you chop off things, at least make a note of how much.  I’m dealing with this right now with a 1910s pattern.  It’s so much NICER when they just fold them down the center to shorten, instead of chopping things off at the bottom.

5)  What are those random newspaper pieces for??  And why are they never labelled?  Though it is really cool when they have a date on them, because we can see when the person made it.

6)  Why do some patterns have, like, 5 collar pieces that are the same?  It’s like the packer got lazy and just grabbed a bunch.  “Oh well, there’s like 5 of them stuck together.  I can’t bother separating them. They’ll fit…”

7)  Please, please, put the right pieces back in the right envelope.  It stinks when there’s a gorgeous design, only to find that half of the pieces are missing and have been replaced with pieces from a completely different pattern that have no resemblance to the pattern you want.  Bummer.

8)  Celluloid tape sticks to itself as it ages, and then tears patterns. Sad.

9)  Try not to let your kid near your pattern with crayons.  I’m not a mom, so this is probably easier said than done.

10)  If you’ve got to do really wonky alterations to your pattern, trace out a copy instead of chopping the existing one to bits.

And, as an afterthought:

11) Don’t crumple pattern tissue into the tiniest ball possible then cram it in the envelope.  Those sad, sad, little tissue pieces are crying, “help meeee!”.


Now, there’s lot of really lovely things found in patterns, too.  Notes, fabric, old receipts, heck, a friend said she even found money in a pattern once!

 But, if you want to keep things for future people to enjoy, take a moment and make sure they don’t thank you for the headache you’ve left them later on!

I hope this post gave a few of you a little giggle or smile.  We’re kindred spirits, we pattern nerds.

Have a great weekend :)

15 Comments on Lessons in a Pattern Envelope: What NOT to Do to Your Patterns

  1. Lauren Elizabeth Stowell
    January 24, 2014 at 10:17 am (10 years ago)

    I’m sorry to say that I am guilty of some of these things in the past – not the boogers or the blood! – like chopping up original pattern pieces, cramming pieces back into the envelope, and losing pieces because I was too lazy to try to fold them back up again and get them back in there. Sometimes still I fail at re-folding and just put the entire thing in a ziploc bag. I suppose that’s not AS bad. I never think about future generations wanting or saving or sewing from my patterns. I guess I better start being better about these things!

    • Lauren
      January 24, 2014 at 10:23 am (10 years ago)

      I think we’ve all been there, Lauren! I know I used to do absolutely horrid things to some of my new patterns! :)

  2. Laura Perry
    January 24, 2014 at 10:26 am (10 years ago)

    Great tips – and great reminders for all of us! Archival quality paper tape (commonly used for scrapbooking) is great for pattern alteration; you can iron over it and it won’t crinkle or melt. In a pinch, paper first-aid tape will work as well, but I suspect over the years it might deteriorate and damage the pattern.

  3. Erika
    January 24, 2014 at 12:05 pm (10 years ago)

    Love this! I am a pattern seller too and found $20 in a pattern once. What an exciting shock!

  4. Joanna
    January 24, 2014 at 12:12 pm (10 years ago)

    Oh this is so funny. I would get quite grossed out by vintage boogers. What I do like is when I see newspaper clippings. Wouldn’t it also be nice to see a final image of what the previous seamstress made? I’d love this. I am running into this right now where there are pieces that were clipped from a blouse and extra pieces and I have to figure out what is going on, like a history detective. I think the worse thing is when you have your hopes up and figure out that the pattern is adjusted too much or has lost too many pieces to not be able to make it. I’d also love to run into the pattern, fabric, and trimmings that are applicable to the period that the previous seamstress never got around to making. Now these are wonderful! I do have a bunch of yardage of fabric where a lady sent her sister a note telling her to make a nice dress out of the fabric.

  5. Jen
    January 24, 2014 at 1:23 pm (10 years ago)

    Oh, my. Reading this makes me SO happy I’ve never found some of these issues with the vintage patterns I have (though others I *have* had to deal with, just not…those of sanitary concern).

    That said, I so appreciate vintage patterns that have been well-cared for that I do my best to treat mine well, too. And if I can’t get everybody back into the envelope, everybody and the envelope just all go into the same archival bag together. At least they’re in the same place…and not crumpled!

  6. Tupney
    January 24, 2014 at 2:10 pm (10 years ago)

    My pet hate is when I buy a pattern off the internet or dealer and they haven’t bothered to check it. It’s not like it takes a long time to do so. I remember I bought a couple of patterns together and loads of pieces were missing from each- you couldn’t even make just one of the blouses from what was there! It was so disappointing and such a waste of money! :(

  7. Dixie
    January 24, 2014 at 2:47 pm (10 years ago)

    In one of my recent purchases there was a newspaper clipping of a photo of a girl wearing the dress made from the pattern! :) (1950s)

  8. erikaheidewald
    January 24, 2014 at 2:53 pm (10 years ago)

    BOOGERS?! I’d never have guessed anyone would do such a thing.

  9. Cherise
    January 25, 2014 at 12:14 am (10 years ago)

    I’ve found some odd pattern pieces cut from various papers and maybe one article cut from a magazine, but along with missing pieces and pieces that don’t belong, that’s pretty much it.
    When I use a ready made pattern I always copy it first. It’s so much nicer to work with sturdy pattern tissue than the old fragile one. And if I do need to go back to the original due to a mistake or change of mind… It’s nice to have it available.

  10. Jayne Coney
    January 25, 2014 at 2:37 am (10 years ago)

    I work at a school making costumes & it drives me insane when I go back to use a pattern a couple of years later & something as essential as the back piece is missing. I have a drawer of random pattern pieces that I search the internet(thank the pattern god for the internet) for the numbers at the end of each term & try to reunite them with their envelopes. What is worse is when the instructions go missing.
    We also store all our patterns in sandwich bags so we don’t damage the envelopes with bulky patterns.

  11. Lauren
    January 25, 2014 at 3:47 pm (10 years ago)

    Totally agree with all of these! Plus, it makes me really agree when the person cuts to the smaller size of a multisize pattern! It’s incredibly frustrating

  12. Dust Bunny
    January 25, 2014 at 4:58 pm (10 years ago)

    I am not an archivist (no MLIS) but I work in an historical archive. Rule #1 is never do anything you can’t undo. No cutting, no ink, no tape, no glue. Also, no rubber bands, which turn to boogers after a few years, and don’t store patterns with pins or paperclips, which can rust and “melt” into the pattern. Don’t leave newsprint in contact with the rest of the pattern; it’s extremely acidic and will discolor other paper and speed deterioration.

  13. ette
    January 26, 2014 at 9:52 am (10 years ago)

    Oh, tape is my nemesis, I loathe it.
    Not only on patterns, I once bought a whole box with sewing supplies and I had to throw away nearly all the buttons because someone some decades ago thought it was clever to tape them onto cardboard.
    And I love old newspapers in pattern envelopes. I would never use them to actually work with them, if the pattern is complete it is way easier to trace it again, I think. But I love to see the times this pattern has seen. I am originally from Germany and one of my 40ies sewing patterns came with pattern pieces made from 40ies magazines (3rd Reich ones) and 1970ies socialist newspapers, far right and far left wing dictatorship united by a woman who, presumably, only wanted to make a dress for herself, and me being able to sew this pattern at last in a completely democratic environment :-)

  14. Charity
    February 1, 2014 at 6:43 pm (10 years ago)

    Oh, I’ve got one for you! Today I just got in a rather uncommon 1945 maternity pattern from ebay. I opened it and there was no guidesheet. So I was devastated, emailed the seller, sulked about it, etc. etc. Tonight, I decided to see if all the pattern pieces were there, and if maybe I could make sense of the pattern despite its guidesheet-less state. Lo and behold, some clever individual had taken the guidesheet, folded it up into a tiny little bundle, and folded it INSIDE not just one, but THREE of the large pattern pieces. Whereupon I had to email the seller and offer a very embarrassed apology.

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