How to Use Unmarked/Unprinted/Perforated Patterns

I’m participating in the Vintage Sewalong 2011.  If you want to join, it’s not too late.  I like reading and copiously commenting.

A few days ago, a commenter in the sewalong raised qualms about working with unmarked vintage patterns.  I used to avoid them.  Not fear, “avoidance.”  I’d buy them and still avoid them, shoving my pretties into a special unmarked box.

Eventually the unique cuts and darling drawings on my unmarked patterns overcame my avoidance issues and I learned to work with these gems.

I want to make the paler blue jacket (in ivory hemp/silk) for sun protection.   My other sun jacket sees constant wear, I’d like to have another to rotate.

Most patterns have a key at the beginning of the instruction sheet.  This shows each pattern piece, along with its number (or letter), and an explanation of which part of the garment the piece represents.   Helpfully, this pattern also labels each pattern piece on the schematic drawing.  Additionally, it explains the pattern perforations.

The first piece I traced (I always trace):

I press crumpled tissue pieces with a warm, dry iron.  Steam will distort the paper.  In my experience, vintage tissue itself is less fragile than the instruction sheet or the pattern envelope.  I laid this piece with the “K” facing me and scratched my head because it doesn’t look like it belonged to the pattern.

(See, I got coffee on the traced pattern piece.)

I traced the piece with a regular pen and marked the dots.  Referring to the pattern instructions, I turned it the right way up and “connected the dots.”  This looks more like a workable pattern piece.  I re-traced with a dark marker to photograph.

Piece B, the upper front, riddled with holes because fronts need so many markings- darts, tucks, buttonholes, and in this case a roll line.

It has more and better markings than the usual printed jacket front pattern.

Weird little bits of paper, odd perforations.

Breast pocket, hip pocket, and collar pieces.  I labeled the collars according to my own habits.  Note the under collar: cut in two pieces on the bias.  Again, a first for me.  Usually I must convert the under collar to a two piece bias cut.  The dotted line marks the collar stand.

Before pinning and cutting, I like to cut out the holes in my pattern pieces in order to easily mark darts and tucks directly on the fabric.  I mark one side, upin, flip the fabric, and mark the other fabric piece.

When I traced the back piece, I also traced the neck curve and shoulder to make a back facing piece.  I won’t line this jacket so it needs a back facing.  Note the gently curving shoulder seam.

For imagination and detail, I can’t go past unmarked patterns- they’re often easier to sew than conventional printed patterns once you get past the yips.

Now to go chop up the pieces so they fit…


  1. It's a great idea to trace the pattern, not only does it preserve the pattern (from coffee stains and the like!), but you can draw all over it like you've shown. In manufacturing we use quite a different marking convention which is my preference, so I usually trace and adapt the markings to suit.

  2. I always trace vintage patterns, too, so that I can write all over them and chop them up where I need to. Once you know what you're looking at, these patterns are easy to use. I think we get so used to having our hands held by modern patterns, we forget to think sometimes – or maybe that's just me!

  3. Sherry- I'd be interested to see for curiosity's sake, I figure I could label them in hieroglyphics as long as I'm consistent.Carol- I think it's just not allowing yourself to be put off by something new. Once you bite the bullet and work with one of these patterns, it's not that difficult. :)

  4. What a great little info bite :). I only have one pattern this old, and it's a child size two so I don't know if I'll be making it anytime soon, but if another one falls my way I'll be back here for sure. I am a big fan of tracing—I have a horror of destroying any pattern :)

  5. "For imagination and detail, I can't go past unmarked patterns- they're often easier to sew than conventional printed patterns once you get past the yips." What an excellent description. That is exactly how I feel!

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  9. yup, Steph and Dreamstress – I totally agree. After using my first couple of unprinted patterns, I found them easier to use and more detailed once i got used to what holes meant what. What you said about the collar – my aunt, who was adult during WWII, and was an amazing dressmaker with couture touches, would never have cut the undercollar ont eh straight. She taught me to always cut it on the bias, in two bits, and slightly smaller than the top one. And she wuld never have dreamt of using interfacing attached to the top fabric – ie the top collar, the top facing, whatever – as a lot of modern patterns have one do… shocking:). In jackets with lapels, she would put interfacing on the jacket fabric on thetop part of the lapel, and on the lapel fabric in the part below the roll….

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