Adventures in dressmaking – copying a pattern

When working with vintage patterns, sometimes you can find that the pattern you’ve bought is a bit fragile. All the vintage dealers I buy from are excellent at describing the condition of what’s on sale, but even if the pattern is completely unused it will still be fragile – you have to remember that some patterns were printed on very thin tissue paper a long time ago. All my 1960s originals are  in great shape, but 50 years does age tissue paper, and my 1930s patterns are nearly 80 years young. So caution is the watchword when handling and using vintage patterns – but if you make an accurate copy of your pattern, then you can manhandle it to your heart’s content without any danger of damaging it.

I’ve decided to make a wonderful Vogue dress (Very Easy Vogue 7929). Vogue 7929 is not currently in print, so I thought that I would copy the pattern to make the dress so that the original remains in perfect condition (so I do all the cutting, pinning, and inevitable accidental ripping, to the copy). Making a copy of a vintage pattern is not only a great way of preserving the condition of the original so you can use it over and over again, but it also means that if a range of sizes are printed on the paper, then you can make patterns in different sizes from one master. This is a great idea if you are on a post-Christmas diet, or if you pooled your cash with a friend to buy the pattern. I’m sharing this pattern with my Mom, so  now we can both copy the patterns in the sizes we need from the same original.

Misses Petite Dress Semi Fitted A line Dress below mid knee has preincess seams, side front pockets, back zipper and long or three-quarter length sleeves. B: Topstitching(Copyright - Vogue, 2004)

Misses Petite Dress Semi Fitted A line Dress below mid knee has preincess seams, side front pockets, back zipper and long or three-quarter length sleeves. B: Topstitching
(Copyright – Vogue, 2004)

Some vintage patterns are printed with an ink that comes off the tissue paper when heat is applied, so I wouldn’t recommend tracing a pattern by ironing it over new tissue paper (I had a friend who did this once and they completely lost their 1940s ball gown). The best thing to do is to play things safe by tracing the pattern using a pencil or pen. You’ll need some tissue paper for this. It needs to be thin enough to see through when you lay it on top of the original pattern, but thick enough that you don’t pierce it when you apply pressure to trace the markings. I use Burda tissue paper (manufactured in Germany as seidenpapier), which is stocked in John Lewis. It’s thin enough to see through, yet durable enough to withstand a ballpoint pen. You get five sheets in a packet, but each sheet is massive and will be big enough to cover most patterns.

Burda tissue paper - a good investment.

Burda tissue paper – a good investment.

First things first – lay out the vintage pattern on a really big table. Try to make sure that the pattern lies as flat as possible. Paper weights in the corners help.

The original pattern in all its glory.

The original pattern in all its glory.

Next, unfold the tissue paper and lay it over the pattern. You should be able to see the markings of the pattern underneath the tissue paper.

You should just be able to make out the markings of the original pattern.

You should just be able to make out the markings of the original pattern.

You can either use a pencil or pen for the next stage – beware that a sharp pencil will pierce the tissue paper and could damage the pattern. I stick to a black biro, and don’t apply too much pressure when using it.

P1270743Trace the lines of the pattern onto the tissue paper, taking care to include all the symbols marked on the original. Try to do as much of this as free hand as possible – I found out the hard way that sometimes “straight lines” are not straight lines. Just take your time and you’ll be fine.

straight lines may not always be what they seem

straight lines may not always be what they seem

make sure you include all the symbols (even the weird ones that look likes targets, and especially the funny little triangles one the edges).

make sure you include all the symbols (even the weird ones that look like targets, and especially the funny little triangles on the edges).

Take care to mark any areas where you could either lengthen or shorten the garment.

Take care to mark any areas where you could either lengthen or shorten the garment.

Half an hour or so later you should have a complete copy of your pattern on your hands. Well done! Now you can cut it out, pin it up, and spill things on it by accident, all without the fear of irrevocably destroying a piece of vintage artwork.

et voilà!

et voilà!

Now all you have to do is fold up the original pattern into a tiny square small enough to fit back into the original packet, and put it in a safe place.

... easier said than done!

… easier said than done!

– next time I’ll be working on choosing fabric and cutting it, so please check back soon 🙂

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