Many many years ago, when I was in middle school, my mom signed me up for one of those craft classes at our local library that introduces you to sewing and using a sewing machine. I made a bag and a pair of sweatpants – crucial in the 80’s, I know. Later, when I was in high school, I took home economics, where I made another bag and learned how to hem and how to patch holes (quite important during the grunge era when everyone was making their own patched jeans).
Fast forward many years and, as a busy wife and mom of three, I realized I didn’t even own a sewing kit to stitch my sons’ scout badges and insignia on their uniforms. I watched the Spanish tv show “The Time in Between” (El tiempo entre costuras) on Netflix, which features a seamstress in Spain, Morocco and Germany in the leadup to World War II. This began my obsession with vintage clothing from this time period. Then my mom bought me a brand new sewing machine for Christmas last year, so I decided to dive back into sewing. But before I could sew, I needed some patterns.
I wanted to work on something simple at first, so I bought a classic straight skirt pattern and some fabric. While working on the skirt, I started researching historic patterns and discovered a whole world of fashion. My favorite time periods, the 1930’s and 1940’s, are full of gorgeous dresses, skirts, suites, blouses and coats. I quickly started amassing quite the collection of vintage patterns.
One of my favorite recent purchases was from Etsy: two reproduction issues of a vintage French fashion and pattern magazine from the 1930’s. The magazine was called Eclair-Coupe Paris, and was a system of dressmaking that involved using a measuring tape, sold separately, that matched your measurements, then sizing up the included patterns according to a system that is explained in the issue. I purchased the Fall and Spring 1935 issues, and the garments are absolutely gorgeous.
I plan to work on one of the straight skirts to see how well the pattern cutting method works before attempting one of the more complicated dresses or coats.
I bought three of Simplicity’s retro reproduction patterns from this time period, which combine the lines of the original garment with the assistance of clear modern instructions. Simplicity 8248 is a 1930’s pattern for a an afternoon or day dress with ruching at the bust, decorative pocket and collar details and puff sleeves. Simplicity 8463 is a 1940’s two-piece dress with a gathered peplum at the waist, and Simplicity 8242 is a 1940’s suit or two-piece dress with a double-button top or jacket with a waist peplum.
Next, I grabbed a few 1940’s vintage patterns from eBay and Etsy:
The first pattern is Hollywood Patterns 805. Hollywood Patterns was created by publishing giant Conde Nast in 1932 to mass-market patterns featuring popular movie and radio stars of the day. Pattern 805 features Brenda Marshall, the star of the Warner Bros. picture “Captains of the Clouds,” released in 1942. It’s a simple shirtdress, with or without pockets, with a belt and decorative neckline.
The second pattern, McCall’s 7204 (ca. 1948), is a simple and pretty cap sleeve dress with or without a belt, while the third is Simplicity 1425 – a one-piece belted dress, with or without a collar. I have not been able to locate a date of publication for this pattern, but it fits in with early to mid 40’s dresses.
My sewing role model is my grandmother, who passed away a few years ago. Growing up, she always had a sewing project going, and sewing makes me remember her and her passion for clothes. Besides sewing her own outfits, she also had a job working at one of Richmond’s downtown department stores in the 1940’s and 1950’s, so she was always wearing the latest styles. My holy grail would be to find a pattern that matches the dress she’s wearing here:
I’ve seen a lot of peplum suit and dress patterns, but none with the three edges at the waist. If anyone comes across one, please reach out and let me know!