Sewing Patterns Offer a Peek into History

I got a sewing machine from my mom a few years ago and I had dreams of finding vintage frocks and altering them to fit me. This is all well and good except that I have kind of fallen in love with creating my own pieces from scratch. Sure, I have altered a couple things, most notably my mumu turned super cute top, but even more alteration projects sit in my closet waiting until I finish sewing my next garment. Still, there is no reason I can’t combine the two. Enter the vintage pattern. I’m not talking vintage reproduction, no, it is the true original, vintage pattern that has captured my heart. Feast your eyes on the newest beauts to grace my sweatshop.

That’s right, baby. A pattern for every decade between 1940 & 1980. I love them.Don’t they look like Halloween costumes? I mean, that’s how people REALLY dressed. I showed them to my mother and she said that she’s pretty sure my Grandma Jackie had a dress exactly like the one on the 1960s pattern cover. A-freaking-dorable! Look how all of them are ladylike and compliment a curvy girl’s body. They just don’t make them like that any more. Everything now is a mini something-or-other and one must decide if they would rather their boobs or butt (or both!) to be on display when trying to find a dress. So, screw it all, I’m going back to the days when women were ladies.

To me, these aren’t just patterns, they’re pieces of history. Each one tells a little story about its respective decade. Look at the price increases, see how the diversity of the models changes, the hairstyles, the colors. For me, this is better than any museum and I cannot wait to recreate just a little portion of that.

The best of all are the mail order patterns from the 1940s and 50s. Not only is it cool to think about ladies sending away for the patterns, but the envelope are just full of stories and history. Below is a closeup of the envelope from the 1940s. This thing is 70 years old and it’s sitting in my apartment. That’s something that is tough to wrap my head around. Check out the stamp price of one penny! Notice the lack of zip code.

The address label is a piece of lined notebook paper glued onto the envelope. And, notice the name – Mrs. Robert V. Nelson. To me, this brings to mind the ugly side of those times, Women did not have their own identity. They were their husband’s property. I couldn’t not know whose patterns I had. So, the bf and I did some investigation, 2011 style and I would like to introduce you all to Florence. She is Mrs. Florence M. Nelson, the original owner of both of the mail order patters. She was born on Christmas Eve in 1919. She married Robert when she was 19 years old, was a homemaker and had a son, a daughter, five grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren. Her husband was a Mason and she was a member of both the Loyal Workers Club and the Abingdon Order of Eastern Star.

Florence Nelson died on July 1, 2006 at the age of 86. And, now I have two patterns that she cut out, and (presumably) sewed. She probably wore those dresses on dates with her husband or to take the kids on play-dates. No matter how many museums I visit, how many famous dresses I am able to look through bulletproof glass, nothing will be as cool to me as being able to use a pattern that someone used decades before I was born. It’s humbling and exciting and I cannot wait to get started.

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