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Decoding Vintage Patterns

Wednesday, January 09, 2019
Since I've been online (6 years now) I've become aware of an enormous love for vintage style out there, and in particular vintage patterns. And in some strange way these patterns are so familiar to me.  I must have used some of my grandmothers patterns when I was younger because the lack of instructions and complete absence of print on these vintage patterns does not confuse or put me off at all.  Somehow it appears to me as a secret code I have to solve to uncover the exact intentions of the designer/pattern maker.

 In a visit to Marrickville town hall (Sydney, Australia), during the stash and treasure market, I picked up some very interesting patterns.  The one that caught my attention in particular is this Capri style pant from the 1950's.  It has to be said that it's often the illustrations that get us so excited.  I'd just love it if my Capri pants looked like that on me. And for all us enthusiastic creatives, it's so important to remember that sewing pattern illustrations are not promises of perfection in our sewing, but more likely an idealised image of the designers vision.

Now this vintage pattern is truly of the early kind, where there aren't even any instructions or labels on the tissue paper.   In this case the tissue was in fairly poor condition, because of the age, so I used a dilute PVA glue to bond it to some pattern making pattern, to make sure I could work with it and it would last the distance.

Then began the process of identifying the different hole punches, and there various functions.  I've inked-in all the shapes and then I compared the front and back trouser patterns trying to work out how they go together:

  1. Some are clear and obvious as seam allowances on the leg seams.
  2. And the dart shapes are also clear and easily marked out.
  3. Running down the centre of each trouser leg are a series of holes that show the grain line.

And finally, here comes the most interesting aspect of this pattern.  I'm very familiar with trouser patterns and so the following is like finding treasure on the beach.  When I worked my way down the trouser inseam (that's the inside leg seam) I found the markings made for a very interesting set of instructions.

  1. When they are compared, the front and back inseam are exactly the same length.  I know that isn't so unusual, however when I make trouser patterns, the inside back leg is approx. 1cm shorter than the inside front leg.  This difference occurs in the upper thigh section of the of the inseam and is meant to help the back thigh of the trouser to drape a little better.  This feature has it's origins in mens tailored trousers and I think it always makes for a much better drape in the trouser leg.  The answer to this riddle is in the detail of the set of notches on this inseam.
  2. From ankle to the calf notches the fit is the same for the front and the back.  As you would expect.
  3. Then comes something interesting: the notches from the calf to above the knee are not the same fit.  The front is in fact shorter than the back so that you have to 'stretch the front onto the back'.  This is the first time ever that I have seen this feature in a trouser pattern!!
  4. From above the knee to the crotch level, the front is longer than the back, as I am used to in all my trouser patterns.  This means your meant to 'stretch the back onto the front' as mentioned above.

This last aspect of the vintage pattern has made me so curious to see how they make up as wearable trousers.  Before that can happen, I will have to grade them up to the my size.  In my next blog post I'll share with you how I manually grade my patterns, using a 'Variator' grading machine, that gives me millimetre accurate, graded patterns.

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Liz Haywood commented on 11-Jan-2019 12:46 PM
Interesting! I make inseams the same way as you, and have never heard of this way either. I'm curious to see how it goes.
Anita - Studiofaro commented on 11-Jan-2019 01:21 PM
Hi Liz, thanks for dropping by. :) Yes, I'm so curious to see how it works for the leg shaping and drape. I hope to get these made up in the next week or so. Love your blog and your book. That must have been a labour of love. How long did it take you to get it all together?
Sis commented on 11-Jan-2019 07:27 PM
Being of mature years and been taught to sew by my mother who for many, many years made my father's clothes I think I can help out here. The reason for the difference in easing - in easing the back into the front at the knee you help avoiding getting "knees" in your trousers. Do not forget that at the time of this pattern no stretch fabrics were available so you needed other ways to make sure your trousers looked "nice" even after a day sitting down in an office environment. The orignal reason for men's trousers to have a longer front than back at the crotch area is to avoid getting a "seat" in them again after sitting down during a working day. This also gives a nicer drape as you already know. Of course patterns from the 40-50ties all have much more space mainly due to the style and also to the fact that there was no stretch in any fabrics at the time. I remember my mother taking a damp cloth to my father's trousers and pressing them several times a week to keep them looking smart despite the little tricks employed to help during construction. Some patterns in the 60-70ties include a longer back leg seam but of course that is a half measure and any modern pattern where the length front and back are the same can be sewn together using the old method if one marks them ahead of sewing. I look forward to seeing the finished capris and also feedback when you have worn them. Thanks for the blast from the past.
Anita - studiofaro commented on 12-Jan-2019 08:51 AM
Hi Sis, thanks so much for your detailed explanation. I did suspect that may be the reason, regarding the knees stretching the front of the trousers in wear. And I hope to find out if that really works in wearing. And would value your input at each stage of the testing. :)
Lesley Scott commented on 13-Jan-2019 09:31 AM
Hi Anita, I really hope I can remember to look back at this post and try the below knee ease on my next pair of trews. I made yet another pair in wool twill from that pattern we worked on, but the idea of putting wool on my body in this heat makes me sweat just thinking about it! Fascinating post x
Anita - studiofaro commented on 13-Jan-2019 10:34 AM
Hey Lesley, I so agree regarding the wool. Linen only at the moment for me. If you're going to try this feature, make sure it's with a slim leg so you can really test the effectiveness of the ease. Maybe we can compare notes for our first samples. :)
Heidi commented on 25-Jun-2019 03:55 PM
This different handling of the inseam maybe practcally an replacement for shaping with the Iron?.
Anita - Studiofaro commented on 25-Jun-2019 04:40 PM
Hi Heidi, thanks for dropping by. I'm not sure what the 'shaping with the iron' is. I've heard it discussed before but don't totally know what it is. Would you mind sharing?
Heidi commented on 26-Jun-2019 03:22 PM
Hi Anita
With Heat and moisture you form your back and Front trouser before sewing them together with your Iron. The fit improves a lot. The parts mimick the body Snape. With cotton it is not so easy to do, so this method could be used instead.
Lg heidi

Anita - Studiofaro commented on 26-Jun-2019 03:42 PM
Thanks Heidi, for the explanation and the link to that fabulous tutorial. What an amazing technique for woolen fabrics. But your right, for cotton and linen the method I show above would work well. It's the same method I use for my industry trouser patterns. Thanks for sharing. :)

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All images, designs, photos and layouts on this blog are created and owned by Anita McAdam© of Studio Faro. They are available FOR HOME AND PERSONAL USE ONLY.  If you would like to use our content for teaching or commercial purposes please ask.  I have some amazing resources for teachers and manufacturers. ;) enquiries@studiofaro.com

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