I’ve been sewing up my first one, and I’ve learned something important: Old newspaper ads for sewing patterns are delightful.
My first and only really-truly-vintage pattern is a mail-order pattern, one of the ubiquitous Anne Adams. It got me looking around for more information on this kind of pattern, and BOY HOWDY did I cackle over the text of some of the ads I found on Google News. I mean! As a stitcher and a newspaper geek with a slight crush on World War II-era fashion and culture, it’s perfect for me.First of all, cute dress pattern. Second of all, LOOK AT EVERYTHING AROUND IT. War bonds ads? Comics about World War II? A serialized story titled “Women Won’t Talk” (click image to see)? Treatment for “female weakness”?!
Just for fun, I deciphered some of the text on this page:
“Do You Suffer Distress From Monthly FEMALE WEAKNESS? If at such times you suffer from cramps, backache, distress or ‘irregularities’, periods of the blues — due to monthly functional disturbances — Start at once. Try Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound.”
Hold Everything comic: “My sister’s boy friend got a medal, but all you bring home is dish pan hands!”
The text selling patterns can be great, too. I couldn’t find an ad for my exact pattern, but here’s an example from the page above, which is probably from about the same time period as mine:
“Put this charming Anne Adams frock next on your sewing list — it’s perfect for summer afternoons! [Editor’s note: So they had sewing lists too. Some things never change. Mine’s on Excel, though.] So easy to make, too, from Pattern 4356. The nice bodice softness and the skirt panels do wonders for the figure. And the scalloped yokes are dainty and gay. Use a soft print.”
Who can say no to dainty AND gay? Plus, a bargain at sixteen cents.
Here’s my shirtdress pattern, which, alas, doesn’t have a date on it. It’s certainly got all the hallmarks of a mid-1940s dress, though — bodice gathered into yoke, foldover collar, paneled skirt, fabric-frugal, ridiculous instructions.
Of course, the really fun part of sewing a truly vintage pattern is those instructions, which are expressly designed to make your head hurt. A cynic might say that it probably contributed to women’s conviction of their own stupidity, thus helping to keep women out of the workforce. Luckily, I’m not a cynic and would never say that!
But I love it nonetheless. Even the parts that make me feel stupid. Look at this illustration:
Tell me that doesn’t look like the neckline of the dress is barfing. Ha!
In all honesty, I stared at that illustration for a reeeeeally long time before I figured out what the hell it was saying. So the women of the 1940s were definitely smarter than me.
Rochelle at Lucky Lucille has some fantastic posts on handling the idiosyncrasies of vintage patterns (here and here). But there’s no getting around the fact that the instructions are quite a bit different if you’re used to indie patterns’ exhaustive instructions/sewalongs/forums/hand-holding.
Don’t care. It’s worth it. Someone mailed a quarter to Anne Adams to get this delightful day-dress pattern, and maybe they never used it, but they kept it safe for me. And by the way, I’m going to wear it to work.