Thursday, 3 December 2015

Tutorial: Preserving simple vintage patterns using packing paper

I think that as someone who sews with vintage patterns regularly there is an intense fear, a fear that YOU are going to ruin this pattern. This pattern may be older than your mother, father, grandparents. It may have been through a world war, seen the invention of the TV, the cold war, the moon landing, Watergate, the dismissal, dial up internet and those hideous baggy jeans of the late 90s that made you look like gumby. It may have been through all of those things, perfectly preserved and my worst fear is that I, yes I will be the one to destroy such a beautiful piece of history. 

*you can also do this if you want to trace something off a multi-size pattern without cutting it*

So here is a cheap, easy way to preserve your precious patterns so that you will never have to be that person and you can pass on the burden of guilt to whoever the pattern is passed onto next.

Here are the steps

Step one: Get yourself some packing paper or butchers paper. Basically you want something large, square (in terms of corners) and easy to make marks on. I got this from Bunnings, I'm serious. It was really cheap and there is lots of it. If you are in Australia you will be able to find a Bunnings somewhere, they're everywhere. If you don't live in Australia and don't have Bunnings, it's basically a hardware, gardening, outdoor furnishing, building and craft supplies heaven. 

Step two: Lay your pattern out onto the paper, you can either line up your pattern on the edge of the paper on the 'cut on fold' line, or do what I've done and line the top up with the top of the paper and use the square sleeve bit to line everything up. I did this because I wanted really nice sharp lines. This pattern piece is the back of the dress which reaches up to about shoulder blade height, the front piece wraps over the shoulders to meet it.

Step three: Weigh the paper down and start smoothing it out. You will notice that my pattern has a tear, this was here when I bought it. In my copy pattern I am drawing this bit in so it is like it never happened. 

I don't have any suitable paper weights so I am using a jar of lolly pops and a set of colouring in pencils, because you know, sometimes you just have to make do.

Step four: As you can see the whole pattern piece does not fit entirely on one piece of paper. You can skip this step if your pattern piece fits on your paper perfectly.

Step four (cont.): Smooth the paper out nicely, you want it as flat as possible

Step four (cont.): Eyeball the hangover, in this case it is a significant amount, but not larger than another piece of paper. In this case I will only have to add one piece of paper to finish the pattern. 

Step four (cont.):  Weigh the paper down at an anchor point and pull the excess pattern over onto itself so a portion of the existing paper is shown. I used my phone and some pens to weigh it down but if you have gentle pattern weights it would be a good idea to use those. I would warn away from anything too heavy, hard or sharp for the sake of pattern preservation.

Step four (cont.) : Tape paper pieces together on both sides of joins. You can now pull your pattern back and smooth it out. 

Step five: Smooth everything out. Make any minot alterations that you need. In this instance I turned up the hem once because this pattern was extremely long on me. 

Step six: Draw in all lines and markings with a pencil that shows up on the paper. Here I am filling in the piece that was torn. 

Step six (cont.): When it comes to complex lines and markings I like to pull the paper back slightly, mark, pull it back further slightly and mark etc, then connect markings into lines. Make sure you transfer all relevant information from the pattern piece onto the paper. This includes any markings, notes, the name of the pattern, pattern piece and the grain. This will make it easier for you in the future.

Step 7: Continue with all pattern pieces until you are finished. These patterns are more durable and you can mark and alter them as you like, making life a bit easier. If you want you can also photocopy the instructions, however I usually find that the instructions stay stronger for longer so this is not always necessary. Although I would advise it if they are fragile or very old.

You are now all done and your pattern is preserved. I would not recommend this tutorial for complicated patterns and would highly recommend the use of digitisation or the use of grid paper (more expensive) or a light box. 

I hope you all find this somewhat helpful and I hope you all are having a fantastic holiday period
What is your own personal method for preserving simple patterns? what about complex patterns? 

Alecia xx


  1. Great tips. Vintage patterns can be so fragile.

  2. If you are in Australia, there's this great stuff called Polytrace - I think it's similar to Swedish Tracing paper - which is basically like a translucent fabric paper. Sort of like a interfacing without glue!

    Anyway, I love that stuff for tracing off vintage patterns as you are right; it's a great way to preserve them, and of course, makes it easier to do alterations rather than trying to handle brittle or fragile tissue! :D ❤

    bonita of Lavender & Twill


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