The first steps from a vintage sewing pattern to the dream dress

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Vintage sewing pattern to vintage outfit

In addition to the re-released vintage patterns by Burda, Butterick, Vogue, etc., there are of course also the vintage pattern that are actually from that time. While individual patterns are very common in the USA and UK, sewing magazines can be found in most German-speaking countries. There was not only Burda, but also Neuer Schnitt, Beyer Mode and Pramo to name but a few. The selection was significantly larger than that of today’s sewing magazines (there was also quite al lot of name changing and fusing of magazines going on).

But what to do now, if you dare to sew an original pattern. There is not the ultimate tip, but many little things which help to put the project on the right way.

The original: Der Neue Schnitt 6/1956, my version is only the skirt

#0 This is what different vintage magazines look like…

There is Burda, of course, but not only. There are also Der Neue Schnitt, Neue Mode, Praktische Mode, Beyer Mode, Berlins Modenblatt, Pramo and many more. I discover again and again new magazines, where sewing patterns are included.

If you are lucky you can dust off old pattern books at your Grandma’s or find something at a flea market. Other possibilities are “Ebay” and “Ebay Kleinanzeigen”, occasionally you will find something in thematically fitting Facebook groups, but since many with the same interest are active in the groups, you have to be fast and lucky. So far I bought most of my magazines via “ebay Kleinanzeigen” in Germany. As far as I know there is no market in Switzerland, at least I haven’t found anything online yet.

Of course, it is also interesting how much a magazine should or may cost. I can’t give any exact information and when you are looking for a specific issue, collectors sometimes spend more. My guide value is not more than 12 Euro (or the price of a single pattern from a Big4). Burda is the most popular and expensive of all sewing magazines. Pramo, for example, is available at a very reasonable price of about 3 Euros per issue. Of course, the price does not only depend on the degree of popularity of the magazine, but also on the year, 50s are much more sought after than 80s. The condition of the booklets, which can be from “excellent condition for magazines from the 1930s” to ” very worn out 60s”, is not the main reason for the price.

The original: Beyer Mode 5/1962, my version

It is also very recommendable to buy convolutes, although it is often the case that some issues are not complete, but this is the cheapest way to get the magazines and it also makes sense in regard to shipping costs. Occasionally there are also people who put magazines online at some abstruse prices and promote them with rarity. The fact is, there is always new stuff online and there are also beautiful models in lesser known magazines.

What should be included in a magazine?

Of course the magazine itself with, if possible, all pages complete, one or two pattern sheets (depending on the magazine, Burda, Beyer, Neuer Schnitt 2 sheets) and if the instruction manual of the models is not printed directly at the edge of the pattern sheet (Berlins Modenblatt zB), a seperate loose booklet should be included. These are the working instructions that are often found today in the middle of the magazine or at the end of the magazine. If you don’t have a workbook, you’re doomed. Because there are so many pieces on the individual pattern sheets that you won’t find anything without instructions.

The original: Berlins Modenblatt 8/1954, my version out of violett Indian handloom instead of wool

#1 The selection of patterns and the mysterious vintage sizes

At the very beginning, of course, is the selection of the pattern. Until the 90s, multi-size patterns were not that common, so there is only one size per model. Only later were two or more sizes offered for one pattern.

Which brings me straight to the next topic: The sizes in the 50s were different than today. However, there are two different common ways to specify the sizes. For “Burda Moden”, for example, the sizes as used today, such as 42, 44, etc., are given. However, these sizes have different dimensions, so it makes sense to take a look at the measurement chart. These can be found either at the very beginning of the booklet or in the workbook, which is usually enclosed loose.

In “Beyer Mode”, “Berlins Modenblatt” or “Neue Schnitt” the size is directly labeled OW, the bust size. This has the advantage that you can see at first glance whether the size could fit.

I can only recommend to choose sewing patterns that are close to your own measurements or very close to your bust size. Because that the bust fits well is most important and most complex. If you have the bust, you’re almost half dressed. So I choose patterns that are between 84 and 96 cm with my bust of 90 cm, more size difference becomes critical. If the cut is significantly larger or smaller, it must be scaled, which is not easy if you have only one size as a start.

 The original: Beyer Mode 5/1960, my version out of waxprint without the bows

#2 The Pattern Labyrinth

Once I have chosen a model or decided on my favourite, it’s time to trace the pattern. An occasion to suffer one or the other heart attack, because there is chaos on the pattern sheets and there is only one colour, namely black. Instead of colours there are different patterned lines. Sporadically there are also two different colours.

I usually look at the miniature drawing in the workbook to see how the pattern piece should look at all. Then I look for the pattern number and the corresponding pattern line and see how the pattern piece lies on the sheet. The next step is to trace the pattern. And before I remove the tracing paper, I check with the workbook whether I have really found all markings and darts. In spite of my routine I still get lost every now and then while copying and was often already in despair, because I haven’t found a marking for ages. The first pattern parts are usually quite tedious, but with time you get a view for it.

 old vs new

I have already read about the tip to mark the pattern parts with a highlighter, but the more pattern parts you then marked with the marker, the more confusing it becomes again. To be honest, it would somehow also destroy the pattern sheet for me. What fascinates me, in turn, is how the women managed to copy the patterns on newspaper without copying wheels. (There are no traces of it visible on the sheets, but notes in the booklet what was sewn, or still the pieces of newsprint in the booklet).

 The original: Der Neue Schnitt 5/1964, my version with printed silk instead of embroidered silk

#3 Are the measurements right?

When all pieces have been copied, I usually measure the waist, as the waist width was always much smaller than mine. There is quite a difference between 68 and 74 cm. I add this missing width evenly depending on the pattern at the side seam and at the darts. The length of the tops fit me very well so far (at a height of 166 cm). The skirt part does not require much adjustment depending on the pattern.

What often has to be adjusted is the position of the dart. However, it is enough to adapt these directly to the sewn model – a sewing enthusiast assistant is of course an advantage.

The original: Beyer Mode 4/1962, my version with bias tape

#4 Testing the pattern or not?

If I sew a test model or not depends on various factors:

  1. Have I ever sewn from this magazine? If no, then I like to make a test model the first time to estimate how the patterns will turn out.
  2. How much did the original size differ from my pattern? If I have to reduce the pattern by four sizes, I make a test model.
  3. How complicated is the pattern? If it is a simple style with front and back, slightly overlapped shoulders and a pleated skirt I do not make a test model.
  4. Models that are only shown with an illustration have to be approached with some scepticism. Does the pattern also correspond to the drawing? You can never be sure.

The original: Pramo, my blouse

#5 The extremely short instructions and how do I even sew this thing together now

With all the old instructions it is simply assumed that you can sew and have a certain idea how to assemble a garment. There is usually a short instruction on how to proceed. But where the zipper is inserted and how many buttons you use in detail is up to you. You also have to make the decision whether to use a facing, lining or bias tape for finishing. Pocket bags are usually only marked on the skirt part and also slips on jackets are only marked directly on the front part.

Old sewing instructions vs. new one (La Maison Victor)

If you hope for step by step, you are out of luck. However, the instructions can be understood much better than current Burda instructions – at least in my eyes. Sporadically there are however also booklets with no instructions at all, there is at most still indicated how much material is needed.

The original: Der Neue Schnitt 11/1962; my version in print instead of plaid

#6 The look and the (right) choice of fabric

Patterns from the 50s very often have specifications for fabrics with a width of 90 cm. Sporadically, the brand names used for the material are no longer common. Sometimes there is no information at all and common sense is called for. I can only agree with that. Depending on the dress, I recommend woven, poplin, matt satin, garbadine, crepe or even thin denim. Furthermore, there are no detailed lists of additional accessories that are required. Buttons have to be counted on the model drawings and if no obvious type of closure is visible, one can assume a zipper.

And how do you get the desired vintage look? If you fall in love with a cute plaid dress, I can only recommend that you also choose a plaid fabric. So far I have always chosen a fabric similar to the model shown. For a dress with print I also chose print, for a plaid fabric I get a plaid and so on. So far I have actually hardly deviated from it.

However, it must be noted that the often seen wasp waist was achieved with corsets and a suitable retouche. The luxuriant volume of the skirts with the corresponding foundation of various underskirts or also by the reinforcement of the fabric.

The original: Beyer Mode 6/1961, my version

#7 My experiences with various magazines

I can recommend

The following magazines should be used with caution

  • Sogra Schnitte: The pattern sheets are the least user-friendly of all. Some markings and grain lines were not noted or could not be found on the pattern sheet. Furthermore, only some of the models shown are actually included on the pattern sheet.
  • Frohne Modell: My only attempt so far deviated optically strongly from the illustration and was much too short in the upper body area.

Not yet tested are

  • Glorias Weltmode
  • Mode und Schnitt
  • Neue Mode (before 1965 Neuer Schnitt/Schwabe Mode)
  • Lutterloh
  • Ergon Schnittsystem

The original: Neuer Schnitt 11/1962 with embroidery, my version out of Jersey

2 thoughts on “The first steps from a vintage sewing pattern to the dream dress

  1. I have two vintage magazines: Berlins Modenblatt and Der Neue Schnitt. Do you know if the Lutterloh would work for transferring these patterns from the magazine to paper? My German is not nearly as good as your English!


    1. Berlins Modenblatt and Der Neue Schnitt have both pattern sheets. You just need to copy the pattern pieces of the sheet. Berlins Modenblatt has the Overview of the pattern at each sheet printed at the side. Der neue Schnitt has a seperat magazine called Arbeitsheft with the overview of the patterns.

      You need to find the corresponding pattern to your choosen dress in the magazine. Every dress shown has a short description of the dress and at the end of the description you’ll find OW = Bust measurement and the letters A to D or the numbers 1 to 4. This shows on which sheet you’ll find the pattern and if there is a Arbeitsheft like Der Neue Schnitt you’ll find the section of the description to the dress.
      Then you can copy the patterns just like working with a burda magazine.

      The lutterloh system only works with lutterloh patterns.


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