Tuesday, 18 December 2012

My Nan's Sewing Pattern Stash

A whole bunch of time ago (like 15 years or something), my nan, who has since passed away, went into a home for the elderly when she was no longer able to look after herself. My folks spent ages sorting through and re-distributing decades worth of her possessions, including wardrobes upon wardrobes full of clothes. I also recall a couple of suitcases full of 1960's fabric and wool from her former crafting days, but those got chucked out. There was also a brown paper bag containing sewing patterns from the 1950's - 1970's which my mum was also about to throw away. I don't know why, because as a moody teenager I had yet to develop an interest in sewing, but I suddenly got a sense that throwing them away was a terrible idea and I rescued them from the 'to bin' pile. 

I had no idea what I would do with them, if anything. But even then, at the stage when I was at my most selfish, I think I had a sense that this bag of home sewing patterns was a tie to a former generation that was starting to slip away, although I wasn't quite able to fully recognise or express that at the time. But I have to be honest with you here, my parents and I had a far from close relationship with my nan, so this move to rescue her patterns was not born out of sentimentality, although now I am older I do feel pleased to have a physical link to the era and situation my dad came from. 

My mum (who hooked up with my dad in the mid-sixties when they were just 16!) remembers this nan (my dad's mum) doing a bit of sewing and knitting around that time. My mum also remembers making some of the later 1970's patterns for her. I find it really interesting that my dad's mum had this looser domestic approach to sewing and knitting, whilst my mum's mum and aunts were factory and workroom based seamstresses by trade. It's a bit bizarre that my own relationship to sewing is slap-bang firmly in between the two! Or straddling the two perhaps. FYI, 'Seamstress' is written as the occupation on my wedding certificate, for lack of knowing what else to call myself!

Most of my nan's pattern stash seems to have come from magazine offers. Many of them are still in the envelopes she received them in, which is how I know they are all from between 1956 and 1978. She must have filled out the offer coupons, specifying her size, and posted them away. Those coupons were then glued to the front of the envelope to form the address labels (pictured below). 

I've tried to arrange the patterns in this post roughly in date order from oldest at the top to the most recent at the bottom. My favourites by far for envelope design alone are the 'Be a SUN-GAY GIRL' and 'HOLIDAY HAPPY' patterns pictured below. On the 'Sun-Gay' one, it looks like my nan took a biro to the situation and did a bit of re-designing of the neckline!

At the moment, all but the 'Sun-Gay' one are still living at my folks', where, I'm ashamed to admit, I still store a fair chunk of my possessions! I'm 33 and married yet still clog up my parents' house with my stuff. Not very impressive, eh?!

I haven't made any of these yet, one reason being is that they are all one size bigger than I like to start with, and I'm a lazy-arse who can't be arsed to grade! But I would like to one day. Which of these patterns, if any, would you be tempted to make first, and what fabric would you use?


Amu said...

I would definitely make the Sun-Gay pattern! I love that dress!!! I am such a sucker for vintage patterns!!!

Beth said...

I inherited boxes of sewing patterns from my grandmother dating back to the 1920s. They are one of my most prized possessions. I only have a couple that were mail order. Most are from the big pattern companions. I love the full skirted plaid dress in your collection and the "sun-gay" is a must love. :)


Kestrel said...

Well done for your foresightedness as a teenager, looks like a nice collection. I like that Happy Holiday pattern.

Unknown said...

What a lovely collection. I remember my grandmother had a full collection of Stitchcraft magazines that went in the bin...I could weep!
I love that third from the top dress...in chambray in hope of the summer, or in plaid with a cardie for the winter. Swoon!

Sølvi said...

Wow! That´s a nice save by you as a teenager. Nicely done! ;-) I love the neckline of the Holiday Happy dress!

Lizzy said...

Wow! Lovely patterns! it's great you kept them! love vintage fashion!

Miriam said...

they are great patterns Zoe. I just love them all and I love that you saved them and I so love that you have seamstress written on your wedding certificate!!

Kay said...

how cool that you rescued those patterns!

I like the sungay dress and also the combo of happy - the top and skirt.. which is pictured towards the left of the pattern envelope.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh! Talk about eye candy! These are all so gorgeous!

The Hot Mess said...

The second one! I have a pretty pink and white striped seersucker, 7 yards of it actually.

I think it's wonderful that you come from a sewing legacy. I'm the only one in my family who does.

Rehanon Mackenzie said...

Ah man you've got me tearing up I bloody love this post :) I'm really at one with it because I as you know did not start sewing until 2011 long after my Nanny May had passed. To say this lady was a legend is an understatement. She was the embodiment of you can do anything you want and had the biggest impact on me. I credit it her with enabling me to be the woman I have grown into :)

She I have since out apart from being a cook extrordinaire was a couturier level sewist. The things I could have learnt if I'd only got into this amazing hobby sooner. But I don't dwell on this instead I think it must be in the genes and I imagine her sitting next to me offering words of encouragement with a big a cup of tea as she always did when I was growing up.

We are so lucky to come from such stirling stock :)

Pattern wise if it was me I'd be all over the Chanel style two piece with the big hair obvs.


MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Oh erk, my Mum made me wear a pinafore like 7730 in a huge diagonal plaid pattern to my school formal dance when I was 12. I wanted to wear something more feminine. She was much wiser than me, but I was SO MAD hehehe.
What a lovely stash of patterns. GO on, pull finger Zoe, make one! But not 77390, please! ;-)

Shannon said...

What a good save!! These are all so awesome!

Carina said...

The first pattern is gorgeous! I would absolutely start with that. In fact, if you're willing to loan them out for tracing... ;)

I have some gloriously retro seventies patterns from my great aunt, including some super day-dresses and massive trousers. I can't wait to get started on them.


Neeno said...

I love vintage patterns.. I'm so drawn to them. <3

Kat said...

How cool! I bought a couple of vintage patterns on etsy this year and they were sent to me in the original envelopes that the ladies who bought them received them in. It is so fun to have a little bit of history. The gorgeous writing on them and the little notes they've left on the patterns just make them all the more special.

Unknown said...

That's really lovely. These patterns will keep you in touch with your Nan's life.

I'm drawn to the woman pattern or the happy holiday one.
They are all such classics. I hope you can work your way through them in 2013.

Joy Leaphart said...


I enjoyed reading about how you acquired your Nan's patterns. What an intuitive 15 year old you were to sense that it would be a travesty to trash such a stash. Again, enjoyed the read.

Btw, I'm drawn to the very first pattern that you posted (Frock with Bolero). . .

Miss Emmi said...

How lovely! Neither of my grandparents kept much stuff from when they were younger. I love looking at what other bloggers managed to save, but always get slightly jealous!

tialys said...

Good save! You must have had a bit of a premonition. I actually quite like the 'Woman' pattern - the one where the model is sitting down and the dress is made with different fabric on top and bottom. A nice waistline - just wish I still had such a good one!

HoffiCoffi said...

The envelope made me giggle. I wonder how many of us nowadays would be happy to have an envelope winging its way to us in the post with our bust size emblazoned on the front!!

House of Pinheiro said...

So lovely.. Oh I wish in my family we had keep those heirlooms. I have my great grandma tracing wheel... And it's very precious to me. I would do sunny gal... In a very bright and cherry print.

niddetissus said...

I love this post. I'm always fascinated by what material culture says about the past (and present). And the story of how and why you kept the patterns is part of that :)

French Toast Tasha said...

Great save Zoe! I actually like almost all of these, very classic & classy designs.

And, don't feel bad, I am 30 and married and I still have stuff at my parents' place - mostly fabric and knitting patterns that are part of my shared stash with my mom. But that other stuff I should definitely clear out.

Unknown said...

So many amazing patterns. Good job on saving them. My family totally chucks cool old things all the time. I hate that I'm not around to save them. Even donate them somewhere. Years back they cleaned out a room full of great vintage stuff. Mostly 80's Clothes, western books. They had a big ol' fire and burned it all. When I asked them why they would do that they just said no one would want that old stuff. So sad. I remember my grandma had a dresser drawer full of sewing patterns when I was growing up. Hope they are saved and not burned! You've inspired me to inquire about that at Christmas. Thanks.

Catherine said...

Yum yum, I would make the bolero and dress in the top pic :) great to have saved all those patterns.

Helen said...

I was looking for vintage sewing patterns & came across this post. Your Nan certainly had a great sense of style. What a treasure!

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