Monday, July 13, 2015

They just don’t make them like they used to.

So now that I have professed my love for the most recent Vintage Vogue designs, I am curious as to how accurate they really are in contrast to the originals.

Eva Dress recently authored a post showing, in detail, alterations that were made to one of Vogue’s reproduction patterns, Vogue 2962.  This is a bit disconcerting as they supposedly use original pattern tissue to draft these re-issues.  I know the instructions are changed significantly, but moving zipper openings and changing style lines really do not fall into the category of re-sizing for a current fit standard.

A Vintage Vogue reproduction
with some fairly significant changes made to the original.

About one year ago, I requested that McCall Company do exactly what she has done – show us a point by point comparison of the original versus the reproduction.  What about a blog article with an explanation why they make the changes they do?  They were kind enough to respond, but the answers were not very helpful, in my opinion.  I was definitely looking for more clarity!

Here is part of my email along with their responses marked in purple:

To get to the really important stuff, I (and quite a few others from the conversations I have had) are very interested to know what kind of re-sizing goes on with the vintage reproductions.  I have worked with quite a few original vintage patterns, and the only real fit differences I have noticed is skirt lengths are generally longer, bust darts extend further toward the bust apex than is popular in a contemporary silhouette (most people no longer wear bullet bras, obviously!), and armholes are often smaller.  Would you give us examples of specific fit/design changes that are being made to these patterns? 
All sizing on our patterns is by the current standards. The standards have been in place since "modern" sewing. While we utilize the markings and specific pattern pieces for the Vintage designs, they are graded as we grade all our patterns.
[But what does that really mean?  How have those standards changed . . . ? ]
A Butterick pattern from the mid-1950s sizing chart is 34-28-37.  The current sizing chart is 34-26.5-36.  So, in fact, vintage sizing is more generous than the current standard which is probably unexpected for most people.  
As mentioned above, our industry standards have been in place for years and we gear our sizing around them. The caption of each pattern will indicate if it is close fitting, semi fitted, loose fitting, etc. The finished garment measurements are also on the patterns.

Everyone complains about the amount of ease built into the contemporary designs produced, but in my experience, the finished measurements of a Retro Butterick size 12/Bust 34 end up being quite similar to a vintage 1950s Butterick, size 16/Bust 34 – but that probably has something to do with the fact that I use an upper bust measurement in place of a full bust measurement.  If, in fact, you measure in at a 26.5” waist, the extra 2”+ ease given on the retro line seem rather excessive for a fitted waist.  What is the standard amount of ease drafted into a “fitted” design? 
It is up to the individual designer of each brand how much ease is in a pattern. There is no standard amount.
[What designer?  Do they mean the individual who re-drafts the design?]
I would love to have one of the current Vintage Vogue design offerings “deconstructed” for us, i.e. this was the original size, the finished tissue measurements were x,y,z and they ended up as a,b,c on the reproduction.  Vogue 8974, for instance, looks to be fitted through the bust and waist – but how do the finished measurements compare with the original? 
Again, we use the pattern pieces from the original Vogue Pattern, but grade in current sizes. It is really not practical and could be confusing to list what the pieces were vs what they are. However, that is a great idea for a Vogue Patterns Magazine article and I will pass that along to our editor.
[Clearly I do not mean they should list this on each individual pattern, but one or two specific examples might be nice.]
And how about the instructions? How significant are the changes made to the vintage pattern instructions. I can understand adding bias strip pattern pieces to a repro design where the original would have a few sentences about cutting your own, but how many other changes are being made, short of substituting words for clarity like slide fastener for zipper and press studs for snaps? 

Like the sizing, we reference the original instruction sheet if it is available but use our modern methods.
[I am still not sure why these changes are really necessary.  I have learned so much from vintage pattern sheets, I think it is a disservice to ignore some of the older techniques.  I am pleased to see that Vogue 9127 includes a side snap extension in addition to a size zipper.  Some of the Vintage Vogues from ten or so years ago had these details included, and I am please to see they are coming back.]
Are details being dumbed down for a contemporary audience that may not have grown up with a needle in hand?  Are gathers substituted for pleats, zippers for plackets? 
Each brand designer decides what details they would like on their designs. Designs are coded as Very Easy, Easy and up to Difficult depended upon the details. We try and provide a full range of designs and difficulty to appeal to many customers.

We have an extensive archives of catalogs beginning in 1863 for Butterick and later for McCalls and Vogue. For Butterick and McCalls, we research the catalogs and choose designs. For Vogue, we search our own stash and borrow from others actual patterns to work from.
[If they are working from actual patterns, why are significant alterations being made to style lines?  And why do they mention "designers" when they are dealing with a physical pattern and pattern instructions?]
Are there any trends as far as commercial success goes?  Which decades sell better than others?  
We know our consumers love the 50's but we have a range of patterns from all the brands back to 1912 up to the 60's.

Hopefully the recent success of this Archive Collection pattern makes it clear that many of us vintage aficionados are looking for more challenges and new decades of style to discover.

Clearly this design did not use the 16" invisible zipper required by McCall 7154.  Are hook & eyes and snap plackets really so terrible they must be eliminated from the contemporary home sewing lexicon?

The McCall Company's standard answer seems to be that they “resize to fit our current sizing”  - but that does not explain moving a zipper opening, raising the back of a garment, or straightening out a curved seamline.  Why would they make those alterations?

Now we have actual proof from Xandra that McCalls is doing more than re-sizing to fit the current size chart (whatever that pat answer means), and are making significant alterations to the original pattern tissue with their Vintage Vogue line.

I will continue to use these patterns, but I do find it strange that McCalls has clearly stated that Vintage Vogue (unlike The Archive Collection and Butterick Retro patterns) use original pattern tissue to recreate their patterns.  Then why all the changes?

So I am renewing my appeal for more transparency.  I hope that in the near future we actually get a point by point run down of one of these designs and all of the alterations, for better or worse.  If I had my druthers, it would also include a list of instructional changes that were made and why.  Inquiring minds want to know!  

Are you a purist when it comes to vintage patterns, or do you like using the reproductions?  For myself, I like both, but I know some people feel strongly one way or the other.  What are your feelings on the subject?


  1. i love vintage patterns for the same reason you do - the little details and sometimes picking up a different way to do something. i don't really get why they would move closures or style lines - why not just release as as a vintage style rather than a repro? I do understand why they might change to an invisible zip on a sleek design - if they had been available they original designer would probably have used them, so i'm not that much of a purist. i'm in the Uk and Vogue patterns are so expensive - £12-15 and rarely on sale. it's way cheaper to pick up a vintage pattern on etsy or ebay and this confirms for me that it's not worth paying so much more for vogues!

  2. The vintage patterns I have are different. The vast majority of them are on pattern sheets in sewing magazines, a bit like Burdastyle magazine today. However, no matter how much people may complain about Burdastyle's pattern sheets and instructions today, the vintage stuff is way more complicated. There's only one size per pattern, sheets are printed only in black and instructions are extremely limited.
    As a result, I've always been surprised by the elaborate instructions included in repro patterns and by how much people who are used to vintage patterns from McCall's, Butterick and Vogue appreciate the instructions. I've only used EvaDress and Vintage Vogue and it's easy to see the differences in the approach.
    I mostly use my pattern collection as inspiration for what I draft myself. However, I will sometimes sew from vintage patterns to get an understanding of what those clothes look like on a person rather than on those pretty drawings and of how those shapes actually worked.
    For that reason, I can't get very excited about designs which had their style-lines changed and their sizing reworked. That said, I would never consider myself to be target audience for any modern pattern company...

  3. I like the original Vogue patterns because they are exact line for line copies of the couture garments. The results are more beautiful when following traditional techniques than using short cuts like fusible interfacing, sergers, less hand sewing, etc. we see currently. I believe there is sufficient interest in slow sewing if Vogue would return to couture standards. The lower standards have hurt the sewing industry in my opinion because clothes can be purchased so cheaply that most people don't save enough money to see the value of sewing, especially when they can buy something of the same quality for a reasonable price. Local stores have turned into cheap craft supply businesses which is a shame because people want to create but quality materials and instruction are not readily available.

    1. I love the original vintage patterns - especially the Vogue designer or "Special Edition" ones. But they are difficult to find and so expensive. I would rather spend my money on the fabric I want to use for the dress!

      And I absolutely agree that slow sewing is wonderful. It often seems like people have forgotten what quality truly is. I'm not sure the garment industry will ever recover, but at least I can make my own clothing and avoid department stores for the most part.

  4. Thanks for writing this article. It's good to know the designs are this heavily altered. I've sometimes considered buying some of these retro patterns, but now I don't think I'll bother.

    So far I've achieved the best results using Lutterloh and other books with historically accurate patterns, as well as drafting my own patterns using sources such as as Harriet Pepin's Modern Pattern Design, and the tutorials from, especially the French knickers tutorial. I do love vintage lingerie.

    When it comes to sewing techniques I have an extensive and almost embarrassingly large collection of books on the subject. I don't have any particular favourite, but tend to gravitate towards my vintage odham's dressmaking books.

    1. Old sewing book are fabulous - they rarely let me down when I am looking for another technique to help me through a sewing issue. The old pattern instruction are pretty wonderful too, although very dense. I really do wish they would use the original instruction with the reproduction patterns.

  5. A great question and a disappointing polite 'corportate PR batting off the questions' type response carefully drafted. Perhaps McVoguerick missed an opportunity to engage directly with a customer group. Maybe it's just business.
    What money would they make from tasking an employee to spend XX hours at a cost of ??$ per hour to research and reply with real answers to the questions?
    Frustrating but not surprising from a top-down type business. It is good that they thanked you for the idea for an editor to consider whether it could be useful for an article for promotion, marketing, etc. themselves.

    Rather than reproduce the original designs, my (wild?) guess about the choice to redesign, rework and publish may be about following an established product development process (including cadcam) that the business uses to get from drawing board to product on sale.

    Perhaps the business is 'responding to 'market trends' and riding a retro / vintage inspired fashion style wave, harvesting ideas from the archives, rather than responding to a reproduction or advanced couture focus. Reproduction could be perceived as replicating historical costume and that may not score highly with a fashion & publishing core business as a mass market product. I suspect a dearth of men's clothing patterns reflect a similar 'business decision'.

    Neither negative nor positive take on this, it's just business and it is what it is.

    As for something insteresting for the stitchers with complexity of line and / or techniques - oh how I wish. For those of us who enjoy the process and love learning and using time honoured skills as well as modern products and associated techniques we often pick up on the DIY route, learn some pattern drafting, rediscover sewing gems from old books and cyberspace thanks to those who are willing to share.
    People willing to share like you - Thank you so much for sharing your interests and techniques. Some of your blog posts have inspired my imakes and experiments.
    Thank you and please keep posting.

  6. One of the early vintage reissued patterns, Butterick 6582, is clearly not the dress illustrated. The pattern illustration shows a surplice wrapped upper bodice that includes gathering at the shoulders which provide added diagonal lines. The current pattern reproduction however is a simple one piece bodice with a diagonal seam where the surplice should wrap across the front. The full sized underlapping left side and shoulder piece has been altered, so there is no way that the dress will look as shown. The first time I used this pattern, I drafted the missing wrap front, and changed the gathers at the shoulder to create a dress that looks like the illustration. Is this simplified pattern how the original pattern was designed, or is it an adaption? If it is adapted, this pattern was 'dummied' up for the general public, who somehow continue to purchase the pattern. Obviously that Butterick 'designer' (who is really a 'stylist' or 'technician') may have simplified the pieces to make it a fast sew. In my opinion, it wouldn't hurt if current pattern companies were to note when a vintage style pattern is an adaption. It would be more honest to create a new illustration and not reference a vintage pattern number as well. I object that these reissues are trying to pass as authentic, if indeed they aren't.

    1. The Butterick retro line is definitely an adaptation of the original, not a true copy - McCall has made that clear. They just use the style lines and go from there. But the Vintage Vogue line was supposedly using the originals to recreate the pattern. Evidently, they have not been truthful about that.

      It really kills me that they have not kept copies of their originals. It's so very sad.

      I actually like the original illustrations, if only for the vintage inspiration. But I can see where someone might find that irritating. Then again, no one looks like those stylized illustrations, even with the original pattern in their hands (not even the models)!

  7. I think the community has suspected was Xandra proved for a long time: that style lines are being changed, as well as "resizing to fit current size charts". If that's how they want to 'reproduce' the vintage patterns, fine--but then they should absolutely create new garment illustrations that reflect the changes so that sewers aren't being sold one idea but ending up with another. Unwittingly, probably, they are falsely representing the pattern in the envelope when it doesn't make up exactly as the illustration would lead you to believe. At least with RTW that doesn't live up to expectations based on model photography you can return it. With a garment you've just devoted hours to sewing, plus the cost of fabric, there's nothing to do but curse the pattern company and pout. Resize, by all means; but leave design lines alone. Or if they must be changed, re-do the pattern illustrations to reflect that.

    1. I just wish they would explain what they mean by "re-sizing." It seems like McCall thinks resizing means moving style lines which is clearly not the same thing.

      One of my favorite things about these reproductions is the illustrations, and I hope they continue to include them. Just because the dress will not look like that on me does not mean I can’t have fun wearing it! I would be more concerned with the technical drawings . . . the style lines are often not clear on the vintage illustrations, anyway. I know I don’t look like the six foot fall figurine with an eighteen inch waist, but they are stylized and beautiful, in my opinion.

      Which is still an issue with contemporary clothing if we expect to look like the photo-shopped models in the magazines. At least the vintage version is an illustration, and therefore clearly not reality.

      Perhaps McCall has eliminated the illustrations from their Archive Collection for this reason. I think that is a mistake, but maybe that is their attempt at truth in advertising?

  8. Such a great post. My sister sent me quite a few vintage patterns and I always check the sizing. She been lucky enough to send me the "standard size 12". I agree with Sew little time and will check Etsy and Ebay before I buy a repo pattern. I like looking at them but I know they are reproduced then changes have been made any my measurements are not the new size 12 either, lol.

  9. I do much better with the original old patterns than any of the new and have made a point of collecting certain skirt/sleeve/bodice styles and I'll graft from there. The patterns today seem to be just a starting point and need a ton of alteration.

  10. I am also a fan of having the original copied line-for-line. Recently I posted comment on McCall pattern company blog. I think one of the reasons why they take liberties in alteration is because the average person who sews does not have the expert skills required or patience to make a garment that complicated. For example, the original pattern has a front scalloped crop top and an wonderfully scalloped asymmetric hem. In drapy silk charmeuse it would be almost impossible to have all even scallops not stretched on the bias out-of-control (one must hang the partially made garment a few days for gravity to stretch the fabric so the hem will be even and hand finish the scallops so as to not stretch the fabric). However regardless of the challenge I would have bought this pattern in a heartbeat if it was the original.

  11. I have done both the repros and originals. I prefer having the original pattern. They just seem to have a better fit and subtle design elements. I have sewn enough that I can update a sewing method if I choose to do so, but often I like the vintage method better. This isn't scientific, but I think I have to make more fitting adjustments in the reproduction patterns. The repros seem to have bigger shoulders and more gaping necklines. And I like a nice facing; not some of the new methods of doing away with them.

  12. I tend to like old patterns better than reproductions for several reasons. With modern patterns, there are things done that apparently cannot be avoided, which still somehow magically are never needed in vintage patterns: fusible interfacing, cutting things on fold (pardon my french, but who in their right mind thinks this is a good standard practice?!), incredibly wasteful cutting etc etc.

    I often find it hard to understand why some things are considered "too difficult for home sewing" these days. I find it infinitely trickier to have to -for example- correctly trace and cut several pieces for a fitted bodice that could have just as well been one single pattern piece, but with several darts. It's also oodles easier to do a few even pleats than to produce an equivalent length of even gathering in a very thin or slippery fabric. Yet for some reason, (unnecessarily) multiple pattern pieces and gathering instead of pleats seem to be just some of the modern day tropes of "making it easier" to produce a garment... So, for my peace of mind and to save time on trying to find alternative solutions for doing things, I like to work with vintage patterns.