Hello and welcome back to the blog. This week we are looking at vintage sewing pattern covers, focusing on how women and style was represented on their covers.
Vintage and retro sewing patterns are known and collected for their beautiful art work as well as to sew a look from the past. After all, past fashions have always fascinated us as it’s one of the most telling ways to tell a time and era: by looking at the clothing.
What I love about vintage and retro pattern covers is the way the clothing is illustrated; the use of colour, print and the style of garments are wonderful. The vintage detail that these sewing patterns have with ruffles, smocking and unique necklines is one of the many reasons why I love to collect these often battered and faded vintage paper patterns. The style!
The vintage styles and techniques that were featured in vintage patterns have now come back in style. Many new sewing pattern releases have created dresses with big sleeves, rows of smocking and button pinafore styles.
Vintage sewing patterns and vintage fashions have become so popular today that you can even purchase vintage patterns that have been regraded to suit modern body types. This is perfect as often when I do find a vintage gem, the pattern will never fit me and original vintage patterns were drafted and created to be worn with the underwear of the time, such as pointed bras and shape wear. I recently made a polka dot jersey dress from a regraded 1970s pattern by Simplicity which I showed my aunt, who was sewing mad in this era and has an amazing style. She got very excited as she had made several dresses similar to the style I was making for myself, including her own wedding dress!
Something I and other fellow sewers have noticed about vintage sewing patterns is the exaggerated illustrated figures. Some of the bodies shown on vintage pattern covers are unrealistic. The women are drawn with super tiny waists, incredibly long thin limbs and gravity defying busts.
In no way is this reflection coming form a point of body shaming. We all come in different shapes and sizes and this is the beauty of humanity. Rather is this a reflection on how the female figure is displayed in the eyes of fashion. This is no different with sewing patterns as it is with an advert in a magazine. Body exaggeration is still seen today with the use of photoshop. This is an interesting discussion that requires more than one blog post on the way women are presented to other women to sell a product, and it has always fascinated me. Artistic representation of the female body can be used as a form of celebration for an artistic creation of women, but it can also have a very negative side effect, particularly for young girls.
Vintage pattern covers often show women in the time’s ‘beauty ideals’ as well as the artistic illustrative style that was in fashion at the time. The 1960s pattern covers often feature women with incredibly long thin necks and limbs that have no knees… an exaggerated version of Twiggy, the ‘it’ girl of the 60s. The patterns from the 1970s had influences from the music scene of the time showing women with wavy psychedelic hair with plenty of volume and they where shown as being super tall! Platforms? I think not!
After appearing in the 1968 London production of “Hair,” Marsha Hunt and the image of her large Afro became an international icon of black beauty. Photo: Evening Standard / Stringer via Getty Images
A positive movement happened in the late 1960s and 1970s with pattern covers featuring black women. The Black is Beautiful movement was an emergence of Black Culture and Identity in the 60s and 70s. The movement affirmed natural hairstyles like the Afro and the variety of skin colours, hair textures, and physical characteristics found in the African American community. Butterick’s collection of Betsy Johnson patterns featured black women. These were some of the only pattern covers I could find online of those vintage sewing patterns.
In the present day, the unrealistic and exaggerated bodies as well as the non-inclusive depiction of women on pattern covers needs to stay in the past. These vintage pattern covers often only feature slim, white women and this is something as an industry I hope we are all actively working on to change by becoming more inclusive.
Here at Selkie Patterns we will continue to pick diverse models to represent our products: ethnicity, size, ability, age. Please know this is something we always work on behind the scenes, but we are slow at releasing sewing patterns. Our aim is to achieve representation one product release at a time.
Modern sewing patterns often only feature real women who have been photographed rather than illustrated . This gives the buyer a better idea of how the garment actually fits on a real body.
At Selkie Patterns we want to combine that with the use of illustration to showcase the sewing pattern. We have our Illustrator sketch our models as exact as they appear. This way we have the creative look of a vintage sewing pattern cover but with a realistic look.
We are currently on the look out for a new illustrator to create our new pattern cover for the Rossetti! If you are interested in working with Selkie to create our new pattern cover please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org We can’t wait to hear from you.