We found this 2009 interview with Michelle of Patterns From the Past on the website We Sew Retro. Katherine (who is also a PR member) gave us permission to post it to our blog. We know you’ll enjoy it, particularly if you love sewing vintage clothing! Thank you, Katherine!
So Michelle, how did you get started selling vintage patterns?
I first started selling vintage sewing patterns 14 years ago on sewing list serves. I used to sell grab bag lots of sewing patterns in various sizes. This was just as the world-wide web and html was being developed. I created my company’s website over 13 years ago. I found it was cheaper to go to tag (yard) sales and buy large boxes of sewing patterns than to just buy the patterns I liked.
Do you have a favourite period of clothing and if so what is it about it that you like?
I love the fashions of the 19teens and 1950′s. I grew up visiting the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, learning about the life of the Astors and Vanderbilts. I loved reading the Oz books by L. Frank Baum, which were filled with beautiful illustrations of 19teens and 1920s fashions as drawn by John R. Neil. I love the 1950s for their full skirts and amazing collars. Both eras’ clothing makes me want to dance the night away.
Where do you score your patterns from and how many do you actually have?
I get a lot of patterns from private estate sales, yard (tag) sales, groups that have fabric/sewing sales, and thrift stores that get large donations. I also have a few buyers who I work with. I have over 2000 sewing patterns on my website and I have probably 4,000 or 5,000 more in my backstock.
Are you a sewer? If not, why not and if so how long have you been sewing for? Which pattern(s) from your store would you love to sew yourself?
Yes, I learned to sew in home economics class in junior high school. I started sewing more seriously when I got out of college. One of my many hobbies is Vintage Dancing, where I dance to music from the 1850s – 1920s in historical clothing. I go to dance week in Newport, Rhode Island, where I spend the week taking dance classes in the morning, followed by afternoon tea, and then a formal ball in the evening. Lots of changing of clothing! You can’t go to the store and buy clothing like that, so I started to sew my garments for it. After 15 years of doing that, I now have most of the gowns I need for that.
I presently sew Halloween costumes for my kids and I like to make interesting projects from men’s vintage neckties. I spend a lot of my time working on shipping out orders to my customers, and uploading new patterns to my website.
The pattern in my store I would love to sew for myself is Vogue 4893 – if only it was in my size!!!
What is your favourite pattern in your store at the moment?
I love the Simplicity Designer’s patterns. They were only produced for a short time period. The illustrations are just great for them! They are oversized patterns. I think they were Simplicity’s answer to the Vogue designer patterns.
What’s the most expensive pattern you’ve sold and what made it so special?
I had to look this one up. I sold this pattern (Pictorial Review 6149) for $90.
1930s patterns are very hard to find. I have a bunch of 1920s patterns. There seems to be a bunch of them and the patterns from the 1940s. I never find a bunch of patterns from the 1930. The bias cut patterns are very hard to find and sell quickly.
I am pretty sure early on I had a 1950s designer wedding gown pattern that I sold for $100.
How do you work out your pricing for patterns? Is it based just on age, condition, on the availability of each pattern, or something else entirely?
Pricing is a tough thing to do. It has to do with the condition of the pattern, its size, style, and era.
Does the popularity of vintage patterns change from year to year and if so what would you think may cause that?
Yes-- it really depends on what fashions are popular. When I first started selling sewing patterns, the 1940s era was hot. Many people where trying swing dancing – The Gap had its famous swing dance ad. Everyone wanted to make swing dance dresses. Right now I’m selling a lot of jumpsuit patterns .
In your opinion is sewing vintage becoming more or less popular?
I think there are more people sewing then 10 years ago. I think TV programs like Project Runway, and blogs like yours and Threadbangers, dressaday and PatternReview make sewing interesting to younger sewers. I think more people are sewing in Australia and the UK than the US. We are losing fabric stores every year. There are a lot of people quilting in the US – but not sewing clothing.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
I’m thrilled that shows like Mad Men are out there. I love it when TV shows and movies do their homework and bring to our attention all the great fashions of the past eras! I love studying historical fashions.
Thanks very much, Michelle!
[Michelle was interviewed by Anna on WeSewRetro.com.]
Visit We Sew Retro for more posts about vintage sewing.
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