The vintage industrial pattern project

Those of us who’ve been around awhile are a bit nonplussed to see older styles we worked on being sold as “vintage”  on eBay or wherever. Still, it’s good for a grin, you send the link to old friends you once worked with, reminiscence and go on with your day. You’ve done that too I’ll bet.

That’s what happened to me this week. I saw a bunch of styles I made the patterns for in the early 90’s -so we’re talking barely 20 years, not vintage in my opinion but whatever- on eBay. Some of them were going for good prices, the bidding was hot for the style you see at right.

And it got me thinking, today we have technologies we never had before. We can archive old industrial sewing patterns in ways we never could before. Previously, those patterns would have been thrown out, no one knowing what they were and later on once appreciation re-emerges, we have no way to recreate them other than by laborious and error prone methods. The East West Musical Company coats come to mind. Those jackets sell for insane amounts of money -such a tragedy those patterns were lost!- but if we had the patterns, we could recreate them more easily. How much better than with the original pattern?

All this is but a roundabout way of realizing I’ve figured out something to do when I retire. Such as, digitize any industrial sewing patterns people care to send and list them in a public database should anyone ever want to use them again.

But back to the style at upper right, that is style number 21245 (larger view) -and I happen to have it hanging on my pattern rack. It’s kind of strange how I ended up with it. This and quite a few other styles were stolen (long story) by this guy I won’t name who made leather coats. Anyway, when he went broke (he didn’t know how to sew these, there’s a trick to many of them ha ha), I went to the auction and bought every pattern in the place for $100. Sweet, no? As an aside, that guy has gone broke a few more times since then. He has a habit of not paying his vendors so every couple of years all his stuff gets auctioned off. But that’s a whole other story. What I meant to say is that I digitized the 21245 today and cleaned it up a little. I only have it in the one size (medium of course) but if I have time, I may sew up a sample and see if anyone is interested in buying a copy of it.

The second style at lower right is another one I saw on eBay. It is currently for sale ($148) if you’re interested. It is shown on a lady (larger view) but this is actually a man’s jacket, style number 11150. I also have this pattern as well as the ladies version which is identical but for sizing. The ladies style is numbered 21118. We sold these every year,  year in, year out, maybe only changing the pocket fringe. Some years we had it fringed, other times not. Disney bought tons of these for their theme parks. A note on this jacket, I was never wild on the armholes. I thought they were too low but they wouldn’t let me fix them for a few years and even then, not much. Such is life.

So, hold on to your old patterns. As I said, with today’s technology we can keep the bones of them around for possible future distribution as long as we have electricity and a web.

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  1. Anne says:

    What a great story! I had never thought much before about where all the old patterns go when they die.

    My students are always coming in with “vintage” design ideas; some I loved once upon a time, some I still love, and some I feel should never come back to life. That being said, many of the styles offer a fantastic challenge for my students to use their newly acquired pattern manipulation skills to recreate these “new to them” styles. Makes pattern work more fun and relevant for them (and me).

    Last year I challenged my students to re-create the “vintage 60’s” Lt. Uhura’s Star Trek uniform pattern (the extra credit project was due on Halloween). As I researched this project, I found many patterns for sale on line that were very poor representations of her uniform, and they were not cheap! I think I found my retirement job :)

  2. Sarah_H. says:

    I have had this experience several times, but never with a style that I still held the pattern for. A colorblocked dress from the early 70’s, check. Plus sized sportswear from the 80’s, check….I am still wearing a few of those because they fit so well. (Yes, without the shoulder pads) When the company I made the plus size patterns for went under in 99, I was given permission to take any of the patterns I wanted. I have many of the block patterns I used from them on floppy disk (remember those?) that I need to get converted to DVD before I no longer can. Does anyone know where I could get this done?

  3. Kathleen says:

    I had so many unknown files on floppies that I bought a separate disk reader.

    Oh wait, do you mean the large and literally floppy disks? I don’t have one of those but I’ll bet you can buy them. The disk reader I bought was about $15 (I think).

    I will ask Mr. F-I. We have a lot of computer parts around.

  4. Mary says:

    Oh yeah! I still have many patterns that I made in the 80s. I think I still have that 6 gore tulip skirt pattern from the 70s!

  5. Russell White says:

    OK, I know you want another story from my past.

    I started working as a designer in the garment industry back in 1973 and would always make a copy of the final corrected pattern of my designs. By the mid 80’s I ended up with a closet full of fabulous patterns. But after moving 15 times over the years, my collection of patterns has been slimmed down–until now all I have are my blocks and a few basics. I still have–I think–some slopers from the very early 1950’s that one of my patternmakers let me copy. She was a fashion designer during the 40s and 50’s for a women’s company in San Francisco (in those days you did not change jobs every couple of years like most designers do now) and she was my first mentor, a source of wonderful information and gave me hands-on training. Funny, back then she was my age now and at that time in her life only wanted to make patterns because she did not want the stress of being a designer any more. As I am writing this, I wonder what she would say now of how the industry has changed and the demands it makes on designers. At that time we only made 4 collections a year–today, I have to work on a different collection every month! And that is just for one division.

    As you know, over the years as a designer you acquire so much stuff–like the tons of European fashion magazines (that I ended up tossing), the hoards of sample fabric and trimmings you buy (and I would end up giving away whenever I would move). The fabulous story and presentation boards you create (that you don’t have room to store anymore). Catalogs you collected from the trade shows. The stacks of sketches you make–keep or toss? Remember this is before computers, thumb drives and digital cameras.

    Of course, there are some things that you just can’t throw away (or at least “I” can’t think of getting rid of) like all of the fashion trend reports from forecasting services (these are the ones that cost thousands of dollars a year for a subscription). Then there are the great color cards and sketch books that companies (like Monsanto, Dupont, Celanese, Cotton Inc. and the Wool Bureau) would hand out when they held their big presentation every season. And finally, there is my library of over three thousand books on art and fashion I have amassed for research. (Movers really hate me for all of the books–and I hated inventory for insurance purposes.)

    Kathleen, your story of the man that went out of business reminds me of one of my wonderful ex-bosses. He was in the mens swimwear business for many, many years and a truly fabulous person to work for. But, he had his hands in too many projects with other companies and was forced to go Chapter 7 because of some bad investments. He was extremely helpful in getting every employee new jobs and I was lucky enough to get another designing job before the bank closed him down.

    A few months after the doors were locked he called me up to see if I would do some freelance work so he could recoup some of his money from the inventory of the fabric sitting in the warehouse at the banks request. My new boss at the time, told me to go help him out (business back in those days were not as cut throat as today) and so when I went to the chained and padlocked factory it was shocking to see all of the years and years of patterns heaped on the floor to be trashed; ribbons, thread, elastic and other trimmings were tossed in bins ready to be sold for pennies at the auction; hundreds of original bought artwork that were used for print designs just thrown in trash cans and tons of art supplies from our design studio were piled on the floor and marked as trash. This was his first time back in the building after the closure and we were both amazed at how the bank had little regard for the contents of the building (sort of like what happens now when the “cleaners” go into foreclosed homes). He told me I could take whatever I wanted that was being trashed–I rescued the original artwork and the art supplies. As the bank only allowed us in for a couple of hours, we sorted out as much as we could to finish this project. I was able to find the graded patterns for several styles in the mess and he was able to liquidate all of the fabric and a good portion of the trimmings for the bank. To them it was less things to auction off and to us a somewhat bittersweet ending to our time together.

  6. Kathleen says:

    You’re right, we like another story from your past and it was lovely.

    It’s crazy how things have changed. I think people who are centered can still do it the old way and be financially viable. There are those who still do it this way. If you’re good enough, people will buy what you’ve got, when you’ve got it.

  7. Kiri says:

    I had that man’s jacket! My boyfriend bought it, but it got passed to me when he could no longer fit it.

    I’ve no idea what became of it; it got pretty beaten up, but I think I eventually gave it to someone else.

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