Printable Vintage Sewing Patterns: A Buyer’s Guide

Printable Vintage Sewing Patterns: A Buyer’s Guide

Part 1 of a three-part series discussing the tradeoffs between the types of vintage sewing patterns being offered by vendors either as original patterns, digital files, traced, or pre-printed.

Part 1 – Types of Vintage Patterns – Which is right for you?

Part 2 – Tradeoffs for the Types of Vintage Patterns

Part 3 – Choosing a Digital Vintage Pattern? Other Considerations

As the popularity of 1920s, WWII, 1950s, 1960s styles and other vintage patterns grows, and so does the cost of pre-printed commercial patterns, sewers worldwide are turning to digital patterns as an alternative.  There are a number of digital download file formats being offered by vendors for vintage patterns which can be printed at home.New Picture

It’s helpful to be aware that printable digital patterns offer different tradeoffs than preprinted tissue patterns.  Not better or worse, just different things you’ll need to adapt to.  If you know what you’re getting you can be happier with your purchase.

Here are the methods I’ve seen vendors offer that I’ll discuss.  I’m including pre-printed patterns as the last option because it’s worth reconsidering them when you have a choice between digital patterns versus pre-printed or reissued tissue vintage patterns.  Make sure you understand what type of pattern you are getting, else ask.


  1. Miniature pattern block scaled with a special measuring tape – e.g. Lutterloh, French Method, Mrs. Depew. Customer prints the miniature block(s) with scaled tapes, and uses the tapes angled off the pattern block to re-draft the pattern in a custom size to fit their measurements.New Picture (1)
  1. Grid-scaled miniature pattern block – an effective, centuries-old method where the customer redrafts the pattern block to full size. Additional size and fitting adjustments are needed just like any pattern.  Many of the historical costume books and traditional menswear patterns offer pattern blocks this way.  The scale for each grid block is marked, usually 1 square = 1” or 2”.  It is also commonly used for crafts that are offered in magazines like Woman’s Day, McCall’s Needlework, etc. Variants:
  • Pattern blocks may be laid out as a “marker” that you can draft, lay directly on the fabric along the lengthwise grain, and cut
  • It may be laid out to decrease pattern paper. If so, you have to realign the cut pattern pieces to the fabric grain when you cut the fabric.
  • Instead of grids, the pattern pieces are regular shapes like rectangles, triangles, or circles, with dimensions to allow you to draft them yourself. This is common with simple patterns like aprons, handbags, or hats.
  • The various pattern blocks may be overlaid on each other in one small diagram and you have to sort out which outline goes to which piece. These can be confusing if you aren’t used to them or if they’re not well drawn.


3. Hand traced original pattern – e.g. New Vintage Lady, others. The vendor hand traces each pattern piece for you from the original pattern onto bond or tissue paper and sends you the tracings.

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4. Original vintage pattern pieces scanned in sections using match lines with a letter or tabloid size flatbed scanner. Customer prints from a PDF file then tapes the pieces together along match lines.

5. Digitally produced, full size pattern printed to letter-sized PDF, banner style. Customer prints the pattern and tapes together, matching along match lines.  The difference with #4 is how the pattern was digitized.  If you are buying a PDF, you may not know unless you ask.  In this case the pattern piece is digitized directly to full size by using a wide format scanner, digitally tracing the original pattern with a large digital white board, or by a pattern maker flat-drafting it directly into a drawing or CAD program.

6. A wide format JPG or similar digital file image of the full size pattern pieces that the customer takes to a print shop and has them print a full-sized pattern on wide format paper, usually 36”, 45”, or 60”.

From the digitizing software. The graphic software marks the frame around each pattern section.  Like #2 above, the customer prints the pattern, matching along cut lines.  The digital pattern image is a vector image that can be created full size by any of these methods:

  • Flat-drafting it as a vector image within the graphics program;
  • Using one of the newer scanners to scan a fit-tested pattern or a vintage pattern piece directly to a vector outline image
  • Creating the vector image by taping a pattern piece to a large digitizing tablet

7. A pre-printed pattern (on bond paper or tissue) – the style that many of us learned to sew with. It could be an original vintage pattern.  Or, it could be a modern reproduction either by a major pattern manufacturer, or by an independent vintage pattern reproduction company.New Picture (3)


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