Vintage Patterns: Compare Time, Cost, Accuracy of Download Patterns

Printable Vintage Sewing Patterns: A Buyer’s Guide

Part 2: Compare Time, Cost, Accuracy of Download Vintage Patterns

By Mary G. Holland


Vintage Apron Pattern by The Pattern Chest available on Etsy

This is Part 2 in a series discussing the trade-offs between the types of vintage patterns being offered by vendors as original patterns, digital files, traced, or pre-printed.


Part 1 – Types of Digital Patterns – Which is Right for You?

Part 2 – Compare Time, Cost, Accuracy of Vintage Patterns <- You are here

Part 3 – Choosing a Digital Vintage Pattern?  Other Considerations


In the last article I identified seven different forms of patterns you can buy, of which five are digital.  Keep in mind, when you buy a digital pattern, you usually have to assemble it or have it printed at a copy shop before you can start making alterations to fit yourself.  For that reason, it’s often handier to buy an original pattern.  However, if a digital pattern is the only way you can get a pattern of a particular style, or if your size differs radically from the size available pre-printed, then digital is worthwhile. Here’s the factors at play…I’ll discuss each below.

Amount of time it takes you to prepare the pattern – how much time can you afford? Do you enjoy this part?  This is a personal decision. Low score means least time.

 Cost for you to buy and print the pattern. Paper costs are rising.  It is not unusual for a digital pattern to cost more to print than it would to buy a full price commercial pattern.  It may still be worth it based on the other factors here, and those in Part 3.

 Degree of assembly or scaling error in the assembled digital pattern piece from the manufacturer’s original – this is the amount of error you introduce when you draft or assemble the pattern. You can reduce this risk by being meticulously careful.


  Method Time Total Cost Accur-acy  Score Low= Best
1 Tape-scaled Miniature Pattern Block 3 hr = 5 $11.83 = 2 5 12
2 Grid-Scaled Miniature Pattern Block 2hr = 4 $ 9.76 = 1 3 8
3 Hand traced original pattern .25hr = 1 $25.00 = 5 2 8
4 Scanned with flatbed scanner in sections, printed letter size and assembled 1hr = 3 $14.00 = 3 4 10
5 Scanned wide format or traced full size, printed letter size, assembled 1hr = 3 $14.00 = 3 3 9
6 Wide format scanned, wide format printable JPG .5hr = 2 $18.00 = 4 4 10
7 Original or pre printed pattern, if available .25hr = 1 $30.00 = 6 1 8

Trade-off Scoring

In the chart above, I’ve scored the various factors for each of the types of patterns.  Low score is best.  You’ll want to score this yourself based on your own assumptions.  If you are looking at a gown, or a plus size, the scores may be quite different.

Below, I’ve given a discussion of how I scored each.  I’m assuming:

  • Buying a woman’s simple top, lingerie, or accessory pattern, with less than five pattern pieces
  • If printed at home, requires under 25 letter size sheets including instructions, or 18 square feet of paper (there is more waste in letter-size printed patterns)
  • The grid pattern is drafted onto pre-marked 1” grid pattern paper
  • The printing cost of the digital pattern is included in scoring the cost column: 15 cents per page printing at home (10 cents paper, 5 cents ink/toner;) $1/sq. ft. to print at a copy shop;

Here’s how I scored these.  This gives you some insight into whether this type of pattern is right for you.


  1. Tape-scaled miniature blocks – Print the pattern.  Prepare the drafting table and miniature setup. Cut apart and carefully tape together the measuring tapes.  Take your measurements.  Read the directions and scale the miniature to your size. 3 hours.
  2. Grid-scaled miniature blocks – Print the pattern. Using 1” scale grid paper such as pattern marker paper, hand transcribe the miniature grid to the paper; 2 hours.  Alternatively, if you have photo editing software, scale the miniature grid to 1” size and print on letter size paper, then assemble, or print full width at a copy shop.  These alternatives improve accuracy and possibly reduce time, but not counted here.
  3. Hand Traced original pattern – Buying it already traced; open up and press. 15 min.
  4. Flatbed scanned, printed letter size – Print, trim, tape: 1 hour.
  5. Wide format scanned, printed letter size – Print, trim, tape: 1 hour
  6. Wide format printed at copy center – email file to copy shop, go pick up. 30 min.
  7. Original pattern – open up and press out pattern – 15 min.


  1. Tape-scaled miniature blocks – Pattern average cost $7. Printing the pattern of 25 sheets including measuring tapes costs $3.75. Tracing paper 18” wide costs 8 cents per linear foot, need 12 feet, $1.08. Total cost $11.83.
  2. Grid-scaled miniature blocks – Pattern average cost $7. Print pattern of 6 pages = 96 cents.  Grid paper costs 20 cents per linear foot at 34 inches wide, need 9 ft, $1.80.  Total cost $9.76.
  3. Hand Traced original pattern – Typical cost for simple pattern $20 plus $5 shipping = $25
  4. Original pattern flatbed scanned, printed letter size – $7 pattern cost; print pattern and instructions at 25 pattern sheets, 15 instruction sheets = $6; tape = $1; total $14
  5. Original pattern wide format scanned, printed letter size – like #4, $14
  6. Wide format printed at copy center – 18 sq. ft. at $1/ft = $18
  7. Original or pre-printed wide format vintage pattern – $25 plus $5 shipping = $30


  1. Tape-scaled miniature blocks – Two major flaws. First: there’s enormous error introduced when scaling from very small to very large.  Typically these miniature pattern blocks are 1/6 scale, hand drawn, with not-so-fine pens.  Very slight errors in assembling the measuring tapes, placing the pin in the end of the tape in exactly the right place, or aligning the tape accurately along the placement point on the miniature, translate to huge errors, especially as the target size increases.  An error of ¼” in one pattern piece in a typical front and back pattern, translates to 1” in total error in the garment.  1/6 of ¼” is very small indeed, and it’s not unusual to have as much as 1” error in the scaled pattern piece.  That translates to 2” to 4” in the garment.  Second: when a person’s figure varies from the smooth, slender standard, e.g. large cup size or abdomen, this over-simplified pattern scaling method produces a distorted pattern that just doesn’t work.  There are a few methods with miniature reference blocks, such as The Blue Book of Men’s Tailoring, involving a direct-drafting approach from the client’s measurements – but that’s for drafting your own patterns, not scaling a block.
  2. Grid-scaled miniature blocks – There are a few tricks to achieve accuracy to follow the outline, but transcribing these is a direct translation process, pretty straightforward. You draw on the grid paper exactly what is in each box of the miniature, along the pattern outline.  The first time might take longer, so the time estimate shown is for a beginner.
  3. Hand Traced original pattern – You’ll need to check customer reviews but many of the pattern companies that have been in business a few years and have some sales under their belts are pretty accurate.
  4. Original pattern flatbed scanned, printed letter size – There are two opportunities for inaccuracies. The first is the accuracy of the person who produced the pattern – which the buyer may or may not be able to learn by reading the description and reviews.  It is easy to mis-align the pattern either on the flatbed scanner, or in the photo editing software.  The second potential error is in taping the pattern together, and not getting the pieces exactly aligned.  If you are not skilled at aligning two pieces of paper and taping them smoothly, you may want to consider a different style of pattern.
  5. Original pattern wide format scanned, printed letter size – Same as #4 except the producer’s accuracy is much more assured with an (expensive) wide format scanner, or digitally tracing the pattern on an (expensive) large digitizing surface. The chances are if the producer uses this method, they’re going to proclaim it all over their offering.
  6. Wide format printed at copy center – Highly accurate.  See #5, plus wide format printing.
  7. Original pattern – as accurate as the manufacturer’s QA program. Until the mid 1990s, most pattern companies hand-graded patterns.  Some were better at checking graders’ accuracy before going to print.  Personally, I found Simplicity was the most prone to mismatched pattern seams during the late 1960s – 1980s; sometimes McCalls and Butterick.  Vogue and New Look seemed to have the highest quality standards throughout.  With migration to CAD (computer assisted design) software, where cross-checking is easier, accuracy improved.  The recently reissued vintage patterns are highly accurate.


I did this analysis because I saw how much variety in vintage pattern formats was available, and was confused on what was the best direction for The Pattern Chest to reproduce vintage patterns.  I realized my analysis would also help potential customers.  You know, these results even surprised me.  Do not judge the satisfaction and success you’ll have from a vintage pattern by its price.  Do your research.  The least expensive patterns can be the most frustrating and disappointing.  Know what the tradeoffs are, and what you are willing and able to do once you have the pattern, to make it usable.

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