The Vintage Pattern Selector

Any book that covers my two favourite subjects of vintage style and clothes-making is definitely worth a mention and if it happens to also be a flippin’ good book too then that’s even better. The Vintage Pattern Selector is part history book, part how-to guide and contains a wealth of information about clothes from different eras and how to mix and match them to create your own versions using the 15 digital patterns on the accompanying disc.

It starts off with a brief timeline and overview of trends associated with the decades covered in the book, from the 1920’s to 1970’s. I’m glad that the 1920’s is included as this era is often overlooked (and it’s one of my favourites) and I suspect that this is era is now becoming more popular thanks to the Downton effect.  It’s interesting that the 1980’s are still not included though, although when they are covered in a book like this I will definitely start to feel like I’m getting old.

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Each chapter goes through the iconic piece of each era. e.g. Flapper dress for the 1920’s or Dog eared collar for the 1970’s.  The chapters covered in the book are:

1. Dresses
2. Blouses & detailing
3. Skirts
4. Trousers & shorts
5. Suits & coats
6. Lingerie
7. Headwear & gloves
8. Dressmaking basics
9. Construction

The accompanying photographs throughout the book are just lovely, the styling is nicely done and includes great versions of all the styles of clothes covered.

2013-02-19 12.08.35 2013-02-19 12.08.54 Each chapter is then split down into several pieces of clothing and each piece is described with some historical context, such as the origin of a particular trend. A pair of images show the item ‘then and now’ detailing a vintage version plus an updated version from designer or high street.

The most important section for each clothing type is the Style & Uses, Then and Now.  This covers fabrics, length, style, colours and a section on what the item of clothing might be matched with.

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Once each of these iconic pieces for the category have been explored and explained, the following section includes all the patterns included for that type of clothing.
e.g Chapter 3 – Circle Skirt for 1950’s pg 70.  Instructions are given on how to make this skirt and also includes suggestions on how you can then embellish it.  This particular piece has no pattern on the disc as it’s a basic item that doesn’t require pattern pieces, but there are plenty in the book that do. eg. Chapter 5 – Fitted Jacket from 1930’s/40’s pg 96

Each pattern details instructions for construction of the garment as well as a diagram of all of the pieces you should have and how many to cut.

At the back of the book, chapters 7 and 8 cover dressmaking basics and construction.  These sections are fairly comprehensive and show very useful diagrams on how to adjust the pattern to fit you and also how to spot an ill-fitting sleeve or bust that needs adjusting.  This is the kind of detail is often missing from other similar books and is invaluable advice, this probably has a lot to do with the fact that the author Jo Barnfield teaches pattern cutting and construction.

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Overall the book is a great resource. I would have liked to see more patterns though as some of the types of clothing covered in the book don’t have a pattern. This is a little disappointing but there is so much information covered here that the reader will be armed with enough knowledge to seek out other vintage styled patterns and tackle them with ease.  The combination of vintage fashion and a practical guide, plus the 15 accompanying patterns is a great idea and make the book well worth a purchase if you are interested in both vintage fashion and clothes making.

Just a note on the accompanying patters:  I’m using a mac and when popping in the cd the files displayed as 15 different PDF files.  The files are all numbered to match the pattern number in the book.  There aren’t any names or instructions on the patterns themselves, you just refer to the correct page in the book which shows the pattern pieces, and how to assemble them.  You will need a colour printer though as the different sizes are all marked in a different colour.  I do find this much easier than the old-fashioned dot and dash lines but it’s a little awkward if you don’t have a colour printer.

Verdict – 9 out of 10.  A fab book with great style, interesting historical context and useful and wearable patterns.


Written by Sarah



Thanks for introducing me to this cool book! I’m a lover of vintage sewing patterns, and I think this book is a really cool concept!

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