A Random Scrap of History

Have you ever found something interesting tucked in the envelope of a vintage sewing pattern?

great falls tribune 1964

This isn’t the most interesting thing (not like a love letter or something juicy!) but pinned in between the ‘lengthen and shorten here’ lines was a newspaper from 1964. So I imagine the original owner bought the pattern and sewed it up right away! And then it’s likely been stored since then, because the newspaper is pinned very unevenly and I can’t imagine a second person sewing it up without fixing it.

How cute are the illustrations?

old newspaper

And this ad, with a sketch of the building. I quite like the slogan in this ad “Real Quality is the Only True Economy” – still relevant today, I’d say! Choose quality over disposable cheap goods, and you’ll save money in the long run.

old newspaper ad

The rest of the ad:

sofa for $198

A sofa for only $198! When you think about it, that’s not a whole lot different than a new sofa from IKEA. (Though that one in the link doesn’t look comfortable and barely qualifies as a sofa bed, so there’s that. I bet the 1964 one is a much better choice, solid wood instead of particle board.)

The most interesting old newspaper I ever found was when I renovated the bathroom of my old apartment. After taking out the sink, stuffed into the holes around the pipes was old newspaper from about 1985. The best part of the paper? The ad for a brand-new, 52 KB computer! Fifty-two kilobytes, that’s what, a one-page word document? Half an iTune? I have no idea. Want to know the price of a 52 KB computer? Only $3000! (And you could add a dot-matrix printer for only an additional $2000.) We’ve come a long way in the technology world. (I tried to find an example online and found this  funny ad: ‘What kind of man owns his own computer? Ha! It was closer to this kind of thing, prices starting at $2999.)

Interestingly, sewing patterns still remain the same, paper and tissue, the same as the last hundred years. We’ve invented PDF patterns but the printed pattern is relatively unchanged.

This is the pattern I found it in – Simplicity 4931. I haven’t done anything with it yet, but I wanted to look at the instructions and pattern pieces. (Do you do that too, when you get a new pattern? I enjoy reading the instructions to find out how it goes together before starting. With vintage patterns it’s an especially good idea to find out what shape the pieces are in and if they’re all there.)

simplicity 4931

Do you enjoy finding little snippets of the past like this when you least expect them? What’s the most interesting ‘bonus’ you’ve found in a vintage sewing pattern envelope?


57 Responses to A Random Scrap of History

  1. Rachel May 15, 2013 at 6:12 am #

    What fun! I also like to pull out and read the instructions as soon as I get a pattern, sometimes even in the car, whether I have plans yet for that pattern or not!

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

      Yes! Me too. That’s half the fun of getting new patterns!

  2. Annabel Vita May 15, 2013 at 6:17 am #

    So fun! I think that advert (with the great slogan) would look cool framed in the Sewaholic studio!

    I inherited some sewing patterns from my mother-in-law-to-be’s mother (you can see them here http://www.annabelvita.com/2012/08/29/vintage-goodies/) and when I opened one of the patterns (a doll’s clothes pattern) I found that she’d already cut out some of the pieces in a lovely green fabric! I look forward to finishing her work one day.

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

      So cool! I remember a sewing blogger finding a half-sewn vintage dress and finishing it. It was a while back so I can’t remember who, but that’s so neat!

  3. Diane @ Vintage Zest May 15, 2013 at 6:29 am #

    Ooh! I love the little scrap of history you found! I’ve never found anything actually, but that’s because I only bought new patterns up until recently.

    Last weekend, I got a box of old patterns from the swap meet (for free!), but I have yet to look through them. They weren’t all my favorites, and you can see some weird ones here. (http://vintagezest.blogspot.com/2013/05/tip-how-to-get-your-swap-meet-on.html).

    Now that there could be a potential surprise waiting for me, I can’t wait to go through them ASAP!

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

      Oh nice! Have fun going through the old patterns. Even the weird ones might have some interesting bits in the instruction sheet, or bonuses like mine!

  4. Michelle May 15, 2013 at 6:38 am #

    I recently bought a large number of vintage patterns at an estate sale, and I’m finding orginal store receipts in some of them, dated newspaper clippings with some of the mail order patterns, and inspiration photos cut from magazines tucked inside others. It’s a lot of fun to find little treasures along with them.

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

      Oh neat! Inspiration photos, that’s awesome. It gives you a little insight into the original purchaser!

  5. jaclynmariet May 15, 2013 at 6:42 am #

    That’s fascinating! I like it even more because I am from Montana and quite familiar with the Great Falls Tribune.

    I love reading old newspapers and magazines…my mom has a National Geographic from the 1930s, and it’s such fun to look at. The articles are interesting, but the ads are even better. Even old car ads…I just love how they described their products.

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

      Cool! I posted this wondering if anyone would be from the area and could tell us if the paper is still around.

      I love old car ads! We used to have a bunch of National Geographics from the 70s and I would always look for my old car (a 1979 Malibu) and when I found it, I tore it out. (Shh.. I know you’re not supposed to cut National Geographics.)

      • jaclynmariet May 16, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

        Yup…Great Falls being one of the few large cities in Montana, its newspaper has quite a large circulation area. Most of the state reads either the Great Falls Tribune, the Billings Gazette, the (Butte) Montana Standard, the Helena Independent Record, or the Bozeman Chronicle.

  6. Lauren May 15, 2013 at 7:07 am #

    I love finding newspaper clippings in old sewing patterns… usually it’s just print ads or little clips of “inspiration” designs, but once I found a whole section from the classified ads – for apartments and cars! I was so excited to read them, until I realized that a good half the section was advertising for only whites (as in, the ads said NO COLOREDS or something wretched like that). There wasn’t a date on the paper, but the cars were late 50s models, so somewhere around that time I suppose. Fascinating, sure, but it also made me feel gross.

    On a happier note, I love old computer ads. oldcomputers.net has some pretty funny ones.

    • KristiEllKay May 15, 2013 at 7:16 am #

      One of the drawbacks of being a Southerner… I know your feels, brah. =/

    • Ann May 15, 2013 at 8:09 am #

      Lauren, your story reminds me of when I found a secret compartment in a desk I got from my grandparents, with newspaper clippings inside….I thought, “Oh, cool!” until I looked at them and realized they were pro-segration essays and articles from the 60’s. Agh! (My grandparents were already long gone when I found this stuff, by the way.)

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

      Oh wow, yeah, that would give me a funny feeling too. I didn’t live through any of that time period and I don’t know (pardon my ignorance) if it was the same in Canada. (Just checked and while there wasn’t a law there was more of an unwritten code on what was allowed. So we had it here too.) There have been a lot of changes in the past 50-70 years that’s for sure!

      Yeah, I poked around at old computer ads trying to find an example of the one I found, there was some funny stuff!

  7. KristiEllKay May 15, 2013 at 7:14 am #

    Bahaha, dude, I usually buy a few patterns at a time, and as soon as I get home, I take out the instructions for all of them and then curl up on the couch with them as if they were a good book. I got my Cambie & Thurlow pattern at the same time, and I actually took the instructions to work with me, so I could read them during lunch, too. I thought I was the only one!!

    I’ve never had a vintage sewing pattern; the best I’ve done is to find a post-it I accidentally stuck to one of my pattern tissues when I put them back in the envelope after tracing haha

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

      I do that too! Make a cup of tea, and settle down for a good read-through of the pattern instructions. I do it with knitting books too, now that I have a few. It’s almost more relaxing when you know you’re not going to get started right away, your only mission is to read through and get a feel for the construction. Love it!

  8. Seraphinalina May 15, 2013 at 7:16 am #

    My Nana had Alzheimer’s and moved into a nursing home prior to my Papa passing away. Papa could kind of cook, but he stuck to what he knew and the language of cook books was confusing so her many cook books were of no use to him. I happily took them from him and I’m so glad I did. I find recipe clippings from newspapers, promotional books, menus for holidays, notes in the margins, it’s like finding little treasures from my much younger grandmother. One mini-magazine, “Hostess!” I think, has an article about someone in Manitoba renovating their basement into three round rooms with wood paneling. It’s absolutely classic.

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

      That is so sweet. There are people that say you shouldn’t write in books, but then you wouldn’t have these wonderful reminders when you cook!

  9. Rachel May 15, 2013 at 7:16 am #

    I found rules for what was either a sewing competition or a test from the WI in one of my vintage patterns. I don’t normally find anthing interesting – usually its unexpected pins (ouch!)

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

      Oh yeah, I’ve found pins too. Usually all-metal, short, thick ones.

  10. TMachan May 15, 2013 at 7:23 am #

    Fascinating! About a year ago I had someone bring in a couple old sections of the Winnipeg Tribune (now Winnipeg Free Press) from 1940 to my office (I work in newspaper). On one dated Oct. 23, 1940, the front page had plenty of articles with headlines such as ‘Axis plots three separate Blows’ and ‘Hitler and Franco In Secret Sessions on War Entry’ and articles recounting WWII such as a bomb dropped between London’s House of Lords and Westminster Abbey, and missing soldiers. It was tragic to read.
    But in another section, dated Oct. 19, 1940, it had a “Hollywood Fashion Forecast” – on the front page with the headline ‘Fall Film Styles Shout Smartness’ with the subheadline ‘Colors Will “Cheer” in Football Stands’. They had some accompanying coloured drawings of their outfits. There were plaid A-line skirts falling just below the knee, knitted cardigans and dainty white gloves with button details. Perfect inspiration!

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

      Oh wow, that is fascinating! What a difference from one section of the paper to another – although now that I type that, it’s pretty much the same today. Disaster on the front page, movies to see in the middle.

  11. mjb May 15, 2013 at 7:43 am #

    Have you ever seen a tissue pattern from before they were printed? I think until the 30’s they just had holes punched in them where the lines would go.

  12. Kelly May 15, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    I love finding little things in vintage patterns, even if it’s just some handwriting! How interesting.

  13. Claire May 15, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Fascinated by the $198 sofa, but $198 then is equivalent to anywhere between $1,120 and $4,330! I think we forget just how expensive everything was then, though probably better quality and better materials.

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

      Oh totally! People saved up and probably owned that sofa their whole lives. Different from now when we have to replace falling-apart IKEA furniture, or just want to redecorate in a new colour scheme. You’re more committed to a sofa when you spend that much money on it.. but in return it will last a lot longer.

  14. Jan Morton May 15, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    I recently altered a dress for lady, it was her mothers dress and she assumed here mother had made it hereself. I found a label inside with ILGWU (international ladies garment workers union) on it. I’d neve come across it before (I’m in England) so I did some research and was able to date the dress fairly accurately because of the logo design. The lady is now quite intrigued, her mother never went to America, although her father was in the British armed services and it’s possible that the was an American dressmaker nearby where they were posted at the time. I was fascinated by the origins of the ILGWU, a really supportive network for dressmakers in the USA.

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

      A dress I bought last month in Las Vegas has the ILGWU label in it too! It’s neat because you’re right, you can date the dress by the label style. It’s cool to own something with a story attached like that. (And I thought it was homemade at first too, none of the seams are finished.)

  15. Heide May 15, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    I just recently bought a coat pattern from the early 30s. When I looked inside a little paper envelope for bunion plasters fell out! There wasn’t anything in it, but maybe it was used to hold buttons? It is the most vibrant of colors. I posted pictures here: http://apronhistory.blogspot.com/2013/02/1930s-coat-pattern-anda-surprise.html

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

      That is a gorgeous label for a rather unsexy product! Very cool. Thanks for sharing! I haven’t purchased a pattern that old before so it’s awesome that you got a bonus in yours.

  16. Amy May 15, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    In an old 50’s dress pattern, I found and envelope marked “halter top” and it had newspaper cut out pieces of another bodice. I wonder of they were self-drafted. I also once found a letter dated 1964 from June Tailor saying they heard she was quite the seamstress and they were sending her their pressing board to try out. The woman lived in my city! I bought the pattern from Etsy so that was cool. It’s framed in my sewing room.

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

      Oh cool! Self-drafted, or maybe copied from a friend’s pattern? Or copied from a garment? I guess we’ll never know. That letter is so cool, what a find!

  17. Joyce Wilson May 15, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    Wow, does this pattern bring back memories. I graduated in 1964 and do remember this pattern. Always wanted a dress like the prom dress but was not skilled enough to make it. I love seeing some of the vintage patterns you post and have used. They were so pretty and still are today. Love the dresses you have made from McCalls 7743. Love your blog. Keep up the good work.

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

      That is so neat that you remember this pattern! Did pattern companies come out with a lot of patterns in a year like they do now? If so you have a very good memory! I’ll have to make this one up in honor of your prom. :) You’re right, many of these vintage styles are still beautiful today because they’re classic and flattering. Nothing too extreme or trendy, the actual silhouette of this dress is fairly simple.

  18. Iryna May 15, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    I love when it happens! I bought vintage pattern and there was a newspaper ad and fabric label: http://instagram.com/p/V12zucAz1l/

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

      That is so neat! 100% Irish linen, I wonder if that was the top of the line linen at the time? I find it surprising that the label says ‘little to no ironing’ when we’re talking about linen here.

  19. Sabs May 15, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Ooh, I love old/antique stuff that has history. I recently bought my very first vintage pattern from ebay – and the seller sent it to me in the original envelope that the pattern company posted it out to her mum, dated 1961!

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

      So cool! I love a little bit of history too, it makes me feel more connected to the thing I just purchased. Like it had a past life and I’m giving it a new one.

  20. Nayla May 15, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    That is so cool! I’ve found some newspapers from the 50’s when I was helping renovate a house. The ads were actually a little offensive in a sexist kind of way. On another note, I’ll be starting the Lonsdale dress soon! It’s such a gorgeous design, I can’t wait.

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

      Oh yeah, vintage ads can be a little offensive and sexist! Sometimes I see little ads in the old knitting magazines and they’re rather cheeky. Have fun making the Lonsdale! Did you see Lauren’s version this week, it’s gorgeous! lladybird.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/completed-a-hawaiian-lonsdale/

  21. Natalie May 15, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    The little Montana Power guy is Reddi Kilowatt-my late grandpa used to work for the local power company and he gave me a Reddi Kilowatt pin decades ago. What a fun reminder of my late grandpa!

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

      That is so neat! I google-image-searched him and there’s a ton of things featuring the little guy. Comic strips and ads in which he charms housewives and stuff. Thanks for sharing, I learn something new all the time from you guys!

  22. Lucy May 15, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    I LOVE finding that stuff in vintage patterns! I feel like it brings it back from ‘just another pattern’ to something that a real person actually used and made, you know? I’ve got one, a dress from the 70s, where they retraced the bodice onto newspaper (maybe they made major changes? I haven’t compared the two pieces). There’s a date on it, so it’s definitely of the same era. What I loved was that they used the property section, and there are houses there for $11,000. In those areas now, you’d be looking at close to a million for some of them. Where’s my time machine..?

    I must have another look at it and see if there are any actual addresses for me to street view!

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

      Ha! I love seeing old house prices. Or house prices in a small town. Vancouver is the most expensive place to live in Canada, if not the world! (Dramatic but I think it might actually be true.)

      Here we go – it’s the most expensive place to live in North America. More than New York and Los Angeles even! http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/06/vancouver-most-expensive-city-to-live-economist_n_2631806.html

      Crazy. I should re-locate to a smaller town, think how much money I’d save and be able to put into the business!

  23. Virginia May 15, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

    I’ve only ever bought one vintage pattern so far so I’ve never found anything, but it did get me thinking. Is anyone putting things like that in the envelopes of their patterns? I don’t think most of us use newspaper for pattern cutting any more but what about pictures of your projects?

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

      That’s an interesting idea, why not pass on the tradition? I think we hold on to patterns longer than people used to. (As I type that, I wonder if it’s true?) If I get rid of a pattern it’s because it is no longer useable, like I have torn the pieces or lost one. In my pattern envelopes sometimes there are extra pieces, maybe even bits of fabric. We also use more digital media so if we do take photos, we’re not always printing them out. (Though imagine finding polaroids of people’s projects? That would be so cool!)

  24. Ruth May 15, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    Fantastic. We found papers from the 70s under the old vinyl in our house. My favorite parts (besides the ‘technology ads,’ was this ad that advertised pockets in mans Slacks. No more need for man-bags!! Who knew, right?

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

      It really said that, no more need for man-bags? I always thought that menswear featured pockets since the beginning, whereas women were expected to carry a purse. Interesting!

  25. Neroli May 16, 2013 at 3:42 am #

    My grandmothers friend gave my mum and I a heap of vintage patterns once. I sat with my mum and grandma and went through them all. As we were looking I happened to open one of the envelopes to read the instructions (yes Tasia, I do it almost every time I get a new pattern) and found $500. I pulled it out and sat there staring at my grandmother with my mouth open…then I burst out laughing. Apparently my grandmothers friend used to hide money all over their house and I guess that pattern looked like a good place to stash $500 at the time. My grandmother gave the money back to her friend and she insisted that I have $100 for being so honest. I can’t remember exactly what I did with the money at the time, but I’m pretty sure I would have spent that money on more vintage patterns or fabric.

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

      That’s a great story! I would have been just as shocked to find cash in a pattern, especially that amount. (And I probably would have spent in on more patterns as well, it would seem like the natural thing to do!)

  26. maddie May 16, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    I haven’t found anything in a vintage pattern yet. Hopefully I’ll get lucky like you one day and find a gem. Thanks for sharing this – super cool story.

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

      This is the first real thing I’ve found, besides pins. You never know what might be in there!

  27. Ashley May 16, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    I bought my first Sewaholic pattern today at Fabricana, 1203 Thurlow!!!! Ever since I came across your blog several months back I’ve wanted to buy this pattern! I am super excited to add some new shorts to my wardrobe! Now that I’ve turned 30 I want a more sophisticated and classy look for the summer. I love the welt pockets on the back! Thanks Tasia!

  28. silvia May 16, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    I like the notes on the envelope with their alterations or who it’s for. The best thing I ever found was in a vintage evening bag. There was a 1945 quarter wrapped in tissue paper in the little side pocket for emergencies! I love that. I of course kept it there safely wrapped up.

  29. Gaenor May 20, 2013 at 4:00 am #

    I haven’t come across anything in a sewing pattern, but I picked up a children’s book in in book recycling shop this weekend with a letter written on the inside of the cover from the Godmother of the recipient. It was a really lovely snapshot of a moment in someone’s life, and of the style of language presumable used commonly in 1974.