Starting to sew, and whether to use vintage sewing patterns and fabric

vintage sewing patterns

I  got totally inspired by watching The Great British Sewing Bee over the last few weeks – the great news is that they’ve just announced a new 6 part series of it for next year! Anyway, it inspired me to dig out my sewing machine and dust it off. I bought a sewing machine in a fit of enthusiasm about 5 years ago and only ever used it for making a pair of curtains, but I’ve definitely got the sewing bug again and would love to actually make some clothes this time.

Can anyone give me some advice on good ways to start? I always have the attitude ‘how hard can it be?’ when I’m trying something new but I’m probably being very optimistic! My mum (frequently) tells me that she made pretty much all her clothes from the age of about 17 and ‘never even questioned whether it was hard or not, I just got on with it‘…

What I’d ideally like to do is make some clothes out of vintage material using vintage patterns, but I don’t know whether I should start simple and basic first. Is that just too ambitious for my first attempt? Here are some of the patterns that I love (below) but I could do with some advice, I don’t know whether vintage shapes and sizing will complicate things unnecessarily!

All of the patterns below are from here, and I’ve noticed that you can also buy brand new ‘Vogue Vintage Model’ patterns, which seem to be reworked versions of their old patterns. I don’t know whether they’d be easier to start with…

Any help, suggestions, tutorials or advice would be gratefully received!

7 thoughts on “Starting to sew, and whether to use vintage sewing patterns and fabric

  1. Nancy

    You have certainly got the right attitude! I also made my own clothes from 15 on as I was too tall and hadn’t enough $ for what I really wanted to buy.

    I would suggest starting on a very simple dress first.. if you see one in the Vintage Vogue series that is fine as I’m sure they’ve been reworked for today’s seamstress.

    Maybe a sheath dress with simple sleeves? Find some inexpensive material ( or unbleached muslin) that you like but don’t invest a lot of money as it would be a shame to find it ruined by a mistake.

    There are several websites that have good sewing tips ( and also sell books) but one I’ve been impressed with is . They have sewing tips that seem very down to earth and not complicated. You might also be able to email them directly for more advice.. who knows!

    Good luck and have fun whatever you decide to make!

    • vilvintage Post author

      Thanks Nancy, I’ll take a look at that site. I’m thinking of trying a simple shift dress to start off. I’ll post the results on here (as long as it isn’t a total disaster) once I’m done!

  2. Teresa

    Hi Mary,
    I’m not exactly the expert seamstress, but maybe this will help anyway!

    I started sewing about 15 years ago without doing a course or having anybody help me, with lots (and lots!) of trial and error, and I still only sew about 1-2 pieces each year, but at least I did manage to sew my own 30s-inspired dress for my civil wedding lately! :) ( – more photos are to come, here you can’t really see the dress, sorry!)

    My advice would be to start with a simple skirt. If you start with something more complicated, chances are you’re going to end up frustrated and having used up lots of fabric. A 1950s-style circular skirt is about the easiest thing you can make and if you find a nice vintage-y material, it will look spectacular – but only take about 3-4 hours of your time. (You can easily google the pattern.)

    The first thing I ever sewed successfully was a long flowy circular wrap-skirt, copied from a gorgeous 1970s skirt from Morocco that my Mom owned. I still have it, and can’t wait to wearing it again in the summer!

    Hope this helps, good luck!

    • vilvintage Post author

      Thanks Teresa, what beautiful photos of you both by the way. I’d love to see more of the dress too! Thanks for the advice, it makes a lot of sense. I’ve got some vintage fabric arriving soon so I’ll take a look at it when it arrives and decide what to make. Either a skirt or a simple shift dress I think… Or I might practice on some cheaper fabric first. I’ll let you know how I get on anyway, thanks for the encouragement! :)

  3. ThisBlueBird

    I’ve been sewing with vintage fabric and patterns recently and they can both be a challenge!
    My advice when working with vintage patterns is to make a copy of the pattern pieces on craft paper or pattern cloth first. The old tissue pieces can be quite fragile and will almost always tear while you are cutting them apart or pinning them to your fabric. Be sure to make all the corresponding tab cuts on the pieces when you copy a pattern and write any directional arrows and instructions on the new pieces.  
    I like to test out a vintage pattern using an old cotton flat bed sheet first, it’s a good way to learn from your mistakes before you cut into your vintage fabric.  Also you can adjust any fit issues with the pattern on the test bed sheet.


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