Six months ago–I suspect after watching one too many YouTube videos by Dana K. White about decluttering–I tackled my pattern stash.
Apparently I had reached my “clutter threshold,” as Dana calls it, where I crossed a critical line and didn’t feel I could manage what I owned. I certainly was failing to manage the crescendo of chatter in my head. The chorus of “I could make this! or this! or this!” was being met with “Yeah, right!”, “You’ve been saying that for years!”, and the especially annoying “When?”
After the dust settled, I discovered I’d trimmed my collection by about half. Sixty-seven patterns, give or take a couple, failed to make the cut.
Editing my collection, I tried to be firm with myself without being downright brutal, realistic without being pessimistic. Most of these 67 patterns I’d owned for well over a decade without being any closer to taking them out of their envelopes.
But I had tried more of these patterns than I’d remembered. Opening up old project folders, I unearthed some muslins old enough to get their driver’s license–and one that could register to vote!
Now that I had winnowed down my collection, I had a new quandary: how to place the rejects in loving homes.
I certainly wasn’t going to throw out these precious patterns, and donating them to Goodwill didn’t seem like the best idea, either.
I wanted these patterns, nearly all from the 1930s through the ’50s, to have the best chance of landing in the hands of garment sewers. That meant contacting vintage pattern vendors.
I’ve sold vintage patterns to vendors before–Judy Yates, of Vintage4Me2, is wonderful. But these patterns were a perplexing mix: some in decent condition, some fragile; some intact in factory folds, some used, with tattered and yellowed instruction sheets on the verge of total disintegration.
I know, I could have bundled off the whole pile to a vendor for whatever price she was willing to pay me. It wouldn’t be much–not that I’d mind. What pattern-vendors must go through to ready this ephemera for sale–counting delicate, often unprinted pieces of yellowed tissue to make sure a facing or collar isn’t missing–is more than I’d be willing to do to make my living.
In fact, it was the thought of subjecting someone to this onerous task that prevented me from contacting a vendor. Perhaps unreasonably, I felt responsible for the decrepitude of the patterns under my stewardship.
And so these sewing rejects remained in boxes under my worktables from last November till last week, when a new solution to my predicament arose: a pattern swap!
And not just any pattern swap, but one arranged by the founder of PatternReview.com as part of a much anticipated, two-day celebration of sewing in Lowell, Massachusetts June 9 and 10 called PR Weekend. I signed up almost as soon as registration opened back in February.
In this pattern swap setup, prospective owners can inspect the goods and ask me questions about condition and completeness. Also, I will enjoy meeting the people who will be taking these precious items into their care.
In a couple of weeks I’ll board a plane for Boston to meet up with fellow avid sewers, some of whose comments I have been reading in the discussion forums for years.
Now that I knew what I was doing with these patterns and had a deadline for getting them out of my sewing room, I wanted to take one more look at them.
I wondered what I could learn from past miscalculations so that I would acquire patterns more wisely and strategically in the future.
Here are some observations:
Looking at patterns is fun. But what I’ve learned is that buying patterns is serious business. What I recently read by Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, about lottery tickets struck me as equally true of patterns: “Of course, what people acquire with a ticket is more than a chance to win; it is the right to dream pleasantly of winning.”
I bought many of these patterns through eBay auctions. So when I outbid others, I won the auction and was congratulated for winning the pattern. I didn’t just buy a pattern; I won it. Doesn’t that sound more special?
“Winning” the pattern was only the beginning. I now had the right to dream pleasantly of “winning” the garments I would sew from the pattern.
I look back at some patterns I acquired and see them now as aspirations, not realistic choices. I was attracted to a lifestyle the pattern represented. But actually, I don’t live like that.
I bought some other patterns without knowing at the time that they were unflattering for my figure type or stature.
Shoulders, for example. I have sloping shoulders. Garments with defined shoulders are going to look better on me. Set-in sleeves work best for me. Raglan or kimono sleeves, not so much.
My hourglass figure type calls for waist definition. Some patterns I bought had little or no waist-shaping, which is not so good for me.
Also, at 5′ 1″ I have to be careful not to wear clothes that engulf me in too much fabric or have lines that bring the eye down. Some patterns can be altered, but often it’s better just to look for a different pattern.
Some vintage patterns adapt more easily to current styles and lifestyles while others remain more period. I have a weakness for vintage patterns but don’t want to look like I’m wearing a costume.
A little vintage goes a long way.
Looking over patterns I’d fallen for years ago, I wondered whether I’d lost all common sense buying as many as I did. But then I stopped to think what I was seeing in the current pattern catalogues at the time. If I was buying a blazer pattern from the ’50s, there was a good chance I wasn’t liking the blazer patterns I was seeing on current offer. The vintage pattern better represented what I wanted.
I also reminded myself of the limited availability of these patterns. The auction might end in a couple of days, and I might not see that style, in that size, ever again. I could seize the opportunity to get the pattern for five bucks plus shipping. I made these purchases as a leap of faith that I would eventually have the skills to make good on these agreements I was making with myself.
I see how I bought numerous patterns for clothes that would be stars when what I really needed more was a repertory company–the core pattern collection I am developing gradually now.
Some patterns I put into a pile I called “I Will Never Get to This.” Time and again they were also-rans and would only continue to be. Having them around cluttered up not only my storage space but my mind. I would go back to these patterns thinking how I could use them, but never when I would use them.
So they would go back to the pattern box. But what I came to see was that inertia isn’t harmless. The time I spent in fruitless speculation could have been spent making progress on genuine projects.
I dispatched some patterns to the give-away pile because I eventually found something I liked more.
Some patterns looked to be too labor-intensive. Now I ask myself, am I willing to do the muslins, the altering, and the wearable test this pattern will realistically take before I sew the real garment? I do say yes, sometimes. For such a big investment I require a big return: multiple garments I can wear for multiple occasions and activities.
And some patterns were just duds.
Interestingly, even though I know much more about pattern-fitting, pattern-altering, and sewing construction than I used to, I’m much less inclined to buy many patterns.
Today, when I think about buying a pattern I ask, “Why this?” and “How are you going to use this?” when in the past “Why not?” was good enough.
Now I know I need a balance–between feeding the vision and grounding myself in the realities of getting things sewn.
After all, I don’t want only to dream pleasantly of winning–I want to reflect happily on having won.