Christine Haynes designed the Marianne Dress, our Round Two Challenge for the Super Online Sewing Match. Christine is based in Los Angeles where she writes and teaches about sewing, and designs patterns “perfect for the vintage-loving modern seamstress.”

We asked Christine to tell us a little about how to use vintage patterns as inspiration. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to select details from various patterns in your next project, or to venture into the wide world of vintage patterns!

You also might like our Tips for Sewing with Vintage Patterns + Fashion Illustration: How to Sketch.

When I am designing a new garment pattern, my first stop is my own library of vintage patterns. I have what you might call an extreme amount of patterns, probably in the upper 100’s or possibly even topping 1,000. I’ve never counted, and I’m not sure I actually want to know the answer! But in my defense, I truly use them as a reference library for details of all kinds.

Christine’s Vintage Pattern Library

After I’ve decided on what kind of garment I’m going to design– skirt, dress, top, etc.– then it’s to the library for visual inspiration. I look at each pattern for clues to match the mood and style that I’m after. Do I want it to have a collar? Am I considering pleats or gathers? How low do I think the neckline should be? All of these come together as I browse my stash of patterns.

And here are the patterns!…

Pretty quickly I move from inspiration to sketching and it can be the simplest thing on a pattern that can trigger an entire garment. Sometimes it’s not even the same item I’m looking to make! A lot of ideas are gathered from menswear, children’s clothing and sleepwear. Also, it should be noted that no item is ever a copy of a vintage design; rather the details serve as inspirational jumping points.

Even if you’re not a pattern designer, you too can work in this same way to customize your own makes! Using my newest release as an example– the Sylvie Dress— I’ll talk you though how I worked with my pattern collection to gather ideas on what I wanted the dress to look like, and what feeling I was going for.

Christine Haynes Sylvie Dress

The first thing I do is figure out what kind of garment I want to make and the corresponding mood. For the Sylvie Dress, I knew I wanted to make a fun and easy summer dress. My students frequently commented that my Emery Dress had way too many darts to be a quick and easy sew, and I knew from my own experience that in the summer I prefer an unlined bodice; those to things were my first jumping off point.

I also knew I wanted to start with a lower neckline. As my pal Haley kindly pointed out to me, all my necklines thus far were higher up on the chest and it was about time to let some skin show! It’s true that I am not someone that shows cleavage and I’m a little more modest in my dressing, but I agreed that this was to be lower than my other necklines to keep with the summertime ease of this garment.

Turning to my patterns, I browsed garments with lower necklines to gain inspiration. How low did I want to go? How did that effect the rest of the dress? Where would be seam be under that neckline? And should be neckline be shaped with curves or a square? Should it have a collar? These are the kinds of questions to ask yourself.

Christine Haynes Emery Dress

After I decided on a lower curved neckline, that influenced the seaming under the neckline. I looked through all my patterns and knew that I didn’t want side bust darts like on the Emery Dress. In keeping with the looser feel of this garment I decided on soft, under the bust darts. This then led me to the choice of a waistband since the under the bust darts would naturally lead to a seam.

Determining on how wide to make the waistband was a really big decision, as I wanted to make sure that the skirt didn’t sit too high on the body and become an empire waist dress. I know my students often complain that this style of dress feels unflattering on them, so I was conscious as I browsed my patterns to consider how the different waistbands changed the overall feel and tone of the dress.

Working my way down from the waistband, the skirt was the next choice. Since most of my pattern releases so far had fuller skirts I knew that I wanted to offer a fitted skirt for those ladies who wanted something less girly. Again, looking at my stash, I realized quickly that all of the sheath style dresses had a wonderfully 60’s feel, like Mrs. Robinson or a mother-of-the-bride vibe, which I really loved.

Topping the alternate choice off with a full dirndl to take advantage of border prints or eyelet selvages made this dress appeal to someone completely different, perhaps the bride versus the mother! And well, of course, I had to give my ladies pocket options! So researching the size and shape of pockets really set the tone for View A. I decided to leave them rectangle instead of rounded on the bottom corners; from my experience teaching more people sew the angled pockets perfectly and rounded ones can look wonky really quickly. So that decision was made for the greatest chance of success!

When you’re working with your own patterns at home and want to incorporate these kinds of details in your own sewing, think along the same lines that I did. Consider the bodice of a dress you already love, and look through your pattern stash and see how it might feel with a different skirt, or a bow at the neck, or with a different shaped sleeve. These are just visual clues to trigger inspiration for your own garment sewing!

If you don’t have a giant pattern collection like I do try looking at Pinterest or on Etsy! On Pinterest you can use broad search terms, or look at specific boards of collections. I have a board for Sylvie Dress inspiration full of images, both new and vintage, to help trigger these ideas. On Etsy, visit the vintage pattern section of the shopping site, and before you know it you’ll find more inspiration than you can handle! Just don’t be shocked if you end up buying some!

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