Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Wild World of Pattern Pricing

Vintage pattern prices usually tend to be fairly consistent. But have you ever noticed wildly different pricing from different sellers for the same pattern? Sure, some sites have prices that are always well above or below average. But I think what is interesting is when it's unclear whether a pattern is actually rare or not, resulting in many varying prices from site to site.

Take the pattern above, for instance. It's McCall's 6523, which I first saw sewn up beautifully on Joanne's blog here. Joanne mentions that she saw the pattern for $50+ on eBay, but then found it on Etsy for $10 the next day. Since I loved her version, I've been keeping my eye out ever since. And my experience was very similar to Joanne's.

I originally found the pattern on Etsy for $48. The seller sites an eBay auction (perhaps the same one Joanne saw), saying, "this pattern recently sold on an auction site for over $50." (I suppose $48 should seem like a bargain then?)

Doing another simple web search, I came across the pattern on eBay and quickly made a bid. To my surprise, I had no competing bidders and I won the auction for $3.99. The seller had very reasonable shipping rates, and all told, I spent under $5 for the pattern. Why such hugely different prices for the exact same pattern?

I have a theory, as you might be unsurprised to hear. Several years ago, I worked in a used and rare bookstore. My duties included buying and pricing rare and antiquarian books. While I suppose this does require a smidgen of literary knowledge, it mostly just requires being able to use the internet. You see, the way I was taught to decide on a price for a book was to see what the same edition in similar condition was selling for from various online dealers. Therefore, what other people were charging determined the cost of the item, not the actual value of said item.

Pattern sellers must use a similar system when lacking a better one (such knowing it's a high-profile designer pattern - a Claire McCardell for McCall's for instance). If a pattern has once before sold for $50, it must automatically be worth $50, right? Flawless logic indeed. Strangely, the high price tag seems to have been a fluke in the case of McCalls 6523. Though it will be interesting to see if the perceived value of this pattern will eventually make it actually valuable.

Anyway, enough of my theorizing. Would you like to see which patterns are currently the most expensive on eBay and Etsy? Of course you would.

On eBay, here's a lovely Simplicity ensemble, selling for $65.28. A reason for the high cost is not given.

On Etsy, the winner is this Vogue Special Design for $95, which the seller simply states is "very rare."

Isn't it interesting? There are no real guidelines out there for pattern pricing (as far as I know), so often we must take the seller's word on whether something is indeed rare or not. Of course, the condition of the item comes into play. But it seems that actual serious collectors of vintage patterns themselves are quite rare. The rest of us actually want to use them, so some damage to the pattern or envelope is no biggie.

Have you had similar experiences with pricing?


  1. Becuase of your blog, I recently started looking at vintage pattern sites. I was shocked that some are selling patterns for as much as $90!!!!! I would never pay that much for a pattern. I haven't made anything vintage yet, but I LOVE looking at the designs the past.

  2. p.s. I also get a kick out of seeing a pattern that I own. I saw my prom gown from 1979 on one of the vintage sites!

  3. Oh, your post is really making me want to finally get started on this online Game Theory class I've been planning to take! But since at this point I have no real knowledge, I'll just say off the cuff that I would guess that price discrepancy problem is, as you suggest, a reflection of the inconsistency of pattern consumers. I mean to say, I don't think that we're consistent enough consumers for the sellers to set a fair and non-variable price. And if I had a pattern to sell and I wanted to make the most money from the transaction, I would not use an auction system to do so, for that reason. There are relatively few bidding wars on these patterns, so the seller tends to lose out, potentially selling the pattern for far less than the winner was willing to pay. In an auction such as the one you describe, it would be fair for the seller to conclude that the final price paid ($5) may have had no relationship to the item's intrinsic value, or even of it's value to you! But hey, it's a buyer's paradise!

  4. How funny that you should post on this today! Yesterday I received a vintage pattern in the post that I had bought from an Etsy seller for $5 or so. This morning I Googled it out of curiousity to see if anyone else had made it or had a picture of the envelope and I found this expired auction:

    The exact same size as I got but selling for $31 more and the only difference is that it's uncut - well so what? In a one-size unprinted pattern, that makes precious little difference; in fact, I like that someone's already done the hard work of cutting for me!

  5. I think it's a trend. When I first started buying vintage patterns they were cheap as chips, but now that vintage is fashionable, the prices have rocketed. Personally, I prefer to take inspiration from the pictures and make my own patterns from that. Much cheaper, more satisfying, easier, and better results for the modern figure. x

  6. I think it's a trend. When I first started buying vintage patterns they were cheap as chips, but now that vintage is fashionable, the prices have rocketed. Personally, I prefer to take inspiration from the pictures and make my own patterns from that. Much cheaper, more satisfying, easier, and better results for the modern figure. x

  7. Our house was flooded this past weekend, and I lost 400+ patterns, about half of which were vintage. Wish I'd had the good sense to cash in on these nutty prices before they were all ruined! Ah, well. What's $90 today is 10 cents at a yard sale tomorrow...

  8. Yes. I was interested in McCall's 4425 (Picture on my blog). I found it at, I believe The Vintage Peddler, online; and they were asking $175. I couldn't find it anywhere else. I didn't buy it because I am NOT going to pay that much for a pattern.

    I have noticed there are a couple of sites online that seem to sell all of their vintage patterns for around $60 and above; another, most are priced at $30 and above. I think they just randomly chose those numbers.

  9. Oh, I meant to welcome you as one of my new followers. I'm so glad you are enjoying my blog.

  10. I think you are spot-on with your comparison to the used book trade. (a very funny and good article on book pricing was recently linked to on bonig boing.) And just like with books, I often see the high-priced patterns sit and sit forever. What amazes me the most is when I find the same pattern on the same site at huge price differences! (Most recently a girl's pattern on ebay for $3.99 OR a buy it now of $30+).

    The only true rarity I can believe is the rarity of certain size ranges; very old patterns (20s and earlier) and probably certain things that are cross-collectible (say, a Hollywood Pattern with a famous actress on the envelope that movie fans might buy). Other than that, just seller hype, I think.

    I would be curious to know why people do sometimes pay those prices. Are the film costumers with huge budgets? People desperate for a pattern they can't wait for? Or what?

  11. I got into the vintage pattern craze heavily last year. And it took a little bit to learn the ins and outs of purchasing vintage patterns especially once I learned what I WANTED. And I think that is one keys here to the wildly varying prices on the internet...what a person is willing to pay and how badly a person wants it.

    Because really if you are selling patterns and you see someone getting 5, 10 or 20x the amount for a pattern that you're offering wouldn't you be tempted to sell your one little pattern for the same amount?

    And I've found that most online vintage pattern sites that sell the higher end patterns are aiming for collectors. People who want pristine patterns...envelopes without any defects, perfect instruction sheets and folded, uncut pattern pieces. Those are the people purchasing those high priced patterns.

    For us who sew these patterns all of that is unnecessary. So the hunt begins to find what you want for the price you can afford. And it is a hunt! *LOL* There is alot of dreck out there...I learned through trial and error that there were several online sites that I could always count on (and eBay is not one of them!) and I use them exclusively. I've found the most success with them and use them constantly!

    Interesting post!!!

    When I want to be wowed...then I go to the higher priced sites...its like shopping at Macy's but daydreaming at Saks or Bloomies or one of the high end boutiques.

  12. I've noticed the same thing with vintage sewing books. There were a couple that I spotted on ebay a few weeks back, both of which went for over $150 a piece. They looked really interesting so I popped over to Amazon and Abebooks where I found mint copies of both - one for under $10 (with several other copies available in that price range) and the other under $20. Whilst I'm really pleased for the seller, I'm still rather amazed at people bidding up like that without first checking elsewhere for what's available and at what price. I'm also rather curious as to how some sellers define 'rare', because some things are marked rare that aren't at all.

    Very interested to hear you talking of second-hand book pricing - kind of makes sense I guess!


  13. I noticed that when looking for the pattern for my Halloween costume. On Ebay it was "RARE" and cost $60. I then turned to the Google since $60 just seemed obscene. I found it on (which I hadn't heard of previously) for $12 and picked up two other costume patterns for $5/each. The seller was wonderful & I couldn't have been happier.

  14. I notice that a lot of vintage sellers tend to throw around the word 'rare' quite a bit thinking it will add value to their item, even if it is something someone might originally not assign value to.

    It has never made sense to me because, to me, everything from past eras are rare because you cannot go to the store and buy one just like it, and even if 100 copies of the same pattern from 1950 still exist, you don't know where.. if one is lost somewhere in your grandma's attic, if someone is using it, or some unknowing schlep just threw it in the trash. Any time that pattern surfaces on the web, that is a whole mess of circumstances and chance working together.

    It is great for those who can price their patterns high and actually get sellers, but if other sellers see that and think, "ooh, I can get rich too!" then no one is going to be buying or selling any vintage patterns because the prices will be so inflated. Unless you have made the pattern before and kept it in excellent condition and can speak to why the pattern is so special, I think common sense should be the basis for selling any pattern.

    You may have found it, but I have to make it!

  15. Recently I scored a de-stash of 14 vintage girl patterns for $7. About a week later I stumbled on a few of the same patterns, similar sizes and conditions, for $12-$14 a piece.

    Sometimes you just get lucky? Plus, like everything... it's only worth what some people are willing to pay.

  16. I've read a lot of debate about this - pattern sellers defending their prices saying they need renumeration for the hours they spend going to estate sales, shuffling through boxes of junk, counting and refolding pattern pieces, etc. Fair enough. Good luck to them trying to charge $100 though.

    If you look closely, many - if not most - vintage patterns are variations on a theme. So my approach is to own one of each theme and tweak it with different details.

  17. I agree with you. Prices are all over the place. I just bought 10 1950's dress patterns off of ebay for less than 20 bucks. I saw some of the patterns included in my package sold separately for more than $20. at vintage pattern store. I have had good luck on ebay.

    When I browse for a pattern with no specifics in mind, I mainly shop on ebay. If it is a specific number, I will shop individual websites and broaden the search.

  18. Even with such high prices on some patterns, I have a feeling selling vintage patterns wouldn't be too profitable overall. I was given a huge lot of vintage patterns, and was considering selling the ones that weren't in my size through ebay or through etsy. I discovered it takes a looong time to photograph, describe adequately, and listing/uploading takes time too. I decided it would be more profitable to work back half an hour a couple days at my regular job than go to the trouble! Listing's not a superfun process.

    The reverse though...BARGAINHUNTING IS a fun process for me- I'm very willing to sift through the different sites to find a pattern I want at the lowest price. Recently I wanted a smocked cushion pattern, and I saw it on etsy for $15, couple other places for $20-25... ended up being the only bidder for one listed on ebay and got it for the .99c plus postage. Previous ones had sold for around $15 on ebay, but I guess everyone else who liked this pattern already had theirs by the time I wanted mine and the market was tapped out!

  19. I will live vicariously through you as you hunt for vintage patterns. To be honest, I find it unreal how current patterns are priced. You know if Joann's can put them on sale for $.99, then they are certainly making a LOT of money at the $15.00 price listed on the envelope. I think that discrepancy is rather large!
    I have a hard time paying current prices for patterns -- I cannot imagine spending $30 or $90 for one!! I honestly had no idea a pattern could even cost $90!!!!!!

  20. Agreed--there are some pretty obscene price tags on vintage patterns out there, with no apparent reason. If a seller wants to charge such a large sum for an item, the reason for the high price ought to be clearly and reasonably stated.

    When I list patterns in my Etsy shop, I try to keep the prices uniform and reasonable. I usually price by age (i.e. a pattern from the 30's will cost a tad more than a pattern from the 40's), and sometimes by aesthetic quality or desirability.

    I think a lot of the high pricing just has to do with the trendiness of vintage patterns right now. I'll bet in a couple of years (or less--you know how trends go!) things will quiet down and we will be able to purchase cute sewing patterns again without breaking the bank! :D

  21. I'm too cheap to mess with it, and vintage pattern sellers hate me. I get all of my vintage patterns from .05-1.50 and I begrudgingly pay more then a buck for them. I look at pattern sites when I get paid, hoping maybe something is there I want and will pay for, but usually I get tired of the $10 plus per pattern and stop looking.

    I am in the process of getting a sub to COPA. Anything I want, I can just draft it myself from there, and be happy with the cost of my time versus the prices of the patterns. The rest of it...I still get them for a buck or less. I have several drafting books I got for free, several more online and I have one book I paid a whopping $3 for.

    I still look for them, but I do it offline. I've been so turned off by the prices I don't buy them at all online hardly (and one etsy seller sells reproductions for $20 a pop. Insane.)

  22. Just a note on JoAnn's having patterns on sale - they don't actually make money on each pattern when they sell them for a buck each. (That's why they limit you on how many you can buy.) It's something called a Loss Leader. It's a below cost bargain designed to get you in the door and to get you spending money on the fabric and notions needed to MAKE UP the pattern. Walmart used to do that with diapers, hoping moms would buy other marked up essentials like formula, etc.

  23. I had to comment on this post even though I'm a month late in reading it. I bid on a few vintage vogue patterns over the summer and was very surprised at how much they sold for. Then, at an estate auction, I became the proud owner of 2 large boxes of....yes, vintage vogue patterns. I got them at a very good price (a steal, really), so I went through them, kept what I wanted and then didn't know what to do with the 100+ patterns I didn't want. I considered eBay, but I have 3 kids under the age of 4 and didn't want to deal with the whole auction thing. So, I listed them on etsy at bargain prices (nothing was over $8.00) because honestly, I wasn't looking to make much money off of them and I didn't want to have a vintage pattern business. I simply wanted to sell them to people who would love them. Well, two months later I sold ONE pattern. That's it. One measley pattern. I thought that by selling the patterns at really low prices that I would get rid of them quickly and then I could close the etsy shop and be done with it. Since it was taking so long to get rid of the patterns I ended up closing the etsy shop and the patterns now sit in a box in my basement. Perhaps the problem was that most were 60's and 70's patterns. Maybe if they had all been from the 50's they would have moved.

    So, where are all these people who spend so much on patterns? lol!

  24. I am a pattern seller, and how I judge how to price it is to compare around (and meet or beat the prices I see) or price it to make a dollar or two over what I paid. If I paid $2, I will sell for $4 or $3 a lot of the times.

    My new pattern store is at

    @I am arizona, why don't you donate them to You can get pattern points.

  25. Hello Everyone!

    I have a copy of the McCalls 4425 vintage 1954 Hawaiian Sarong Dress available on my etsy shop if anyone is interested. I noticed the thread seemed more leaning toward not spending such a high price for patterns, but at the same time, I am offering the pattern for way less than listed elsewhere.

    Other sites usually sell it for $175 and up. I know it's outrageously high for a pattern, and I know the copies I offer at $95 also seems rather high, but it is an out of print designer pattern, highly sought after, and you can't get it for less than $175 usually (though I think someone might be selling a copy for $130 at the moment), and even then, it is a copy. In my opinion, a copy is better however. You're working with an almost 60 year old pattern otherwise, and pattern paper is very thin and able to deteriorate rather easily so your best bet when dealing with any vintage pattern is to make a copy.

    I am also not in the printing business so for me, I really wrestled with whether to offer this pattern at all, but a lot of people seemed interested in getting a copy and I just thought it would be nice to have copies available for more of us to enjoy.

    I took great care to have it professionally copied at the print shop so you get an exact, full sized replica, along with a pattern envelope with a color copy of the front and back, along with a full set of directions included. I am also including a color copy of the front and back via email so you have an opportunity to plan out your new sewing project while you await your new pattern via mail, as well as your tracking info of course.

    So, if anyone is interested, feel free to check out my etsy shop @, or email me via or, or even pop in over on my blog @ and say hi. I am also hoping to sell dresses made from this pattern come Fall, os if anyone is interested in a dress as opposed to the pattern, feel free to contact me for details :)

    And if you hate me for being a little pattern hog, I'm sorry ladies! I need monies for more fabric, it's a full blown addiction for some of us you know! At least this way Im offering copies of the ones I can as opposed to housing them all to myself! Im sharing at least! Shouldn't I get points for sharing?! I think I should get points for sharing...

  26. Senryk - I have found lots of decent patterns at the local thrift stores for 25cents on up. Just takes time to go there every so often and rummage. I have patterns that I paid 50 cents for that I have come across on the internet for $20 or more.Just have to be careful to check that all the pieces and the instructions are there. I agree that some on the internet make me crazy cuz I want them so bad, but $195 for a pattern isn't worth it.If you have pretty good skills, take one you have and adapt it. It's fun to see patterns that I own that were bought new in the 70's being called "vintage". I guess I am "vintage" too! LOL.

  27. In the late 90's, early aughts, Issey Miyake patterns could be sold on Ebay for $60, easily. It was just a trend... a moment. Now, I don't see them offered at that price. I sold some of mine back then at those prices, when I finally came to terms with what I would likely never make. No, it doesn't make sense, but trends come and go. Take it from a former pattern company employee!


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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