Thursday, November 5, 2009

Marking Unprinted Patterns

It's a two-post day, in celebration of BurdaStyle Thursday! Today, my guest post on the BurdaStyle blog is about using vintage patterns that are unprinted. (Up until the mid-50's, patterns were marked with perforations, rather than black printed marks like we have now. This can be a little disorienting until you get used to it.) As a little companion piece, I'm posting here on the two methods that I use for marking with vintage patterns.

Marking unprinted patterns is like a line from a police interrogation scene: "We can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way." So let's start with the easy way: chalk marking.

Start by pinning your pattern to the fabric and cutting it out. Here's what it will look like. (This is the front pattern piece of the Peter Pan collar version of the bow-tied blouse, FYI.)

Take a piece of tailor's chalk and use it to color in the little holes on the front. (See my BurdasStyle piece today for info on determining which holes are crucial to mark, and which aren't.)

Next, mark the back. To do this, poke a pin through each hole.

Then turn the pattern piece over and make a mark by the pinpoint on the back. Voila! Both sides will be marked.

Now, for the hard way: tailor's tacks. This really isn't all that hard (just more time-consuming), and it's great for fabrics that don't take chalk marks well.

Start by threading a needle with thread in a color that will stand out on your fabric. Make it a double thread, and do not knot the ends.align="center">

Next, take a little bite out of both layers of the fabric, inside the perforation you want to mark. Do not catch any of the pattern tissue.

Pull the thread through, and then repeat this stitch, making a little thread loop.

Once you've marked all the perforations you need to, unpin the pattern tissue and pull it off the fabric. Your trusty little thread loops will remain.

Next, pull your two layers of fabric apart and snip the threads between them.

Now you have marks on both sides of both pieces of the fabric! Hooray!

That's all there is to it. Any questions? Ask away in the comments!


  1. Because I like taking the easy way out, I'd probably be a chalk girl :P But are there any advantages (kind of pattern, technique, fabric) to using one or the other, aside from fabric that doesn't take chalk?

    Which method do YOU use?

  2. I'm a 'tailors tacks' girl... in bright red :D

  3. Hmmm... both ways are too complicated to me.
    I would probably draw marks on a paper pattern, cut out the darts and seam allowances (I like having a seam line drawn on the fabric, hence my patterns do not have seam allowances included) and I would use the paper pattern the way I use modern patterns.

  4. A few weeks ago, I just asked my sewing teacher to show me how to do tailor's tack. It takes some times, but saved my life for darts and as a rule I feel much safer with taylor's tack than with chalk because is marks both side at once and doesn't get rubbed out. The thread tends to go away, though, if the fabric isn't handled gently.

  5. Ahhhhh, good old tailor tacks! There are times that they are essential.

  6. Oh my, tailors' tacks would take way too much time and patience! Thanks for all the great info!

  7. I have a question!
    Would it be silly or risky (for a reason that didn't occur to me) to draw the lines acording to the holes on the pattern and then, use the tracing wheel?
    Also, as you probably have used very fragile, pre-used patterns: can I iron my beloved (and slightly torn) fifties slip pattern with the same carelessness I iron my seventies dresses patterns? this may sound silly, but nobody sews vintage around me...

  8. My grandmother always used taylor's tacks, and that's what I'd probably use (haven't had to yet). Somehow my chalk lines tend to rub off too easily, or I don't have a color that shows well on the fabric (like when I was working with tartan, white showed great on the dark, but uh-oh, white tartan lines.. so I had to use blue which didn't show all too well either on the white but better..)

  9. Every time I try and save time by using chalk the marks inevitably rub off, so I've starting using tailor's tacks. I've been sewing on knits a lot in the last year which are very hard to mark with chalk or any sort of pen/pencil, so tailor's tacks are THE way to go!

  10. Catherine, I let the project and the fabric determine the method I use. For a simple project (like the bow-tied blouse) in a light-colored fabric, I use chalk marks. If a fabric has texture, or I need to see marks on both sides of the fabric, I definitely use tailor's tacks.

    Carlotta, you can use a tracing wheel, though it definitely is not great for delicate patterns. I would recommend reinforcing the area you are going to wheel over with scotch tape first. Also, there generally isn't a problem with pressing old patterns on low heat.

    Some people choose not to use their vintage patterns at all, and instead trace them. I admire this dedication to preserving patterns, but I'm of the opinion that they're meant to be used, not stowed away.I think we should be moving toward digital archives of vintage patterns anyway (more to come on this subject!)

  11. Thank you for the scotch tape tip!
    And also for what you've posted on burdastyle: I was so puzzled before the numerous holes of my pattern, that I decided I was not ready for it. It's too late in the year to work on it now, but I'll certainly make it next spring.

  12. The old patterns were all cut for one size, weren't they? I am guessing that would explain the jump from holes to printed markings. Too bad. I like the idea of the holes and tailor's tacks.

  13. Huh, that's a much quicker way of doing tailor's tacks than I'd used - making each one separately. Thank you for showing that!

    I am one of those who traces my vintage patterns. I can't bring myself to poke pins into 50+ year old tissue. But then I'm a museum-y person who's had some conservation training, which makes me a little anal.

    I don't think tracing means the pattern isn't used though, quite the opposite. I think it enables the pattern to be used, and then used again and again by other people while still preserving it. I also find it helpful because I inevitably have to make lots of alterations. I make them on the tracing, not the original pattern, further enabling others to someday use it.

    However, I again attribute my willingness to do all this to having spent so much time with museum collections. It can make you really paranoid, lol.

  14. Gertie said...
    I would recommend reinforcing the area you are going to wheel over with scotch tape first.


    Ohhhhhh, I'd be really nervous about putting scotch tape on your patterns.

    I've had to trash too many gorgeous vintage patterns because the original seamstress got a little happy with the scotch tape - the tape degrades after a couple of years and does irreparable damage.

    Could you maybe use a sheet of clear plastic over the tissue while using the tracing wheel? Like those plastic pockets designed to go in binders?

  15. Where were you when I started sewing with unprinted patterns years ago?! lol. No one every demystified the art of marking the unprinted pattern for me--it was all lots of trial and error. ;) lol. I have to admit though: I rather hate tailor's tacks. I do break down and use them if the fabric I'm using doesn't take well to a chalk mark, but I usually am rather lazy and just mark with chalk. lol.

    Btw: did you see this video over at the threads site for mark-less darts? I've been using the technique for the past couple of projects and it's brilliant (and cut down on my prep time just a bit...)!

    ♥ Casey
    blog |


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

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