Those Sneaky Pattern Instructions!

Is anyone else out there in Sewing Land regularly deceived by the conciseness and orderliness of pattern instructions? They look so innocent all neatly delineated on those folded sheets that fit into pattern envelopes. But lying beneath the surface are hours and hours of precise pinning, basting, stitching, and, at times, head-scratching and seam ripping!

The construction of an entire coat or jacket can fit on one side of one sheet of instructions! That which is illustrated and described on this sheet of paper, measuring approximately 19” x 15,” can take hours, days, and even weeks to plow through!

Those sneaky pattern instrucitions

As one who likes step-by-step, clearly delineated and enumerated guidelines, I relish looking at pattern instructions and innocently thinking about how straightforward and “simple” this is all going to be. And I am regularly fooled. A good example of this is my current project, a silk jacket to pair with my recently completed dress.

These small sketches included on the instruction sheets of many vintage Vogue patterns are so helpful in the visual information they provide.

These small sketches included on the instruction sheets of many vintage Vogue patterns are so helpful in the visual information they provide.

I got a good preview of the construction idiosyncrasies when I made my muslin (toile). The pattern piece for the kimono “sleeve back” struck me as unusual.

Here is that sleeve piece in the fashion fabric, with silk organza underlining basted to it.

Here is that sleeve piece in the fashion fabric, with silk organza underlining basted to it.

After reading the instructions, it still did not make sense, until I actually put the sleeve together. That little pointed end works as an underarm gusset, which is quite clever, and as it turns out, I believe it will be very flattering. Putting this part of the jacket together is delineated in steps 6 – 12:

Step 9 deals with this particular pattern piece.

Step 9 deals with this particular pattern piece.

Here is one-half of the jacket as I have it completed at this writing:

Those sneaky pattern instrucitions

It took at least 4 – 5 hours to complete just this part of the jacket, and I still have the other half to do! Granted, I regularly add effort and time onto this type of construction as I catch-stitch all the seams to the silk organza underlining. For this jacket, with all its curved seams, slashed darts, and tight corners, I am not sure it would turn out successfully without the control that catch-stitching those raw seams provides. So – it is time well spent.

But still – how can those “easy to follow guides” be so sneaky?


Filed under couture construction, Dressmaker coats, kimono sleeves, Mid-Century style, Silk taffeta

19 responses to “Those Sneaky Pattern Instructions!

  1. heather

    your jacket is going to be divine! thanks for sharing all those little steps (that do matter…)! 🙂

  2. eugeniebouquie

    Great article. I know exactly what you mean. I am constantly being bamboozled by instructions that at first appear relatively straightforward. Sometimes I need to sleep on it for things to become clear. Lol.

  3. Pattern instructions are a very simplified version of putting the garment together, especially if you employ couture techniques. I rarely use them as I prefer to rely more on couture sewing books and experience. Your jacket will be well worth the time.

    • One of the things I so appreciate about vintage Vogue patterns is that so many of those “couture” techniques are actually included in the instructions. But somehow I always misjudge how much time it all takes!

  4. Margene Yeaton

    Can’t wait to see your finished jacket. In January, had to let a cowl neck top sit for a week before I could go back to the instructions. This was an indie pattern though. Once I GOT IT, the rest was a breeze and am making more.
    Love the gusset piece in your pattern.

  5. I’ve learned my lesson working on the old Spadea patterns – they only had one sheet so everything had to fit! Plus the patternmakers were often coming up with home-sewing instructions for factory and couturier-made clothes. It’s a challenge, but part of the fun, don’t you think? Your jacket looks like it will be divine.

  6. I have been reading your blog for months. I love seeing the vintage patterns you make. Very inspiring. Yes, I also WAY underestimate the time it takes for me to walk through all those easy instructions. I find the same with my easy patterns that I make for sale. It will only take a couple of hours to put this together. 6 hours later I put the finishing touches on an easy skirt.

  7. The jacket will be gorgeous – it’s such a yummy colour! I agree that instructions are basically an outline of what you need to do to construct the garment, especially if you’re taking the time to add couture techniques or hand sewing to make the garment ‘just so’.

  8. Mery

    I’m laughing because sew true! Once one side of my brain has charged along like a locomotive making umpteen analytical decisions and getting on the right track and moving on around the bend out of sight, then my caboose brain feels it was promised its turn to follow along and just put the pieces together mindfully, maybe half-listening to romantic music. Then it jumps the track. Keep going when lost and risk ruining? Or do something else and risk losing that inspired momentum? How one deals with such anxiety is truly a test of character. The best idea was yours: do something simple and not far afield: measure the paper. Can’t wait to see it when you “arrive.”

    • Well, you have me laughing, too! We try very hard to keep our little trains from jumping the track, but sometimes they do anyway – usually the fault of the engineer, I might add. Am hoping this jacket arrives soon…

  9. I love your colour. I can’t wait to see it finished! I can’t imagine making a couture jacket with a basic pattern. You probably just ignore every instruction and do it your way!

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