Wednesday, January 25, 2012

German Pattern Experiment: Day 4

Welcome back once again to my series documenting my attempt to sew through my German pattern magazines from 1936.  Today I will actually be sharing my approach on how to go about starting to use these patterns.  Here are the tools you will need if you find yourself in a similar situation with these types of patterns:
  • Your pattern magazine - including the pattern sheets
  • A Sharpie or other type of permanent marker
  • Clear plastic wrap (something like these cello roles)
Here you can see my patterns, Sharpie and plastic wrap.
To be honest, I was a bit stumped when I first thought about starting this project.  After carefully unfolding my pattern sheet, my initial thoughts were to quickly fold it back up and forget that I had purchased these patterns.  As you may know from other bloggers, these pattern sheets are one piece of paper with multiple, overlapping patterns (97 pieces on one sheet!).  Meaning, one cannot simply start cutting out your pieces; you must find a way to trace them.

My typical tracing method is to tape my pattern sheet to a large window and simply place butcher paper over and begin to trace my patterns.  In this situation such a method will not work.  The pattern lines are quite faded from time and there is a lot more activity on these sheets than with a modern pattern.  What's this, you may not believe me?  Well here is a visual for you:

Spools of thread are included for size reference and a bit of color.
You can see that there really is a lot going on in these patterns.
So you may have noticed that my supply list is rather odd for tracing delicate vintage patterns.  Well in a moment of brilliance I, myself a friend thought it would be great to take my pattern sheets to a copy shop and have them make a copy!  Yes, this was a brilliant idea.  Now that I have these copies, I do not have to worry about my pattern sheet disintegrating in my hands as I try to trace them.

My next moment of sheer genius came when a coworker was cleaning out the supply cabinet at work and offered to let us take anything she was clearing out.  To my luck, I found two rolls of clear plastic wrap and thought that it would be perfect for tracing my patterns (especially since butcher paper was not doing the trick).  Because the plastic doesn't take well to a pencil or any ink that smears easily, I tried using a Sharpie - and it worked perfectly.

Aside from the giant flash, you can see that it is really easy to see the pattern through the paper.
Cute paper dress-form courtesy of a darling friend.
So here are my steps to tracing out the pattern pieces - I hope you find this helpful if you own any of these kinds of patterns and do not know where to start.  First you will want to locate your pattern on the right panel of the pattern sheet.  It should have a number which corresponds to the pattern images in the magazines (for my May and December images click the links).  From here there should be a list of pattern piece numbers associated with your chosen pattern.  You will want to trace all of them:

Here is a glance at some of the pieces and the descriptions
Here is an even more zoomed in photo so you can get a better idea of what to look for:

For my pattern I will need pieces 36, 37, 38, 39 -
plus a few more that got cut off when I took the picture.
Here you can see the 39 which represents one of the pattern pieces that I need to trace.  The slightly wavy line to the left of it is the line that I need to follow to trace the piece.

 It is helpful to refer back to the tiny images on the right panel to help you see the shape you are looking for.  From the photo below you can see that piece 39 is shaped slightly rectangular (geometry experts, please do not point out my faults with this explanation - it is a rough description).  These little images also contain some other important information.  You can see that the right side of piece 39 is a dotted line, this means that it will be placed on the fold.  It also means that you will see a dotted line when you are tracing the pattern.

Take note of all the small markings they are all used in the construction of your garment,
and are just like markings on modern patterns (more scarce of course).
Sorry for the shadow, sun still sets early . . .
Here is another example of an important marking.  You can see the little asterisk by the number 65.  This represents where the dotted line ends and you need to follow the wavy line again.  You will also need to cut a slit in your fabric up to that asterisk.

 When you are done tracing and cutting one piece you might have something like this:

This is piece 36, you can see near the pile of thread spools that I have also drawn
in a dart.  It was traced from the pattern, but I knew to look for it because it was shown
on the pattern key in the right panel of the pattern sheet.
 If your pattern magazine is similar to mine, you should be able to use this tutorial to trace out your pattern pieces and get started sewing!  I've got my muslin pieces cut out and will be making my way through that.  I will also be back next week with a few more tips on using these magazines.  Keep your fingers crossed that very soon I will have my first completed garment, followed by a free pattern for you.

Do you have any specific questions about using these kinds of pattern magazines?  I don't consider myself an expert by any means, but I am pretty excited about the progress that I am making!

Live in this moment and love life!


  1. Oh. My. Goodness! It makes Burda pattern sheets look like the most straightforward thing going, which they're not! I'm really enjoying this series, thank you for sharing x

    1. Vicki, I am so glad that you are enjoying this series! I think it makes me a bit crazy, but I am having fun with it. I am still puzzled as to how women in the 1930's would have gone about tracing these patterns - they must have had some very sheer tissue paper.

  2. oh my goodness what a lot of work. I've never done a pattern like this.

    1. Haha, now you know why the patterns just sat for about a year before I did anything with them. Aside from just starting this German Pattern Series, I haven't done anything like this before either, it's been fun to watch it coming together.

  3. Impressive!! I would have taken one look at that mess of lines and hid the magazine! Can't wait to hear how this turns out!

    1. Yes, that's exactly what I did for about a year :) Gotta face those fears sometime!

  4. Good for you Ann! They're a real challenge, aren't they? The one thing you might add is that before you cut your muslin, I would recommend measuring the pattern pieces at bust and waist to make sure that they actually add up to the size they're supposed to be. I've had two of these turn out to be inches off from where they were supposed to be and a lot of redrafting had to take place.
    Good luck! :)

    1. That is actually really great advice Anna! I'm actually having a hard time deciding what size my pattern is based on the measurements of my garment.

  5. Those asterisks may also mark gathers or a curve where you have to ease in the material (like with curved seems or sleeveheads). The gathers would start at the first and stop at the next. This might also be marked by dots, but I've also seen asterisks being used for that.

    1. Thanks for the additional advice Christina - I will have to keep this in mind as I continue to work on more patterns.