Interview with Sherri of Sew Betty and Dot.

I’ve got more temptation for you today, featuring the passionate Sherri of the shops Sew Betty and Dot (for sewing patterns) and Betty and Dot (for vintage goodies). And yes, that is a chicken on her head – too sweet! And I agree with Sherri that it would make a very fetching hat; don’t you think so? As you’ll see, Sherri has a love of patterns that many of us can understand – So Sherri, tell us about your vintage patterns!

What first inspired you about vintage patterns?

My mom always sewed when I was young, and I have very fond memories of going to the fabric store and looking through the pattern catalogues (those patterns that she and I sewed are now vintage, by the way!). Today, I have to say that it is the artwork on the front of the envelopes that first lit the fire under me.

In fact, the artwork has led me to begin some research on the different eras of pattern envelope illustrations. It’s fascinating to watch the poses, hairstyles, and accessories change over the years. Some of my favorites are the McCall’s from 1940s and 1950s: there are often backgrounds sketched in (the beach, a café), and everyone was actually doing something in their clothes, not just posing. Look at McCall’s 7804: I love how the woman in front is very thoughtfully gazing off into space while holding a very long stick with a hot dog on the end of it.

McCall 5648, McCall 7804, McCall 6097. (photos courtesy Vintage Pattern Wiki)

How long have you been collecting?

I’ve only been collecting since about 2009…and that renewed interest came from a garage sale where there were two BIG boxes of sewing patterns marked “Free.” I grabbed them and ran, half expecting to be stopped with my treasure. If those people only knew what they started! It’s amazing to me that people even now are often mystified and ask me why in the world anyone would want a vintage sewing pattern—and that’s sometimes followed by the tragic news that they’ve just cleaned out grandma’s attic and threw away a ton of patterns {sob}.

My personal collection is not that large, actually…it is confined to only two bins (ahem). I truly feel as if I’m rescuing these beauties (see above, grandma’s attic disaster) from a foul fate. We all hear stories about thrift stores using vintage pattern tissues to wrap things in…

Advance 8047

Which pattern is your all-time favourite?

Oh, that’s a hard one, akin to making me choose my favorite child! I don’t have ONE favorite, and some of my old favorites have passed through my hands onto happy new homes!

At the moment, I’d say up on my plate to sew (and thus the favorites-of-the-moment) are Vogue 1556 and Vogue 2640, which both happen to be Yves Saint Laurent; I’m also loving Simplicity 2061 (1930s, actually—love the gathered, full sleeve and the button detailing on the bodice—and a peplum, of course) and Simplicity 3902 (1940s; I like view 2, with the tiny collar). And I’m hoarding that Butterick 3288, even with its terrible envelope—it’s early Mary Quant, and I dig the cuffs and hem detail.

Vogue 1556 and Vogue 2640, Simplicity 2061 and Simplicity 3902, Butterick 3288

What’s your favourite era? Why?

Hmm…depends on what day it is! Actually, my body type is probably best suited for the A-line shifts of the sixties, but I’d have to say I swoon over 1940s patterns. The level of detail in them is amazing, from shirring to crazy amazing pockets to pick-stitched bodices…I love them. To me, there is a simultaneous ease and elegance to clothes from this era. Of course, I do love New Look frocks and and and…

What’s your favourite thing about vintage patterns?

Of course I can’t say just one thing (I’m bad that way!). I’ll narrow it down to two: first of all, I’m crazy about patterns as physical objects: the lovely toned envelopes with the owner’s notes (“made for Madge’s wedding, 1951”) and the artwork, as well as the marvelous written descriptions of some of these garments:  (From one of my favorites, Butterick 6810—gorgeous dress and marvelous envelope art, especially the faces on the models!):  “You’ll look your prettiest in this bouffant formal. Softly draped surplice bodice (back and front) ends in the molded midriff. Full-circular skirt sets you in a gay whirl…”

Butterick 6810

And I love the fact that these patterns allowed anyone to own a dress with couture details: if you couldn’t go to Paris or New York (or Cincinnati or Atlanta) and buy a new dress—and how many people could, really?—you could buy a Vogue pattern and make one with the same lovely details and techniques.

How do you define “vintage”?

Etsy defines vintage as 20 years or older, and I do have some new-vintage patterns in my shop (late eighties/early nineties, if they are something super cool), but in my head vintage means the 1970s or older.

Simplicity 1867

I hear you have a garage that’s full of vintage patterns – can we see?

{Gulp} OK, here it is, at least a partial view! The listed patterns are nicely organized (though I’m running out of room as my shop expands). The unlisted patterns are all in bins roughly organized by brand and number. That way, if someone happens to be looking for a specific pattern that I don’t have listed, I can check and see if I have it. There are also bins of vintage fabric, as well (can you say “stash”?)…and the unlisted Etsy fabric is on the other side of the garage with all of the unlisted stuff from my other Etsy shop, Betty and Dot (Betty and Dot were my grandmothers—two delightfully old-fashioned names, don’t you think?).

Views of my garage

Something that I struggle with is keeping all of my patterns put away and stored effectively. Do you have any tips on storing or even cataloging patterns?

I wish I had the answer! A filing cabinet actually works well for narrow patterns like Simplicity, Butterick, and Advance—you can get two rows across in one drawer; McCall’s is always the problem child (wider and number/flap on the bottom on older patterns)—of course, a pattern filing cabinet would be heavenly!

If you’re collecting and using a pattern with a super fragile envelope, I would store the tissues out of the envelope in a resealable plastic bag. And some folks trace the tissues of super-rare/expensive tissues onto their own tissue to preserve the integrity of the pieces.

There’s a big wide community out there (and here, too, I think) of people with similar pattern addictions—in fact, I’m a member of the Pattern Patter team on Etsy, which is a team filled with people who are extremely knowledgeable about vintage sewing patterns. We have a team blog where we write about vintage patterns and sewing, of course!

While I’ve become addicted to all things vintage sewing—sewing instruction books in particular, and vintage books that instruct children how to sew are my latest passion—my first love remains patterns. My heart beats a bit faster when I see a box of them with just the flaps visible…just what’s IN that box?

~~

Thanks so much Sherri! And I know just what you mean, exploring a box of patterns is sometimes about as exciting as Christmas morning!

Sherri has generously offered a discount of 15% to The Monthly Stitch readers – Thanks Sherri! The discount is valid to the end of September – just enter the voucher code MONTHLYSTITCH15 to receive the discount.

12 thoughts on “Interview with Sherri of Sew Betty and Dot.

  1. I LOVE the chicken hat 😉 I’m a newbie chicken owner and I don’t think any of my girls would perch on my head-I’m good if they hop in my lap…lol
    I love the idea of a filing cabinet for organizing patterns-that may just be my weekend project this week! Thanks for all the inspiration, the patterns you have posted pics of are all beautiful, I will have to check out your store.

    Like

  2. Ooh, I’m in love with that Butterick 5810!

    But I have to know… WHY do you have a chicken on your head? I had to read this post twice. Once to see if you explained, and then again to focus on the info. Please, please tell me.

    Respectfully yours, Pandora. 😉

    Like

    • Hi there, Sherri here! That gorgeous chicken is on my head because…well, my friend put her there! : )

      I adore chickens of all sorts, and this lovely lady is a Golden-Laced Polish hen. She wasn’t mine, alas…she was very sweet and didn’t seem to mind being perched on a head. I think she looks like a fabulous hat…if you squint a bit!

      Like

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