sewing workshop: storing patterns

Tilly posted last month about storing vintage patterns, and as I had been mulling over a post on this topic lately, I thought it was high time to delve a bit into this myself! I have gotten a number of questions over the years regarding how I store both my new and vintage patterns, so hopefully this post will be useful to a few readers.

Let me preface this by saying that no one method is entirely perfect or right. Just because I tend to take a more “Preservationist” viewpoint (as Tilly aptly called it), doesn’t mean that everyone must, or I somehow am looking down my nose at those that don’t follow that method (I detest Vintage Sewing Snobbery!). So if you find an aspect helpful in this post, then I couldn’t be more pleased! But if it just doesn’t work for you in any way, then I’d love to hear about your personal method of storage.

Let’s start chatting a bit about my beloved vintage pattern collection, shall we? It grew quite a bit recently thanks to my grandmother’s patterns joining the stash. Which means that once again I’m running out of storage space. But this is what method I used up until the New Year… All my patterns are stored in sturdy, cardboard banker’s boxes. For several years I used plastic boxes I picked up at Target, but the collection outgrew those quickly, and Target was no longer selling a similar size. So back to banker’s boxes it was! These are great though, because I can line up the smaller (Simplicity, Butterick) patterns side-by-side, and double stack them as demonstrated above.

The patterns themselves are currently divided up by category. Dresses, suits and outerwear, sportswear (bathing suits, shorts, etc.), children’s patterns, etc. When my collection was smaller, I had things divided up as early vintage (1920s-1940s) and later vintage (1950s-1970s), and then subdivided by style. But this became a bit of a storage nightmare, as I don’t have that much room for that many boxes.

Within the boxes there are patterns loose without plastic slips, a few in large sandwich bags, and some in archival envelopes (which I bought from Ebay so long ago I don’t have any specific link to share!). Generally the ones in the archival envelopes are older, more fragile patterns. At the moment not everything is bagged, and honestly, I’m not too worried about it. Unless I start noticing something is disintegrating or there are bugs eating away at the paper (silverfish are my enemies), it’s not too much of a bother. The only real advantage to having everything bagged is that I can take the pieces and instructions out of the envelope, which means I’m not in danger of ripping the envelope when I try to repackage the pieces!

I do trace many of my vintage patterns, most often because they’re either too fragile to handle (especially in the case of my 30s patterns), or I need to make fitting changes and having a tracing to work with means I don’t wreck the original lines of the pattern. But again, this often depends on the pattern. For some later vintage patterns that I know will fit or are really simple lines, I don’t bother! But once I have a tracing, I do keep it in a separate box with all my other self-drafted and fitted tracings. Storing them with my vintage patterns got too cumbersome, although I do keep a slip of paper in many of the patterns noting I do have a tracing. (Otherwise I’ll retrace it!).

But what about modern patterns? It’s a fairly similar approach–sans archival envelopes. Patterns are generally kept in boxes, but organized by pattern company. This is because many of the patterns I own that are modern are indie companies, and I like to be able to access those easily. Cut patterns are often placed in a large sandwich bag, along with any tracings I did to alter the pattern. It’s a fairly easy method, but keeps things organized enough for me to easily find what I’m looking for.

What else do I do? I’ve used a pattern organizing software in the past (full disclosure: the software was provided to me to test drive) and also scanned pattern envelopes to add to my own image files. The latter tends to work best for vintage patterns, and allows me to virtually go through my collection without having to pull all my boxes out! But it is time consuming, which is why I am still working on cataloging everything.

So that is how I store all my patterns, for the curious! I know it may sound very organized to some, but I am such a scatterbrain otherwise, it would result in Pattern Chaos (which would make me unhappy!). When I got married and moved I had no order to my pattern storage, and remember finding vintage patterns I had forgotten I had! Now that doesn’t happen very often, which means I can utilize the patterns better than I did before. Which means better sewing productivity for me! Hooray!

February 20, 2012 · 37 lovely thoughts
posted in tutorials · tags: , ,

Gina February 20, 2012 at 07:21

Casey, I do about the same as you, bags, separating them into garments, tracing when I feel the need, I haven’t done the computer thing yet. I have over 200 hundred patterns, it’s funny because a lot of them are the same styles, I need to get rid of the repeats. I was given a large box that had a lot of the same styles, sleeveless stuff that I will never make, I guess I could draft a sleeve. Great post.

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Benedicte February 20, 2012 at 07:48

I thought a long time about pattern organizing before settling on a system that works for me: I remove my vintage patterns from the original envelope and put them in small clear ziplock bags, which I mark with the pattern name and number in the top right hand corner. The patterns are then stored similar to yours, upright in boxes to make them easy to flip through, divided by garment type.
The original pattern envelopes are then put in clear plastic sleeves and kept in small A5 sized ring binders. That way they don’t get torn, and I can easily flip through the binders for inspiration if I am wondering which pattern to use. Sometimes I bring a binder with me to the fabric store if I haven’t yet decided on a pattern.
I also try to save an image of the pattern in a folder on my computer whenever I buy a new pattern (I buy most of my vintage patterns online). :)

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Gina February 20, 2012 at 08:03

This is an excellence idea! So many times I get to the store and find a fabric I like for a dress, and don’t know the yards to buy. This would keep me from buying too much. Great idea.

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Casey February 21, 2012 at 09:53

I really love the binder idea! I’ve heard about other sewers using this, but have hesitated only because… well, I don’t know why! lol. Might have to see if I have some plastic sleeves lurking about. ;)

♥ Casey

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Corinne February 20, 2012 at 08:07

Like any collection, patterns have their own life! Your system sounds like it works well for you. May I suggest tucking a few bay leaves in your boxes to deter the hungry insect? I learned this a long time ago from MIL.

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Rachel W. February 20, 2012 at 15:00

Ooh, that sounds like a great idea, Corinne! I’ve been meaning to toss some bay leaves into amongst my wool fabric to deter moths: might as well bug-proof the patterns at the same time!

(Casey, I know you’ve written before about storing and stabilizing vintage textiles, but do you take any particular care to store modern/general fabric acquisitions? I live in terror of sun damage, accidental perma-creasing, and the aforementioned clothes moths!)

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Casey February 21, 2012 at 11:17

I’m still working this out in my new space, but I generally kept most of my textiles on shelves or in plastic bins. There is really no great way to avoid any combination of problems (although after three years of having them on shelves, I haven’t noticed any sun damage to anything! Although I was always sure to keep the blinds closed most of the time in my sewing room.), unless you have room to hang your fabric (in which case I’d suggest hanging up some pieces of ceder to help repel the moths). I’ve seen people suggest using mutli-tiered slacks hangers (the kind you fold slacks over), and putting fabric on that. That would take care of the sun damage/creasing issue! I’d love to do that, but just don’t have the available closet space. ;)

♥ Casey

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Rachel W. February 21, 2012 at 11:43

Oh, thank you! The slacks hanger idea is an excellent one! My fabric is living on a shelf inside a shallow closet that isn’t good for much else, but it never occurred to me to use the closet as, er, a closet. I’m definitely going to get some stacked slacks hangers to hang my more easily-creased fabric. Bonus: short lengths of fabric won’t get buried on the shelf anymore!

Thank you, Casey!

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Casey February 21, 2012 at 11:14

Thanks so much for the bay leaf tip, Corinne! Will have to throw some in the boxes. ;)

♥ Casey

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Shannon February 20, 2012 at 09:49

I like to use comic book boxes for storage. They are prefect for the purpose and tend to be archival. If you are interested in going archival all around (bags etc.) you can go where the libraries go http://www.gaylord.com/listing.asp?H=3

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Lenora Jane February 21, 2012 at 10:32

I do this too! Mostly because my comic book collecting life started to wane about the same time my pattern collecting life kicked up in intensity, but it’s actually a great storage method.

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Straight Talking Mama February 20, 2012 at 10:36

Great post, not long ago I scanned all mine in and now when I’m tempted by a pattern on ebay or etsy I can check that I don’t have it already, you’d be surprised how often that happens! I must get some of those envelope though for my more delicate patterns

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Lauren February 20, 2012 at 10:42

Your organization is much better than mine – I’m afraid that my patterns are shoved in a bunch of lidless boxes… which I quickly outgrew, and now they’re stacked and crammed all over the place. Oh my god it’s such a nightmare :\ I initially wanted to keep my patterns out in the open so I could look at them & admire the pretty artwork, but they are wedged on the shelf so tight that you can’t see anything but their sides! I need to get some legit boxes, ughhhhh!

I did manage to get pictures of all of them, and uploaded the whole mess to both Flickr & Pinterest – it is super helpful to have on hand for browsing & inspiration – especially if I’m not in my sewing room!

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Casey February 21, 2012 at 11:19

hehe! I hear ya! I struggle to keep on top of things with mine–right now I’ve got a bunch stacked near my sewing machine (part of the stash I got from my grandmother’s patterns) that are awaiting a thorough sorting and seeing if I have the box space. (Don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t–four pattern boxes is the max I can have right now! :p lol.) It took me years though to come up with a good system that worked for me–so don’t fret! ;)

♥ Casey

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Tina C. February 20, 2012 at 10:43

I use comic book boxes and comic book boards and bags — they’re all archival, which is nice but they’re also a really cheap and easy way to keep everything stored.

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Katie February 20, 2012 at 11:02

On the storing material discussion (moving off of what Shannon said):
I am in the process of cataloging several thousand loose articles and we’re using archival quality binders (they’re big, grey, were slightly expensive but hold a lot) and sleeves. Both I believe are Avery and some of the articles are really thick booklets, larger than most patterns. That way the patterns are moved out of boxes and onto a shelf (and you can designate each binder a certain era.)

I have heard that Light Impression is not fulfilling their orders so I would caution against them, but University Products, Gaylord, Talas,etc are all supposed to be reputable and have archival quality products.

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Tina Sutherland February 20, 2012 at 12:30

Like folks have mentioned above, I use comic book supplies. They are acid free and come in all the sizes you need including the larger Vogues. The sleeves are clear, the ‘long’ or ‘magazine’ boxes work great, they are lidded, white cardboard that can be labeled easily (You’ll sometimes find plastic boxes and while that sounds like a good idea the ones I found are too floppy and hard to use).
The comic book store also sells nice plastic write-on dividers. All the supplies are inexpensive and besides, the comic book guys are fun!

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Erin @ Aim High Erin February 21, 2012 at 23:56

This is my favorite method as well. I used the white cardstock inserts as dividers as well, and orgnanized them by decade and style (separates, dresses, blouses, etc).

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Amelia February 20, 2012 at 14:50

I too have some in bags and others not and I keep them in a small cardboard box, it is actually sort of pathetic looking and I need to change the entire system. You have definitely given me some ideas and spurred me into action.

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Rachel W. February 20, 2012 at 14:55

I love big Ziplock bags for modern pattern storage! The big gallon-sized bags are great: you don’t have to get your patterns perfectly into factory folds and back into the envelope to keep all the pieces together. I know, I know: in an ideal world, I would probably crease the pattern tissue as little as possible to preserve my ‘modern’ as the next generation’s ‘vintage’… but since I’ve already lost a couple patterns to fits of tissue-folding frustration, I give myself freedom to re-fold ‘em any old way. I don’t trace because I’m a preservationist: I trace because it’s easier than cutting tissue! *shudders*

My few vintage patterns are just languishing in Ziplocks along with the modern patterns. They all live on small bookshelf in my craft room. I now feel suddenly guilty: should I look for a light-free place for my stored patterns instead?

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Mrs Amber Apple February 20, 2012 at 17:53

what a great idea! i don’t have many patterns, so i usually pin them to the walls of my sewing room. it looks neat that way, but the more i grow my stash the less wall space i will have! thanks for sharing!

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Little Black Car February 20, 2012 at 22:23

I recently had the ridiculous good fortune to purchase two 1960′s-era five-drawer file cabinets from work (surplus office equipment); they’re the kind that have the sliding supports in the back but don’t need hanging folders. I hate hanging folders.

My patterns all get a manila envelope–a manila pocket when I can afford to buy them, but, man, are they pricey!–and everything for that pattern gets stored in the envelope. The original pattern, the traced/altered pattern, scraps of fabric I used to make the pattern, sheets of notes I wrote about the pattern. The orignals often get stored isolated in a white paper or TyVek envelope, especially if they are fragile and/or oxidized, for the protection of everything else.

(No, I haven’t filled both cabinets! I don’t have that many patterns. Somebody call “Hoarders” on me if I complain that I ran out of space, OK?)

A few things to consider, from somebody who works in an archival job (I am not an archivist, I’m just the assistant, but I do a lot of this every day):

1) Baggies are fine for short-term storage but make sure the patterns are clean and dry when you put them in, check them periodically for mildew (plastic doesn’t circulate air well), and don’t plan to leave them in there for years. Non-archival plastics are *Hell* as they age.

2) Don’t use rubber bands on anything. Ever. You cannot believe how gross and destructive they can be as they get old. They basically melt and fuse to the paper.

3) If you plan to keep a pattern for a long time: Never do anything you can’t undo. That means ink, glue, and tape. Cellophane tape seems oh-so-innocuous but it’s even worse than rubber bands in the long run. Most adhesives don’t age well.

4) I love finding old newspaper clippings that show ads for a pattern, etc., but if you want to store them with the pattern, enclose them in clean paper or an envelope first. Newspaper oxidizes quickly and very badly, and will contaminate everything it touches, making it turn yellow and brittle. Check periodically to make sure the staining hasn’t seeped through.

5) Extremes of, and changes in, humidity and temperature are bad for pretty much everything. Don’t store stuff in attics (hot and either dry or very humid, depending on where you live), and be cautious storing things in basements (damp, or in danger of flooding, depending on where you live, although they are a good choice for storage in dry climates–we kept our piano in the basement when we lived in Colorado). A place that is moderately cool, mid-range between damp and dry, and is the least subject to big changes in temperature is best. Temperature and humidity changes can cause paper, wood, leather, etc. to alternately swell and shrink, which causes cracking.

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Casey February 21, 2012 at 11:23

Thank you for all the great tips about storing!! I’m more than slightly jealous about the cabinets you just got. ;) One of my friends scored a number of old pattern cabinets from a fabric store going out of business years ago, and I’ve been dying to find anything remotely similar for years (not that I have the space to put it right now! ;) ). hehe. Sounds like you found the perfect solution!

Funny story about the rubber band thing: I one time bought a lot of vintage patterns (as-is type of deal), and one must of at one point had a rubber band around it. I have never seen anything quite as gross as what that disintigrated rubber band did to the pattern envelope–what a mess! :p

♥ Casey

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Jane @ Vintage Homemaking February 20, 2012 at 22:36

I make new envelopes with acid free paper. I keep them in my pattern case. I have scanned the fronts and backs of each pattern envelope and I keep the images, along with pertinant data such as size, date, whether or not there are any missing pieces, etc. on a little website that runs off my external HD. One day I plan to actually move it to the web so that I will have access to it via my blackberry. This way when ‘m out I can avoid purchasing doubles or, if I have on missing a sleeve for example and I find another of the same pattern I can purchase that one if it has the missing piece. My patterns used to be a mess, living in boxes and plastic drawers and then I bought the vintage pattern case at an estate auction, It’s pretty deep s it holds my entire collection and still has some room for growth.

Here’s the pattern case: http://vintagehomemaking.com/thrifting-winter-2012/

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Jane @ Vintage Homemaking February 20, 2012 at 22:40

Pattern case is the second image.

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Casey February 21, 2012 at 11:25

I love that case you have to store everything in! I’m hoping one day (probably once SH retires from the Navy and we don’t have to keep things in boxes for easy moving every few years! ;) ), I’ll be able to find something like that to keep everything in. If nothing else, it sure is prettier than cardboard boxes!

♥ Casey

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Jane @ Vintage Homemaking February 21, 2012 at 14:11

It is a hand made piece and has no internal workings (ie sliders or anything) so I have actually been thinking about working out some plan drawings for it and putting it up on my blog. I get a lot of comments on it that everyone wants one, but I have never seen anyone anywhere else. The auctioneers thought it might have come out of an old general store or something like that. We out bid a man that was going to use it for tools, but then I sob storied him with my homeless vintage patterns, Navy husband, fluttery lashes and a little bit of cleavage and he immediately backed off and let us have it. LOL. It only weighs about 70-80lbs and hubby moved it in here by himself. He DID hurt a stomach muscle doing it because it was hard to hold on to, but not because it was heavy. If he had a dollley it would have been a breeze.

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Candy February 20, 2012 at 22:54

Have you ever thought to do a post on indie patterns you like and use? The only companies I know of are Colette and Megan Nielsen (who I found out about when she guest-blogged for you). I’d love to know of others out there besides the usuals (Butterick, Simplicity, etc.)

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Candy February 20, 2012 at 22:56

Oh and to stay on topic somewhat :) I store my patterns in a vintage train cases, which I love to collect but don’t use for travel. They fit about a dozen or so perfectly!

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Annabelle February 21, 2012 at 09:48

Hi Candy, another great indie pattern company is Sewaholic. Tasia (of Sewaholic) has five great patterns in her shop and often hosts sew-alongs with her new pattern releases. I know Casey has used her Pendrell pattern whenshe made her modern 30′s blouse. But I agree, it would be lovely if Casey shared a post on indi pattern companies.

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Casey February 21, 2012 at 11:26

I’ll keep that in mind! I don’t actually buy a lot of new patterns (Sewaholic, Wearing History, Colette Patterns and Megan Neilsen being the exceptions), but I have run across quite a few companies over the years, so a round-up post might be fun! :)

♥ Casey

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Jacqui February 21, 2012 at 17:36

There are some good ideas here for keeping patterns. I’m a wannabe sewer. You know, the kind who buys patterns, and sometimes the fabric to go with them, but never gets over the feeling I can’t do it enough to actually get anything done! I guess I’ve made too many things that end up never fitting me that I’ve given up the actual sewing part. Maybe I should remember my teachers comments on my school report card … Jacqui must try harder!!!

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Nicole Tobin February 21, 2012 at 20:33

I actually just took on the project of completely organizing my patterns. i decided on the hungry zombie couture method. I took all the patterns out of their small envelopes and put them in recycled manila envelopes with the pattern company and pattern number on the outside. Using the larger envelopes allowed me to unfold the patterns a tiny bit and more of them fit in a box. The recycled manila are no more expensive than regular ones and they are acid free thereby making them archival. Then all of the pattern envelopes went in plastic sleeves and in a binder. Both the patterns and the pattern envelopes are in alphabetical order by company and then in order by pattern number. This has really made a huge difference. First of all, all of my patterns now fit in the bin I have for them, before they were exploding out of it, and it is much easier to look through the patterns and decided what to do. And I no longer have to take all of my patterns out of the box to decide what pattern to do. It has also allowed me to figure out where my gaps are. Good luck!

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Lisa February 23, 2012 at 16:05

Sprinkle some diatomaceous earth in the bottom of the box. It is completely organic and not harmful to humans, pets or patterns but will deter all creepy-crawlies. As an added benefit, it can help keep the humidity down around the patterns. You can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diatomaceous_earth

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Marcus March 3, 2012 at 17:27

Infact if you are storing paper it should in acid free boxes pro prevent dterioration

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Rachel March 15, 2012 at 20:08

I store my opened patterns in sheet protectors. You know the paper size clear envelop with an opening at the top to slide pages in. Except I slide patterns in. If I wanted to keep them in a binder I could but I keep mine in a filing box.

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Joni March 26, 2012 at 09:55

I am definitely what Tilly would call a ‘user’ and not a ‘preservationist’! It took me a long time to get over my fear of using vintage patterns, actually, but I finally learned to see them as utilitarian items and not museum pieces. (I didn’t pay over $10 apiece for most of them, anyway.) Now I have no problem taking a 60-year-old, factory folded pattern and just cutting right into it!

I am a big fan of the clear bags method, since I can never get all the pieces back into the envelope even when it’s a brand new non-fragile one. I found some cardboard file boxes at IKEA that are just the perfect size for patterns two abreast.

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