I used to have a manageable stash of vintage patterns.
I’d collected them over many years, and only really bought ones that I absolutely loved. I used nearly all of them, and kept them in four small Ikea boxes, labeled by time period. Life was simple.
But when people find out you are in the sewing pattern business, something funny happens. They start giving you their old patterns.
Being a lover of all things vintage and sewing related, I treasured these gifts. Even though I know I’ll never make them all, I love the artwork and the inspiration. I’m not usually a hoarder, but I don’t mind saying that this is the one exception.
However, the collection soon numbered in the hundreds. I still wanted to use them occasionally, or at least be able to look through them easily.
This is what the pattern surplus looked like before I started organizing. Piled up in a “Head Man Cabbage” box.
I needed to get organized.
Step one: Dividing the patterns
The first problem was actually physically storing the patterns.
I liked having them separated by decade, since I often want to look through details or ideas for a particular time period.
I also find it helpful to separate them by type of garment to a certain extent. Some types of garments also don’t vary as much by decade, and made sense as smaller mini collections.
So I decided to create two collections per decade, one for dresses and one for separates. I also created separate collections for more specialty garments, such as lingerie. So, I have one box for lingerie, one box for 1940s dresses, one box for 1940s separates, etc.
Step two: Physical storage
Physically storing the patterns was another issue. I’d never been satisfied with my little ikea boxes. The patterns never exactly fit right, and would often fall down and get crushed on the bottom.
Plus, many old patterns had torn envelopes that patterns would spill out of, creating a huge mess and lots of tearing.
I hit upon a great solution: comic book storage!
I bought bundles of comic book protection sleeves, backing boards, storage boxes, and dividers. I got mine from Bags Unlimited online, but your local comic shop may have some or all of these supplies.
The great thing is that the boxes are the exact right size to accommodate the sleeves and backing boards, creating an instant filing system that’s easy to flip through. The sleeves hold all the standard size sewing patterns, with room to spare in case you have trouble getting all the pattern pieces back into the envelope.
Pretty neat, huh?
The boxes are simple white cardboard, nothing flashy or beautiful. You can surely jazz them up with paint or even perhaps cover them with fabric, but I’ve left mine plain for now.
If anyone has ideas about labeling them or making them look pretty, I’m all ears! I ran out of steam after organizing and haven’t prettified the boxes yet.
Step Three: Cataloging with my phone
I could have stopped there. The comic book filing system meets about 75% of my needs, and really would be good enough for most people’s collections.
But I wanted a little more than that. I wanted:
- Search. When I had the thought that I wanted a 1970s shirtdress, I wanted to be able to do a quick search and know exactly what I had and where to find it.
- Access. When I’m at the fabric store and see the perfect pale pink silk, I wanted to be able to instantly find out if I had a 1930s tap pant pattern I could use it for. I had to be able to access the collection from anywhere.
Both of these pointed me towards some sort of mobile app. But I didn’t know of anything specifically for sewing patterns (which is a pretty niche use case, I must admit).
But I thought there certainly must be people who organize other types of collections on their phones, such as DVDs, games, or even comics! So I started looking into database apps.
I found an app called Tap Forms that pretty much fit the bill.
ETA: Read the comments below for more suggestions. Android users might try Memento Database.
In Tap Forms, you can create any sort of database you require. You could create one for your DVDs, and a separate one for your sewing patterns. They call these databases “forms.”
In each database, you can set the fields you want for each item. For example, for my sewing pattern collection, I set fields for decade, garment type, and other attributes. You can then search by these later on.
After you search, you can view a particular pattern and see all the detail you entered.
I also included a field for location, so I can note which box it’s in and where to find the pattern. This is perfect, because I never have to worry about overlap in my filing system. If I have a 1950s pattern that includes both a jacket and a dress, I don’t have to worry that much about whether I should file it in the 1950s separates box, or the 1950s dresses box. Either box I put it in, I’ll have the location in my phone when I look it up.
It also means I can easily find the oversize patterns that don’t fit in the boxes, such as the old vogue designer patterns, or some of the indie patterns I have.
You can even take a picture with your phone and add it to the database. I included a photo of the front and back cover for each pattern.
This means that when I’m at the fabric store and find that perfect piece of silk, with a tap of my phone I can look at the back of the pattern and find out exactly how much of it I need. Isn’t technology incredible?
You can even mark certain patterns as favorites, making them even easier to find.
Of course, all this organizing did take quite some time. I’d estimate I spent my evenings for about a week tagging, labeling, and filing the hundreds of patterns I have in my collection.
But once the initial work is done, adding a new pattern to the collection is dead simple. I just open up the app, create an entry, snap a couple photos with my phone, and file it away.
Much better than wads of crumpled tissue and patterns going unused.
What do you think about this system? If you have any questions, just let me know! I’m happy to answer them if I can.
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