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Vintage sewing is an ambiguous term that can refer to sewing with vintage patterns and materials, or sewing with new patterns and materials in a style that is reminiscent of a previous era. The meaning of the term relies largely on the context. Someone sewing dresses for a shop specializing in rockabilly subculture fashion may use the term to refer to the use of vintage sewing patterns to create skull-and-cherry print dresses. Someone who is looking to recreate a garment for historical or collectible purposes might refer to their sewing projects as vintage because they use the construction techniques, fabric, notions and patterns of the day. Vintage sewing projects mean different things to different people.
Vintage sewing may be a hobby or business. Cottage industries have been built around pin-up girl clothing, retro dresses, flapper hair accessories and burlesque-style costumes. Long and flowing hippie attire reminiscent of the 1960s and the large, full skirts of the 1950s both qualify under the vintage label. Disco attire, 1980s apparel and the grunge styles of the 1990s usually do not garner the label of vintage, although sewing enthusiasts may disagree, especially when it comes to patterns. Vintage crafters and connoisseurs alike are often in disagreement over what makes something vintage.
Crafters may engage in vintage sewing as a challenge — the terminology used in vintage sewing patterns, the diagrams used and the sizes are often vastly different from the sewing patterns of today. Modifying a pattern to fit a modern figure while maintaining the original silhouette of the garment provides a satisfying task for many sewers, and an equally frustrating one for others. Some sewers may engage in vintage sewing to create wearable items not found in stores because they find the clothing of that particular era pleasing or comfortable. Still others may engage in retro sewing to simply enjoy using the techniques, supplies and materials not common to modern sewing.
Retro sewing enthusiasts often keep an eye out for vintage sewing supplies found at garage sales, thrift stores and antique shops. Someone who wishes to remain true to vintage sewing construction methods may collect antique sewing machines from a specific era. Someone specializing in vintage clothing with a modern twist might have a collection of authentic dress patterns from a specific area of interest. While some vintage sewers are sticklers for accuracy in details, others may be indiscriminate with their choices, using outrageous modern fabrics sewn on new machines with authentic patterns and a zipper or buttons from a different era.