1940’s Suit: The Pattern…

I think that most people who read my blog, know that I have a bit of a thing about vintage.  I used to wear lots of vintage clothing when I was quite young and much of my normal wardrobe is vintage inspired, with quite a few original pieces thrown in.  On a daily basis I have become very lazy with my appearance, which is something I’d like to rectify.  I think I keep waiting to lose the weight I put on when I had the boys, and in doing so, to be able to wear the 80% of my wardrobe that I currently can’t fit into.  Although I am working on this (the weight loss), I have been making an effort to increase that 20% that I can wear by adding some new pretty pieces, ie. not just Chie Mihara shoes, but actual clothes.


On of my recent buys is this vintage suit.  I love it, but it does have a few problems.  Although it fits me on the skirt and waist, the shoulders are HUGE.  Basically, it has already been messed about with, the skirt has been taken in and there have been changes to the jacket, although these alterations are also ‘original’ I can’t wear it well as it is.  I plan to do some alterations of my own, if it was ‘pure’ vintage and had never been touched I would probably feel very guilty about this, but as is, I am happy to do so.


In the meantime, it got me thinking that I might like to make myself a nice 40’s suit that fits me perfectly.  I have a quite specific idea of the fabric and shape of my ideal version, this, of course, has lead to many hours of trawling the internet, trying to find a good original pattern and the perfect tweed.


I’m in love with this pattern (Advance 5399), how fabulous is that collar, the turned cuff and the scallop hem on the jacket?   Sadly, it is not meant to be as none exist even remotely near my size.


In the end, I bought a Hollywood pattern (1145) in a size 18 and a Mc Call in a size 40.  I would like to point out, just in case you don’t know this, that vintage pattern sizing is teeny tiny in comparison to modern dress sizes.  I am a 14.  I was a size 8 when I got married  – boo hoo!  I had assumed I’d return to nearer that size after kids (which is when I gained most of the weight), now I hope to land near a neat 12 if I keep up my current, very slow, weight loss up, maybe even a 10 if I’m lucky.  Oh and dress size is relative to each person, I am in no way suggesting that a 14 is large, it isn’t, but for me and my personal frame, I’d prefer to be a bit smaller.


Anyhow, if you want to know more about vintage patterns and sizing, plus learn some great sewing techniques I would suggest Gertie’s book ‘New Book For Better Sewing‘ it’s brilliant and also contains some great patterns.  I hesitated about buying this, as I tend to think I know quite a lot about sewing but in reality, I know about drafting patterns and historical design and construction, but reading this I realised there is so much I don’t know, especially about the kind of sewing I’m about to do.  A perfect example is Gertie’s (I write this like she’s my new BF – ha ha!) way to work out your vintage size.  She suggests you actually measure your upper bust measurement (directly under your arms) and use this for old pattern sizing, as the actual bust measurement (ie around the widest point) is all about  how busty you are and not about your actual frame size.  This way, the shoulders and arm of the pattern will fit and you should only need to make a simple bust adjustment, if needed.  So I’m between a vintage 18 and 20.  Whichever pattern I choose to use I’ll have to adjust it up or down, but this I am comfortable with.

Next came the trawl for fabric.  My initial choice being the dog-tooth check above, but it’s too heavy and a much bigger design than I’d realised.  I am not disheartened as it’s lovely fabric and will be fabulous for bags and purses, but that’ll teach me to get samples in future.  Oh and the other small check is for a skirt.  No idea why the new Donna Wilson catalogue is there, I think I just took the photo as, at the time, it made a neat little pile on my desk.


I decided on the Hollywood pattern, against my better judgement, the McCall was much easier to follow and the pieces were fully marked, but I fell in love with the peplum on the Hollywood one, so the Ginny Simms suit it is.  Also, my second order of fabric, this beautiful green/grey/blue/brown tweed is perfect for the job….and looks surprisingly like the image on the packet cover, I hadn’t noticed that until now.


I had ordered 4 meters of fabric, as the width is wider than those given on the pattern back (which I didn’t actually have at the point of ordering the fabric as it was coming back from the US with my husband), so the first thing I did was carefully lay out the pieces to make sure I had enough.  I did and actually 3 meters would have been perfect.  When I was at college, we used to lay our patterns pieces on the large cutting table so see how much fabric to order.  Always a good trick.


Next, I very carefully ironed the pattern pieces and copied them onto brown paper which I buy in long rolls (another old habit, I always use it for pattern cutting, even for my Linen Cat work).


I then spent the rest of yesterday obsessively marking up the brown paper versions so they made easy sense to me, marking in grain lines, darts etc and even the stitch lines – I pretty much only ever work from patterns that are drafted without seams included so I’m bound to forget if I re-visit this in the future.

I’ve stopped there, as I need to make a few decisions.  Do I wait to lose more weight before altering the pattern and making it up?  Or do I make it to fit me now.  I’m going to wait a while at least.  There is no hurry and I want this to be a keeper, after all 4 meters of tweed, lining and a vintage pattern don’t come cheap.


And now for a little eye candy.  I wanted to show you this fabulous purse I bought last Autumn from Sarah Culleton.  I’m sorry if I’ve shown it before, but don’t think I have and the image has been sitting on my laptop waiting to be mentioned.  It has had so many lovely compliments, I’m always a good girl and point out it isn’t one of mine.  The detail of adding a vintage brooch (which comes with the purse) is one I particularly like.


I couldn’t resist this as well.


Finally, as I just mentioned vintage jewellery, the brooch in the tweed shot above and this cute earring/brooch set (which I bought because I owned a similar one for dressing up with when I was a child) are from the UK Etsy shop Pearls Scarlet Vintage.  I’m really enjoying vintage brooches at the moment, it’s quite a nice and affordable way to cheer up an outfit. Our kitchen table needs some TLC doesn’t it!

Right, back to housework and refereeing the kids.

31 thoughts on “1940’s Suit: The Pattern…

  1. Good luck with the pattern, I love the look of your choice of pattern. I like the idea of investing time and effort to making or sourcing your clothes. It would make me appreciate what I have, and reignite an interest in clothes. Maybe like you I have let myself run on empty, serving others needs first. Before you know it I’ve caught sight of myself in the mirror and thought Aaagh! I wonder whether in your virtual travels you have come across a modern style tunic dress? Lastly I do love the donkey purse,It would make me smile! Hope the Easter break isn’t too exhausting.Flissx

    1. I think it’s easy when kids come along to loose focus on taking care of yourself, plus as my daily routine consists of school run, work from home, school run then there sometimes doesn’t feel much to ‘dress up’ for. I do love getting dressed up though, and even for my Birthday, just over to my sister’s I got out a pretty vintage frock, shoes and put full make-up on (quite rare these days!). I just need to find a happy medium between me dressed up and my regular bag lady look, something that I can find time to fit into my morning routine. On the tunic dress front, do you mean to make? If so, I’ll have a think and get back to you as there are many lovely patterns out there. Bethx

      1. Hi Beth, I do mean to make- I like wearing a dress over the top of leggins etc, it hides a multitude of bumps and lumps! When you get a chance to have a think. Thanks, Flissx

  2. Oww Beth, I do love that tweed fabric with the blue and brown colours going on, really lovely. I do understand your dilemma about the ‘do I wait and lose weight or not’ with the clothes. I used to be a size 10 now I’m a 12 to 14 and I haven’t even had any children yet! I blame the pill…and cake! I had to get rid of many of my clothes in the end 😦 Keep persisting with your goal, I shall too, I’d like a flatter stomach! I love your idea of making your own vintage clothes though, I can’t really afford expensive vintage at the mo (though I wish I could, especially from my favourite shop: Hope Harlequin in Brighton, I think you’d love it) but I’d love to make a vintage style tea dress one day and I am in favour of accessories as they are a cheaper and pretty alternative to a outfit (I love scarfs and jewellery)… I think your tweed suit will be gorgeous and I will look up that Gertie’s book so maybe I could start to learn…hope your getting on ok at the mo. I love those beautfil purses, especially the one with the broach! Off to check out your links now 🙂 safxxx

    1. Hi Saf, hope all’s well with you? I should say, I put on weight when M first moved in, plus a little more the year after our wedding when I was renovating the flat (in London, mine that is, to sell it) and our new home here, just before I became pregnant, so perhaps I would have put on weight anyway, I think lifestyle changes plus age don’t help. The thing that annoys me is I am a good stone heavier then I was when I finished my pregnancy with Charlie! so no excuses really. Vintage clothing is so expensive these days, I was very lucky when younger and most of mine was given to me by friends of my Gran, I have a pretty big 50’s ball dress collection from that time. There is some great repro vintage out there though at affordable prices, perhaps I’ll put some links up. Hope you’re seeing some sunshine. Bethxx

  3. That was a fab read Beth, I love all things vintage myself but I don’t wear any vintage clothes. Your suit will be fantastic when it has been made, the tweed is such a gorgeous blend of colours. I would wait a little longer and see about your weight loss as I agree it would be such a waste for it end up being too big for you. The summer is always an easier time to lose those extra pounds. I am always so pleased to see people really trying to look after themselves as I spend most of my working life trying to motivate my patients ! Well done you ;0) I really look forward to seeing more about the making of this great suit…Enjoy the weekend, Jane x

    1. It think you are right Jane, I really need to loose to excess weight as it can’t be good for my health in the long run and I would be so annoyed to make the suit and not have it fit. I could probably go ahead with the jacket, as that side of me is unlikely to shrink much. Perhaps I’ll set myself a ‘half stone’ target, then I can start sewing 🙂 Bethx

  4. Hi Beth I loved reading this , My daughters and I often trawl Etsy for vintage patterns . The girls have an eighties pattern they bought from there with the idea of making up this Summer. I too love the more vintages styles. The girls and I occasionally take trips to Brick lane in London – we have come back with some bargains – although last time I definitely thought the prices had been put up. There is a lovely shop that sells scarves and aprons and other accessories which I like to visit! I do so love planning my makes ( in sharp contrast to my younger days ) so enjoy – we will just have to wait to see the result- lovely post ! Nikki x

    1. Hi Nikki, so glad you enjoyed this post, I was unsure if it would be of much interest. I’d love a potter down brick lane, I agree though and prices have gone up. My main motivation to start buying vintage again, is realising that my husband can bring some back from the US (although I think I might have pushed my luck a bit there). There is so much great stuff available on Etsy, but the price tags still don’t come cheap. Saying that, I found a great pair of Land Girl jodhpurs in the attic at home (Mum’s) so some things still turn up in unexpected places. Bethx

  5. Ooh I can’t wait to see how this turns out Beth, I’ll be following your progress with interest. The Hollywood pattern is lovely, but oh wow, I agree with you about Advance 5399, isn’t it just gorgeous?! That collar! x

    1. I know, I would have taken ANY size version of the Advance pattern, just so I could see the pieces (and draft my own), in fact I’ve kept the big image of the original pattern back, so maybe one day I’ll have a go. Best get my suit making skills up to speed first 😉 Bx

  6. I really admire you Beth being able to turn all that lovely fabric into something to wear, bunny skirts are my limit! Vintage styles really are lovely. 🙂
    Love the little bag!
    BTW I used to be a size 8 too, doubt if I’ll see that again! 😉
    V xxx

    1. Oh I’ll never see a size 8 again, but I took a look at my wardrobe and the majority is a 12 (all the stuff I wore just before being pregnant, between and just after) so that’s my aim. I even found a couple of sale dresses with the tags on….I obviously assumed my size would magically return with not extra effort! If only I knew 😉 Bx

  7. Look forward to seeing the lovely vintage pattern being put to use again… and oh, that Advance pattern! Though maybe we should stop mentioning it now.

  8. I really like the blue fabric, good luck with making it up. i know all about your sizing problems as I too was a tiny 8 before I had kids, I honestly thought I would shrink back to normal like elastic afterwards!! Ha ha!!

    1. The thing is, some people do! Sadly not me, but I accept I eat more and move about less (I blame the sewing – ha ha) so I just need to correct this. Easier said then done, obviously. Bx

  9. Oh I totally sympathise with you about the weight thing, I think my gain has been similar to yours and I fluctuate between being okay about that just being ‘me’ now and thinking it’s just not ‘me’ because in my head I’m still a little thing! I love the vintage suit you bought and also the one you plan to make. Why not make up a muslin of it in your current size and see if you’re happy with the look and feel. If you do lose a little weight it might still look fine just by cinching in the belt a bit? In any case I think it’s a grand project and I eagerly await your progress 🙂

    1. Yes, totally! My big problem is when I see old friends who haven’t seen me for years, I see the visible shock as they take in my new size, I think it’s just I was really so very slim when younger (up to being early 30’s really), and the truth was I hated it at the time, really hated it (and actively tried to put on weight). I do think you just have to love yourself as you are, or make an active decision to try and change things, and I decided when Mum passed away this year, that life is too short to think things’ll happen ‘some other time’ the time is now and all that. The muslin idea is good, as even with weight loss my top half wont change all that much. Bethx

  10. Please share the finished suit -I’d love to see it and hear how you get on making it. It should look wonderful in that fabric. I have some of mum’s old patterns and it is fascinating to see how sizing has changed, even since the 70s. Juliex

    1. I know, I laughed myself silly when I read I was a size 20! I found Mum’s old wedding dress pattern when we were clearing out the house, and even that’s a teeny tiny ’14’. Amazing how the sizes have changed. Bethx

  11. Reading your first paragraph I was nodding my head and totally agreeing and then I saw the size of the waist on your mannequin …. girl that is one tiny waist !! The tweed is lovely and I’m sure your suit will look awesome.

    1. Ha ha, I should have been clear, my mannequin was bought to my measurements….about 10 years ago! The suit is pinned in (it would have looked awful otherwise) so sadly not even remotely near my waist size. Bethx

  12. Hello dear Beth,

    Thank you for this fantastic post – I loved seeing all the details there. And wow – that suit will look wonderful once finished, I wish you’ll share your progress with us. I love all things vintage, but sadly I am in most of the cases too big 🙂 for all the clothes I admire in thrift shops, and I do not have the skills to alter the garments (well not for bigger anyway!), so I just keep dreaming… And enjoying your finds and makes!

    Wishing you a sunny and bright April!


    1. I thought I was also too big for vintage (when I started wearing it was when I was so much younger and smaller!) but the advantage of internet shopping is there is a much larger range of sizes available (I mostly buy from Etsy shops based in Europe), it isn’t cheap though, and you don’t get to try or view the clothes before buying so it can a bit pot luck. Hope you are having a sunny week 🙂 Bethx

  13. Love the suit, it reminds me of the Hollywood films that I much like. I used to be very skinny but now I am a happy 12 on the top and a
    10 on the bottom. If I get a dress it has to be a 12. I need to concentrate on been a comfortable 12 and at the moment hot yoga is helping me. I Love it. I would prefer to do Bikram in Primrose Hill but a bit pricey if you have to add the tube fair. I may go there in the summer as a treat. Last year I did it for 2 moths and I got hooked. The first time you go is £20 for 20 consecutive days, a killer, then 2 months for the price of one and them full price and them is when I stopped. You get to spot and to shower with some celebrities like Helena Boham-Carter, that is not the reason why I went. Only her can dress the way she does to a hot yoga class… At the moment I am in a local hot yoga class although different I think the teacher is good. I got it through Groupon. Lola x

    1. Ho Lola, I have a friend who loves Bikram yoga and it always sounds great! I did Iyengar yoga up until a few days before having Felix, it was great, I had such a nice teacher (who adapted the poses for my pregnancy and let me stay in the class) but sadly, by the time I had some time (after Charlie was born and had started pre-school) she had moved the classes away. I did straight Hatha yoga when I lived in London, so I would eventually like to start again. I can only imagine what Helen Bonham-Carter wears for a yogo class! Bethx

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