Hot! Keeping Track of Your Patterns

Every vintage pattern collector has their own way of storing their patterns. The hardcore and diligent seamstress will usually copy off the pattern and then store the originals in a safe spot. The lazy and careless (I’m sadly in this camp) use the originals and often misplace pattern pieces throughout the home.  I’m trying to be better and have been meaning to buy tracing paper to get started on preserving the originals.

Whatever way you store, you’re likely to need a system for accessing the patterns. This post is intended for those just starting their collection — the old pros can just ignore this as a bit of a duh fact.

Here are my tips to make pattern organizing easier:

  • Put those patterns in numerical order! The numbers are there for a reason. If you have patterns spanning decades, they’ll sometimes repeat. That’s no big deal.
  • Categorize by maker. I don’t bother categorizing by decade since the numbers often correspond to time period and they’ll automatically group in some chronological order.
  • Take photos of each and every pattern. This is most important. Instead of doing any real categorization in the filing of the patterns, I do it all digitally. In iPhoto I have my patterns grouped by time period and type of garment. There’s often overlap in the filing (a 1960s dress that has more 1950s traits). When I’m looking at contenders for a project, I’ll flag them and then compare next to each other. The super-organized will take photos of the back of the envelope. When you’ve found the pattern you want to tackle, it’s just a matter of noting the number and pulling it out of storage.
  • Have an online version of your pattern album. I keep a copy of my patterns on Flickr (they’re available just to me so I won’t bore my friends). That way if I’m at a fabric store and want to browse the images for inspiration, they’re available to me on my iPhone. I choose not to sync them to my phone because I don’t want to use that much space.
  • Keep a database of your patterns. I’m in the process of using Bento to create a database of my patterns so I can easily access the yardage required, notions, sizes, etc… it’s a lot of work and is something that I’m not really rushing to get to.

Anyone have any other good tips for pattern organizing?


Mena Trott

Mena Trott started The Sew Weekly to document her attempt to sew all of her own clothes in 2010. Since then, she's made over 125 outfits and has way more clothes than she needs.


Comments are closed.

  1. These are great tips! I don’t own any myself, but I trace off a lot of vintage patterns from the costume shop where I go to school.

  2. I’m in the midst of doing this (tho’ I’ve had many of my patterns a long time). I’m about 1/2 way through entering my patterns into a data base and most of them are on Flickr already. Tracing comes next (for the ones I know I want to make). Good idea about storing them in order. How do you store yours? Boxes? Upright? In Sleeves or no?
    I wouldn’t be bored seeing your patterns on Flickr! :^) It’s a great way to visually fill in the gaps between patterns that you have.

  3. Haha I love that Goofus and Gallant comic :) I have two boxes for patterns, one for tops, jackets, and dresses, and the other for bottoms, skirts, and miscellaneous.

  4. Fantastic tips! I’m somewhere in between with the organization thing. I trace all my vintage patterns before using (if nothing else, 9 times out of 10 they have to be graded up or down before I sew them up!), but they’re all in one box without much organization. ;) I need to really deal with that this year… Not to mention either scan/photograph all of them and keep the images in one place on my hard drive! lol. I have lately caught myself watching patterns on Ebay that I love, and realize I already own… haha! I especially like the idea of the Flickr album for easy access via phone (even though my little Motorola is so slower than an iPhone… ;)–great idea!
    ♥ Casey
    blog |

  5. LOL! Your Goofus and Gallant cartoon made my day. Thanks for the great tips!

  6. I love the Goofus and Gallant cartoon. It is brilliant! I also love the upload to flickr and use an iphone to view idea. Now I finally have a real excuse to buy one.

  7. I created an access database that records pretty much everything I could want to know (and a bit more) about each pattern that passes through my hands. It’s a monster (just over 2000 records currently) and I love it : )

  8. I am going to have to start taking pics now of my patterns! I have three filing cabinets and I have them stored by pattern number and company so at least I have that done right :)

  9. I buy a roll of tracing paper from Dick Blick art supplies. Works like a CHARM to trace off patterns. I slide the pattern pieces under the tracing paper, and can easily see notches, markings, and even the holes, etc from unmarked patterns.
    For storage, I am in the process of scanning all of mine so I can have a digital record too. I would be all caught up, except I keep BUYING more. :D I already keep my modern patterns by the binder/box method (pattern covers in a binder, patterns & guide sheets in a storage container, by number & company). I haven’t decided what the best method for my vintage patterns is, but I’m leaning toward keeping the tracing & a copy of the front/back cover in one spot, and the originals in a safe place. We’ll see if I ever actually do!

  10. Thanks Mena for this post! Just the thing I’ve been wondering about lately.

    what an awesome ideas! can you tell us which of the rolls you buy? width? is it the lightweight or regular?

  11. I love the Goofus and Gallant references! I’m an archivalist…

  12. Phew, glad others are into the pattern databasing – makes me feel like less of a massive geek! I’ve done mine on Excel – I’m used to the programme, I can insert images, colour code the entries (by the amount of fabric they require) and, the best bit, I can sort the patterns by whatever criteria I like (type of garment, amount of fabric required, how much I love it (I give them all a rating out of 5), pattern #, pattern company, etc). I’d like to date my vintage patterns so I can include that and sort the patterns by that.

    At the moment, my actual patterns are in Ikea storage boxes with dividers (dresses with slim skirts, dresses with full to A-line skirts, dresses with slim and full skirt options, skirts, blouses, etc). I don’t have the biggest collection of patterns, but I can always find what I’m after. When I get more, I’ll probably start ordering them by date within the sections.

    I’m loving everyone’s tips and suggestions on this thread. My tip for other Brits tracing patterns – tracing paper is pretty expensive, so I use grease proof paper. It’s super cheap (check out Wilkos), it’s easy to trace through and is sturdy enough to alter patterns on and use a tracing wheel with. Its only about 40cm wide, but I can usually fit most pattern pieces into that width.

  13. I only recently started organising my patterns – I started with my Burda Magazines. I scanned in the first few pages with the thumbnails of the designs, and the technical drawings. Then saved the scans together in one file that I can flick through in Windows photogallery, it saves all the leafing through the books which had been causing them to come apart!

  14. Very helpful tips! My vintage patterns stash is very small but growing; it would be great to have an organizational strategy in place while they’re still manageable. Thank you :)

  15. I use Evernote as my database so I can have the pattern info and picture all together.

  16. I use the Sewing Kit app for iPhone–it’s great. It automatically finds photos for big name patterns–envelope photo, cover image, and a few other images. Otherwise, it lets you take your own photos. You can add notes about which revisions you made, add notions and yardage, and categorize it by type (blouse, skirt, etc.) It also lets you catalogue your stash fabrics with yardage, type, and photos. I also use it to organize, name, and track projects. You can even store all your various specific measurements, or others’ measurements (you can create entries for your friends and family, with a photo.) It’s so great and addicting if you are an organizing fiend….

  17. I have an application on my phone called “Inventory” on my droid. I can just scan the barcode on new patterns. For old patterns I take photos and fill out all the information. I have all my info with me. It is great for when I walk into a craft store and see “patterns 99 cents” I can have at it without bringing home duplicate patterns!

    I store all my patterns in media/ dvd storage boxes. they are just the right size.

  18. I cannot believe I never thought of keeping an iPhoto album of my patterns. The closest I’ve ever come is scanning the pattern sketch page of my BurdaStyle/Burda World of Fashion magazines. But, actually scanning my physical pattern envelopes or importing pattern photos from the web into my library will probably change my life. Thanks, Mena!

    Farewell to sifting through stacks of pattern boxes to find the bought and forgotten ones.

  19. I purchased Bento last year as I think it’s a great way to categorise and it has a iPhone app, which helped sell it to me. However I have been extremely slow and lazy in putting all my patterns on it. I say to myself: one a day and I’ll get there but I never get round to it. I need to do it though as the number of times I was out and would have like access to my pattern collection warrants it.

  20. I am about to purchase a subscription to Pattern-file. I have HUNDREDS of patterns, almost half of them are vintage. For the subscription I plan on purchasing, they include auto-fill for details…including a newly added VINTAGE pattern database. At the moment they are working on an app, but I’m excited to try this product out. The only reason I haven’t purchased it yet is that I’m sure I won’t be seen again for a week once I start!

  21. i’ve tried the bento method–it works if you can get through it, but i find the iphone app for bento to be less than useful. i do keep some photographs, but mostly i keep everything in file folders by type of pattern in a hanging cabinet. it works…for now…

  22. whoah. okay. mind blown.

  23. Just tried “Inventory”, it’s ACE!!! I’m impressed. Thanks for the tip Brittany

  24. I don’t have enough patterns to justify any real organization effort, lol. I have one small plastic draw full and one small file bin full. I could actually do with getting rid of some of the nastier ones I bought at many 99 cent sales. Now, sewing books and epatterns? Those I keep buying. Books are easy enough to store, but what are you all doing about your epatterns? I mean to copy mine to my external hard drive, but I haven’t done it yet. Most are stored in email. Do you keep them in a designated folder? Or something?

  25. I have photograhped all of my patterns but they photos need organization. I love the idea of adding them to flickr to have on the go!

  26. This needs to be one of my resolutions! I have so many vintage patterns that need to be graded bigger/smaller so that would be the perfect time to copy them and store the originals. Right now they are all piled(and I do mean piled!) on my sewing desk….not a good storage method. I love the idea of using the iphone app to store pics and info since I am always going through the pattern piles at thrift stores.

  27. I sell patterns for a living and have thousands stored. I use supplies from the comic book shops. They have acid free bags in several sizes and then they also have cardboard boxes that fit perfectly. Ask for ‘Long Boxes” (for regular sized patterns) or “Magazine Size” (good for large Vogues,magazines, or knitting patterns ect.) They are interested in keeping old paper safe, just as we are.

  28. I use Evernote to categorize my patterns, pattern wishlist/shopping list, fabric & other supplies. It’s great because I can pull it up on my phone. The big problem is that for some reason in Joann’s and the other fabric store I go to I have shotty phone service. But at least I can pull up my patterns while I’m at work or something and I decide to go to the fabric store.

    For the physical patterns I store them in a plastic box divided by tops,bottoms,dresses,skirts,outerwear, sleepwear, bags & misc. My box is full now, so I really need to stop adding to it!

  29. ….and I was so impressed with myself for making pretty cardboard dividers for my bins….oh I am so behind!

  30. I also use the comic book acid free boards and clear sleeves… Good archival quality storage! The boards also ensure the pattern edges dont get unnecessarily crumpled.I would like to get round to labeling them all as well, but it’s a nice way to view and manage… My husband says when they are stored this way they are less like piles and more like a collection! Ha!
    I also have a box that’s easier to access with the patterns I am keen to make in the short term, that way I don’t have to search when I am ready to make them up!
    Very interested iniPhone apps for collection management so thanks for the tips.

  31. I use Evernote to organize my patterns so I can tag them with era, size, type of garment,etc. I also attach a picture of each pattern front, maybe the back if I’m feeling ambitious. I also keep separate lists for patterns that I own and my pattern wish list. I have the Evernote app on my phone so I can pull up my wish list if I stumble upon a sale. Right now my physical patterns are in comic book boxes, but I think I’m going to move them to DVD bins because I don’t like not being able to easily look through them. Organizing my patterns and fabric is part of why I love sewing so much!

  32. Mena, what a great discussion. I have my patterns in bins so that i can flip through them. Bins are organized by tops, pants, dresses, etc. The last time i looked through I was just thinking of how i could re-organize them better. I like the idea of using the numbering system that the patterns come with, but I would also like to have them organized by size and style. So when I go looking to make a top, all the tops are together. The idea of reorganizing is daunting! but Gallant would totally do it.