Monday, February 20, 2017

How to Properly Mend Sewing Patterns

Pattern repair and preservation are topics that don't come up very often unless you're a die-hard pattern collector or an experienced sewing pattern seller. Many people might reasonably assume that a sewing pattern or envelope with tears is worth less than one without. That makes sense. What they might not know, is that a pattern or envelope that have been repaired with any kind of tape is likely worth LESS than a torn, un-repaired one.
Here is why.

Tape adhesive can degrade and change color over the years. While it might be a temporary repair, old tape can eventually weaken the paper surrounding it, stain the pattern paper, and in some cases eat through delicate tissue leaving nothing but a shredded, inflexible plastic remnant.

I thought that I would put together a quick guide to pattern repair for anyone who is interested. If you have any suggestions gleaned from your own collecting experience, please do leave a comment to share with us!

Allow me to first say though, that this is not a lecture or condemnation to those who have taped their patterns in the past. Your pattern is your property to do with as you wish, and I would simply be happy to teach you a way to help those damaged patterns to not only survive longer, but also retain their value and integrity in the future!

Pattern sellers should pay special attention to how, and if, they choose to repair their sewing patterns. Collectors like myself are not terribly concerned with a torn piece or envelope here or there, but we are VERY concerned with patterns that have been taped in any way. It is always safer to leave a pattern un-repaired and let the buyer fix it themselves if they are so inclined.

The basics:
Do not tape any part of a pattern or envelope with scotch or any other regular tape. Things to avoid using include shipping tape, masking tape, duct tape, washi tape, staples, sewing pins and paper clips. All of these can do more eventual harm than good.

Should you wish to repair any part of a sewing pattern, you should use only archival safe transparent mending tissue like the one pictured below.
I purchased mine here, and have been very happy with it. Mending tissue is perfect for patterns as it is light-weight, acid free, and is designed to not stain the paper or become brittle after a long time.

When used to repair this torn pattern piece from the 1920s, it is strong enough to repair the tear, but also transparent enough to see any markings underneath, and lightweight enough not to change the texture of the tissue paper piece.

The pattern below was purchased recently and the envelope was unfortunately wrapped entirely up with shipping tape. Normally I would carefully try to heat (either with iron, hair dryer or heat gun) and gently peel the tape off as the adhesive softened. As this is new tape added recently, the gum is so strong that when heated, it will still take the ink off with it, thus ruining the envelope. This one will have to cool its heels for a few years and let the adhesive cure before I try to repair the envelope again.
(Allow me to say again, I do not hold this against the seller - they tried their best to repair and save something old, and should get a pat on the back for caring, regardless of their methods.)

Before using mending tissue to fix a tear, it can help to gently iron the section flat to get the edges to lie flat for you.

Here is a collection of small tears on another 1920's envelope, left behind by a pin used to keep the envelope closed.

Below it has been mended with a length of the transparent tissue.

If you don't have mending tissue on hand, it is perfectly acceptable to simply leave a pattern as-is. If you plan on using the pattern, just trace a copy - the pattern will last longer! If planning to sell it, most collectors are happy to simply have the pattern, regardless of some wear and tear, and can decide for themselves if they need a pattern repaired.

For new patterns - yes, they are common now and mass-produced. These you may wish to use tape on. That is up to you. Just remember that some day, that pattern from 1998 may be rare and special in 2052. Will someone want tape on it then?

For older patterns that have been taped for a decade or more, the tape will often come right off if you lay a regular piece of tissue paper over it and warm with an iron.
If you have any sticky adhesive still left on the pattern, I was told recently that you can use eraser shavings to gently rub on the adhesive and absorb it.

A quick note on storage:
If you'd like your pattern to last longer, I would suggest resealable cello plastic sleeves and acid free board backing. Both of these can be found on Amazon, eBay and at your local comic book shops.

How about you? Do you have any handy repair or preservation tips and tricks? Do you have any pattern preservation horror stories?

Happy weekend,

Other sewing pattern related articles you might find helpful:
How to add a sewing pattern to the Vintage Pattern Wiki.

Using Evernote to catalog your sewing pattern collection.

Helpful Hints for vintage patterns sellers.

Sew Expensive... A McCall 1987 hat pattern and what makes a buyer tick!

What constitutes a sewing pattern.

How to inventory pattern pieces.


  1. Oh my! What a mess. I too have been amazed by the many interesting things that antique (and modern) adhesives have done to patterns. I'm glad you explained the pin thing, I have found rusty pins in many envelope flaps and wondered why.
    When I get an envelope that is in terrible condition, I photocopy both sides, then iron it as flat as I can and slip it into an archival bag with an acid-free backer, separate from the pattern itself. That way I never have to handle it again.

  2. I collect vintage magazines, from the forties and fifties, so this was very useful for me too. I have to find the mentioned tape in Denmark, and if not, order it online. Thank you so much for sharing this. Have a lovely day. :)

  3. Hi,
    I have always tried not to modify my patterns (knowing that sello-tape would only damage it more), and recently placed them all in archival sleeves. I wonder about the use of boards in the sleeves. What is their point, if the sleeves are themselves acid-free?
    Thanks anyway for this post, and for your inspiring blog.

  4. Anna, thank you. I have many old patterns that just won't stand reuse unless they are stablized, and I purchased them with the intention of using them. You have set me on the path towards preservation for some of my timeless treasures.