An Interview with Simplicity's Deborah Kreiling


some of my retro simplicity makes:

I'm very excited about today's post, y'all. As you may have noticed, I'm a Simplicity fangirl--I love their patterns, especially their retro rereleases (not to mention the amazing vintage patterns available online)! A while back I emailed Simplicity out of the blue to ask about their Vintage Collection, their re-released archival patterns, and they directed me to Deborah Kreiling, Simplicity's Design Development Director. I had so many questions for her, and she graciously agreed to do a little interview, which I provide in full here. Thank you so much, Deborah!
What inspired Simplicity Patterns to start a vintage line?
About ten or twelve years ago we started seeing an upturn in the interest in sewing garments with more fit and more dressmaker details- constructed garments with embellishments and an overall higher level of sewing skills represented. This need not only translated into the regular Simplicity pattern collections, including adding collections like Amazing Fit, licensed designer collections like Cynthia Rowley and Project Runway, but also gave us an opportunity to reach into the archives and start regularly adding Vintage looks to the catalog. There has been a positive response with each new design and now it is part of the makeup  of each new group of patterns.
How do you find and select the vintage patterns for re-release? Are they patterns that were popular during their original run, or patterns you feel best suit today's look? Do you have an archive to pull from, or are you on etsy and ebay like the rest of us?
The selection process for the Vintage designs is the same as the process we use to select for the overall pattern lines. We look at the current trends that need to be covered and look at our vintage designs to see where they will fit best in terms of merchandise.  We of course would love to just add and add, but we have limits.
We do pull many from our archives and the archives of our staff and family! Many of us have worked here for quite some time and have good collections. When our printing plant closed in Niles, Michigan a number of years ago, we were able to pack up a good selection of the original patterns and those are where we go first. The Vintage patterns are all so lovely, but we always have to make sure we a hitting the blend of the vintage look and the modern trend, otherwise we could end up with a lot of “costume” looks. It is also good to know that we do recognize that seamstresses are always on the lookout for the types of details and techniques used in the past and we try to incorporate as many of those when we are selecting which patterns to input.  And yes, we also comb through what is out there on ebay and etsy.

Your line seems to have more of the 60s patterns that I love, and even some 70s selections. Is this a deliberate choice or is it because it is easier to track down these patterns?
We really try to cover all the decades and cover the looks and the vintage details that are so much in demand. The first patterns we added were actually from the 1940’s and 1950’s. The vintage section in the catalog now has over 65 designs in it, including fashion for Miss and Women, Children and Babies, Doll clothes, Accessories, Crafts and Aprons, that spans from the 1920’s through the 1970’s.  I guess soon the 1980’s will be called vintage!
How much of the rereleased pattern is straight from the original, and how much of it is changed? I.e. the fit block, the details, the instructions, etc. What informs Simplicity's decisions to make these changes?
How much we modify the vintage pattern really depends on the size and condition of the pattern that we are using, as well as the construction methods used.  For the sizing issue, the standard body measurements used for sizing in the 1920’s , then the 1930’s and up to 1967, were not the same all the time.  The patterns from the 1940’s have a size 14 with a 32” bust, which makes it close to our current size 10. So each pattern brings its own needs- the older patterns that are “perforated patterns”- the ones that do not have any printing on them are little more challenging to use. Our process includes digitizing the pattern pieces into our pattern making system and making a muslin garment to look at first. This is how we see what needs to be altered to either fit current standard measurements, or even be sewn with modern tools. We make every effort to keep as close to the original pattern as possible. For instance many of the older patterns will not have pattern pieces for cutting bias facings, or belts, or facings. We add these pieces for the end user to have an easier time at home cutting and sewing the garments. In addition openings were often closed with small snaps sewn to an inside placket made from a fabric remnant, and we will add a zipper instead. And of course the patterns from the 1940’s have a lot of room built into the shoulders for those very large shoulder pads that were popular then. We make every effort to stay true to the appropriate fashion trends and looks of the  decades .
There is some frustration in the sewing community regarding the sizing of modern patterns, including re-released vintage patterns--that the size dictated by body measurements contains excessive ease that is not reflected on the envelope model. For example, my 34" bust would put me in a size 12, but I regularly make either an 8 or a 10 to achieve a fit similar to the envelope. I do wear a size 12 in Simplicity Patterns from the 60s, however! Can you explain the sizing used and how it has changed from the original pattern sizing? Do you have any tips on selecting the correct size for a vintage fit?
This is a big and tricky question. First, the patterns out there in the “universe” that are the truly vintage patterns were created using a completely different set of sizing standards. Added to the fact that women’s body shapes and the style and use of undergarments was different, makes the fit silhouettes very different than they are in current fashion. We have also discovered that sizing was not always consistent year after year, and the range of sizes offered was often only three or four sizes per pattern design.  Subsequently, in 1967 the government set the standard body measurements for the pattern industry, and those standard body measurements are actually still in use today. You can read more on this in Joy Spanabel Emery’s book, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Published by Bloomsbury). You will find patterns produced in 1967 say “new sizing” and this was to make sure the home sewer new they were made to a new set of measurement standards. We will find a pattern from 1935 marked as a size 14 and a pattern from 1950 marked also a size 14, but they really are not the same size. This in itself creates challenges.  We use the Vintage pattern envelope for our envelope and catalog page for the re-released patterns and often add a photograph. The overall fit of the design will remain as the original design, but we may have tweaked some things in order to comply with our measurements. As far as what you are calling excessive ease, this is a matter of personal taste versus sizing. It is important to know that on any design, new or vintage, we have minimum standards for wearing ease and then the “design” ease is what the designer wants for each design. I could write volumes alone on that subject. My best suggestion for fit and sizing is know your body and know your measurements. We print the finished garment measurements for key areas on pattern envelopes and pattern pieces. Use your tape measure to check shoulder widths, waist lengths, circumferences of legs and sleeves, etc.  on the pattern tissue and your body. No two people are exactly the same size. Sewing your own clothing allows the fine tuning of fit, but everyone has to take the time to prepare before cutting into fabric.

Do you find that consumers are more likely to purchase the more complex or the simpler designs from the vintage line? Is this purchasing behavior different from Simplicity's main line of patterns? In your experience, are the people sewing Simplicity Vintage sewing for special occasions? for costuming? for everyday wear? reenactment? etc.
The Vintage patterns span the level of sewing that mirrors the span in the traditional pattern collections. We view our catalog as many different shops where everyone can find sewing projects that they can accomplish. Whether it is a simple Jiffy 1960’s Dress, or a more complex Designer Suit Dress from the 1940’s, the home sewer buys a cross section of these designs in the same way she purchase designs from the rest of the collections. Yes, I am sure some newer sewists will gravitate toward those Jiffy patterns, as they gravitate to our one piece pajama pants patterns. We try very hard to cover as many looks and sewing levels as possible. By looking at the overall success of the Vintage Collection in general, I cannot say that one decade or style of garment is better than another. This is a good thing. People are sewing Vintage for all the same reasons and needs as traditional fashion- day wear and special occasion included.
When you mention reenactment, now you are talking about Historical Patterns versus Vintage. Simplicity has always had a great selection of Historical Costumes that I am quite sure are used for reenactments, among other costume related events. And now of course with the tremendous trend of Comic Cons and cosplay, we are certainly servicing those needs on a regular basis.

Many people who sew your Vintage line also sew original vintage Simplicity patterns--do you consider what is hard to get in true vintage when selecting your patterns, like patterns for accessories, swimsuits, designer garments, or older eras?
The choices for the Vintage input are based on a variety of factors. Of course the availability of the original pattern is key. We have a large collection of the catalogs that we can choose the designs from and then try to locate the pattern through the sources. We also do respond to consumer requests, as in the famous Three Armhole Dress that we just put into the line this past spring. We follow trends in ready to wear and see what details and silhouettes are pulling from retro or vintage fashion and we look for patterns that reflect those as well. We recently added a 1950’s Swim dress to the line- bathing suits were a completely different type of garment then.
Plus size patterns can be very difficult for vintage sewing enthusiasts to track down--has Simplicity considered expanding the Vintage line to include larger sizes?
The sizing of original Vintage designs is very limited overall. Patterns were all single size precut patterns for many years, so the number of sizes that a pattern was produced in was limited to about 4 to 6 sizes. The difference then though was that there was also size ranges then that are no longer inexistence… Half sizes, Junior-Miss, Teenage were some. And “Plus” sizes were not really called out – the range for the larger figure was 18 or 20, maybe a 22. We do now add plus to some of the Vintage patterns. We develop the Women’s plus master pattern based on the design we are producing for the Miss Size range, in the same manner that we do for our Plus patterns in the regular line. We have quite a few that have the Plus size range grouping in them, and are continuing to build those selections. We are also looking at some of the Vintage designs to be offered in the Plus range exclusively.  
We have developed a rather broad selection of children’s vintage patterns to add to this group, sized from infant through Girl’s sizes up to size 14. The choice here is often based on more special occasion or a novelty look from the time, versus everyday wear. It has to be a reason to sew, especially for children since they grow out of their clothing quickly.
Which is your favorite of the rereleased patterns? Do you have a favorite era or style?
Well since I am child of the 60’s and 70’s, and the saying is if you wore it then you can’t wear it now, I would have to go with the 1950’s and some of the early 1960’s mod dresses.  When we first did this beautiful swing jacket from the 1950’s ten years ago I made about three different versions- one is still in my closet today. There is also a 1960’s dress, 3833 still in the catalog that we put in about 8 years ago, that is still available and I made a few different versions of and I am thinking of making it for this season again.
Finally, is there anything else you would like to share with my readers?
I want to inspire people to sew. I have worked at Simplicity for over thirty five years.  I have been part of this process for a very long time. I come to work every day still with the desire to make sure that we produce great designs that can be sewn successfully at home. I am thrilled to be part of this process and this team and I am so happy to see a growing audience for sewing patterns. I do sew most of my own clothes as well.
Happy Sewing!

I hope y'all enjoyed the interview, and thank you again to Deborah Kreiling and to everyone at Simplicity Patterns!


ps: don't forget--vintage rereleases such as these can totally count toward your #vintagepledge! ;)

allie J.

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  1. Thanks so much for sharing this interview, Allie, and a big thank you to Deborah Kreiling - I'm not a huge vintage sewer myself, but I love hearing about the pattern business and what goes on behind the scenes. Great questions, and informative answers! Thanks again!

  2. thank's for articles very interesting for me.and particularly the comments posted I will definitely be visiting again

  3. I really enjoyed this, thanks Allie. So interesting to hear from the voices behind the larger pattern companies – it's a perspective we don't get very often.

  4. What a great interview! This was so interesting. Thanks to you and Deborah for putting it out there for us to read.

  5. Really enjoyed this post! Great questions and informative answers. I am planning to sew Simplicity 3833 this month for Sew Social!

  6. Excellent interview! Thank you.

  7. What a great interview. Thanks!



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