Saturday, 21 January 2012

How Do You Store Your Vintage Sewing Patterns?


Where are your vintage sewing patterns right now? Are they carefully ordered and stored away in a box or filing system? Or are they out on display?

Why am I asking? Well, I've been doing a little reordering at home and was looking for some pictures to put up on a bare wall or two. It suddenly struck me that I LOVE ogling and swooning over my vintage sewing pattern collection, so why not put some of them up on my wall?

Eek! I can hear some of you gasping in shock! 

There seem to be two schools of thought on keeping vintage sewing patterns:


1) The Preservationists
These people cherish their vintage sewing patterns and look after them very carefully. They are precious historical artefacts, after all, often in a very delicate condition with paper that can be torn easily and images that are starting to fade. To preserve them for posterity, this camp keeps them in controlled conditions - acid-free envelopes and a covered storage container at the very least, dehumidifiers and treatment sprays for the more serious storage fiends. They sew with the patterns, yes, but trace a copy off first so they don't damage the original.

Image courtesy of A Beautiful Mess

2) The Users
These people cherish their vintage sewing patterns too, but would rather enjoy them now than keep them for posterity. In fact, it may not even have occurred to them to make an effort to look after their patterns... or maybe they have debated the issue at length and concluded that the patterns are there to be used. Their patterns are piled up on their sewing table, or even pinned up on their wall.

 

Of course I am totally stereotyping here, and you may not recognise yourself in either description, but the duality helped me think about how my attitude has started to shift recently from Preservationist to User. I would absolutely love to be able to pass on my vintage sewing pattern collection to a child or grandchild, but I'd also love to get as much pleasure out of them as I can myself (after all, the child or grandchild may not be interested!), and that means being able to see them every day. They bring me real aesthetic pleasure, plus having them on show may well inspire me to sew more. At the moment my patterns are stored in a covered box under my sewing table. But I plan to let them see the light of day - yay!


So now I've got to decide how best to display them, while also making sure I don't completely let them deteriorate. Initially I was thinking of framing them individually, but I'm not sure I want to separate the instructions and pattern pieces from the cover... hmm. Another idea is to get one of those wall-mountable perspex brochure holders that you see in hotels displaying leaflets for Viking museums and the like. That way I can flick through them when needed and keep my current favourites or next-to-sew at the front of the rack.

Knowing you lot, I'm sure you've got ideas and opinions on the matter. How do you keep your vintage sewing patterns? Are you a Preservationist, a User or something else entirely? Do you have any ideas for how I should display my patterns? If you've got any creative ideas or images of your own uniques storage or display system, do share!

[Soundtrack: 'I'd Rather Go Blind' by Etta James - RIP]

48 comments:

  1. I have a lot of vintage patterns and I'm in two frames of mind. I keep some out and pinned to a cork board & some I store. I get a lot of enjoyment of seeing my patterns on a regular basis,there is a high majority of patterns that will never fit me, so I would like to display them instead. Why don't you get say 4 or 6 pattern covers and put them in a frame? Thats what i plan to do in the future. Remember you can't take it with you....:)

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  2. Mine are stacked in baskets,new ones and vintage patterns separated. I read a while ago though you can store vintage patterns in acid free comic book sleeves which I like because the sleeves are see through. Apparently you can buy them in bulk on amazon...

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  3. MIne are on a shelf, right in front of my eye line, so I can pull them out and play with them whenever I like. I've been worried about some of the envelopes getting a bit battered recently, so I put them all in transparent plastic covers.

    What about one of those frames you can buy for displaying LP covers? Could you put one or two in one of those, they're pretty deep/ I'm firmly in the second camp when it comes to vintage patterns, they're a thing of beauty and to be admired rather than hidden away. x

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  4. I keep mine in old shoe boxes, in fact I keep tons of things in shoe boxes - they are the best filing system! I take care of them, but at the end of the day they were meant to be used.
    I like to have a few out on the mantelpiece, usually ones that I plan to make soon. I ponder the fabric and generally admire them. Framing them is a great idea!

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  5. If you know someone who has a good digital scanner, you could scan the image on the pattern packet, print it out on good quality paper and display it. That way your original won't be at risk of fading and you'll still get to enjoy looking at it. Best of both worlds. I suggest this as I'm quite wary of things fading. I've had all sorts of things fade from pictures to tin lids.

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    1. I love this idea Em, you can even blow them up and make them poster size....

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  6. I have a dresser with a glass fronted cupboard at the top, I store all my patterns on the bottom shelf of that. Easy to riffle through when I want inspiration on what to sew

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  7. I was going to suggest the same thing as Em, for the same reason! Or you could get a printshop to colour photocopy the covers for you. I've been planning on doing something like this myself when I move - exciting!

    I'm a mild preservationist/'practicalist'. I keep my vintage patterns in comic bags. They're very practical: they're quite cheap, see-through and the perfect size, plus some of my patterns have torn envelopes, so the bags keep everything together.

    The preservationist in my likes that they're also, as has been mentioned, acid-free, which helps protect the paper from yellowing. I used to work in an art and craft shop, where we would frame various artworks (including, once, a Picasso limited edition, signed print - I swooned), so that's drilled into me the importance of acid-free and the fragility of paper.

    My personal philosophy about vintage and antique objects is that they are not 'mine' to treat willy-nilly and do with as I will - I'm just one care-taker in a long list of people who have already cared for them and, hopefully, people who will in the future. I'm lucky enough to be able to enjoy them now, but with that comes the responsibility to hand them on to the next person in good condition (preferably as good a condition as I received them in). So I feel that I have a duty to the object to look after it and respect it, while still using it. Part of that responsibility is to use the item: it's a sad state of affairs for any antique to be shut away, unseen (it reminds me of all those amazing paintings that are hidden in bank vaults - that makes me sad).

    (Sorry for the very long comment!)

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  8. I'm thinking of decorating my sewing room too, but what I plan to do with my vintage patterns is scan the front of the envelopes and then display the print outs in frames! Kind of a nice half way house - they won't deteriorate (and I do trace before I use, but that's it as far as preservation goes...) but I can still see them!

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  9. I tend towards a preservationist, although not too strict. I keep mine individually in sealable plastic pockets in a drawer alongside my modern patterns (which I store the same way.) I have a few vintage ones that I want to use to decorate my almost finished but not quite sewing room but have taken colour photocopies so I can frame and not worry about damaging.

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  10. I lean towards a preservationist, although not too strict. I keep mine individually in sealable plastic pockets in a drawer alongside my modern patterns (which I store the same way.) I have a few vintage ones that I want to use to decorate my almost finished but not quite sewing room but have taken colour photocopies so I can frame and not worry about damaging.

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  11. Couldn't you make really good colour copies of them and pin those to the walls? I LOVE them on the wall by the way. They're just stunning!

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  12. I'm working on a storage system now. By no means am I a preservationist--I just crave organization. I'm terribly guilty of *using* vintage patterns. I only trace if it's tattered. But right now, it looks like patterns exploded all over the place because I outgrew my old organization system a while ago and am searching for a replacement. I'm also guilty of taping tattered envelopes back together. I figure that if the envelopes don't store the patterns, what use are they?

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  13. lisette over at WWnancydrewwear-- or maybe it was marina at frabjous couture? anyhoo, at the NY meetup one of those fab gals had their patterns in large manila envelopes, and the original pattern envelope was paperclipped to the front. great idea as shoving those pieces back into old envelopes inevitably tears the old paper.

    i'm with you on putting them on the walls, i got a box of patterns a few weeks ago and that's exactly what i planned to do. first i'll scan them in to le mac though.

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  14. I like many others am somewhere in the middle...I have mine in closed boxes, but nothing crazy, and some of the older/more fragile ones are in comic book sleeves simply because the period of my life where I stopped bagging and boarding my comic book collection coincided pretty closely with the period where I started amassing a considerable pattern collection :)

    As for sticking them on the wall...that had never occurred to me and would be so cool! I don't really have any ideas about good ways to do that beyond the ones already put out there, but I bet however you end up doing it it'll be awesome.

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  15. Tilly, can I be in both camps? I definitely USE mine (I don't buy them unless I think I will eventually use it) and I only own about 5 that I've purchased...the rest of my collection comes from my mom cleaning out her house and includes patterns from when I was a little girl & that she made for herself and my sister in the 70s and 80s. So quite a few of what I have I didn't buy & will probably never use.

    But I'm a librarian/archivist, too. The Roommate & I have an extensive textile collection which we are protective & proud of...

    So what does this mean? Mostly NO PLASTIC! I don't use archival cardboard boxes, but I do use cardboard & try to keep dust out using old cotton pillowcases & sheets. Fortunately, all the patterns fit in one box at this point (the textile collection does not fit in one box!).

    Another thought-provoking post, Tilly! Thanks.

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  16. ooh I never even considered hanging them on the wall, what a fab idea! I'm going to try that ;)
    Jessie, xo

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  17. Sadly, I don't have any vintage patterns (yet). They are very hard to come by in Germany! I have seen vintage pattern covers individually framed and loved the look! I think I'd rather make a good color copy than display the actual pattern envelope, though. Just to spare the envelope the bleaching properties of sunlight, and you'd be able to pin the copies onto mood boards, too...

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  18. I didn't even realise I HAD vintage patterns - to me they were just old! I know better now - sorry ;o)

    My VINTAGE patterns are currently in a box covered in wallpaper, mixed in with my new patterns - shock horror!

    Nykie xox

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  19. I have vintage patterns stored in a train case and repros in a different train case. I have a 2 year old and a 8 month old so I try to keep precious papers put away or they will end up getting shredded!

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  20. I recently inherited a ton of vintage patterns, and I have them stored in boxes by type of garment under my bed. Most are not in pristine condition to begin with, and my guess is that'll help me to push me into the user camp. I like to take care of things, but if I'm not using them, then why have them? My suggestion for you would be to look into shadow box frames. I have a bunch from IKEA on my walls that hold keepsakes. You'd be able to keep your pattern together while still displaying the cover. You could also stick vintage buttons and coordinating thread spools in the shadow boxes as well, adding more character to each frame. Just a thought. Good luck!

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  21. Oh, please don't paperclip your patterns. Or use pins to keep them closed. I sell vintage patterns and have to count and care for tons of them. Metal leaves marks that just can't be fixed. if you tape an envelope use acid free tape (very easy to find now). I use acid free clear comic bags to store each pattern in. They are cheap and there are various sizes for regular patterns or larger Vogues.
    If it pieces are really thick you can put them in the bag behind the envelope. But please take a little time to take care of these pieces of history.
    (Oh, and put all the pieces back!)
    Thank you.

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  22. Vintage patterns are so delicate so I usually replicate them on to light dressmakers card (as I have for my professional work). I create a hole in each pattern piece and them hang them on to hooks. I'm not keen on folding them. Can I just say what happy find your blog is! I look forward to going through it!

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  23. Hello, I also think if the how I want them to be right, I own about 500 patterns, of which very few used.
    So those are lying unused in black boxes ikea, so do not take light, while those used I keep them in plastic bags in special containers with rings, I put the envelope of paper with the drawing in evidence, put behind the sheet of instructions and behind the various pieces and I also I note the amount of fabric needed.
    Often, instruction sheets, have cuts in the folds, I put the scotch in these cases transparently on both sides.

    Debora
    and sorry for my english

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  24. Funny you should post about this--I've been thinking I should do a post on my blog about how I store mine! ;) lol.

    In a nutshell, I probably fall into the Preservationist Camp more often than not. I think this is mostly because after collecting vintage patterns for 10+ years, I've had too many of my older, 30s and 40s patterns, deteriorate even when stored in a little box. Or the envelopes begin to flake and pieces work their way out and get lost... The tissue can be too unstable to work with. So for now I use regular gallon sandwich bags for my "newer" vintage, and have a little stash of archival envelopes that I picked up cheaply on Ebay for my older or more valuable patterns. It works great because I can take the pieces and instructions out of the envelope, but still store them together in the bag, and don't rip the envelope trying to shove pieces back in! ;) All my patterns are currently in cardboard banker's boxes, organized by category (I'm a bit OCD).

    It's rather hilarious I'm so careful with my patterns, because my other vintage things (clothes, old magazines, etc.) I'm not quite as careful. I'm not quite sure why this is, other than my pattern collection is constantly growing, and without some semblance of order, I'd never find anything! (I have been known to buy duplicates, in my days before some order was brought to the stash...) I however, don't look down my nose at others who have different methods of storage and use of vintage patterns. I think it's really up to what the individual is comfortable with and what works with their sewing method. I don't mind tracing patterns (I find it oddly addictive and soothing...), but don't think *everyone* has to in order to be a Proper Vintage Sewist. (That would be totally silly--vintage snobbery annoys me!!! lol.)

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  25. If you want to frame them but don't want to fuss around with the contents, a shadow box frame may be the ticket? They're nice and deep so you can get the entire packet in but still give that lovely polished finish. Ikea have some for quite cheap :D

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  26. Why don't you just scan them,print them out in colour, and display the printouts? You could show fronts AND backs that way.

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  27. I have mines all in polly pockets till I want to sew them... Or show them off!! Mines are all in storage and I can't wait to see them again!! house moving is hectic!!! lol

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  28. I have over 200 vintage patterns, most of them are in comic book plastic sheets and stored in a chest of drawers that is separated into dresses, pants, coat, skirts and blouses. I keep a "in process" stash in a open cabinet next to my machine. I use my patterns and don't refold them perfectly but I try to treat them well. I say go for it, hang a few patterns. It won't hurt them.

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  29. I've been planning to display a couple of the prettiest ones (that are also inhumanly small in size) in a larger format. I'd like to display the pattern envelope in one frame, the instructions in another, and the actual pattern pieces in another (or many, depending on the pattern) so that it is a display that takes up an entire wall. Someday, in my free time :)

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  30. i'm definitely in the user camp! i have the worst filing system ever for my vintage patterns. the older ones i bought are stored in plastic sleeves in a 3-ring binder and the more recent ones i bought are stored vertically in a plastic tupperware container under my sewing desk. i really need to figure out a better system since i have to go tearing thru 3 binders and a bin to find something!

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  31. I don't have a lot of vintage patterns, so I haven't really come across this problem yet. Have you considered box framing a few of your favourites? I'm not sure if that's the proper name, but do you know those deeper frames that you can get to keep memorabilia in (I've seen them with kid's eisteddfod trophies and ballet shoes, or soccer cleats and medals, things like that in)? That way you can keep the pattern intact but still have it up on display.

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  32. I fall in the middle I think. I trace everything off before using it, but mostly just so it doesn't fall apart on me, and so I can keep the original intact for reference while still making alterations. Most of my vintage patterns are from the forties and early fifties, and are rather the worse for wear at this point, so display isn't all that enticing. I keep them stored in one of those accordion file folder thingies, each in it's own plastic bag so they don't fall apart everywhere, with the traced off copies tucked in behind.

    I like the idea of scanning or finding pictures online of pretty pattern envelopes and printing them off to put in frames. Fancy, inspiring art without having to figure out the envelope/instruction/pattern breaking up dilemma.

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  33. I'm a 'user' and I love the idea of 'decorating my walls' with vintage patterns. But what I really want to know is the # of the McCalls pattern which is on the bottom row of your montage, 2nd from the right? I think its 8861 but I'm old enough to admit my eyesight isn't what it once was. I love this pattern and hope to find it for sale.

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  34. Definitely a bit of both! I take care of them, trace them rather than cut them up etc., but my storage is a bit naughty. I have the unfortunate situation of having to SHARE my sewing space (horror!) so can't have lots of boxes lying around. My patterns get thrown into a drawer, which I keep meaning to go through and tidy up. I might get one of those clearfile things and store them in there.

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  35. I'm so glad I asked, lots of great thoughts here! Love the idea of the shadow box frames, I'd forgotten those exist. Also taking colour scans or copies of favourite patterns, even ones I don't own but covet when I see them on ebay or other people's websites. If I took copies, I could even play around with them, maybe do a collage or something... ooh yes!

    Really interesting to read about people's different approaches too... and love Nykie's comment about not realising her "old" patterns were "vintage"! Good point! Today I was looking at a friend's sewing kit that she inherited off her grandma, and I was cooing over what I called "vintage" buttons etc and she was like, "Oh I just thought they were old," which of course is kinda true!

    Re - yes it's McCalls 8861. There's a bigger picture here: http://vintagepatterns.wikia.com/wiki/McCall's_8861

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  36. Kind of missed the boat, but it's been interesting &humbling reading everyone's comments. I am definitely a user, but thankfully don't have anything worth a lot of money! If I had, I know I would treat it more reverentially. I do love the illustrations though & I think they could make a wonderful display. I'd find it hard to choose so would be tempted to scan a whole lot & then use one of those digital photo frames to display them in a slideshow - it would also help me remember what i have!

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  37. No matter what you put the patterns in, theres a good chance some will decay all by themselves anyway. Use it or lose it I say!

    If you have to write, use pencil. Pens often contain things that will eat away paper over time. I've seen some 19th century opera scores that are like lace - paper beautifully eaten away in the shape of someone's handwriting.

    If you have to stick them back together use scotch Magic Tape. Its the archivists' choice. Doesn't leave that sticky, yellow residue when it ages.

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  38. I think I'm too new to vintage pattern sewing to really fall firmly in either camp. At the moment I have two plastic boxes - one for vintage and one for modern patterns. But it's more for storage than for preservation purposes. I do tend to shy away from cutting out any patterns if I can help it - even modern ones. I trace over the pattern using Swiss tracing paper, then store that in a freezer bag with a label, fold away the pattern and put it back in the box. I now have to sort out how to organise those traced patterns! Love the idea of displaying the patterns - I used to have old prints of vintage Vogues (which are very similar in style) on display and they seemed so elegant.

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  39. I'm an unapologetic user of my vintage patterns :) I really just don't see a point in having them if you're not going to use & enjoy them! I will make the effort to trace the ones that are in good condition, but if the previous owner already ripped up the envelope & drew all over the instructions & made their own (cut and tape) adjustments to the pattern pieces, then I just follow suit & whack into it too :) Haaa!

    Anyway, I store my patterns in a bunch of boxes on my fabric shelf, but I need to find a new storage system because I am absolutely outgrowing it :( I do have a few framed and hung on my wall - they are just so pretty! I pulled the instructions & pieces out and put them in manilla envelopes with the pattern info written on the front.

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  40. Hey Tilly! I think it's wonderful you want to share your patterns and put them up on your wall.

    I myself store them in acid free sleeves designed for comic books along with an acid free backing board also. But I use my patterns and store them on my bookshelves for easy access.

    I should say, I used to work at an artists framing shop back in the day and know how to conserve items. The colorful mats that you see on prints and pictures have a dual purpose. They're there to complement the colors in the art piece but they're primarily there to pull away any moisture or condensation that gets inside the frame and glass. They're super important to have!
    If you want to go as simple and basic as possible, I'd at least consider mounting your patterns onto some plain mat board and then framing them. How awful would it be to take them out of their frames to use them only to find that they have been disintegrating due to the moisture, etc...

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  41. I'm a preservationist. I wouldn't cut my vintage patterns, but make a tracing instead. That being said, I do want to enjoy them. It would be fun to decorate with them. I was just showing some patterns to my sister last night, and she thought one gal on a 40s pattern looked like our Mom. So fun!

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  42. Some great tips here about looking after vintage patterns - thanks everyone.

    I wonder whether in 60 years' time people will be talking about how to look after the 2010s McCalls, Colette and Sewaholic patterns that they inherit from us...

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  43. I tend to be moderately preservationist - I like using acid free page protectors (easy to find in office supply stores). But I also display some of my patterns in a shadow box. This way I can switch out patterns and the glass can be UV filtering (easy to buy at the framing counter). Also, I have made high resolution scans of some of my patterns to frame.

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  44. I store all my patterns the same, in individual plastic bags into a big woven basket on my bookshelf.

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  45. Hi Tilly, I color photocopied the fronts of my patterns, then trimmed them and block mounted them on 1/4 inch MDF board (I think it's called) which my husband obligingly cut to size for me. I glued the photocopies to the fronts with Mod Podge and after some trial and error decided I liked them best with no Mod Podge on the front as well, only between the two layers. I used a flat round hanger on the backs - looks like white ribbon with a grommet - the glue on them doesn't work so I used Mod Podge for that too. I painted the raw edges dark brown with artist's acrylic paint. I also did decoupage (Mod Podge both as glue and as a clear coat) with some of the photocopies to cover my ugly pattern boxes - one with all suit pictures, one with full skirted dresses, and one with sheath dresses. I store the corresponding types of patterns inside the boxes. As for using them, I'm not a tracer but my vintage patterns are smaller than me so I do trace them and then alter the traced copy using Nancy Zieman's pivot and slide method. :) Heather from Alberta Canada

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  46. Hi - I came to this post rather late but thought I would share that I keep my vintage patterns on display in a cardboard greeting card stand (like the one on sale here on eBay http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Greeting-card-display-stand-/200457767764?pt=UK_Crafts_DrawingSupplies_EH&hash=item2eac36cb54) which works really well! You get about 10 patterns on each tier. I've just printed lots of vintage images, ready to collage the stand. I just started a blog and will post images there when I finish it! http://terribletoiles.blogspot.co.uk/

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  47. I have a bunch of old patterns that I have picked up just because I liked them. I found after reading your blog I need to take better care of them. I have a couple of questions: Do you inventory the pattern if it appears to have never been used? and I find some of the places I find these patterns put stickers on the front that won't come off very easily. Is it better to just leave the sticker or try to remove it without damageing the pattern envelope?

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