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The answer to that question is yes. Apparently a LOT of people want my copy of McCall’s 4425.
In case you’re wondering, I’m not giving it away, so feel free to clench your little fists and punch your screens in frustration over the very enticing and misleading title of this post. McCall’s 4425 is one of the jewels of my hefty, enviable collection of vintage gown patterns. I stalked eBay for a long time to find this one in a small size and I had to bid-bomb many weak, inferior eBayers to win it. And it does bring me joy to gaze at its beauty and know that I have what so many others desperately covet.
What does NOT bring me joy is the sheer number of people who email me asking me if they can have it, buy it for cheap, or if I can (seriously??) make them a copy and send it to them. (This is not a knitting pattern- we’re not talking about a 3-minute photocopy job here.) Inevitably the writers of the emails justify their requests by quoting the ridiculously high prices that vintage pattern dealers want for original copies of the pattern, and by telling me that they desperately need it for a wedding/gala/cotillion but don’t want to pay that much. What am I supposed to say in response? “OMG are you serious??? They’re charging $150 for the pattern? Oh you POOR THING!! Take mine!” Listen, peeps, I know how much the pattern costs- I actually bought it, which is how it came to be that I have it. I’ve had it for so long that I don’t remember how much I paid for it (certainly not $150) but I know it was NOT CHEAP. So it drives me kind of insane when people “graciously” offer to reimburse me for the cost of tissue paper to make a copy and for the postage it would cost for me to send it to them when I actually paid the money for this pattern that they don’t want to pay. (Also not my favorite? When people say, “The cheapest I’ve seen it for online is $125, and that’s ridiculous. Would you be willing to sell yours for $50?” That’s just bad negotiation skills in a seller’s market.)
Now, I don’t mean to come across as a let-them-eat-cake (let-them-wear-cashmere?) seamstress (even though, let’s face it, I am a freakin’ empress) I realize that not everyone can afford to splurge hugely on patterns (I certainly wouldn’t pay $150 for it), and I know what it’s like to covet that elusive vintage tissue paper masterpiece. But when something is out of my budget, I’m not about to email strangers on the internet and ask them if I can have theirs for free or if they can make me a copy for a fraction of the price, and then explain the request by saying that it’s just too expensive for me to buy my own. Lots of things are expensive- Prada boots, signed first editions of Catcher in the Rye, Warhols, Bernina 830s… I can’t afford them, can you send me yours? I’ll pay for shipping.
So I received an innovative request from Traci, who stumbled upon my blog while looking for the pattern, asking if she could “rent” the pattern for a short period of time such that she could copy it herself. I have to give a big thumbs-up to Traci for proposing a solution that would require neither hours of labor on my part, nor giving up my precious pattern at a fraction of market value, while actually offering compensation for the request. Thank you, Traci, for being decent. If Selfish had even a tiny sliver of goodwill to bestow, she would give it to you. Of course, shipping my rare patterns across the oceans to strangers without any guarantee that they’ll come back isn’t the wisest of ideas, and I don’t feel quite right about distributing my patterns for a fee such that others can make copies.
What I proposed instead was that I would send her a good quality photo of the pattern piece drawings such that she might be able to recreate the dress herself. For all the hullaballoo over McCall’s 4425, it’s actually relatively simple- a basic double-darted strapless sheath with an asymmetrical front hemline, and an additional draped panel that gathers into a little loop at the hip. And being the magnanimous sewing empress that I am, I’m providing the images to you as well, out of the quasi-kindness of my teeny, tiny, almost nonexistent heart:
Photos of pattern envelopes seem to be pretty standard fare on the web, so I’m going to assume there’s nothing unethical about posting them here. If the good folks at McCall’s think otherwise, I’ll remove them. In the meantime, you can click on them for larger views. See? It’s really not that complicated a pattern. (I’m guessing that what people really want is that drape, so you could easily start with any strapless sheath pattern and just modify it to accommodate the drape going off of the photos above.)
Incidentally, there are people on the web selling what I assume are unauthorized copies of this pattern if you really want it, but even the copies seem to run around the $100 mark. I’m not going to post links because I don’t want to promote those businesses, but if you Google and check Etsy, you’ll probably find some. As for making copies of my own, I’ll reiterate what I’ve got on my FAQ:
Despite lots of inquiring and searching, I have never been able to find definitive information that convinces me that copying and distributing vintage patterns from the 1950s is legal in all cases. In addition, copying patterns is time consuming and requires big paper and lots of space. If you can provide me with evidence that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that a particular pattern is no longer under copyright (and by this I mean something along the lines of a record from the US Copyright Office indicating that the copyright on a specific pattern has expired, not a quote from an ill-informed rant about pattern copyright on someone’s blog), then we can talk. My hypothetical fee for legally copying patterns is the same as my hypothetical fee for sewing: $85/hour for labor plus all materials costs.
Now. How may I help you?
See this gorgeous vintage McCall 3788 pattern that was listed on eBay until yesterday evening? Designed by Givenchy, size 12, Hepburn-esque, miraculously uncut and unused, and one of the holy grail patterns of 1950s vintage pattern lovers?
Oh, I had my eye on it. I’ve loved this gown for years. I was ready to give it a good home. And I wasn’t about to give any of you any ideas. And then some jerk went and did this:
Which one of you metherfeckers was it? $227.50?! Well, I guess it takes at least two people to get a bid up that high, so the question is which oneS of you jerks did this? Huh? ‘Fess up, readers. I know the culprit is out there. Who dares to get in the way of the Selfish Seamstress when she wants something????
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I went ahead and started the sleeves on my Camicia #9 from La Mia Boutique, and look at this travesty!
See the disapproving look I am giving you? I can only assume that this horrible sticky-uppy throwback to 1983 is also the fault of one of you out there. How else could this sleeve have gotten so ugly without some sort of sabotage involved? So what if that’s illogical? I am angry at you today. At ALL OF YOU! Obviously this, like everything else in the world, is NOT MY FAULT. So who did this? Was it Beangirl? She’s the first person who jumps to mind. Whoever it is, you’d better watch yourself, because you do NOT want the Selfish Seamstress for your enemy. (Also, you don’t want her for a friend either because she’s kind of attention hungry and has a number of other annoying habits like referring to herself in the third person and never taking responsibility for her mistakes.)
Anyway, someone had better claim responsibility for this mess, or I am going to come to all of your houses and set fire to all of your Burdas.
Regular readers of this blog (not that you are in any way regular, as you are all special and magnificent!) are probably already aware of my obsession with vintage gowns and vintage gown patterns, namely those from the mid- to late-1950s. Of course, my occasions for wearing frothy 55-year old tulle and organza confections dwindles as my age increases (and it’s been more than two years since I’ve gotten my butt out to a swing dance, which previously was how I “justified” sewing and buying such gowns, even though 40s and 30s fashion would probably have been more era-appropriate.) But the love is still there.
If a magical fairy came to me and said she would imbue me with the design abilities of any designer I liked, there are days that I would pick Dior or Givenchy or Chanel. Ahh, to have that genius and sense of style and beauty. But today (and many other days), I crave the skills of a much lesser known creator of marvelously and brilliantly draped 1950s party garb, Ceil Chapman. I don’t know much about Ceil Chapman (you can find a bio of her from the Vintage Fashion Guild), but wowee zowee, could she drape! And her eye for those gorgeous feminine lines and silhouettes of the 50s – the wide necks, the wasp waists, the elegant deep backs, the use of ruching to flatter the bust and hips… *swoon.* Nonstop feminine glamour. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves:
Right? Am I right? Ah to be able to pull out a couple of yards of taffeta and your dressform and be able to whip up something like this. Well, we’re (sort of) in luck, because as it turns out, the Spadea pattern company did publish some Ceil Chapman designs! They’re hard to come by and can get pretty pricey, but they do pop up on eBay and other vintage pattern places:
And even luckier for us (and by us I specifically mean “me”), Vintage Fashion Library produces a reasonably priced ($24.99) Spadea pattern reproduction of what I find to be one of Ceil Chapman’s most beautiful and iconic designs, the “Skylark.” (This name should have been a more graceful and evocative dress title, but I think Buick came along and ruined the mystique.)
The portrait collar and draped bust, the draping across the hips, the slim skirt with flowing panels… it’s almost too much 1950s goodness crammed into one dress! I’d been waffling on buying this pattern for a while and finally I decided I’d better just get one because surely at some point in my life I’m going to want to wear that :) (And yes, I was sure to buy mine before telling you about it, but there are more copies still in stock, so if you want one, head over there.) Granted the pattern is for a 34″ bust and I suspect that figuring out how to re-engineer that elaborate bodice down to 29″ (Sigh. So not a figure built for the va-va-voom 1950s fashions that I love) will not be trivial.
So there you go. Ceil Chapman is the person I want to sew like today. How about you? Who’s your current fashion and design idol?
Nope, no time to sew. Haven’t sewn a stitch in many many days. Heading off to Washington D.C. this afternoon for top secret government shenanigans. The closest I’ve even gotten to sewing in the last week is taking an occasional break to hunt for patterns on Ebay which I will not buy because I have more patterns than I could possibly ever sew up in my lifetime. That and most of them would be too bustacular for me. But you should seriously consider this for a perfect summer dress (B34):
Or this insanely elegant ensemble (B31) for your next evening out or stint as a wedding guest. Sigh. I love that tulip-y lapped skirt. So much so that I seriously considered not telling you about this one so I could snag it myself.
Or how about this confection of lace and pleats and drapes (B34)? (Obviously there was some sort of misprint since this should have been done up in midnight blue rather than lipstick red. Don’t get me wrong, I like lipstick red, but not so much for lace):
And finally, the covet of all covets, this gorgeous evening gown with overskirt (B34). Oh, how I adore an evening gown done up in an elegant print:
They’re all going for about $5-$7 (though I think that last one may have gotten some bids which pushed it higher) and ending within the next 5 days or so, so go forth and stalk them. You know you want to.
Come on, you didn’t think I was going to leave without giving you a another reason to resent me, did you? It’ll probably be quiet here for the next few days, so take advantage of that time to write scathing and hateful comments for me. They will only make me grow more powerful.
Ladies, color me impressed. You really stepped up to the challenge in the name of free vintage patterns, and you do me proud. Your essays had it all- mean-spirited backbiting, gross exaggerations of the truth, elite-level ass-kissing, tearjerking sob stories, and all other manner of emotional manipulativeness. Truly, you are all very selfish seamstresses and you are ALL winners. Well, except that that’s not really how a contest works. The Selfish Seamstress isn’t running a kindergarten here, people.
Let me start with a few honorable mentions, essays that were just too good to go without credit (honored essayists should feel free to drop me an email at selfishseamstress[at]gmail[dot]com and maybe I can find another goody in my collection for you).
Honorable Mention for Brute Force
This one goes to Mimi, who offered this remarkably concise entry and made me realize how lovely it would be to have a henchman (henchwoman?) or two on my side:
“if you give to me I’ll kick your nemisis’s asses!”
Brilliant! So much emotion in so few words! I imagine Mimi wordlessly snapping the needles off of the machines of my nemeses and it’s very very good. There’s really not enough violence in hobby sewing, if you ask me.
Honorable Mention for Pure Selfishness
Many contestants cited their own selfishness as the reason why they deserve the pattern, pledging that they would sew them for themselves and no one else and believe me, I appreciate this sentiment. But Liz really took this approach above and beyond, demanding the patterns just so you can’t have them. That is truly a rare and admirable brand of spiteful selfishness and I have to offer up my respect:
“Elaine, I must have one of these patterns, simply because there are others who want them, too. I want to be the victor, rather than the poor schmuck watching her ‘automatic bid’ smashed to oblivion with 2 seconds left in the auction. Plus, the dress reminds me of the cute plaid one that your mom wore, =] and the top is just plain adorable.
The Selfish Seamstress
Pitied ME so give up, gals,
I am the winner!”
This essay has it all- vindictive spirit and the desire to have something just so others don’t have it, a delightful haiku geared towards crushing the spirit of the competition, and a nice pat on the back for the Selfish Seamstress’s mommy. I have to admit, I have a soft spot for a girl who isn’t just out to win, but is also out to make sure everyone else loses! (Incidentally, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am the person smashing Liz’s bids in the last 2 seconds, so thank you for being that poor schmuck, Liz, such that I can get what I want.)
Honorable Mention for Sticking it to Nosy Wedding Guests
Empathy is beyond the emotional capacities of the Selfish Seamstress. But let’s just say that if I *could* empathize, I would empathize with fellow alliterative blogger The Slapdash Sewist for this bit of so-true-it-hurts:
“Having a 31.5 inch bust (I round to 32, but I’m not really 32) is an asset only when it comes to selfishly hoarding vintage patterns. I have many vintage patterns, but not that particular wrap dress and therefore I need it. It will keep my other vintage patterns company.
I have a wedding to go to soon. I’m 35 and have been to an endlessness of other people’s weddings. Always the guest, never the bride. I deserve to look as fabulous and unspinsterly as possible and having that pattern will help. Even if I don’t sew it.”
Ahh, but when are YOOUUUUUU getting married? Hmmm? HMMM? Seriously, what part of the brain is removed at the time a marriage license is issued that makes some married people forget that this question sucks? Obviously the best remedy is looking hot in a hot dress. And cake. Ahhh, Ms. Slapdash, I trust that you will make me proud by being an absolute firecracker at the wedding and taking more than your fair share of the cake. [Handy Selfish Seamstress wedding survival tip: If the question comes from your boyfriend's friends or family and you really want to mix things up a bit, try out this response: "Oh, I don't know. I guess when the right one comes along, I'll know." Ha! Who feels awkward now?? Hmmm?]
Honorable Mention for Unbridled Megalomania
If I didn’t already say it, you guys are just amazing at sucking up. The sheer volume of hyperbole and disingenuous platitudes about the Selfish Seamstress’s talent had her cackling with glee for hours on end and hulk-smashing all of her stuffed animals because she felt like a giant. But surely no one was more delusional about the omnipotence of the Selfish Seamstress than Len, who offered up this bit of totally awesome:
“I need those patterns because I hope that in receiving something from the mighty selfish seamstress that somehow a fraction of your impeccable taste, humour and mad sewing skillz will inexplicably transfer to me via osmosis. Hopefully then I’ll be able to sew auf Deutsch without a problem! I think either one of those patterns would look KICK ASS on me, so much so that I shall reduce the citizens of Dortmund to DUST with my newly-gained Selfish Seamstress powers.”
Not only is my taste “impeccable” (thank you very much!), but simply receiving a pattern in the mail from me will enable the recipient to pick up a foreign language and DECIMATE THE POPULATION OF A MID-SIZE CITY IN CENTRAL EUROPE. That, my dear Len, is freakin’ awesome. But in all fairness, if I were really that powerful, don’t you think I’d have already taken out a few cities? As it stands, even on a really good day I can only do minor structural damage to small suburbs with my sewing skills. But I’m glad you’re thinking big.
Okay. And now….
Second Place for High Maintenance Anatomy
This goes to the amazing Sue for her simple plea:
“I will keep this short, sweet and to the point. I want it because you found it first. The girls (all 33 inches of them) want it because they are all about making themselves look better. The fact that you claim this pattern is “way too big for you” is a little tough on my ego…I am usually the one making that claim…but the girls and I will find a way to cope with your cast-off. Did I mention my birthday is coming and I would totally rock that dress?”
Why do I adore this reasoning? It’s simple- she wants to win the pattern so she can give it to her breasts. That is brilliant. BRILLIANT. Her “girls” want the pattern, so she wants to give it to them. And the “girls” are all about making themselves look better. Honestly, I can’t question the genius of anthropomorphizing one’s rack and subsequently making demands on their behalf. The only question, Sue, is will they be satisfied with a pattern for a sailor top? If not, I’ll see what other goodies I’ve got under the bed for your 33″ ladies because…
First Place for Holy Crap That’s Funny
… goes to Dei! Granted Dei didn’t follow conventional essay format, but instead went for theater. And this has to be one of the greatest plays I have ever read:
“Why should I give it to you?” she asked.
“Because I want it.” I replied.
“What will you do with it should I part with it?” she sniffed.
“Cherish it for the magnificent vintage find that it is. Craft a glorious garment in its honor. And laud the giver for her gracious ways and immense talent.” I sang.
“Ah. Well said.” she smiled.
“Your Highness.” I bowed.
Admittedly, I think the Selfish Seamstress character is portrayed as being somewhat more benevolent than in real life (What’s up with the smiling? And why am I not using foul language?) but I understand that Dei took some liberties in the name of art. And I think I almost peed my pants when I read that last line. Masterful. Oh, how I love the theater!
Winners please drop me an email at selfishseamstress[at]gmail[dot]com with mailing addresses. And everyone, thank you for indulging me in my puppetmaster fantasies. I’m going to go find more things to hulk-smash now.
It’s no secret that the Selfish Seamstress has a weakness for vintage patterns. She has a huge stash of treasures and goodies under her bed which she occasionally takes out and stares at wistfully, wondering how it came to pass that her waist is not the same circumference as her neck, as would be necessary to do these garments justice:
Today I’m going to show you some of my favorites from the formalwear collection. It’s time to wake up your inner girlie girl! (Click on the images to see them in detail.)
First up, some marvelous masses of tulle to satisfy the fairy princess prom queen in you (top L. to R.: Vogue Special Design S-4606, Simplicity 1770, Simplicity 2231; bottom L. to R.: Simplicity 3503, Advance 8952):
Then some brilliantly jewel-colored cocktail, bridesmaid, and garden party dresses for a little romantic fanciness (top L. to R.: McCall’s 4425, McCall’s 3537, Simplicity 1153, McCall’s 3933; bottom l. to r.: Simplicity 1610, Simplicity 2766, Simplicity 1795):
Some large format extravagance, by which I mean the envelopes for these patterns are gigantic (L. Vogue Young Fashionables E-11, R. Vogue Couturier Design 883):
An absolutely smashing strapless top for the diva in you (Simplicity 4320):
And lastly my absolute favorites- the full on gala gowns that pull out all the stops (top L. to R. McCall’s 3466, Vogue Special Design S-4795, McCall’s 3399; bottom L. to R. McCall’s 3439, Simplicity 4440, Advance 6291):
Jealous yet? The Selfish Seamstress grows ever more powerful as she feeds on your envy. And she’s got a lot more patterns under the bed that you haven’t seen.
In all seriousness though, does anyone know how copyright on these things work? They’re all from the 1950s and early 60s. If I wanted to, could I make them freely available for download on my website? Or would a 97-year old pattern designer from Advance come after me with her cane shrieking, “You take my ball gown pattern off your web computer internet e-site right now or I’ll sue, you sassy digital age strumpet!”? Ha. Sorry, I’m still working on my little old lady impression.
UPDATE: I just got this from McCall’s customer service (in response to my inquiry, that is. They’re not just randomly surfing my blog):
Thank you for your email concerning McCall Patterns. Whenever possible we try to provide our home sewers with the information they request. The copyright is still held.
Bummer! Oh well, feel free to draft from scratch as you see fit.