All You Need To Know About Buying And Using Vintage Needlework Kits

5 years ago

Being a lover of both vintage and crafting, I'm always on the hunt for vintage craft kits, especially needlework.  I am a SUCKER for crewel embroidery, like these pieces in my collection here:


While I do buy completed pieces, nothing makes my day like finding a vintage, unused kit so I can make my own, like this squirrel pillowcase I made for my daughter from a 1950s embroidery transfer:


However, finding and buying a good candidate for making your own vintage needlework can be a bit tricky.  I'm here to share some tips and tricks so you too can create needlework from vintage patterns!

First, where does one find old needlework kits?

1. Estate sales.  This is a great source of old kits.  Head right to the sewing room and start digging through boxes.  The good news is you can probably find them for next to nothing at estate sales.  The bad news is it's hit or miss and may take some dedication and effort to find them.

2. Thrift stores.  I find lots of vintage kits at thrift stores.  They will be with the craft supplies usually and will be well priced.  Church thrifts seem to have them more consistently than the big chains like Goodwill and Salvation Army.

3. Ebay and etsy.  The selection on ebay and etsy will be plentiful and beautiful.  You can find anything your heart desires.  Unfortunately, the prices may make your heart cry.  I am a huge sucker, as I said.  I recently paid $100 for this crewel kit on ebay and I am not sorry one bit:


Next, it's important to understand the different types of needlework kits you may come across, along with what to look for..

1. Embroidery.  Embroidery patterns will usually consist of an envelope containing a thin paper, like tissue paper, with the image printed on it.  This image can be transfered to the item you want to embroider with an iron.  Most will stand up to several transfers, so even if the pattern has been used, it will probably still work as long as the image is still strongly visible on the tissue paper.

2. Crewel kits.  Crewel is embroidery with wool.  This was very popular in the 60s and 70s and some wonderful mod designs can be found.  Erica Wilson designed many of the most sought after crewelwork pieces.  When buying one of these kits, expect to find everything needed for the finished product - a stamped piece of twill or burlap, all the wool, a needle, and all the trims, beads, etc that the pattern will use.  If it's a pillow it will have everything but the pillow form.  Make sure the package is sealed and has never been opened - that way you can be sure there will not be any missing pieces when you get started. This is a kit I recently bought, and you can see that it's in a sealed package with all the supplies inside:


3. Cross stitch.  This is needlework on a stiff peice of fabric with a gridwork of holes.  The needlework is formed by little Xs.  These kits will usually come with the printed design on the fabric, along with the embroidery thread.  Again it's important to make sure the package is sealed so all the supplies will be there.

4. Knitting and crochet.  Most people are familiar with these crafts, but did you know old knitting and crochet patterns are cheap and plentiful and easy to use?  They won't come with any supplies, but will just be a pamphlet with the instructions inside.  All you have to do is make sure no pages are missing for the pattern you want to make, then go out and find supplies on your own.  Finding yarn comprable to the long out-of-production yarn called for in the pattern can be a challenge, but hey - that's what gague swatches are for!  Here's a vintage knitting pattern I bought that's in queue for me to knit this year:


That should be everything you ever wanted to know and more about buying vintage needlework patterns.  So go out there, hunt some down, and make yourself something awesome!  

Betty Crafter

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