Rabbit Hole: Folkwear patterns

Rabbit Hole: Folkwear patterns

When I posted my Idea Log for an indigo kimono last month, reader Marta Sullivan recommended a pattern at Folkwear.com — #112 Japanese Field Clothing — which I promptly ordered for the pants! And then I spent the next several hours happily (painstakingly) clicking through the pages of their outdated website, before resorting to the PDF catalog for easier browsing. Founded in the mid-1970s, Folkwear is a purveyor of “patterns with timeless style” — vintage or cultural classics (ranging from a cheongsam to a Navajo blouse to Marilyn Monroe-wear) that have equal appeal to costumers, reenactors and those of us who think a good French Cheesemaker’s Smock never goes out of style. The range of patterns is amazing, and the closer I looked the more in love I fell, as I discovered that many of them include companion knit or crochet patterns. #240 Rosie the Riveter (above) contains instructions for a coordinating knitted cardigan and “a crocheted snood that keeps hair in place.” #137 Australian Drover’s Coat (one of my favorites!) has a textured turtleneck pattern to go with. #238 Le Smoking Jacket includes the perfect little knitted tank to wear under it. And check out the cardigan with poodle appliqué that accompanies the circle skirt in #256 At the Hop! And that’s just scraping the surface. The pattern I ordered didn’t happen to have a knit component, so I’m curious to see how bare-bones vintage-pattern-style they might be.

Oh, and each pattern comes with a little history lesson about the garment(s)!

A few days ago, a friend mentioned she’d found Folkwear on Instagram. The account was just created on January 3; a new owner was announced on Jan 12; and she launched a new website last week. The new site is much easier to navigate, and I’m happy to see the delightfully dated photos survived although the PDF catalog seems not to have. [UPDATE: Here it is!] Just make sure you have some time before you click through! It is a definite rabbit hole.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has any experience with these patterns — and thanks again to Marta for bringing it to my attention!

50 thoughts on “Rabbit Hole: Folkwear patterns

  1. My niece and I have sewn Folkwear patterns but never knitted any. She made an exquisite cheongsam out of an old silk robe when she was about 12. We’ve never had any problems with these patterns.

  2. Here I am dating myself — I got one of these patterns (it was that French Cheesemaker’s smock, actually!) way back when. It was probably in the 80s? With the help of my sewing friend and her machines, I sewed it up for my husband. Great pattern! I have a couple of the other patterns tucked away somewhere.

  3. In the early 80’s, I made the Afghani Nomad Dress. It was the most beautiful dress I ever owned! I still have it, but sadly, it doesn’t fit…

  4. Like Margaret, I’ll be dating myself. I’ve used the Tibetan Panel Coat and the Japanese Haori for organza fabric that I designed using silk screen or shibori techniques. The shapes for those patterns are very basic and adaptable to many fabrics. Because I used organza I needed to learn to make French seams. And that was the extent of my sewing—not really something I enjoyed but a way to use my fabrics.

  5. Talk about a blast from the past!!!!!!! This was in the early eighties when I worked in a fabric store right out of college. I have made a few things from this collection during the height of my sewing days, the Kinsale Cloak, the pants from the Australian Bush suit and I think I might have done a few others, I am kn0w going to check out which ones I still have. I have always liked the Drover coat too. Merchant and Mills the British company has a line of patterns you might want to check out not from the historical perspective but it has the same feeling.

  6. Way back in the mid-70s, my mother made the Syrian Dress (#105) for me — in black. With full, tiny cross-stitch embroidery executed through a black scrim, which no doubt involved massive eyestrain. It is glorious — a marvel of craftsmanship and love. I still wear it for Occasions like a Christmas celebration or other worthy events. I have a somewhat fuzzy photo of me modeling the amazing garment circa 1977 or so.

  7. Oh yes! Also from the older set here, but I used to sew a LOT and loved their patterns. The prairie dress for my daughter, a caftan for me. Little Folks for babies. What I remember best is the Edwardian Underthings: I made the chemise and petticoat in a light grey flowered cotton. Wore it to a wedding! continued to wear the slip a lot a skirt!

  8. I adore Folkwear patterns. I made a lot of them when I was younger (Egyptian Shirt, Nepali Blouse, Gaza Dress, Jewels of India). I made a Schoolmistress’ Shirtwaist set for a church’s 100th anniversary (love the shirtwaist!), and have been “collecting” the 1920s-1930s patterns for when I have my sewing room back.

  9. I have been in love with Folkwear patterns since the 70s!! Back then I made many of them, and have carried the old patterns with me through the decades and many many moves. More recently I used the slip pattern to make an eco printed slip for my daughter out of silk charmeuse ….. it turned out lovely!

  10. I still have about eight patterns in my collection. Made the prairie dress twice, made three chemise. Still have those, although I sometimes feel way too old to be wearing them. Used the patterns all the time. Great directions, great looks.
    I used to have many “old time” pattern resources. Lost them. Kept what patterns I bought.
    It was all ” mail order” back then.

  11. You are very welcome. These patterns are very special. I made the Hippari (on the Japanese Field Workers Clothing Pattern) out of fabric that I brought back from Indonesia one time. I looked for it and can’t find it. Where do things go in the closet? I have made many others also.
    A friend made the Egyptian shirt as a button in front item with cuffs on the sleeves out of some of her beautiful hand woven fabric. I promptly purchased that pattern but have not done anything with it. They are fun just to read, if not sew up.

    • Marta, I just wanted to say thanks for suggesting this pattern company! It’s been a real treat to scroll through and earmark the ones I’d like to make (so many!).

  12. I have been sewing Folkwear patterns since the early 1970’s, both for clothing for myself and for theatrical costumes. They have great explanations, embroidery ideas for many, and can be easily customized for person taste. I found the sizing to be a bit generous. Enjoy them…they are really fun and you won’t run into yourself wearing them!

  13. Tip for knitters – if you type “knit” into the search box, you’ll get a list of all the patterns that include a knitted item. Thanks for this fun find, Karen!

    • Haha. I feel as if we’re really coming out of the woodwork here. I remember when this pattern company first appeared. I’m not a great sewer so never made any of them, but in those days these styles of clothing were much more available and commonly worn. Lots of dresses and coats came from places like Afghanistan, embroidered Russian shirts were popular for guys, and vintage shops carried things dating back to the 19th century.

  14. I have the pattern for the Austalian Drovers Coat! I’m long overdue for some new outerwear, so this post has inspired me to pull it out of the filing cabinet and get it in my sewing queue.

  15. I love Folkwear! I saw my first ethnic shop when I was in college, over 30 years ago. That led to a career working with crafts and textiles from around the world. But, that first shop had a basket of Folkwear patterns and I was so intrigued by them. I didn’t sew then, but several years later I bought several of their patterns on eBay. I wore out my Afghan Nomad dress…

    The patterns that I made tend to run on the small side. I believe they were adjusted later on, so there might be several versions of patterns out there. Folkwear is a member of the textile org that I run, http://www.tafalist.com, and I try to plug them whenever I can. I also work with a friend from Afghanistan who has vintage yokes, inserts that work beautifully with the patterns that call for these embellished areas. https://www.etsy.com/shop/afghantribalarts?search_query=yoke

    I’m so glad that Folkwear will continue on with someone younger. Kate is wonderful, but not big on social media and having the new site design has been a longtime need, so I was very pleased to see that! It’s great to see the original vision of the founders still have so much meaning to so many!

  16. When I started sewing clothes in my teens, my mom already had a big collection of Folkwear patterns, and I loved browsing through the envelopes and dreaming about what I would make. I’ve made a bunch of them now and always found them excellent; the directions are good and they’re designed to be real clothes, not costumes. A love of historical fashion was part of what got me into sewing in the first place, but I’m happy to say that I wear a lot of the pieces with a modern wardrobe and no one notices that they’re “historical.” The Walking Skirt has been a favorite of mine, and I have a wool flannel petticoat from their patterns that I wear as a skirt all the time in the winter.

    I’ve often thought it was a shame that Folkwear doesn’t get more notice in the online sewing world, since in a lot of ways they’re the original indie pattern company! So I’m really glad you mentioned them, and lad to hear that they’re getting the word out on Instagram, etc. Their patterns are total hidden gems!

  17. I have used Folkwear patterns for many years for myself as well as sewing garments for customers who purchase their patterns. I have never had a snafu with them and the inspiration they provide only increases with experience. Rabbit hole indeed, Hello Alice!

  18. Amazingly I was sorting through my old patterns just yesterday to see what I could pass along and I found a Folkwear pattern there that I’d forgotten about and I kept it because, who knows, I might make it. It is the Tibetan wrap skirt. I also once had one for a Romanian peasant blouse and I did try that one out but gave up as the project was just too involved with all the embroiderie. I can’t wait to hear what you do with yours. Your approach to clothing yourself is refreshing and inspiring and I am heading in that direction myself as I am not happy with what I find in the shops.

  19. I have nostalgic remembrances of Folkwear patterns too. I succumbed and bought a pattern for jodhpurs along with a lovely riding jacket that I pictured making in natural linen in the 90s. I never actually sewed it. Also…somewhat off topic…the smoking jacket reminded me of my high school (first period) history teacher who would change into his satin smoking jacket each morning before teaching class. :)

    • So glad you mentioned the smoking jacket! I had a 6th grade English teacher in the 50’s who also put on a smoking jacket for class. He was very temperamental and known to throw books across the room. Some days he would say, “I just can’t teach you today”, because he felt we weren’t paying attention, so he would pass out comics and then put his feet up on his desk (which was on a sort of stage) and we would all read. When things were more normal he was an excellent teacher.

  20. I bought the Metropolitan Suit and made the jacket about 2 years ago. Nothing bear bones about that pattern, the facings are fairly involved and all fit together perfectly. Fit was excellent except the shoulders were too wide. No one knows I am wearing a vintage pattern and it gets compliments all the time.

  21. I enjoyed making the Gibson Girl Blouse back in 1981 as a maternity top. Glad to know that these patterns are still available!

  22. My mom had a fabric and yarn store in Brooklyn in the 70’s which sold fockwear patterns, so we ended up with a bunch of samples in our dress up collection when the store closed when my sister and I were little. we still have the afghani dress, made up in calico and velveteen. When I was in middle school I made the Empire dress (after watching Sense and Sensibility), and have been meaning to use the baby “little folks” pattern to make the Turkish pants for my own daughter. they were a staple of our childhood wardrobes. Thanks for the reminder!!

  23. I have several late 1970s Folkwear patterns and remember one, the empire dress, that I made to wear to a family wedding. The most amazing thing I saw associated with the patterns was a beautiful pale violet satin baby quilt that the daughter of my mother’s friend showed me. She had enlarged the line drawing of the Afghan coat pattern and “tiny running” stitched it into the crib sized quilt. she made it for her first daughter.

  24. I just made those Japanese field pants (sans the elastic at the bottom) for my mother for Christmas, and a nightgown (minus many ruffles) from another one of their patterns for my mother-in-law. I’ll be making the field pants for myself and my ladyfriend,. I love the Folkwear Patterns! I’m currently trying to decide whether to try to make the Afghan Nomad Dress like Alicia Paulson did with multiple Liberty of London prints (http://rosylittlethings.typepad.com/posie_gets_cozy/2012/08/bloomsbury.html?cid=6a00d8345196d169e201774411265a970d#comment-6a00d8345196d169e201774411265a970d). I have a bunch of their patterns. Let me know if you need anything.

  25. i have had and made the patterns from the japanese field wear for many years, i am talking over 25 years…. folkwear patterns have always been favorites for simple, useful clothing with style.

  26. I’m so glad you have enjoyed exploring Folkwear’s patterns! I am honored to be ushering this company forward and appreciate you mentioning us! I have LOVED seeing all the comments from past customers! It has been fun to get Folkwear into social media and I’m excited about what is to come. Thanks again. Your blog is lovely – so glad to know it now!

  27. What beautiful patterns! Haven’t seen that site before, so it’s an excellent find :)

    You said that the Australian coat is your favourite – to save time and expense, I would heartily recommend Driza-Bone oilskin coats. ( http://store.drizabone.com.au/c/rain-coats/traditional-oilskin/104 ) They are not cheap, but if you made one yourself, it would cost a lot more. However, you do buy them only once in a lifetime, they are made to last. My ex-boyfriend had one of their riding coats, it was about 15 years old and looked great. He nicked it from his uncle, and I am sure he’s still wearing it!

  28. For the Japanese Workers wardrobe, Marcy Tilton sells beautiful double ikat fabric from India that is in black and white and perfect for these pants. It is not really expensive, just a little.

  29. When my cowboy son was in 4-H he made a drover coat and took best of show at the fair and went to state fair. He also took a prize in the Dress Review. The pattern looked complicated, but wasn’t as it was nearly all straight seams.

  30. Love reading all these memories! In the early years of spinning, I participated on a team for Sheep to Shawl competitions and the Prairie Dress was our go-to costume for the events. What I remember most was that it took a lot of fabric! There’s almost 6 yards in the dress and another nearly 4 yards for the pinafore. I often thought how hot (and not in a sexy way!) women must have been wearing all that yardage!

  31. I made the empire folkwear dress for my daughter to wear for prom (so many years ago). She of course looked beautiful! I still have the tracing paper pattern I made for it. It was a pretty easy pattern to sew. Much easier than her choice the following year of a McCall’s pattern for a off the shoulder corseted gown!

  32. I was in my early twenties while working with the creators of the original Folkwear back in the late 70’s. The company was started by Alexandra Jacopetti, a weaver and the author of the wonderful book on handcrafting clothing, “Native, Funk and Flash” . I was her weaving apprentice and lived with her and her family in a commune in Forestvile, CA. They owned an old summer camp, Sunshine Camp which housed her studio and the headquarters for Folkwear . She started the company with her friends, Annie Wainwright and Barbara Garvey. They drafted the patterns and we all worked on the samples. I even posed as a model for the catalog. I sewed a number of the patterns and had quite a nice collection of the clothes in my wardrobe. Unfortunately I let them go over the years. Alexandra and her friends were all hippies that wanted to make clothes that had uniqueness but also honored history and other cultures. This was way before the days of the internet so the patterns were mail order and initially sold by catalog. We also sold accessories by mail order to add in production of the clothing, much like Fringe. Lots more tales to tell…. those were the good old days!

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  34. Have always wanted to try one of these but they looked intimidating. Finally tried 142 Old Mexico Dress, and it turned out pretty well despite the fact that the pleats have to be adjusted for larger sizes. I think these patterns run small. The Romanian blouse is next, even though Folkwear spells it incorrectly – so much for their research.

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