A Guest Rant on “Why Are Vintage Patterns So Expensive?”

by Erin on July 17, 2008


McCalls 3893

I got this great "guest rant" from a pattern seller (who will remain anonymous) and I thought it was worth posting.

[Although] I will note that no one's raised the issue of "How much did they pay people for the valuable vintage they are offering us" or "I bet they paid $5.00 for 20 patterns, how can they charge us $15.00 each for them??" (or significantly more, in some cases).

[It's] a very valid point and I don't want to ruin your comment section by addressing it … I have a good answer for how and why I price my offerings:

Yes I often buy boxes of old patterns for very little cost for the box. But I got up at 4:00AM to be first in line at the estate sale that I thought might possibly have vintage patterns. I stood in line for 2 hours and tried to be first in the door. When I got in the door I started pushing past people and heading for the garage or shed where the patterns usually are and lo and behold there are 2 boxes, rat pellets, roach carcasses and all …

I make my best deal and tote the smelly mess to my car. When I get them home I sit down and go through them to see if there are any beautiful finds that need my immediate attention. I sort by priority which goes first and which gets stored for another day. Then I start with the high priority ones and spread out and check to make sure all the pieces are there and cry when they aren't. I remove old pins (usually unless I miss one), I iron the envelope and the instructions so they are nice and readable.

Then I scan (or rather the DH scans) the envelope and sends it to me. I size it and clarify it a bit so it is readable. If I'm feeling creative I "clean" the front just for my files and cause I like 'em that way. Then it's time to write the listing. Gotta hold that pattern so I know the proper size and measurements … 'cause they're mostly different through the years.

Then I package the little beauty in a plastic bag and file it away until it goes to its new owner … by this time I've spent an average of 1-2 manhours, gasoline (at $4 a gallon) and we don't even count the time spent in line at the estate sale …

Now it's listing time … we all know that eBay doesn't do anything for free (and even website space costs) so I've got 1-2 hours time, a plastic bag, gas money, and then we add FEES. Take away everything else and the fees alone eat into the profit. If I manage to get $9.99 for a pattern and it better be a special one … I get to put $8.00 of that in my pocket. Take away a few cents for packaging and equipment (scanner, computer, iron) maintenance and we're down to $7.50 … O yeah, the 25 cents I paid for the pattern … we're at $7.25. IF THE PATTERN SELLS! Considering the 1-2 manhours involved … That's below minimum wage.

I thought this was worth posting because so many of us forget about the overhead and just plain TIME that's involved in running a small business, especially when you're doing everything yourself (or with the help of your spouse, who may or may not have another full-time job). Sure, I hear people say "I could buy that at the Salvation Army for a dollar," but I always want to ask them "Really? That exact pattern? You're sure it's there? When do they close, by the way?"

You're really paying for everything above, plus the luxury of choice — being able to select from the range of patterns in the seller's web store. And (at least for my advertisers) reassurance that all the pieces are there, and a good chance of a refund if they're not (try that with the Salvation Army …).

One last thing: if you do think vintage patterns are too expensive, you have a lot of options. You can not buy them, for one. Modern patterns are much, much cheaper (if you wait for the $1.99 pattern sales at the major fabric chains). You can set up a wait-for-it search on eBay and hope someone who doesn't know what they have will list it. And, of course, you can always draft your own.

That pattern up above? It's $75 (at The Blue Gardenia, sorry, there's not direct link to the pattern page). Unused, an in-demand bust size, a fancy pattern, and a great illustration. Is it worth $75? It is to somebody!

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