February 23, 2013

New Embroidery with Vintage Patterns - February Interview

Hi, everyone, as promised I am back this month with an awesome interview!  I am so excited that Brooke and Chris, two employees from the kitschy embroidery pattern company with the yellow pattern envelopes that we all know and love, Colonial Patterns, (nicknamed and often called the Aunt Martha pattern company) agreed to answer my questions!  The interview is long and image heavy but I do y'all enjoy it all -- leave a comment and let me know what you think!        

In between Brooke's and Chris's replies, I am thrilled to sprinkle in photos of new embroideries done with vintage Aunt Martha and Workbasket patterns as well as photos that the Colonial Pattern company shared too!  Admittedly, I over asked people their permission to share their photos in this post, so I deeply apologize if you do not see your photo included.  If you like the stitchy photos, be sure to click on over to flickr and leave your fellow stitcher a comment!  And since we don't have the luxury of visiting the Colonial Patterns building in person be sure to visit the Colonial Pattern's shop online!
As always, I invite all of you to join the New Embroidery with Vintage Patterns group.  There are lots of new embroideries with vintage patterns being added on a regular basis.

1.  Please tell us about yourself, your job title, and your role at Colonial Patterns.

photo provided by Colonial Patterns
Brooke:  My name is Brooke and I am the Art Director for Colonial Patterns Inc.  I work designing new patterns, creating our catalog, packaging and any other design work we have.  I have been with the company for four years and I just love it.  I have been a crafter all my life, this job was a perfect fit for me.  My grandmother taught me to embroider when I was young, using Aunt Martha's patterns, so this job holds a special place in my heart because I know it would make her proud.  

photo by barncat1
Hillbillies and chickens

2.  Please tell us the first names of the other people you work with, their job titles, and what they do.

Brooke:  We are a small family owned company, so I think a lot of the time people are surprised how few of us there are.
  • Bud is the President/Owner (and has been since the late 70s, only the third owner the company has ever had)
  • Chris is Vice President and in charge of shipping, new product development and general warehouse management.
  • Matt is also our Vice President, he is in charge of wholesale accounts and inventory.
  • Sondra is our accountant as well as helping with wholesale as well as retail orders and customer service.
  • Angie is in charge of all our phone in orders, she talks to customers, fills orders and gets them all shipped out. 
We are all in the office and all help answering phone calls. So if you call to place an order you will talk with any one of us!
  • Then we also have 6 more employees in the warehouse that fill the wholesale orders, Angie (a different one), Melody, Margaret, Lisa, Vicki, and Jeremy.

photo by kittykill
Vintage tinted embroidery

3.  What is a typical day or week like for you and your colleagues?

photo provided by Colonial Patterns
Brooke:  Well that is the best part about working for a small company, each day is different! In the front office we all start our mornings checking voicemails.  Since we are on central standard time, we have a lot of people who call after hours, so we return all those calls.  Then Angie works in the mornings fulfilling the orders that came in over night, Matt inputs all the wholesale orders that come in by mail or email, Sondra takes care of all our payroll and bills, and Chris oversees the shipping in the warehouse as well as international communication with our suppliers.  My job is very different from day to day too.  I might be working on 1-5 different projects at a time depending what we have going on.  I just finished up new boxes for our glitter paint as well as a new Stitcher's Revolution pattern SR22 Retro Fruits. 

photo by lisa leggett

Tea pot embroidered hot pad

4.  Does Colonial Patterns offer tours to the public?  If so, what is the tour like?
Chris:  We don’t offer tours of our facility for safety reasons.  However our office is open to the public for shopping Monday through Friday, 10am – 4pm.  We have a small showroom but it is loaded with patterns, linens, scrap fabric, floss, and stitching accessories.  We also have lots of samples on display of items that we have stitched up for photography so that is kind of inspiring to see.

photos provided by Colonial Patterns

5.  Your company has been around for a long time, since the 1930s!!  What are some of the oldest, in-print patterns still being sold on your site?

photo by stitchin'kat
Chris:  #129 – 8 Kitten Motifs
#675 – Bunny Rabbit
#9773 – Love in Bloom
#9475 – Down Mexico Way
#9180 – Mischievous Kittens
#9637 – Birds for Varied Uses

6.  With all the current Aunt Martha iron-on embroidery patterns currently in-print, do you have a favorite one?  

photo provided by Colonial Patterns

Brooke:  My favorite classic pattern # 3981 Dog Days Cowboy ( if you are really going to make me pick just one)

My favorite new pattern #SR15 Movie Munchies.  This one holds 
a special place in my heart. I got the inspiration for it from this 
local Soda Fountain in my folks' hometown.  We went there two 
summers ago and they still had their original hand painted food 
characters on the wall from when my parents were young. It was 
a magical place for me as a kid, and it still is as an adult.

photo by xperimentl
Owl Love

7a.  How often do new Aunt Martha patterns issued in the yellow envelopes come out during a calendar year?
Chris:  A lot of it depends on what type of projects we are working on but we try to do at least 5 per year. 

7b.  How often do Stitcher's Revolution patterns come out during a calendar year?
Chris:  The Stitcher’s Revolution patterns take a little more time to create because we have to design a stitch and color guide with it.  I think last year, 2012, we published 3 new patterns, and the prior year, 2011, we published 8 new patterns.

photo by AlwaysInspired
hillbilly 004

8.  Tell us more about the Aunt Martha Vintage Pattern Collection (AMVC20) bundle on your site.  5 patterns in that collection (4014 Baby Chicks4015 Adorable Puppy4016 Barn Animals4017 Kooky Kitchen4020 Happy Homemaker) were re-issued (which I assumes means the patterns were brought back out of retirement).  Please tell us more about these patterns.  With the 5 that were re-issued, in what year(s) did they go out-of-print and what was the motivation to re-print them again?  

photo provided by Colonial Patterns
Chris:  It is hard to say exactly when those patterns went out of print, but they were most likely drawn and first produced in the late 1940s early 1950s.  We have thousands of retired patterns that are out of print so periodically we will go through our archives and pick out things that we think our customers will like. 

 In most cases, new patterns are drawn based upon current trends and/or customer suggestions, so we may pull from our archives and modify certain designs.  We reintroduced those patterns in particular because “retro” designs are pretty popular right now.


9.  What factors lead to the decision of retiring an embroidery pattern?   
Brooke:  Most of the time we let the public tell us!  If sales on a pattern have been consistently bad for a few quarters we will consider retiring it.  Then we also base it on new ideas.  For example, If we know we have a lot of new patterns coming in the red category (Days of the Week Tea Towels) then we might retire a few more in that category to make room for the new ones coming out.

photo by loves stitching
6th dow stitch along

10.  Tell us about the re-print project.  I heard vintage, out-of-print patterns are now available for purchase, just the iron-on sheet though, no envelope.  How and why did this come about?  Is it very popular?

fruit trio -  strawberryBrooke:  Well, like I said we get a lot of calls from people looking for a specific pattern.  So Chris started researching a printer that we could have in house to print individual patterns for customers.  There are just too many patterns in our archives to have them all in production, so this is a way we can still offer patterns and not have to stock them all.  The hardest part has been getting them all in digital form.  Many of the older patterns have never been digitized for modern printing.  Slowly, but surely we are getting more and more added to our archives.  

We are currently working on a new website, and on the site we will eventually get a list and images for all the old patterns.  So, one day you will be able to browse all the out of production patterns!  They are some very neat and unique ones in there.  I can't wait for this project to be available to you all!  For now, if you know the name or number for the pattern you want, give us a call and we can tell you if we have it available to reprint.

both photos by bookwormbethie

11.  For those of us that may have original vintage Aunt Martha patterns in our stash, is there an easy way to date them by either envelope design or color of ink used on the pattern sheet?
                                      photo by Colonial Patterns
Chris:  The best way to get an approximate date of issue is by referring to the pattern number as follows:

#9000s are the earliest, most likely these were first published in the 1930s and 1940s
#3500 or smaller – 1950s and earlier
#3500-#3600 – 1960s
#3600-#3700 – 1970s
#3700-#3800 – 1980s
#3800-#3900 – 1990s
#3900-current – year 2000 and later


3rd Patch photo by beetastic
12.  Any secrets to the success of your company since it has been around since the 1930s?  
Brooke:  I think the secret to our success is offering a wonderful product and being family owned. We are all looking out for the interest of the company, whether or not we are part of the family that owns it.  

We all value it and I think that shows in the work we do and the products we put out.

13.  I like to think of embroidery as a wholesome, old-fashioned, yet fun hobby. Why do you think hand embroidery continues to thrive in today's modern world? 

Brooke:  I think the main reason is that it is portable and inexpensive. You don't have to invest hundreds of dollars to get started, you can take it anywhere with you to work on it, and it is not hard to learn.

photo provided by Embroidery Buddy
Too funny . . .

photo provided by Colonial Patterns

14.  What kinds of "contact us" questions or comments do you receive?  Do you get tons on a daily basis?
Brooke:  We do! Calls and letters come in daily.  Most of the time it [is] customers who are new to the craft and may not know how to iron off a pattern. We also get lots of questions about how to remove the pattern if they mess up, and I would say the rest of the calls are people looking for a specific pattern they used to have and now can't find in stores.

Chris offers the following steps for getting your transfer out of your project when finished (or if you mess up when ironing):  

1) Most importantly, use COLD water when washing. The hot water will only further set the transfer onto the fabric.
2) Don’t dry your project on high heat in the dryer if you want to try more stain removing techniques. The heat will only further set the transfer pattern.
3) Try using a stain remover like Zout, Spray N Wash or a good soaking in OxyClean.
4) Natural and artificial light will make the lines fade, so you can set your design out in the sun for a few hours to help lighten them.
5) Repetitive washings will make the lines fade gradually.
6) It is  much easier to get the ink out of 100% cotton. It is more difficult to remove the ink from poly-cotton or other synthetic blends.

photo by Danidot
Anniversary present 

15.  Anything else I forgot to ask that you would like to comment about?

Brooke:  The only thing I can think of to tell your readers is to pass on the art of handwork to anyone interested!  Children, friends, coworkers....anyone!  There is so much to say about learning to work with your hands and having patience and perseverance to finish a project to the end.  It may seem like a small thing, but obviously if it has survived this long, there must be something magical to it ;)

Find us on Facebook!   http://www.facebook.com/stitchersrevolution

photo by stitchin'kat
December SAL


  1. Awesome and interesting interview! Thanks!

  2. What an interesting interview. I always thought of Colonial Patterns as part of a larger company. The information on how to date transfers is very helpful. Off to go look at all of their great patterns!

  3. Oh My Goodness! I just drove past there the other day - I had no idea they have office hours and are open for shopping. I thought they were a production and shipping center. Good to know! I love Colonial Patterns, and use them all the time, especially for teaching children! Thanks for the Very Fun Post!

  4. Great interview. I liked all the pictures too.

  5. Great interview, I love that they're a small, family owned company! Colonial patterns are so great and accessible, and I'm really loving a lot of the new Stitcher's Revolution patterns, in fact I just ordered a couple more this morning. Thanks for including one of my pics!

  6. Fantastic interview--thanks for sharing!

  7. Thanks for the interview! Very interesting, especially how to refer to the pattern # for the issue date.

  8. Really enjoyed this interview! I LOVE their patterns. I wish they would turn more out though, especially those stitcher revolutions ;-)

  9. Wow, great interview! I've long loved Colonial Patterns—never know what they'll come up with, and it makes me so giddy whenever they come out with a vintage reprint or vintage-style pattern (LOVE the Retro Fruit and can't wait until it is released!). That they're a small family-owned company still makes me even giddier. Thank you for posting this!