I know I recommend the online Commercial Pattern Archive at University of Rhode Island too often, but it just keeps revealing new reasons to visit. (Online Inventory last time I checked: 64,681 sewing patterns; mostly 1840s through 1970s.)
I can’t link to CoPA images anymore, because users now need to create a login, but you just create a user ID name and a password, and log in to use a totally free website! I never get email from them.
I’ve been sorting through my Delineator photos from 1922, and happened to log in to CoPA to check construction details — not really expecting to find much. However, I found a surprisingly large number of Butterick patterns from 1922 archived — and that means images of both back and front of the pattern envelope. You can see the shape of the pattern pieces!
If you are trying to replicate a vintage pattern, whether you use drafting or draping, seeing the shape of the original pieces is very helpful. And if, like me, you have no intention of re-creating the pattern, (that used to be part of my job) you can still learn a lot about vintage clothing construction.
NOTE: The images from CoPA that I show here do not reflect the quality of CoPA images online. Because I couldn’t download them directly, I printed them, scanned them, and put them into a “500 dpi on the longest side” format. Unfortunately, I scanned the prints at the “black & white” resolution instead of at the “photograph” resolution. Image quality was lost on my scanner, not CoPA’s.
Elastic in 1920’s garments
There was a time when I was suspicious of any so-called vintage 1920s’ garments that depended on elastic. That was just my ignorance, based on “book learning” and classroom generalizations. Once I started really paying attention to vintage pattern magazines and pattern envelopes, my mind opened a bit!
All of these 1922 patterns include casing for elastic at the (usually lowered) waist.
Tunic Blouse 3462
If you sew, you know that there is a lot of information on the pattern envelope that you won’t find in the pattern’s catalog description.
“Ladies’ and Misses’ One-Piece Dress, “Closed at the Back, with or without Elastic in Casing at Low Waistline or Blouse Body Lining.”
This simple dress was also illustrated with a matching cape:
Coat 3594: This coat, which I find bulky but oddly appealing, could be controlled with elastic at the waist:
Rubber elastic tends to degrade faster than the other components of the garment, so the elastic itself may not be present in a vintage dress (or underwear.) But these patterns confirm its use.
I was surprised to see this “Armistice” blouse [Not what they were originally called] issued in 1922. It can have elastic in a casing at the waist:
Searching CoPA for a specific pattern: “Search by Pattern Number”
After you create a log-in at CoPA, you can search for any pattern by number (e.g., type in “3672” and select “Butterick” from the pattern company pull-down list. Chose “Any” collection. Results will show you images and links to further information — including the date for every pattern they have! Say you own Vogue 1556, by Yves St. Laurent? CoPA’s archive number will tell you it was issued in 1966. (If you have an approximate date, you can also date patterns which are not in the archive by finding where they would be in the company’s number sequence and checking their resemblance to other styles and envelopes from the same year….)
Browsing through a year or group of years: use “Complete Search”
Or you can click on “Complete Search” and search by year (or a period of several years, e.g. 1920 through 1926 — just hold down the shift key while selecting.) You can limit your search in many ways (e.g., “male” + “adult;” or “1945” + “hat” +”McCall;” or “1877 + “Any”….)
Trying CoPA: If you love a specific decade, start with one year (e.g., “1928” + “McCall” + Collection: “Any”) By the mid-1920s, McCall pattern envelopes had beautiful, full color illustrations. New to CoPA? Start with McCall in the 1920s, or try McCall in 1958! Less well-known pattern companies are also well-represented. Scroll though the “Pattern Company” pull-down for Hollywood, Advance, La Moda, Pictorial Review, DuBarry, & dozens more.
TIP: Be sure you set the final category (Collection) to “Any” if you want to search the complete archive. Otherwise, you’ll miss some good stuff! Also, search more than one way. “Medical uniform” (Category: Garment) got 20 results; “Nurse uniform” (Category: Keyword) got 38. It’s not a complaint; just what happens when many people try to describe things for a spreadsheet.
Next: Pattern pieces for side drapes (“cascades”.)
11 responses to “Learning from Browsing at CoPA”
Thank you for this! I was wondering whether it was worth it to register at CoPA.
Absolutely! I try to send a small donation every year, but never get asked for one. (People have to be paid for scanning and cataloging the patterns.) I remember how costumers treasured Janet Arnold’s “Patterns of Fashion” series and Norah Waugh’s “Cut of… Clothes” books, because they were the (only?) place to see the shape of historic pattern pieces — now, thanks to the late Joy Spanabel Emery and other theatrical costume designers/scholars, the USITT (U.S. Institute of Theater Technology) and University of Rhode Island, we have a vast source of information about 19th and 20th century clothing construction at our fingertips. (It combines several pattern collections, so European pattern companies are included.) Incidentally, the division of USITT called the “Costume Commission” is large and active. The national convention will be in Houston in 2020.
This looks like a fantastic collection. Thank you for the details!
It’s easy to use and also easy to spend hours scrolling through a year (or decade!) What a great overview of clothing for ordinary people; search through any period you choose. I almost got lost in 1939 today: 126 patterns to look through! But my computer is loading very slowly today. If the thumbnail image said “construction”, I clicked on the archive number and usually got the images.(Sometimes “construction” means the pattern is catalogued but not yet scanned….)
Thanks for all the additional info! Will take a look at some 1930’s things this week (my fav period).
If you get too many patterns in your search, narrow it down. You can always come back later. (When I got 919 results on one search yesterday, it took a long time to load!) And I do wish Butterick had not been so slow to do full color envelopes!
Such excellent information!
Thank you for this reminder! Some years ago I was on their website (having read Emery’s book) , but understood that it took quite a substantial monthly fee to use it – which I found completely understandable, but couldn’t afford. I will definitely check it out again!!
Totally free now! Thanks to USITT and the URI’s foundation. So many theatrical costumers have a stash of vintage patterns — now several of them are donating or linking their hoards. Here’s the page for printing out or emailing your membership form. It implies that donations are optional, not required. https://copa.apps.uri.edu/Documents/COPA_form030618.pdf
Already submitted! 😉
It is amazing this is free! Thanks for the lesson on how to best use it.