Tag Archives: vintage pattern collections

A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, by Joy Spanabel Emery

Book cover image from Bloomsbury Publishing site. Please do not copy.

Book cover image from Bloomsbury Publishing site. Please do not copy.

I’ve been looking forward to this book, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, ever since I corresponded with its author, Joy Spanabel Emery, about the Commercial Pattern Archives Site at University of Rhode Island.  Her book  about the history of sewing patterns is now available from its publisher, Bloomsbury, or from Amazon or Abe Books. You can read reviews and summaries on their sites: Bloomsbury Publishing , AbeBooks.com , or at Amazon. I just found out that it is currently available in paperback for $35 or less, or in hardback. 272 pages; 125 colour illustrations and  75 black & white illustrations. Reviews mention that there are also scale reproductions of 9 patterns included for those who wish to enlarge them and make the garments.

Joy Emery is Professor Emerita of Theatre and the Curator of The Commercial Pattern Archive at the University of Rhode Island, USA.  She is also the author of Stage Costume Techniques.

Publisher’s description of  A History of the Paper Pattern Industry:

“This accessible book explores this history, outlining innovations in patternmaking by the companies who produced patterns and how these reflected the fashions and demands of the market. Showcasing beautiful illustrations from original pattern pamphlets, packets and ads, as well as 9 complete patterns from which readers can reproduce vintage garments of different eras, the book provides a unique visual guide to homemade fashions as well as essential exploration of the industry that produced them. ”

Chapters include:

Chapter 1 Tailoring and the Birth of the Published Paper Pattern

Chapter 2 Development of Dressmaking Patterns

Chapter 3 Nineteenth Century Technology

Chapter 4 Early History of Pattern Companies 1860s-1880s

Chapter 5 New Markets and Expansion 1880s-1900

Chapter 6 Shifts and Balances 1900-1920s

Chapter 7 Blossoming Economy 1920-1929

Chapter 8 Surviving the Great Depression 1930s

Chapter 9 The War Years 1940s

Chapter 10 Shifting Trends 1960s

Chapter 11 New Challenges 1960s-1980s

Chapter 12 Reinvention and Renaissance 1980s-2010

9 Pattern Grids 1854-1968

Endnotes, Bibliography, Index

The Commercial Pattern Archive collection, of which Joy Spanabel Emery is curator, has over 56,000 commercial sewing patterns, and is available to the public for research (by appointment.) The enormous CoPA database can be searched online. For full access, you can subscribe for a modest fee (which is used to pay the students who work scanning and entering new patterns into the database). Or you can sample the database for free if you click on Sample. EDITED 10/31/18: CoPA membership is now free. The “Sample” page is gone, since you can use the entire site just by logging in.  It is also now possible to search for a particular pattern number if you want to date it or see the layout, etc.



Filed under A Costumers' Bookshelf, Resources for Costumers, Vintage patterns

CoPA: The Commercial Pattern Archive

All three of these undated patterns were dated to 1974 using the CoPA Sample data search. What a great reminder that 1960s styles influenced fashion well into the 1970s!

All three of these undated patterns were dated to 1974 using the CoPA Sample data search. What a great reminder that 1960s styles influenced fashion well into the 1970s!

If you are interested in costume history or vintage sewing patterns, you will probably enjoy a visit to this amazing website. The Commercial Pattern Archive (CoPA) is a searchable database — with pictures — of more than 56,000 vintage patterns.  It gives you access to vintage patterns from several collections:  46,500 patterns from the 1840s through 2000 in the collections of the University of Rhode Island; plus many patterns from the Kevin L. Seligman Collection at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) (18,000 items!)  and patterns from individual collections and other museums. More patterns are being scanned and added regularly.

Parallel Worlds with a Common Interest in Fashion History: Collectors, Costumers, and Theatrical Designers

The CoPA site is a project of the Costume Commission of the USITT. (The United States Institute for Theatre Technology.) Theatre Technology isn’t just about lighting instruments and scenery materials; over the years, the Costume Commission — people who design and build costumes and teach costume history, etc. — has become its largest (and a very active) division. As a former member (now retired) of the USITT, I’d like to introduce the resources of USITT to members of the Vintage Fashion Guild, costume re-creators, vintage collectors and other researchers. We all have a lot in common!

You Can Sample CoPA Searches: Give It a Try!

UPDATE 1/24/2018: Since this post was written, the CoPA site has changed; according to Joy Spanabel Emery, whom we all need to thank for her work on this project, the full benefits of the site are now available without a paid subscription! You can now search by pattern number, and have access to the entire online archive. You do need to subscribe. And, if you use this site, a donation would help to keep it being enlarged and maintained.

She wrote, “Since the CoPA database is now available at no cost, the Sample option is no longer necessary. At present an enrollment form is necessary for access. The from can be downloaded from the website…. We are now relying even more heavily on volunteers and financial donations to the Joy Spanabel Endowment Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation.

I urge you to try this amazing archive of vintage patterns! The Log In page will allow you to download the subscription form. Click here.

[DELETED: Although you may want to subscribe in order to make full use of the scanned patterns and the entire CoPA collection,  you can access sample searches by clicking here. LINK IS DEAD ] There is a lot of information available to anyone — for free. If you want an overview of patterns and fashions from, say, 1920 to 1929, just scroll down to 1920 and then hold Shift as you scroll to 1929. If you want to see every sample in that time period, leave all the other settings on “Any.” If you want to limit your search to a certain type of garment (e.g. bathing suits) or a specific designer, or just one pattern company, or a keyword (e.g., “halter,” “corset,” or “pedal-pushers,”) that is also possible. If you want to search the whole archive, select all the Collections, the same way you select a range of dates.  DELETE: You can do repeated sample searches for free. CoPA says this gives just a sample of the collection, but I was able to date five of my undated Vogue designer patterns in a few minutes. (They happened to be included in the collection. However, you can also use the search to place your pattern within a number sequence, even if you don’t locate that specific pattern.)

It is now (2018) possible to search for a specific pattern number from most companies.

REVISED 1/24/18; SEE ABOVE or CLICK HERE for the new, 2018 CoPA Home page. If you want to take advantage of the entire collection and be able to see images of the pattern pieces as pictured on the envelope, so that you can drape a version of the pattern on a mannequin, you will need to subscribe, but the subscription only costs about $10 a month (Minimum of 4 months. There are Group Subscription Rates, too. See below.) REVISED: 11/6/18: Membership is FREE! However, donations will help to continue expansion.

Explore the CoPA Site for More Great Information

Read about the history of  CoPA site at PROJECT.  ON the 2018 site: ABOUT US or NEWS .

The FAQ explains how the patterns were dated and answers other Frequently Asked Questions about the archive. INSTRUCTIONS will help you to use the search engine and to print images. [Note: The USITT member who showed me this site says that MAC users sometimes have problems; the sample search works wonderfully with my PC.]  PARTNERS  is especially interesting because it lists several other pattern collections in the United States, Canada, and England, with summaries of their specialties, plus contact and visiting information. Some of these collections are represented in the CoPA Archives. You may discover a collection near you; for example, the Sterling Historical Society in Sterling, MA has “a good representation of very early Butterick patterns and papers.” The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has 18,000 patterns and pieces of fashion ephemera that belonged to USITT member Kevin L. Seligman. These collections can be visited by appointment. [Note: some of the Partners information is being revised. CoPA is an active, growing database.]

More Information about the Commercial Pattern Archive

Here is some other information from Joy G. Emery at the University of Rhode Island, who has been working on the CoPA project for many years:

“All proceeds from the subscriptions are used to pay student assistants working in the archive. In addition to the patterns we have an extensive collection for fashion and tailoring materials that are available to visiting researchers.
“Unfortunately subscribers can’t search with a specific pattern number. But looking at the pattern company and year(s) (determined by the style of the fashion), it is easy to determine what year the specific pattern number was issued.
“We don’t include separate numerical lists of each pattern company’s numbers. However, there is an option to view a list of 200-plus company numbers for the patterns in the Archive by hiding the images.
“Questions about group membership – and any other questions regarding the database or archive can be referred to  jemery@uri.edu .”

Book to Watch For: A History of the Paper Pattern Industry

A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution, by Joy Emery, will be published at the end of May by Bloomsbury.  This should be of great interest to collectors and fashion historians. Thanks to Joy for sharing all this information in her book and on the CoPA Database, for generously including her own pattern collection in the database, and for her help in checking this post for accuracy.



Filed under Dating Vintage Patterns, Exhibitions & Museums, Resources for Costumers, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage patterns