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Pattern Co. History


Commercial patterns are full-scale tissue paper clothing patterns used by the home-sewer to create garments and accessories.   Commercial patterns are designed to be a disposable tool of the garment creation process, a fact which makes them extremely difficult to preserve. The CoPA project was conceived as a means of electronically capturing and recording commercial pattern information in order to preserve these scattered and vanishing records of European and American culture.

Two basic problems are often encountered in assembling and cataloging commercial pattern information.  First, the patterns are generally not dated, and therefore it has been necessary to consult primary sources such as fashion periodicals and pattern catalogues in order to create a comprehensive pattern dating resource.  In fact, pattern-dating information from more than thirty pattern companies has been compiled, using the first appearance of the pattern in periodicals, catalogs, and/or flyers as a baseline for dating the item.

The second problem is that the numbering series used by pattern companies to identify each pattern is often erratic, and therefore unreliable and difficult to decipher.   Betty Williams, a theatrical costumer in New York City, pioneered research on commercial patterns in the early (1980's?) by deciphering the complex numbering series used by various pattern companies.  Over the years, she became a leader in the field, establishing a major personal pattern collection and encouraging others to actively participate in the collection and storage of patterns.  Betty passed away on 1997 leaving behind a wealthy legacy of research, and an extensive pattern collection which is now housed at the University of Rhode Island.

The CoPA computer database application was initially conceived as a means of organizing and preserving the substantial number of commercial patterns in the URI/Theatre Department collection.  Work on the original database application began in 1986, and over the years the tool has evolved to adapt to changing needs and advances in technology.  In addition to pictures and textual descriptions of the patterns themselves, pattern numbering sequences, and pricing for the predominant pattern companies has been assembled (when possible) for each record in the database. Click here for more information on the current version of the application.