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
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.