KINGSTON, R.I.-August 10, 1999 -- What do the Star Spangled Banner,
the Declaration of Independence, and dressmaker patterns at the University
of Rhode Island have in common? All have been designated Official Projects
of Save America's Treasures by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
With 25,000 patterns, URI's Commercial Pattern Archive is the largest
collection of patterns in the world. The patterns represent 60 different
companies, and include such high style couturiers as Dior and Vionnet.
The patterns were donated to the University, with the largest gift -- 12,000
patterns-coming from the estate of New York theatrical costumer Betty Williams.
Being designated an official project of Save America's Treasures is
a great accomplishment for the collection, noted Joy Emery, acting chair
of URI's Theatre Department and adjunct professor of textiles, fashion
merchandising and design.
"The designation gives the archive validation and says patterns
are worth saving. It raises consciousness about these documents and how
they are a part of history. Many of these patterns can't be found anywhere
else," explained Emery, who donated her own personal collection to
The patterns, which include dress, bathing suit, a variety of men's
garment, apron, and masquerade costume designs, date back to the 1850's
and mirror events and changes in history.
"There is such a wealth of history here. All of these patterns
are expressions of their time period and reflect the society that they
were made in," said Emery.
The oldest dressmaker pattern in the archive is a Demorest pattern published
in Frank Leslie's Ladies Gazette of Fashion in 1854. The early patterns
had no printed markings or directions as it was assumed that women knew
the skill of sewing. Although clothes were sewn by hand, the availability
of sewing machines created a demand for more patterns.
During the Great Depression and World War II, pattern companies grew
as they offered a cheaper alternative to clothing. Patterns suggested how
to use feed bags as cloth or how to turn a man's suit into a woman's suit
under the motto of "Made do and make mend." Changing trends can
also be traced through the patterns, such as the evolution of women in
pants and Hollywood's influence on style.
Emery and a staff of volunteers have donated an enormous amount of time
and effort to make the patterns accessible to the public. Each pattern
is being recorded, categorized and entered into an electronic database.
Although the actual tissue pattern is not being touched, the image from
the front and back of the package is scanned into the database, along with
dimensions and information. When all the patterns have been entered, the
database will be copied to a CD-ROM, which would be available to purchase.
The information will help theatrical designers and costume historians
research clothing of specific time periods, other researchers and historians
will also be able to date articles of clothing by comparing them to ones
that have been documented in the archive.
Some of the patterns will be on exhibit in the Gallery of the URI Library
on the Kingston Campus, running from Sept. 1 to Sept. 30. The exhibit,
"Beyond the Dress: Selections from the Betty Williams' Pattern Collection,"
is free and open to the public.
Save America's Treasures is a national program focusing on protecting
America's threatened cultural treasures including significant documents,
works of art, maps, journals, and historic structures that document and
illuminate the history and culture of the United States. Official projects
can use Save America's Treasures motto and logo in their preservation,
promotion, and education of their project.