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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI's dressmaker pattern collection
becomes a piece of history

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 archive.

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.

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For More Information: Jan Sawyer, 401-874-2116

 

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