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

New URI exhibit shows how home sewers made
patternof keeping passion alive, families stylish

Young men and ladies who are just sipping the sweets of connubial felicity, before you get a bed-stead, purchase a sewing machine. If you can't have both, sleep on the floor until you can earn enough with your sewing machine to pay for a bed-stead. From Butterick Sewing Machine Costume Ad, Fall, 1896.

KINGSTON, R.I. -- November 29, 1999 -- Long before Victoria's Secret catalogs created a stir in American households and well before Frederick's of Hollywood opened its shops and mail order business in the 1940s, women were creating romantic lingerie fashions from patterns and sewing machines.

Historic patterns, lingerie and other clothing, are among the items in the new exhibit-Tissues of Dreams: Dressmaker Patterns -- at the URI Textile Gallery in the Quinn Hall Lobby.

The gallery is located on the Kingston Campus and is open to the public weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Feb. 17. The free exhibit opened this fall.

The show features two resources that make URI one of the most important textile and costume centers-The Betty Williams Pattern Collection, the largest historic pattern collection in the world, and the URI Historic Textile and Costume Collection, one of the most extensive in the country.

"We thought it would be a great to put together an exhibit that combines patterns and the clothing made from them," said Cumberland's Margaret Ordoņez, associate professor and director of the URI Historic Textile and Costume Collection.

She is the co-curator of the exhibit with Joy S. Emery, of West Kingston, professor and chair of URI Theatre, and curator of the Betty Williams Pattern Collection.

The exhibit highlights seven lingerie patterns and undergarments that would be at home in any catalog today, except maybe for the silk bloomers. The items range from a hand-stitched pink chemise from the 1920s, made from a Deltor Butterick pattern. Another is a sheer cotton teddy from the 1930s made from a Simplicity pattern.

The exhibit, however, has more than just unmentionables. It is a look at how patterns, initially intricate and hard to follow, became easier to use thanks to Ellen Curtis Demorest. Demorest made patterns of individual pieces of tissue paper for each part of a garment, as opposed to drawing overlapping lines on a single sheet of paper. The easy-to-use patterns made current fashions readily available to sewers in the United States and its rapidly expanding territories.

Following the Demorest patterns, Ebenezer Butterick introduced his own line in 1863. Today, McCall's , Butterick and Simplicity remain the major pattern suppliers.

A highlight of the show is a Butterick dress pattern taken from an Yves Saint Laurent design. The dress, with its large color blocks and bold lines is a signature of the mid-1960s. A dress based on the pattern in the exhibit was made by Ruth Dove Salter, a 1946 URI graduate, for her daughter Lynn Salter McCauley, URI class of 1973.

Cressie Murphy-David, assistant curator of the exhibit and collection care specialist of the URI Historic Textile and Costume Collection, said the dress became a standout because it linked art and dress.

"These patterns allowed women to be in step with the latest fashions at low cost," Ordoņez said. "Patterns were current then and the new ones remain current today."

In one corner of the exhibit there is a special display of a silk wedding dress with detachable train made by 24-year-old Edna Maine Spooner in 1916. She chose a Butterick pattern to make her wedding dress but changed the sleeve to create variation. The dress was donated to URI by her daughter, Lucille Hewitt Spooner of Cranston. A photo of Edna Maine Spooner is placed near the dress.

The exhibit is dedicated to Betty Williams, a New York costumer, and a pioneer in dress-maker pattern research. Her passion has inspired scholars, designers, students and sewers around the world. Betty's husband, Gene Williams, donated her pattern collection to URI Library, Special Collections. Williams' patterns are the cornerstone of the Commercial Pattern Archive, a consortium of international pattern collections, which is headed by Emery. The archive is being cataloged in an electronic database.

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For Further Information: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116



 

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