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An evening dress pattern is just one of the thousands of items which are searchable online as part of the ever-expanding Commercial Pattern Archive.

Archive Grows, Leads to Exhibits

Joy Spanabel Emery

Begun almost 15 years ago as an effort to preserve an ephemeral part of costuming, the Commercial Pattern Archive (CoPA) now includes more than 48,000 records and 81,000 images as well as books, journals, periodicals, and display items.

A recent donation of mini-manikins, small-scale display dolls to display styles being sold by the pattern companies, with some sample garments and patterns for making other styles are included in an exhibit at the University of Rhode Island Special Collections unit. Images of the exhibit will be posted at These items, as well as some patterns and publications, are part of the Elizabeth Brown Collection in the Archive.

The CoPA was initially supported by a project grant in 1995 from USITT and has continued to receive the Institute’s support through the Edward F. Kook Endowment Fund and the Commissioner’s Fund.

The sewing pattern collection, with patterns dating from the1860s to 2000, is digitized and is available online or in an abridged four-volume CD-ROM set. Both can be searched in a number of ways including garment types, year, pattern company, and keywords.

The online database continues to grow with new additions such as the 2,000 patterns and 6,000 images added to the database this year. Student assistants, a volunteer, and the curator work to keep the database current.

Subscriptions to the online database and CD sales help support the project. More information on this unique resource of everyday wear may be found at To get a subscription or order the CDs see “Order Now” under the CoPA header. Donations of patterns, periodicals and other related materials support the continued growth of the archive.

In December, an exhibit of toys made from patterns dating from 1909 to 1970 with related patterns and publications was presented.

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