The Commercial Pattern Archive

From time to time at the local auctions, a box of patterns will come up for sale. Back in 1999, I got four huge boxes of 1930-50’s vintage patterns for $1 a few years back. As I sorted through them, I came across a number of doll clothes patterns (e.g., Little Miss Revlon) that I wasn’t interested in. I started to toss them away, but then recalled this “Ebay thing” that I’d read about in a tech magazine recently and decided to check it out.

Long story short, the sale of those doll patterns on Ebay paid for Christmas that year — ALL of it. There were a lot of patterns, and people were going nuts over them. Those were the days.

The remainder of the patterns were for women’s and children’s clothing. Those I kept. I had little illusion about actually making any of these patterns, but I enjoyed thumbing through them and framed a few for my sewing room.


However, in the opening salvo of my deaccession campaign, I decided the time had come for these to go — but to a good home. I belong to a textile conservator’s newsgroup and posted an inquiry there. By a large majority, I was directed to the Commercial Pattern Archive at the University of Rhode Island, US. The archive is a collection of 25,000 electronically scanned patterns and envelope covers for clothing dating back to 1868. The archive is a great resource for researchers and designers to date and recreate period clothing. Even better, you do not have to travel to the University to take advantage of the archive — the University produces a searchable catalog on disk.

I contacted Joy Emery, Curator for the archive about my collection. In her reply, she explained that the archive accepts donations of patterns dating prior to 1960. Upon receipt, new patterns are added to the database. Duplicates are compared and the pattern in best condition is retained. The remaining patterns are sold to dealers in order to raise funds for the archive.

My patterns are already enroute to the collection. If you have vintage patterns that need a good home, I urge you to consider the Commercial Pattern Archive.

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