Collections in the Commercial Pattern Archives

The commercial Pattern Archives in Special Collections, University of Rhode Island, encompasses an extensive commercial clothing paper pattern collection. Begun with the core collection of theatrical costumers, Betty Williams (1931-1996) holdings of over 50,000 patterns from the mid-19th century to present time are housed and preserved at the University of Rhode Island and are described through a subscription database that includes over 60,000 images of clothing and pattern schematics. Williams pioneered research on commercial patterns in the early 1980s and through her research she amassed a major collection and encouraged others to actively collect and preserve patterns. The Williams Collection, donated by her estate in 1997, has since been combined with the pattern collections donated by the Butterick Archives, the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, and Joy Spanabel Emery; it is augmented with continued additions of early and contemporary patterns from individual donors.

Additionally, CoPA maintains an extensive collection of books, pamphlets, journals, both scholarly and popular, and ephemera on the subjects related to tailoring, textiles, and fashions and the commercial pattern industry. A great majority is cataloged in ExLibris Manuscript collections of research materials include:

Betty Williams Research Collection
Msss.Gr.213; 1796-1995; 29.5 linear feet

Butterick Research Collection
Mss.Gr.217; 1860s-2004; 7.5 linear feet With the exception of the subscription database, all collections in CoPA are available for research. These materials do not circulate. For an appointment or for information about using CoPA collections, see the contacts page.
Pattern collections from various institutions and some individuals are included in the Commercial Pattern Archive database. The idea is to cite the location of specific patterns if further information or work with the pattern is needed.
All the collections represented here are available by appointment. None of the materials are circulating.
Four Collections are housed at the University of Rhode Island:

  1. The Betty Williams Collection
  2. The Joy Emery Collection
  3. Fashion Institute of Technology
  4. The University of Rhode Island Collection

University of Rhode Island Library, Special Collections,
15 Lippitt Rd.
Kingston, RI 02881
Contact: Joy Emery
Phone: 401-783-5470
FAX: 401-874-4608

Other Institutional Collections:

Historic Dress
A project of the Five Colleges Consortium Digital Humanities program

This site is a pilot project for an online research tool for the study of women's dress in America from 1770 to 1930. Our initial work has focused on research materials from the personal research archive of costume historian Nancy Rexford. In over 30 years of consulting work, Ms. Rexford has collected materials that serve as an impressive finding aid both to women's fashion periodicals from the late 18th to early 20th century and to original objects that are in small collections all across the country. Ms. Rexford's notebooks are organized by item type, with xeroxes of fashion illustrations, text, and advertisements from a multitude of different fashion periodicals. Each item is placed in chronological order, so by looking through the notebooks page by page, one can more easily see subtle variations in fashion over time. Our work so far has digitized portions of Ms. Rexford's archives on border design, shawls, wrappers, mourning dress, and day dresses from 1800-1829.

The Fashion Museum
Fashion Museum Bath
Assembly Rooms
Bennett Street
Bath, BA1 2QE
About 1500 patterns primarily 20th C: particularly nice "Make-do & Mend" patterns from WWII & Vogue couturier patterns. Some patterns scanned.  Access policy: If you would like to see a selection of dressmaking patterns from the Fashion Museum collection please contact us on to make an appointment in the Fashion Museum Study Facilities.
Glenbow Museum
130 -9 Ave. S.E.
Calgary, Alberta
Canada T2G 0P3
Contact: Marcia Slater, Collections Technician
Forty seven representative patterns from a large number of patterns in the Glenbow collection are in the database: no scanned images at this point.

Kevin L. Seligman Collection
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
Doris Stein Research Center, Department of Costume and Textiles
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone: 323-857-6085
FAX: 323-857-6218
Housed within the Doris Stein Research Center in the Department of Costume and Textiles at LACMA, the Kevin L. Seligman Library and Archive includes over 22,000 commercial paper  patterns from companies such as Advance, Bestways, Blackmore, Butterick, Du Barry, Excella, Hollywood, Ladies Home Journal, Madame Maude, McCall, New York, Pictorial Review,  Simplicity, Vogue, Weldons, and others. In addition to commercial paper patterns, the Seligman Library and Archive contains books on tailoring, journals with patterns, sewing and drafting equipment, tailoring and designing instructions, social commentaries, bills of sale, trade cards, and advertisements, which date from the early 19th century through the late 20th century.

RISD Museum of Art
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Department of Costume & Textiles
224 Benefit St.
Providence, RI 02903
Phone: (401) 454-6514
FAX: (401) 454-6541
A few late 19th & early 20th C patterns scanned.

Royal Ontario Museum
100 Queen's Park
Toronto ON M5S 2C6
Contact: Anu Liivandi
Phone 416-586-8057
FAX 416-586-5877
Thirty-nine representative patterns from over a large number of patterns in the ROM collection are in the database; no scanned images at this point.

Sterling Historical Society
David W. Gibbs,  Curator
Joan Strang, assistant curator,
7 Pine Street
PO Box 356
Sterling MA 01564
Phone: 978 422-6139
A good representation of very early Butterick patterns and papers related to Ebinezier Buttereick's early years in Sterling. Open every Tuesday, 9 am – 12 noon. Best contact is by phone or email.
University Nevada-Reno
Contact information is not available at this time.
CoPA contains 390 patterns from 1950s to 1970: no scanned images at this point.

Individual Collectors

Deanna Hendriks-West
Dewberry, Alberta --T0B1G0
Phone: 780-847-2364
Contact information is not available at this time. CoPA contains 600 patterns to 1970.


Related Blogs

Men's Fashion: Then and Now -

Gone are the days when men need to wear a suit as standard clothing. Men’s fashion has changed drastically over the years. Today, we have more choices of clothes in our wardrobe we have the freedom dress up the way we want.

What’s trendy back then?

Despite that fact that men have limited options when it came to fashion in the early 20th century, they also enjoyed stylish outfits that are made with luxurious fabrics. Suits come in different colors such as black, navy and gray. Aside from the formal wear, sports fashion was also a huge trend. Men started wearing cardigans, sports jacket, and vest.

In the following decades, men’s fashion tends to be more flamboyant with thigh fitting pants, platform shoes, pant suits, floral dress shirts, tight fitting t-shirts, bell bottoms, and tennis headbands becoming favorites. The popularity of suits dwindled as the choices of clothes became more varied. 

Although the men's fashion in the early decades was way too different from the trends that we know, I'm pretty sure that our great grandfathers had fun dressing up as much as we do today.

Fashion in the In the 20th century Onwards

One thing that became clear after I finished reading blogs about men's fashion in the previous decades is the fact that people somehow grew tired of conforming to societal norms hence they start bending the rules and started a fashion revolution. Hence, a significant change in men's fashion has begun, from formal, it shifted to laid back.

Clothes in the recent generation were boldly designed as if its purpose is to always make a statement. It's indeed a far cry from how fashion was. From formal to street style, from suit to casual clothing, it’s fascinating to see how men’s style have changed as days passed.

Nothing is constant when it comes to fashion, even our favorite skinny jeans will fade into oblivion maybe after a few years from now. But don’t worry just like our grandfather’s suit, time will come and it will become trendy again!