Love of sewing pat­terns leads to world-class col­lec­tion

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

If a cos­tume de­signer wanted to recre­ate a World War I era wrap­around dress, a 1940s zoot suit or even a bodice from 1875, the sewing pat­terns are in Rhode Is­land. The Univer­sity of Rhode Is­land has the largest known col­lec­tion of sewing pat­terns in the world, ac­cord­ing to the col­lec­tion's cu­ra­tor, Joy Spanabel Emery, and the United States In­sti­tute for The­atre Tech­nol­ogy. About 50,000 are on pa­per and 62,000 are in an elec­tronic data­base. They're at the univer­sity be­cause of Emery's love of pat­terns. Emery do­nated her per­sonal col­lec­tion of pat­terns and pe­ri­od­i­cals to the univer­sity years ago and has painstak­ingly sorted through the do­na­tions sent there as word spread about the grow­ing repos­i­tory. Three more boxes full just ar­rived to be added to the over­flow­ing filing cab­i­nets.

"This is much more than a hobby. It re­ally is a pas­sion," said Emery, a pro­fes­sor emerita of theater at URI. "I'm learn­ing things ev­ery day about pat­tern com­pa­nies and the dif­fer­ent styles and I enjoy cre­at­ing some­thing that's a legacy." As a cos­tume de­signer, Emery be­gan sav­ing pa­per pat­terns in the 1980s be­cause ev­ery­day clothes of­ten aren't pre­served over time. No­table pieces like mil­i­tary uni­forms and wed­ding dresses tend to be saved. And, she wor­ried elec­tronic ver­sions of the pat­terns could be lost as tech­nol­ogy changed. The as­so­ci­a­tion for per­form­ing arts and en­ter­tain­ment pro­fes­sion­als, USITT, hon­ored Emery this year for doc­u­ment­ing the cloth­ing of Amer­i­can his­tory. The 80-year-old Emery re­ceived a dis­tin­guished achieve­ment award in cos­tume de­sign and tech­nol­ogy, the only one given this year in that cat­e­gory.

Cos­tume de­sign­ers can repli­cate pe­riod cloth­ing and the pub­lic can un­der­stand how mid­dle-class Amer­i­cans dressed over time be­cause of Emery, said ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor David Grindle. "The ar­chive is unique to her," he said. "No one else has done this kind of work." Emery finds the pat­terns from the 1930s the most in­ter­est­ing be­cause they're el­e­gant and in­ven­tive de­spite the fact they were de­signed dur­ing the De­pres­sion. She's also in­trigued by the WWI dress, the "Hoover apron." Women wore it when Her­bert Hoover pro­moted food con­ser­va­tion by en­cour­ag­ing Amer­i­cans to grow veg­etable gar­dens. The oldest pat­terns in the col­lec­tion are from 1847, in­clud­ing a peignoir and a baby cap. The data­base can be used to trace the evo­lu­tion of cloth­ing and re­oc­cur­rence of trends.

Emery was in­spired to col­lect pat­terns by her friend, Betty Wil­liams, a the­atri­cal cos­tume maker in New York and pi­o­neer in dress­maker pat­tern re­search. When Wil­liams died 20 years ago, her 12,000 pat­terns, pe­ri­od­i­cals and re­search pa­pers were do­nated to URI. The But­t­er­ick pat­tern com­pany's ar­chives are also at the univer­sity. Rhode Is­land has a strong his­tory with the tex­tile in­dus­try, fash­ion and theater. Emery wrote a his­tory of the pa­per pat­tern in­dus­try that was pub­lished in 2014. She gets in­quiries from all over the world from peo­ple do­ing cloth­ing re­search. "It's very re­ward­ing," she said. "I just love to see the col­lec­tion grow­ing to a point where we have enough for it to re­ally be worth­while for sig­nif­i­cant re­search." — AP

In this photo, Joy Spanabel Emery, pro­fes­sor emerita and cu­ra­tor of the Univer­sity of Rhode Is­land’s com­mer­cial pat­tern ar­chive, dis­plays a do­nated sewing pat­tern in her of­fice on cam­pus in South Kingstown, RI. — AP

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