The Commercial Pattern Archive at the University of Rhode Island

The Commercial Pattern Archive, part of the Distinctive Collections at the University of Rhode Island, encompasses an extensive collection of commercial clothing paper patterns. The archive contains more than 60,000 patterns from the mid-19th century to the present and are described and available via a free database that includes images of clothing and pattern schematics.

The primary access point is the pattern number, but users can also submit an advanced search by year, garment, occasion, needlework, gender, age, keyword, pattern company or collection. There are about 50,000 images in the database, some of them full size, and schematics can be printed for personal and academic use.

Along with the patterns collection, the collection also includes books, pamphlets, journals, and ephemera on the subjects related to tailoring, textiles, fashions and the commercial pattern industry. All print material in Distinctive Collections is catalogued in the URI Library Catalog.

The archive is also available for in-person visits by appointment.

Some Digital Fashion Archives

Here is a handful of interesting, perhaps lesser-known archives of interest to fashion researchers.

Barnett Hook Papers and Needlework, Ohio University.

“Many people viewed master needleworker Barnett A. Hook of rural McArthur, Ohio as a curiosity during his lifetime—in fact, he sometimes made his living highlighting his status as one of “only four men in the United States who teach embroidery.” Ohio U has digitized his papers and needlework samples. (Ok, a little local promo here.)

12_hook_needlework_tea_cloth_roses_recto. embroidery created by Barnett Hook of McArthur, Ohio:  red and pink varigated Tea roses and rose petals with green stems on a square white cloth.
Needlework by Barnett Hook in the collection of Ohio University Libraries

Pantograph Negative Collection, 1940-1945, Illinois Digital Archives

“This collection of images from the Pantagraph, a Bloomington, Illinois newspaper dating back to 1846, records the history of Central Illinois through the work of Pantagraph photographer-reporters between 1940 and 1945. The Pantagraph was known for its coverage of agricultural concerns as well as local sports and social events in 10 counties surrounding McLean County. ”

A search on “fashion” or “apparel” yields a set of black and white photographs with styles from the era. “Campus Fads, Illlinois State Normal University,” shows off jump suits, cuff bracelets, plain pumps, and an alligator clutch bag.

smiling small boy displaying a collection of neckties on a table. Black and white. 1941.
From the “Fashion” subject set of the Pantograph negative collection, 1940-1945

Europeana: Fashion Collections

“Europeana works with thousands of European archives, libraries and museums to share cultural heritage for enjoyment, education and research.”

You probably already know about Europeana: catwalks, individual designers, costumes, jewelry items… nearly 800,000 items.

But I enjoyed discovering their “Fashion Stories”: having all these digital objects to choose from means they can create digital collections such as Masks and Head Coverings, which seems apropos of the moment, and Corsets, a popular research topic among undergraduates I work with.

women in fashion show in pink shift dress with large squiggly design down front. she wears tall red shoes with large flowers.
Phillip Lim, S/S 2009, from

Los Angeles Public Library Digital Collection: Fashion AND Los Angeles Public Library Digital Collection: Clothing

” The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection contains images from the 1850s to the present, documenting all aspects of life in Southern California, with an emphasis on Los Angeles.”

Subsets of a larger collection of photographs, circa 1930-1964.

A row of women in varied costumes from furs to suits lean toward the camera, smiling. black and white.
A Los Angeles fashion show, about 1930.

3-D Tour of the Museum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

This “Street View” tour from the Museum’s Google Culture pages lets you walk through the museum and look at the exhibits. Zoom in to see more details in each display case. Included are outfits, jewelry, shoes, and even weaving looms.

The Ethnic Costume Museum at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology  (12/9) | Shreds and Patches

Textile resources at the American Philatelic Research Library

The American Philatelic Research Library, a special library located in Bellefonte, Penn., focuses on the study of postage stamps and postal history. According to their website, the library “has one of the world’s largest and most accessible collections of philatelic literature. The collection includes books and journals about stamps and postal history, as well as the history of philately and related subjects like transportation and geography.”

One of the journals that the library carries is Textile-Rama, the quarterly bulletin of the (now defunct) Textile Study Unit of the American Topical Association. The Textile Study Unit studied everything “from fibers to finished fashions including processes and decorative arts” on stamps from around the world.

The catalog entry from the Rocky Mountain Philatelic Library notes that Textile -Rama ran from 1977-2009 in 33 volumes, but the APRL only carries the 1995-2003 issues. Each issues is about ten pages long and is illustrated from March 2000, full color from December 2000.

Articles include examples such as French tapestries in Polish philately, Halas lace stamps of Hungary, Kilssam: the traditional domestic handweaving carried out in Korea, Nanduti lace of Paraguay, among many other fascinating topics. Each issue also includes topical collecting checklists and those of newly-issued stamps that focus on fashion, textile and costume topics.

The APRL offers photocopy and scanning services as well as reference assistance by phone and email. American Philatelic Society and library members may borrow books directly by mail and non-members may borrow books through interlibrary loan. The collection may be searched via the Union Philatelic Catalog.

Happy Vyshyvanka Day!

The message is in the pattern. Pattern and color are not random elements nor are they put down for decorative play. They are a new way of re-writing untold tales. Their language is more akin to the call of birds or the growth and blossoming of flowers; meaningful if you speak the language.

Lubaina Himid

The early 21st century brought a renaissance of traditional Ukrainian embroidered garments into the public eye as a method of national identification, symbols of protest and even onto the catwalks of international fashion shows.

In 2006 two students at Chernivtsi National University in southwestern Ukraine coordinated together to start wearing traditional embroidered shirts or vyshyvanka to class. Eventually the idea spread to their classmates through word of mouth and flash-mob actions, becoming a nationwide and an international observation called World Vyshyvanka Day, sometimes also known in English as Day of Embroidery or Day the Embroidered Shirt.

One of the founders, Lesya Voronyuk stated that it was her intent to highlight the uniqueness of the garment which to her was a symbol of Ukraine, as well as to bring attention to Ukraine’s history and culture. Voronyuk specifically chose a Thursday–a working day instead of a weekend–for the public celebration of Vyshyvanka Day to encourage a return to the normalisation of embroidered wear for everyday use instead a garment worn only on holidays or special occasions to specifically translate the idea of Ukrainianness.

After the political events of 2013 which brought the world’s eyes to Ukraine, there was a rise in the usage and the inspiration of traditional Ukrainian designs by both Ukrainian fashion designers like Vita Kin, Roksolana Bogutska, Oksana Karavanska and Lubtsia Chernikova, as well as international designers and labels, including Jean-Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, Elie Saab and Valentino, highlighting Ukrainian embroidery as a modern and high fashion signifier worthy of the masses and of coverage in popular magazines like Vogue, rather than simply as an ethnic costume worn only for cultural or patriotic purposes.

There is no definitive answer as to when vyshyvanka as a craft began, but archeologists have found embroidered clothing within the geographical region of modern Ukrainie dating to the 6th century and scholars can date embroidery back to the Bronze Age. It is also believed that pagan Slavic tribes brought embroidered shirts to the region of Ukraine and that the craft survived, assimilated and then began to generate new meaning after the Christianization of Kievan Rus in the first millennium.

Today Ukrainian embroidery, called the “code of the nation” by the Ukrainian Postal Service in the header image above, has a variety of cultural, political and fashion meanings and continues to tell its tale. I think stamps are wonderful teaching and programming tools and have the ability to share sociocultural information about fashion, textiles and costumes from across the world. I have included a few different stamps below from Ukraine, the Soviet Union, Moldova and Kazakhstan which highlight examples of Ukrainian embroidery.

Selected bibliography

Kononenko, Natalie. “Ukraine.” In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: East Europe, Russia, and the Caucasus, edited by Djurdja Bartlett and Pamela Smith, 271–280. Oxford: Berg, 2010. doi:  10.2752/BEWDF/EDch9053.

Melnyk, Myroslav. “Traditional Ukrainian Costume in the Context of National liberation and Soviet Occupation in 1920s”, Visnyk Cherkaskoho universytetу, Istorychni nauky: No. 1: 2019. doi:10.31651/2076-5908-2019-1-109-115.

Myzele, Alla. “Handcrafting Revolution: Ukrainian Avant-Garde Embroidery And The Meanings Of History”. Craft Research vol. 3 (2012), 11-32. doi:10.1386/crre.3.1.11_1.

Seliverstova, Oleksandra. “’Consuming’ National Identity in Western Ukraine.” Nationalities Papers 45, no. 1 (2017) doi:10.1080/00905992.2016.1220363.

Snikhovska, Kseniia. “The Embroidery Of Vyshyvanka”. Master’s Thesis, University College of Southeast Norway, 2017.

The Purple Prince

At the ARLIS conference today I attended a session entitled Confluent Practices: Non-Traditional Research Methodologies in Art Librarianship that featured The Art Institute of Chicago’s Ryerson and Burnham Library‘s Kevin Talmer Whiteneir Jr., a library and information science student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Whiteneir’s engaging presentation was on Scholarship as Embodied Practice in art historical praxis which drew me to his website and his bibliography, including an analysis of Prince’s use of costume to subvert gender norms.

Whiteneir, Kevin. (2016). The Purple Prince. Dress, 42(2), 75–88.

In this project, I explore the artistic approach of musician Prince Roger Nelson and how his visual style subverts American conventions of masculinity in the 1980s. Combining an explicit form of sexuality in his performances and a then-effeminate flamboyance in his costumes, Prince challenged notions of hegemonic masculinity—especially Black masculinity—perpetuated within American society and by his male contemporaries, particularly Michael Jackson. Prince’s sensual styling has left a subversive mark upon popular culture, one that expands expression of gender and eroticism for both musical performers and the consumers of his image and music beyond the accepted. Ultimately, I aim to make discuss the phenomenon of gender subversion as accomplished by Prince’s use of costume, especially that of lace, in conjunction with his sex appeal and stage antics.

Photo Nicolas Genin via flickr