Resource: Commercial Pattern Archive at URI

Recently, I’ve been doing lots of thinking about and planning for a variety of summer sewing adventures. Whenever new projects begin there is a lot of research into the silhouette, cut, and fabrics. I’ve got my oft-referenced books, but the internet contains caches of great (and trustworthy) information as well, if you look in the right places and are wary of the information that is untrustworthy.


Here is one new information source you probably haven’t come across in your internet travels: the Commercial Pattern Archive at the University of Rhode Island. “CoPA-Online contains over 50,000 scanned images (garments & pattern schematics) from 42,000 commercially produced patterns, dating back to 1868 and is growing daily.” Here is the background on this great resource:

The Commercial Pattern Archive database, CoPA, provides a unique tool for researchers and designers to recreate or date clothing from 1868 to 2000. There are several collections from the States, Canada and the UK represented in the database which functions like a Union Catalog of pattern collections. The cornerstone of CoPA is the Betty Williams Collection. Betty Williams, a theatrical costumer in New York City, pioneered research on commercial patterns in the early 1980s. She became a leader in the field, establishing a major personal pattern collection and encouraging others to actively participate in the collection and storage of patterns. Betty passed away in 1997 leaving a wealthy legacy of research, and an extensive pattern collection now housed at the University of Rhode Island. The Williams Collection is combined with the URI and Joy Spanabel Emery Collections in the Commercial Pattern Archive in URI Library Special Collections.

One of my students shared this resource with me a few months ago and I have only just started digging into all the wonderful information that is available. You have to subscribe to see all of the patterns in the collection, but there is a free sample search that brings up a limited amount of patterns. I’ve just been using the free sample search and have found lots of fabulous patterns. Some of the patterns just show the envelope front images, but a lot of them also contain an image of the construction pieces. It’s great, because you can see lots of patterns and layouts for different silhouettes from different periods. The archive includes clothing patterns for men, women, and children, nightwear, underwear, swimwear, outwear… a huge variety of patterns and information! It is also possible to arrange to visit the archive in person.

Coming up in my sewing queue for the summer are garments from the 1760s, 1860s, 1880s, 1920s, and 1950s. Ooo, exciting variety, right? You never know in what period I’m going to turn up next! (Except that in the past it was pretty likely to be between 1810-1930… but I’m pushing the boundaries now on both ends!) So far I’ve accessed CoPA to find resources for the 1880s and 1920s. Here are some examples:

1885 Beatrice Bodice Pattern at CoPA.
1927 Slip On Dress with Pleated Skirt Pattern at CoPA

This really is a great resource! Go check it out!

4 thoughts on “Resource: Commercial Pattern Archive at URI

  1. The CoPA is a great resource! A few years back they had this special thing where it was free for all for like a week or something (I forget the details) and it was like Christmas, LOL! I studied all kinds of excellent patterns. Though at the time, there were no pattern pieces; just images of the covers. . . And I feel like at the time, it was absurdly expensive to become a member, but now, it seems like it’s not too horrible, and there’s a group rate. . . If I wasn’t so poor, I’d be open to doing something like getting a group subscription for the Massachusetts Costumers or something! Something to think about for the future. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the info. Unfortunately I keep getting an error everytime I try to view the website. It says my logon and password are incorrect just trying to get to the home page, weird.

    1. Oh no! I’m sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, I can’t think of anything to help the situation. I’m sorry to be the one dangling a resource in front of you that you can’t reach: it’s like a carrot on a stick!

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