Sunday, May 14, 2023

Weekend Review: History of the Paper Pattern Industry

A History of the Paper Pattern Industry / Joy Spanabel Emery
NY: Bloomsbury Academic, c2014.
272 p.

I have owned this book for a long time, and was surprised to realize that I'd never shared it here! I was reminded of it when I recently read Wade Boissoniere's book about patterns from the 50s, and so I pulled this off the shelf and revisited it. 

It's written by Joy Spanabel Emery, who was a professor at the University of Rhode Island. This university has a large pattern collection, which has merged with a few others to create the Commercial Pattern Archive.

This read is a bit of a mixed bag -- interesting to the reader who is already inclined to want to read about this, but a bit dry in style, and really follows the economic ups and downs of pattern companies as its main focus. 

Still, I enjoyed finding out all about the varied companies and their successes, failures and merges. An additional chapter past the 2010 cutoff would be fascinating with all the massive merger/buyouts of pattern companies in the recent past. 

It focuses quite a lot on the early days of patterns, as they were created and became a 'thing' in home dressmaking. As the blurb for the book states, "their history and development has reflected major changes in technology (such as the advent of the sewing machine), retailing and marketing practices (the fashion periodical), and shifts in social and cultural influences."

And this really does sum up the book quite well, although it really should have stated that it is primarily American history, with only a passing mention of some European companies as they relate to the American ones. It does show how patterns changed, from trade secrets to home instruction for professional sewers to more of what we are familiar with today, envelope patterns for home sewists. And there is a section at the end which shows a sample pattern from the 1850s to the 1960s; this is fascinating, showing the covers and the scaled pattern pieces. There are illustrations throughout, which does add to the interest.

It's a good intro, but be aware it's dry, and there are numerous typos, which I find distracting in an academic text. I'd really like to read more a cultural history on sewing patterns in the home sewing world, but this is more focused on industry. So it this a must-have? Probably not, but if you can find one to borrow and read through, I think most avid sewists who are familiar with patterns would be at least a little bit engaged and learn something new!

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