Free access to the vintage pattern library

vintage_apron_pattern1 Grace, Jess and myriad others send word that the University of Rhode Island has granted free access to their vintage pattern library which has over 48,000 vintage patterns. These include illustrations of the finished item as well as a scan of the quarter scale pattern pieces. Styles depicted date from 1868-2006.

Unlimited access starts 8/19 through 8/25. To access it, click on Login at the top of the page. The username is “guest” and the password is “pattern”. Once you’re logged in, select “search” at the top of the page to find something interesting. You can search by garment type, occasion, gender, pattern company, dates and keywords. The interface is kind of clunky and the display is inefficient so reading the instructions (pdf) first will be helpful. Be advised the site is optimized for the FireFox browser. Supposedly you can’t see much without it. You should be running FireFox anyway. It’s free, it’s safer, it’s better, what’s not to like? All the cool kids are using it.

I can’t speak for you but I’ve long coveted the opportunity to browse these archives. There’s several ways to gain access on a permanent basis. An individual can buy the 4 CD Set for $360 plus $15 for the user’s manual. One can also subscribe to online access for $120 a year. Group rates are available too. I thought of organizing that but I don’t know how many would be interested. A year’s subscription for 30 users is $220; for 100 users it’s $325.


Once you get in there and meander around a bit, shown at the top of the page is a sampling of what you can find. I love vintage aprons. The first one I’ve clipped to show the pattern pieces included. The next illustration (directly above) is an amalgamation of three different designs. The first design on the left I really like. The designer has created a flange that feeds from the bust dart to create the side waist button closure. We don’t make things like this anymore. Why not? Wah!

Some items are listed but not yet scanned so you can’t see them. One such was the Minute Maid Apron from 1931 donated by my favorite vintage pattern connoisseur Kevin Seligman. I actually have this pattern. Very cute. That reminds me, if you’re a vintage pattern fanatic, you may recognize the most famous collectors of the genre and sort your selections by their donations.

With all this richness, I can only imagine I won’t be seeing some of you again until next week!

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  1. Sara says:

    Oh Kathleen, that is fantastic news! I have never even heard of that resource before.
    I am sooo very excited. No sleep until Tuesday in other words…

  2. Becky says:

    Too funny Sara. I love vintage patterns. I find the fit is a bit smaller, but great details. Of course some of the ones I have are very delicate. They were very much loved before I got them.

  3. Brenda P says:

    The pictures you downloaded are a treasure in themselves! Checking with my niece now to see if I have FF. I love vintage patterns, particularly aprons! Considering the cost of doing anything messy anymore, my gals & nieces are getting aprons for Christmas. I’m making a few for myself. Can’t cook anymore without making a horrible mess. Can’t wait to go peeking through the archives.

  4. sarah says:

    I would totally go in on a group sub – there is no way I will touch 10% of what I’m interested in the next week. If you decide to give it a go, I’m in — if you can figure out a way to do it, I bet you can fill up either size group if you pull in readers from all the vintage sewing blogs that are posting about this (like dressaday etc).

  5. Nancy MM says:

    I heard about this from the Center for Pattern Design in St. Helena in California,
    and I found the McCalls dress/jacket that I made for my wedding in 1965.

    What a joy.

  6. Linnea says:

    WOW!!!! I guess there are not words to describe this archive….absolute heaven for us Vintage Fashion addicts! It seems to be so nicely organized as well. Has anyone tried printing out a pattern? How did it work out?
    I agree with Sarah – Im definitely interested in being part of a group sub.
    Thank You so much for posting this Vintage Pattern Library ……. best fun I have had all summer!

  7. sarah says:

    Erin @ dressaday has started a google group to see how many people might be interested in forming a co-op for membership — how about joining forces?
    (I tried to add a link but the comment was rejected as spam…if you go to the dress a day blog and look for the COPA entry you’ll find a link)

  8. Kathleen says:

    (I tried to add a link but the comment was rejected as spam…if you go to the dress a day blog and look for the COPA entry you’ll find a link)

    What the heck! I just tried to post the link from Erin’s blog but the site bounced me so I actually had to login from the back end to post it. ! I have no idea what that’s about, I’ll poke around.

    Anyway, sorry about that Sarah. I would have amended your comment but then anyone subscribed to the thread wouldn’t get the info since it was already emailed. Here’s the link. Just tell Erin you found out about it from F-I if you’re not familiar with her site already.

    Amended: for whatever reason, word press doesn’t like that particular link. I posted two other comments with test urls and they went through with no problem.

  9. Oh, my. And I’m trying to stay away from the computer. I’d be in for a group membership. I won’t finish browsing by the time this ends. What fun to go back to my teen years in the 60s and see patterns that look so much like what my mom had and what we made for me. I swear some of those hairdos and clothes could be photos of me! LOL…fun!

    Thanks, Kathleen.


  10. redcatbiker says:

    Thank you so much for posting about this. I shall be living at my local library until the 25th, using their wifi access to quickly move through these archives.

    I love aprons, too, as a few here have stated. I recently started watching the 1978 BBC television show set in the late 1930s/early 1940s, “All Creatures Great and Small”, and one of the things that I noticed (with the “costumes” for the women) is that the women wore aprons. If a woman was doing work (cooking, cleaning, farming; even organizing papers/filing) she would be wearing an apron.

  11. Sara says:

    To add to my initial comment I would love to group sub too.
    Even with no sleep I will not have a the time to look through and make notes of all the treasures I have found!

  12. Joan says:

    Thank you for this site. I will be spending a few happy hours there in the next few days. I have mentioned it and your blog in my blog posting today.

  13. ken simmons says:

    I bought these CD’s when they first became available a few years ago for my students. I can look at it for hours at a time. No one will be disapointed if they subscribe.

  14. Kathleen says:

    Mommy and Linea:
    I don’t think you can print out full size patterns, just the images. I haven’t seen any instructions. I don’t think the intent is to make use of the actual patterns but to use them as a source of design inspiration. The value of the library depends on your intended usage and skill set. If I were younger and still actively developing my skills, I’d be more inspired to copy them. These days tho, it’s more like eye candy for me. I just like looking at them. I have entirely too many vintage patterns as it is (17 medium sized boxes), that I only bought for the illustration on the envelope. I need to get rid of those patterns now that I have a scanner. Too much clutter.

    Someone wrote me privately asking what I meant by “quarter scale”. This refers to reducing full size pattern pieces by 75% so we can work with the littler pieces in ways that are internally useful. Here’s an example of one way we’d use them. Another is to mock up markers by laying out the little pieces on scaled down fabric widths. With the home patterns, quarter scales act as a sort of ingredients or parts list.

    Quarter scale isn’t a precise measurement but an approximate one. I suspect that many of the vintage pattern pieces are 1/5th scale. In those days, they used pantographs to reduce the size. These days, if you have the right tools, you could quesstimate proportions (1/5 to 1/4) to resize the pieces. The way you’d do that is to print out the quarter scale and digitize it. In a CAD program, you’d blow it up. Somebody wrote me the other day and said they printed out the quarter scale of one of my patterns, digitized it and made it full size. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, flattered I suppose but still, it was *mine* darn it. Even if someone did go to all this work to recreate these styles, resizing them etc, there’d still be an awful lot of work involved to make them ready for re-sale. Today’s sewing technology is different as are work methods. Sizing is another.

    Maybe I’m all wet but I don’t think going through the work of digitizing, scaling etc would be necessary for a competent pattern maker. Or even seeing the quarter scale pieces unless it was something kind of crazy looking and you couldn’t really tell what a feature was from the fashion illustration and most of the vintage (and even new) ones are pretty good. You can see all the style lines so you get a block similar to it and break it up accordingly. There are exceptions tho. Some people like Vionnet you want to reproduce because there’s lessons in the drafts themselves and you’d probably miss their nuances drafting a version from your own blocks. Don’t ask me how I know, it’s too long a story.

  15. mommymae says:

    thanks. i’m an amateur seamstress who quilts & makes clothes for her kids. up next is a dress for me using my favorite one that is falling apart as a pattern. there is so much beauty in the images, i can completely understand just looking at them.

    if you ever need to find a place to send those vintage patterns, i know a girl…

  16. JANPAR says:

    Wow… how awesome these patterns will be archived and saved. I know it will be such a joy to go through the patterns and just ENJOY. I am sure we can get some ideas; was hoping for pattern pieces which we could re-create. I’m not complaining, however. Thank you for sharing this site.

  17. Lesres says:

    I would be interested in a group membership in the pattern archive too. I am unable to join your forum since I am not a commercial clothing manufacturer and I do not aspire to make and sell clothing. I am just a retired schoolteacher who enjoys making scale clothing as a hobby.

  18. JustGail says:

    Kathleen – Thanks for letting us know about this, and for your blog in general!

    Unfortunately, I can’t get in, unless I’m missing something in the instructions, I just get put back at the initial page after hitting the log in button. Has anyone else succeded in getting to the search function ???

  19. Trish Walters says:

    Hi, Kathleen…I tried the free logon today, but when I hit “Search” after logging into CoPA, it brings me right back to the logon page with blank fields. This continues in an endless loop, on both Firefox and Explorer. Strange, because it worked fine yesterday. Anyone else encountered this problem?

  20. Susan says:

    Hi, I also tried to lon on today and encountered exactly the same problem as Trish. It was also working for me the other day when I tried.
    I would also be interested in a group sub if anyone organizes it!

  21. kathleen says:

    Hi All, I just logged in, I had no problems. I suspect people are having login problems for two reasons. If experienced users report difficulty, I think it’s traffic. Too many logins at once and it’s overloaded. But, I also think not everyone read the instructions I wrote nor those on the site. And again, browser matters. Try again in off peak hours.

  22. Sandra B says:

    What a coincidence, I just posted some pictures of cute aprons for my BurdaStyle Sewing Club group. Then I came here and saw this entry. Gorgeous.
    I love using half scale and quarter scale. I’m a pretty literal designer – drawing slows my ideas down because it’s flat and people aren’t – so I make halfscale patterns and garments as a form of sketching. I’m getting a proper halfscale dummy soon, which is as close to an exact representation of the full size industry dummy as possible. I’ve been using a cloth scupted doll until now. I also like the mental disruption of a perfectly scaled garment, presented as art. Strange, seeing as I am not at all interested in dolls, per se.
    I’d love to join a group subscription, count me in for sure. I also have too many vintage patterns, and have been hoarding them for the day I can scan the covers. It will probably never happen, I should cull ruthlessly and reclaim some space.

  23. aimee says:

    hi kathleen, i just wanted to thank you once again (and whomever else sent you the free link information); i spent the whole weekend going through the archives. i was not disappointed! once again, thank you so much!

  24. Clara Rico says:

    Thanks so much for the link. Unfortunately this came right when we were out of town and I didn’t get to be on as long as I wanted. I would be interested in a group membership.

  25. RetroRuth says:

    Hi Kathleen!

    I am also in for a group membership. I would love more time to browse around that site. Contact me with the info, or if you need help organizing something.


  26. Yvonne says:

    I loved browsing through the pages of the vintage patterns. Some from the 60s are still in my own treasure trove. I’d be interested in the group susbsription membership.

  27. Jody says:

    I would absolutely participate in a group membership if one could be organized. The rates shown would be very reasonable spread out over the number of members.

  28. Susan E. says:

    So very cool. I was told about this from one of my fabric suppliers for my swimsuit business. I am a vintage girl through and through. I have a very large collection of vintage patterns. Thank you.

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