by Joy Spanabel Emery. Bloomsbury Academic, June 2014. 252 p. ill. ISBN 9780857858313 (pbk.), $34.95. 

Reviewed September 2014
Nancy Fawley, Head, Library Liaison Program, University of Nevada Las Vegas, nancy.fawley@unlv.edu 

emeryThe history of the paper pattern industry is traced from its early beginnings as a tool for tailors, primarily for men’s garments in the sixteenth century, through to current times. Dressmaking patterns appeared in the first part of the 1800s. New technologies, such as the sewing machine and dress form, made home sewing quicker and easier, and many women’s magazines included patterns of the latest styles. Improvements in the United States postal service allowed for the distribution of patterns across the country and contributed to the growth of the industry. The industry continued to expand, despite the setbacks of the Depression and two world wars. Today, the paper pattern industry is a shadow of what it was in its heyday, with only a few major players and a handful of niche companies that focus on specific apparel forms; home sewing is no longer a necessity but a creative pastime that allows for self-expression.

The book fills a void of information on the paper pattern industry and provides a related historical tangent to the growth of the fashion industry, particularly in the United States. The author is Joy Spanabel Emery, professor emerita of theatre and curator of the Commercial Pattern Archive at the University of Rhode Island. The abundant resources of the archive serve as the book’s main source, which is both the book’s strength and weakness; in this sense, the book is not a balanced history of the pattern industry, but an overview of the archives’ holdings. There are few details on pattern companies outside of the United States and Great Britain, for example. Those interested in the cultural implications of the growth and decline of the paper pattern industry will be disappointed as there is very little information on this aspect of the topic.

This book will be of interest to those teaching or learning about the history of the home sewing or apparel industry. The many illustrations of styles throughout the centuries, and the rendered patterns, will also be of interest to costume and fashion design students. The book contains 125 color and seventy-five black and white illustrations. There is a bibliography of both primary and secondary sources and an index. The appendix includes nine patterns of popular styles dating from 1854 to 1968. Each pattern has been reproduced according to present day pattern practices and rendered in a one-inch grid so that they can be reproduced at full-size.