A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, Joy Spanabel Emery
I don’t think this book would be of great interest to someone who isn’t interested in sewing at all, but you don’t have to actually sew to take an interest — a couple of episodes of the Great British Sewing Bee should set you up with all you need to know for background, if you feel you need to know a little more. Mostly, what you need to know is explained in the text, as the history goes through the development of early patterns from “rock of eye” to printed patterns showing various different sizes.
It seems that paper patterns have a surprising amount to tell fashion history: although paper patterns for home sewers were behind the fashion by a little, they couldn’t be that far behind or they’d be pointless, so they did follow fashion and sometimes inform it (for instance, in the length of mini-skirts). Patterns have survived well, despite the flimsy paper, because the paper was acid-free, and often systems of notches and punched holes were used instead of ink. Carefully unfolded, very old patterns are still useable and useful.
It’s surprising to me that the companies which established themselves early in the history of providing patterns for home sewers still exist! It was a little odd to meet their names back before printed patterns became possible, for instance.
The book is richly illustrated with images of the fashions and pattern-packets discussed, showing the trends through time very visually as pattern companies started putting the pattern pieces in envelopes, providing more instruction, and expanding their ranges to tempt younger sewers into following fashions. It also comes with some vintage patterns, which make no sense to me, but might interest people with a less academic interest in sewing and actually making garments.
Here goes, only slightly belated (there was a work thing to do!).
What are you currently reading?
Fiction: Abaddon’s Gate, by James S.A. Corey, since it’s time I got on with rereading this series and got onto the new books. Abaddon’s Gate is the last one I read before, which makes it both easier and harder to read — easier, because I know what’s coming. And… harder, because I know what’s coming. There’s a bit where someone gets framed for something they didn’t do, and it’s agonising!
Non-fiction: A World Beneath the Sands, by Toby Wilkinson — slow going, but I’ve got through Champollion and a couple of gentleman dilettantes, and I’m kinda hoping there’ll be some more obscure stuff next. Also A History of the Paper Pattern Industry by Joy Spanabel Emery, which is pretty interesting. Paper patterns were usually made of acid-free paper and have survived better than textiles as a result, despite their seeming flimsiness! That makes them useful for studying the history of fashion.
What have you recently finished reading?
The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula Le Guin. I need to get my review posted with all of my thoughts… it’s always been a favourite, because it’s full of really graphic, resonant imagery. Even I can almost see the Empty Throne, the black-clad priestesses, the eerie standing stones in the desert… and I’m completely aphantasic!
What will you be reading next?
Beats me. Nominally, I have a stack of ‘next up’ books that I should be paying attention to, but I think they need a rotation, because none of the current five are grabbing me right now. That said, I should pick up Black and British by David Olusoga, ’cause it’s a book club read this month.