A variety of different types of Archive are now available thanks to the digitisation of many collections, I have utilised both virtual on-line archives and also real-world physical collections during this project. Both offer different experiences to the researcher. Click on images to continue through to each archives website.
The extensive virtual on-line archive of Vintage Patterns at the vintage patterns wiki gave a quick and easy overview of developing style changes of both clothing and patterns through the 20th century, however, these images are only of the covers (and occasionally of the backs) of the patterns. Although the sketched design images show more construction details than those of a pretty Vogue magazine illustration, the actual pattern pieces and making up instructions themselves are not available to view which limited my research here.
To look at historic patterns I turned to the digital archives of vintage magazines held by various libraries and private collectors. The great advantage of modern technological connection is that these archives are swiftly and easily found with just the click of a button. They are also viewable no matter in the world you, or the collection happens to be. Unfortunately many private collections online are only available to view after paying a fee, sometimes for downloading a specific PDF of just one issue. I purchased a digitized issue of La Mode Illustree complete with patterns for this project from FrenchCreaVintage as I knew it would be of further use and interest to me afterwards. These patterns can be printed at original size and used by large volumes of people across the world without any damage to the originals by handling or tracing.
The Leicestershire Museums Archive is well known to corsetry enthusiasts as the home of the Symmington collection. Comprising of an extensive number of corsets archived by the local manufacturer, it also includes pieces by their rivals, often unpicked in places by the company to examine the construction. Original patterns of many of the corsets are also available on-line or to view in person at the Wigston Records office
As well as corsetry, the archive has a wide variety of interesting pieces of clothing and textiles, I needed to examine some original 1920's and 30's garments to work out exactly how their grain lines impacted the drape of fabric across the body and what pattern shapes might be needed to replica that look. So I organised a study day with collections engagement officer Sarah Nicol and visited the archive in person at the Collections Resource Centre at Barrow upon Soar.
Although there are some "named" designer pieces, much of the archive is just typical everyday wear of different eras, which gives a better overall appreciation of normal clothing than is often seen in a specially selected museum display.
When looking at clothing, being able to handle fabrics and examine very closely inside pieces is really invaluable. A very intimate connection can be made with the archived garments, small details that could go unnoticed in an exhibition catalogue photograph, suddenly explain how or why a piece moves or looks the way it does on the body.
I was especially surprised by what to modern eyes, used to industrial mass production, looked like a rough home-made finish on many vintage couture pieces. Garments were cut and hung beautifully, but were unlined, roughly hemmed or had large stitches to hold on trims. Modern clothes have all their "workings" carefully hidden away behind linings and facings and overlocked edges.
Yet, it seemed to me that our modern mass manufacturing methods had also substituted new fine finishes and bag lining perfection for the beautiful cuts and clever fits of vintage wear.