Historic and Cultural Textile and Apparel Collection at Oregon State University

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a visit to the costume collections at oSU

On our Valentine’s Day trip to Oregon State University, after the Tissue-Fitting lecture (see my BLOG about that), we got a very special tour of the rooms where the costume collection is stored.

I had never visited these rooms while attending Oregon State. They were off-limits. At the time it consisted of a few donations, especially from apparel design professors who collected garments in Paris while on vacation.

Today, because the collection has grown, it has a curator, Jennifer Mower. She is in charge of approving donations, involving students, and designing collection displays throughout Milam Hall and around campus.

In 2017, I donated some garments to OSU from my 40 years designing for the McCall Pattern Company, and this is where they are stored.

I also donated clothing to the costume collection at The University of Rhode Island, along with most of the 350 patterns I designed for McCall’s. URI has the only sewing paper pattern archive in the world.

Professor Bolanle Dahunsi, Pati Palmer, and Jennifer Mower, curator of the costume collection in the rooms where garments are carefully stored and handled with white gloves.
Professor Bolanle Dahunsi, Pati Palmer, and Jennifer Mower, curator of the costume collection in the rooms where garments are carefully stored and handled with white gloves.

Selecting garments, cleaning them, and organizing them with the pattern envelope and by year was a monthslong job.

Then I created a booklet for each university with a narrative of the clothes that documented the date, pattern envelope, fabrics used, and the inspiration about where the ideas for each garment came from.

Here is the OSU cover and sample pages. I also gave each school a digital copy to make sharing easy. One career aspiration I don’t hear from apparel design students is designing or doing patternmaking for a sewing pattern company.

Cover of booklet about Palmer/Pletsch Pattern Designs donation
sample pages from the narrative booklet about the McCall Pattern Company Palmer/Peltsch Designs Donation to the Costume Collection, Oregon State University
sample pages from the narrative booklet about the McCall Pattern Company Palmer/Peltsch Designs Donation to the Costume Collection, Oregon State University
sample pages from the narrative about the McCall's Palmer/Pletsch patterns donation

I also donated a few designer garments like this amazing Valentino dress.

Valentino dress donation

Here is MY OWN CLOSET at OSU. Wow, I never would have thought!!!!

Pati Palmer's closet of donated clothes at OSU

STUDENTS LEARN TO CURATE FASHION HISTORY EXHIBITS AT OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

This is the area where students curate exhibits with Jennifer Mower’s help, choosing a designer retrospective or an era of fashion over the centuries. It is the white glove room.

Area where costume exhibits are curated
students put together exhibits in cases at OSU

With the costume collection accessible to students, under the direction of Jennifer Mower, students would come up with an idea and curate displays in the glass cases in Milam Hall. It was a real life experience learning about displays whether for a retail window or a museum.

2024 DISPLAY OF PALMER/PLETSCH GARMENTS FROM THE 1990s: Power jackets with broad padded shoulders

I was very pleased to see that the students would use my narrative in the display. That made all my work creating the booklet worth while!! Thank you students! The LA Law blouse shown on page 15 with the red jacket showed how television influenced fashion. (Can’t remember if I donated the blouse?) The female actors in that TV series were great examples of the exaggerated 90s fashions.

The collection is officially named the Historic and Cultural Textile and Apparel Collection.”

Here’s its page: business.oregonstate.edu/college-business-design-programs/historic-and-cultural-textile-and-apparel-collection

Curator: jennifer.mower@oregonstate.edu

I hope you enjoyed this tour and a little history. My former business partner Susan Pletsch made a donation and was featured in the museum’s Fall 2023 newsletter article below.

Sincerely,
Pati Palmer

Foster (Pletsch) Donation

A recent donation by Susan (Pletsch) Foster included a piece of home sewing in America history that included this party dress made from Butterick pattern no. 5222 published in 1919, also included in the donation (see figs. 1 and 2). The dress is made out of blue cotton voile, has a smocked waist, white silk satin sash, and fun fabric flower. The dress was made by Susan’s grandmother, Pearl Arksey for her daughter, Hazel as a party dress for her 8th birthday in 1924, five years after the pattern was originally published. The dress was included in the spring 1997 exhibit, Dreams on Paper, Home Sewing in America at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Hazel attended the exhibit with her daughter in 1997 (see figure 3).

Dreams on Paper traced the history of the paper pattern industry and home sewing in America. The paper pattern industry coincided with the development of the sewing machine for a commercial market in the late 18th and 19th centuries. “The treadle sewing machine of 1900 evolved into the electric machine of the late teens,” and had become a standard appliance in most U.S. homes, and as a result, clothing “production was faster and easier as dresses became lighter, looser and shorter” (“Dreams on Paper” exhibit brochure 1997). The changes in fashion reflected changing gender roles in America. Women were extended the right to vote in 1920 and the “emancipation from traditional restrictions” continued as society and culture also changed with the rise in women working outside of the home (Farrel-Beck and Parsons 2007: 56). Susan’s mother, however, was not one of these women, Hazel “was a stay-at-home mom who baked . . . and loved sewing” (personal communication with author 9/13/23). Hazel instilled this love of sewing into her daughter, Susan who would grow up to sew for a living.

After graduating from Arizona State University, Susan went to work for Armo Interfacing Company, where she met Pati Palmer, an OSU alumna. The two worked as educational representatives on the west coast; “we might be a ‘guest speaker’ for a day in a high school or college sewing class, or have a live presentation in a fabric or department store fabric department. The job was ‘education’ but the mission was marketing and sales” (personal communication with author 9/13/23). In 1974 Susan and Pati launched Palmer/Pletsch in order to publish their instructional sewing books, including the famed Sewing Ultrasuede Fabric. Susan left the company in 1984 to pursue other writing projects, however the company the two created almost 50 years ago, still “publishes sewing, home decorating, image, and craft books by other talented sewing, image, and home decorating teachers; creates videos on those subjects; offers sewing workshops and imports or distributes a select group of sewing-related products” (Palmer/Pletsch “About Us.”). It has been almost 100 years since this dress was made by Pearl for little Hazel, but this object helps to tell a story that illustrates the history of home sewing in America and the creation of business opportunities for women in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Susan Pletsch Foster donations

Figure 1. Hazel Arksey’s party dress made by her mother, Pearl for her 8th birthday.
Figure 2. Butterick no. 5222 paper pattern envelope (1919).
Figure 3. Hazel at the 1997 “Dreams on Paper” exhibit at the Museum of FIT.
Figure 4. Susan Pletsch (right) and Pati Palmer (left) in 1974 for their book Sewing Ultrasuede Fabric.

Works Cited
Farrell-Beck, Jane and Jean Parsons. 20th-Century Dress in the United States. New York: Fairchild, 2007.
Palmer/Pletsch. “About Us.” 2023. Retrieved from https://palmerpletsch.com/about-us/

Digitized Palmer/Pletsch McCall’s Patterns

In 2018 Pati Palmer generously gifted digitized paper pattern envelopes that she designed for McCall’s since 1980. Pattern envelopes are now on Oregon Digital for viewing. These patterns reflect general styles and trends that influenced ready-to-wear styles of the time, including use of Ultrasuede, apparel styles for working women, athletic wear, unisex styles, and more!

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