The garment fabric shortages resulted in years of usage that left war-time clothing and other items in increasingly irreparable condition. Taking their cues from the ingenuity of conscripted tailors and seamstresses in the armed forces, who had created new utilitarian designs, Patterson’s released a series of war-time utility patterns. The results were experimental in many cases, but one pattern in particular had enduring popularity.
The utility square was released in 1947, with both readymades and patterns available in many haberdashers and department stores. The pattern is a borrowing from the Japanese furoshiki, basically a multi-purpose wrapping cloth, but with some adaptations, to westernize the design. Anti-Japanese bias was particularly fervid at the time. Following the bombing of Hiroshima, and the subsequent rallying of the Japanese people, there had been wild reports of Japanese super-beetles, forming a squadron of insects as large as Zeros.
The utility square was intended as a combined bag, apron, and cloth. The Patterson’s designers also incorporated long straps, in place of the corners for tying. This increased the overall size of object that could be carried, while still saving on surface area of fabric needed. The strength of the straps could also be increased through the use of d-rings and buckles. These features allowed for ease of use by an aging and, in many instances, war-disabled population.
The square made good use of sheets, curtains, fire and smoke-damaged bedding, and military fabrics, except the flimsy parachute silks. The squares could be easily waxed and waterproofed, folded small, and could be joined together to suit any purpose.
Several times, the squares were advertised as the Triumph Square, although there is no evidence of the public using the name except sarcastically, as one former Fire Warden stated:
“I’ve done my share of keeping calm, and carrying on, but no-one’s going to tell me that we fought for a load of creepy-crawlies in a moldy hankie”
Misguided attempts as branding aside, the Utility Square is an adaptable alternative to the cloth and paper bag. It’s as capable of handling a brood of grubs, an artillery shell, or a new vacuum cleaner.