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Donation of the Month

Norman Tailor System dress pattern
Donor: Jodi Hamilton
Article written by: Jessica Whitehead, Education Curator

Sewing a garment is like putting together a puzzle. The fabric must be cut in the correct shapes and in just the right size to be sewn into a well-fitting, attractive garment. This can be easily accomplished today by using a purchased tissue paper pattern. Many companies offer patterns in a multitude of styles and sizes at reasonable prices. However, this was not always the case.

 instructions for bodice

instructions for sleeve

instructions for skirt waist

In the 19th century, many dressmakers’ drafting systems were introduced to the marketplace. These systems, like the Norman Tailor System seen here, were marketed as a boon to the women attempting to create fashionable clothing at home. Before the introduction of these systems, women wishing to make dresses usually relied upon an old garment as a pattern or attempted to draft a pattern based on an illustration. By the mid 1800s, Godey’s Lady’s Book did publish pattern diagrams, but these required the sewist to enlarge the pattern pieces which proved difficult for many.

The introduction of drafting systems allowed the home sewist the opportunity to use her own measurements to draw pattern pieces that would closely match her body for a good fit. Of course, as fashions changed rapidly, drafting systems that only allowed for one style quickly became obsolete. As the century wore on, many different systems were introduced using a variety of methods to draw the pattern pieces. The Norman Tailor System used small holes or perforations where the person drafting the pattern would draw a series of dots and then connect them to create the shape of the pattern piece which would then be transferred to the chosen fabric.

This particular drafting system dates to about 1890. The Norman Tailor System was created by a woman, Mrs. Nancy R. Norman of St. Louis. The copyright was held by Nancy Norman and her husband George Norman as early as 1878. By the time Centennial Pattern No. 8 was published, the Norman Company had been in business for over a decade.

By the time the Normans were publishing their system, drafting systems had been used by tailors and dressmakers for some time. The earliest systems consisted of instructions sometimes accompanied by modified rulers and intended mostly for menswear. Some systems were also used for women’s clothing, but the earliest patent for a perforated system for cutting dresses was issued in 1841 to one Aaron A. Tentler of Philadelphia. Tentler, however, described his system as an improvement, so this was evidently not the first such system.

By 1890, you could purchase many different paper patterns. Godey’s Lady’s Book had offered full size patterns since 1854. However, the cost prevented many from purchasing them. Other companies also had begun to offer paper patterns. William Jennings Demorest and Ellen Louise Demorest held fashion shows in their home and sold sewing patterns beginning in 1860. They published a magazine known as Mirror of Fashion, from which many patterns could be ordered. Butterick Pattern Company was founded in 1863 by Ebenezer Butterick, a tailor from Sterling, Massachusetts. Their first paper patterns were for men’s and boy’s clothing only, with women’s patterns becoming available in 1866. McCall Pattern Company was founded in 1870 by James McCall, a Scottish tailor living in New York City. Many other pattern companies started business and as paper patterns became widely available and more affordable, the dressmaker’s systems fell out of favor.

Today, some of the earliest pattern companies are still in business. Butterick patterns are still available, as are McCall’s patterns. Some of the innovations that started with the dressmaker’s systems are still in use by home sewists and designers alike, like the French curve ruler.

Pattern collecting has become more prevalent in the last few years, as home sewing has had somewhat of a resurgence. Many resources are now available to learn about home sewing and patterns. Public libraries are good sources for sewing books, while the internet is home to many great sites for pattern enthusiasts.

Kidwell, Claudia. “Cutting a Fashionable Fit: Dressmakers’ Drafting Systems in the United States.” Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology. Number 42. Smithsonian Institution Press, City of Washington, 1979. Print.

Laboissonniere, Wade. Blueprints of Fashion with values: Home sewing patterns of the 1940s. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub. Ltd. 2009. Print.

Shepard, Arlesa. “The Evolution of Dressmaking Patterns in the United States.” Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences. Web. Accessed 2/25/2010.

“Vintage Patterns.” Vintage Fashion Guild. 2010. Web. Accessed 2/25/2010.

“Dating Vintage Patterns.” Vintage Fashion Library. 2008. Web. Accessed 2/25/2010.

“Sewing Patterns.” Reconstructing History. 2009. Web. Accessed 2/25/2010.

“Butterick History.” McCall pattern Company. 2010. Web. Accessed 3/24/2010.


More Donations of the Month

Arts & Crafts
Charles Summey Painting
Elsie Sterling Drawings & Photo
Erwin A. Doege pastel
M.E. Oliver’s Strange Scenes in the Ozarks
Roy Harris Carved Wagon
Seed Art

War Eagle Store

Household Goods
Andersons Grade A Egg Scale
Applegate Apothecary Bottle
Benton County Wine Bottles
Circa 1923 Eureka Vacuum Cleaner
First M.E. Church, North souvenir plate, circa 1910
Gasoline powered iron
Grape Press
John Edwards china
Open Salts
Red Wing Crock, 1910s
Rogers Fairgrounds Souvenir
Cut Glass Dresser Box
Marshmallow Toaster
Fairy Lamps
Bubble Up Soda Bottles
Farmers Produce Co. Feed Sack
Butter Molds
Hand Painted China
Flow Blue China
Ritz Christmas Lites
Stove Top Steamer
Sunbeam Dairy Milk Bottle & Photo

Paper Ephemera, Books, & Photos
Advertising Folding Table
Camp Joyzelle Booklet
Callison-Lough Funeral Home Sketch
1943 Benton County Nursery Company Catalog
Apple Blossom Festival Postcard Booklet, April 1927
B.P.O.E. photo, 1960
Christmas Carols Songbook
Civil War Clothing Ledger
“Coin” Harvey family letters
Edsel Ford Poetry Books
Frisco Railroad Pass
Gold mine photos
Lime Works Stock Certificate
Louise Thaden Note
Menu from the Orchard Room
Cumberland Presbyterian Ladies Cook Book
Rogers Public School catalog, 1892-3
Elizabeth Miller Autograph Books
Discharge Papers
New Year Postcard
Political Campaign Buttons
Women's Study Club Program
Howard Fowler Photographs
Railroad Automatic Car Identification
1933 World's Fair Objects
Tobacco Tax Receipts
Valentines cards
Vandover & Sons Livery Stable Photograph
Printing Blocks
World War II Photos

Billiken Doll
Russ Troll Doll
Schoenhut Circus Toys
Steiff Teddy Bear
Horse Drawn Wagon
Lone Ranger Atomic Bomb Ring
J.D. Kestner Doll
Winter Sled

Textiles, Clothing, & Clothing Accessories
Confederate Officer’s Artillery Frock Coat?
Apple Blossom Festival Crown
Bicorn Hat
Blackburn Preaching Shirt
Christmas Stocking
Friendship Quilt
Garrett family coverlet, 1860s
Help One Another Club Quilt
Mary Van Winkle Steele’s Traveling Dress
McClain Family Crazy Quilt
Norman Tailor System dress pattern
Pillbox Hat
Hannah Lumm Dress
Whig Rose Quilt
Celluloid Items
Hair Work Jewelry
Evening Gown
Mesh Hand Bags
World War I Uniform
1906 Wedding Gown
Majorette Uniform & Spirit Ribbons


1860s Green & Sager Bedstead
Henry Tribble’s Speaker Cabinet
Tom Morgan’s Desk & Chair
W.H. Jewett Piano
Adding Machine Stand
Apple Cider Press
Colonial Revival Dining Room Chair
B.F. Gleason Cooling Table
Grundig Majestic radio

Kroger Shelves

Barbed Wire Samples
Betty Blake’s Composition Stick
Carry A. Nation Hatchet Brooch
Cash Register
Harris Baking Co. Souvenir
“Coin” Harvey Death Mask
KAMO Shovel
Erwin Funk’s Newspaper Convention Badges
Diamond Jubilee Badges
Tracy Lockhart’s Peddler Basket
Van Winkle Lumber
Surveyor's Compass
Remington Revolver
John Deere Corn Sheller
Rogers High School Dedication Stone
Permanent Wave Machine
City of Rogers License Plate
Chaplain's Field Kit
WWI Army helmet & print

Civil War Re-enactor Items
Lever Action Winchester Model 1892
Silica mining bucket






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