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
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.
“Dating Vintage Patterns.” Vintage Fashion Library. 2008.
Web. Accessed 2/25/2010.
“Sewing Patterns.” Reconstructing History. 2009. Web.
“Butterick History.” McCall pattern Company. 2010. Web.
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