Garment drafting machine, consisting of back, side, underarm and front pieces, and instruction book, brass / paper / material, made by McDowell Garment Drafting Machine Company, New York, New York, United States of America, 1891
The McDowell Garment Drafting Machine was a significant invention that attempted to mechanise the drafting process for women's garments. It was designed to replace various pattern making processes that seamstresses used in the late nineteenth century that were thought to be time consuming, difficult to use and imprecise.
This machine is also significant as it highlights the changing attitudes towards women's bodies and the gendered workforce of the time. Seamstresses were paid about one-fifth of the amount a tailor would earn to produce a suit even though women's fashion garments were just as difficult to make. The McDowell Garment Drafting Machine endeavoured to address this imbalance by quickening and making the drafting process for women's garments easier. Other drafting methods involved many fittings with a customer, this machine put an end to this time consuming practice.
This machine was also more precise at making patterns as it catered to the differences in women's bodies. Other methods for drafting women's patterns, available since the 1830s, used a proportional system that did not distinguish between the vast differences amongst women's bodies.
Additionally, this machine and instruction book are significant in documenting fashionable dress at the end of the nineteenth century. The machine could be adjusted easily to accommodate the latest fashions and the instruction book has many tips for how to do this. The instruction book also documents marketing techniques of the time. For example, it uses customer testimonials praising the merits of the machine. This is a technique that is still used today.
The McDowell Garment Drafting Machine documents the changes in garment pattern making over time, a process that has continued to change and today can be done using computer software.
The Garment Drafting Machine was made by The McDowell Garment Drafting Machine Company, 6 West 14th Street, New York, New York, USA in 1891.
It was first patented on March 18, 1879 and was later revised a number of times to respond to changes in fashion and improve its design. The machine was designed to replace previous pattern drafting methods used by seamstresses that were difficult to use, time consuming and imprecise.
The Garment Drafting Machine consists of four adjustable brass pieces which were used to measure the patterns for the back, side, underarm and front sections of a womens garment.
The detailed instruction book outlines the necessary number of measurements that had to be taken from the customer. The machine was then set in a particular order that is outlined in the instruction book. Once the machine had been set using the customers individual measurements, a customised pattern was created. The machine was then traced onto paper to create a permanent pattern that included darts, cutting lines and stitching lines.
This McDowell Garment Drafting Machine and instruction book was found by the donor's father when he was cleaning out a house, over thirty years ago. The hand written name on the instruction book is 'V.P Morrison', who was presumably the original owner. The donor's father gave it to her, as she was a home economics teacher. She taught for twenty-two years at East Hills Girls High. She used it to demonstrate historic methods of pattern making to her students, both to show them methods of pattern making and to demonstrate nineteenth century fashions and how they were made.