Tag Archives: vintage sewing

cutting systems and machines

Hold the phone and shut the door!!!!

Cutting a Fashionable Fit: Dressmakers’ Drafting Systems in the United States
Kidwell, Claudia B.
DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.5479/si.00810258.42.1
Date: 1979


This book!!! I have had very old very worn photocopies of this book since I was at university and it’s here! In full! In high res and low res!!!! Get it now, seriously if you have any interest in costuming this is a must have!

I cannot believe it’s genuinely distributed, the pdf turned up in a google search so I tracked back to the full credit and OMG!


So I was looking in general for cutting systems as I love them. They give a much better insight into how different eras accomodated different body shapes than anything else. Drafting books are good but these show the impact of changing a measure on other points of measure.

And now there is another book I’d love to track down:

The Female Economy: The Millinery and Dressmaking Trades, 1860-1930
Wendy Gamber
University of Illinois Press, 1997 – Business & Economics – 300 pages

This is a very different take on the effect these systems had on those working in garment making. In truth it’s the same sort of reasoning behind tailor’s manuals being restricted initially, or throughout, I haven’t read all manuals just many!

It includes pages of cutting machines at a size it would be possible to recreate.


The Maude Russell system of garment cutting; text book ..
by Russell, Maude (Westerman), Mrs., 1885- [from old catalog]
Published 1917
I love these! Currently hunting down older versions as they are more helpful for me as someone doing earlier work, but these kinds of adjustable templates are reasonably common. But this is very nice because it may be possible to print out your own and transfer to card.


Also of interest is this book from the 1870s
Guide to dressmaking
by Symonds, J. Henry, pub. [from old catalog]
Published 1876
Topics Dressmaking, Garment cutting. [from old catalog]

This does feel like a reprint, but the details on trimmings and stitching and assembly is exactly what I really want. I mean in conjunction with a fitting system! This really is an incredibly good guide and it’s free!

The National garment cutter
by Goldsberry, Doran & Nelson. [from old catalog]
Published 1884

The national garment cutter book of diagrams. Goldsberry & Doran, proprietors ..
by Goldsberry & Doran, Chicago. [from old catalog]
Published 1888
Topics Garment cutting. [from old catalog], Dressmaking

Two editions by the same company. Very easy to understand and each includes a yoked kilted (pleated) skirt of the kind worn in Bram SToker’s Dracula, and seen in Patterns of Fashion 2. I use the principle a heck of a lot in my skirts to allow for an agressive or subtle train.


Perhaps the most recognised drafting machine is the McDowell.

Publication number US342216 A
Publication type Grant
Publication date 18 May 1886
Filing date 30 Jul 1885
Inventors Albert Mcdowell


Anyway, I am now happily thinking of ways to recreate these in a stable material.

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I have not been able to even touch the surface of my collected files so my first post was about following a single lead that had the potential to be an all in one go to source. Der Bazar had several corsetry articles, and it looks like they appear the week before they do in Harper’s Bazar.

And that makes sense, translating and setting up type to print a new edition takes time.

But I haven’t had a chance to do so, and I am a bit too sore to update from my archives.

I do though have a couple of links for study and might be able to make this short enough to do some work on my own projects 🙂

These links are all from Antique-Gown.com as they are so perfectly illustrative.

Embroidered Corset, ca. 1878

antikes Korsett 1878

Piping. This has piping! And a full separate lining layer. It makes me feel better about my earlier corsets as there are some seams that drift a bit 🙂

DR. WARNER’s Bridal Corset, ca. 1880

antikes Hochzeitskorsett 1880

Stunning! The seams are pressed so well and you can see the seam allowances change direction in the shell layers. They are very precise too. The lining is less so, but great views of the direction of the seam allowance and thickness of lining here.

Tempting Red Victorian Corset, ca. 1880

antique corset 1880

This has some awesome construction details! It appears to have a single layer lining, except the shell and lining are turned out in the seam that follows the bust and a strip of shell fabric is applied over the cording and seam allowances and sewn to hold three strips of boning. This may make for one of the less fiddly construction method- aside from the whole sewing through the cording thing 😉

Black Front Busk Corset, ca. 1880

antikes Korset 1880

A lined corset again, this time with a shell facing across the inside back lacing panel. There is also a waist tape and a tape used to support the inner seam of the bust gores.

Prototype Corset, Paris International Exposition 1889

antique corset 1889

Seriously beautiful lined corset. The lace would ad a very light support to skirts and bodices, a bit of padding without looking like padding.

Again, great views on the lining. The bust gores are treated the was Der Bazar shows- with overhanded/cast stitches at the base of the gore.

Victorian Corset, ca. 1890

victorian corset 1890

This corset is a single layer, with self casing on the outside and a self facing over the back lacing holes (face of fabric outer.)

Victorian French Underbust Corset, ca. 1890

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That is peach plush velvet yes 🙂

Shell and lining, the lining appears to have SA opened.

R & G Silk Jacquard Corset, ca. 1895

3 antique corset 1895

This is a single shell layer corset with casings of a different material on the inside. I think this is the most easily replicated construction for at home as the seam allowances are left raw. There is no attempt to fully welt them.

Also has a waist tape.

This website has several more corsets to look at, this is just a start but should be a springboard for anyone who wasn’t sure what construction method to use as there are several options 🙂

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