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, and 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 allow for the 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 doing so. 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.