Norah Waugh, Clothing Historian

Waugh is perhaps best known as the author of three major books concerning the cut and construction of historical garments: Corsets and Crinolines (1954); The Cut of Men’s Clothes 1600-1900 (1964); and, The Cut of Women’s Clothes 1600-1930 (1968). Each volume contains hundreds of pattern drawings, taken directly from Waugh’s methodical study (and occasional dissection of) surviving historical garments in private collections, museums and archives. Every diagram is accompanied by a concise commentary on the progression of fashion through history and illustrates the contemporary significance of each pattern within it’s period.

I was first introduced to the work of Norah Waugh in 2015 when I first set out to learn pattern cutting for my historical costumes. At that time, I was a complete beginner to pattern cutting in general, without much understanding of ‘modern’ sewing patterns at all. Prior to starting my Costume course at university, my first and only experience with pattern drafting was historically-oriented from the outset, self-taught from the wealth of information in Norah Waugh’s pattern books – so in hindsight, I can now appreciate how steering clear of everything ‘modern’ enabled me to effectively immerse myself in the world of historical construction, almost like a second language to me. Whether my subjectively blinkered view of pattern cutting would cause issues when it eventually became necessary for me to start utilising modern patterns is a discussion for another time.

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