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November 19, 2009

Tools of the tailoring trade

Filed under: What's New — Lori Williamson @ 12:34 pm

Tailoring tools

Recently, we acquired well-worn tailors’ tools used by a custom tailor in Duluth.  C. Paul Nelson emigrated to the U.S. from Sweden with his four daughters in early 1900.  Though tailoring has traditionally been a craft dominated by men, two of Nelson’s daughters – Sophie and Hanna worked as “tailoresses.”  According to the 1910 census, Sophie, Hanna and their father were working in Duluth.  In 1930 both Sophie and Paul Nelson were still working – Paul as a coat-maker and Sophie as a vest-maker.  In the 1900 Minneapolis City Directory, vest making was a woman’s occupation.  Six women listed their occupation as vest-maker.  Often women worked on lighter weight garments or women’s tailored clothing in a dressmaking shop rather than a tailor’s shop.   In this same city directory, of the 724 tailors listed, 89 were women.

Though cutting and measuring are the hallmark skills of a tailor’s art, these pressing tools – a tailor’s clapper, tailor’s blocks, trouser board, sleeve board and tailoring iron (a 15.5 lb weight) – donated by a member of the Nelson family are essential to giving the wool its proper shape and a crisp finish to the seams of a garment.

Included in this donation is an image of tailors at work in the shop of A. V. Ljungkvist in 1908; see below.  Paul Nelson is seated in a modified tailor-fashion at the far left.

Linda McShannock, Objects Curator

A. V. Ljungkuist tailor shop

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5 Responses to “Tools of the tailoring trade”

  1. Esther Hallock Says:

    Esther Hallock, a niece of Sophie Nelson, remembers that Sophie took the street car to an office in downtown Duluth. She confirms that Sophie worked as a tailor in a shop that made men’s suits and that Sophie’s job was to make the vests. Esther also talked with some Swedish friends who stated that the tailors always sat on the tables when they were working (just as depicted in the photo).

    Esther also confirms that Hannah, Sophie’s sister, worked as a tailor at Carlson’s Fur Coat Factory in the West End neighborhood of Duluth, shop located across the street from the home of C.Paul Nelson..

    tom terry reply on May 26th, 2011:

    I have some old wooden tailoring tools (linear measures, curved measures, t-square type measures etc) from my great grandfather who was a tailor in New York City, but migrated to Milwaukee WI in the 1800’s. I have not found any information source that can help me identify what they are or were used for. They all have makers marks on them, mostly from NY. Can you help me locate a source of info for these. I would also be interested in donating them if the right opportunity came along. Thanks, Tom Terry

    Denise Labadie reply on February 7th, 2012:

    Did you get the information you were looking for? Are the pictures above what you are looking to identify?


  2. william Karam Says:

    I worked as a personal shopper dressing Wall Street men and worked closely with the tailors everyday.
    The tools we used were fairly modern. Devices for measure the slope of a someone’s back, slope of shoulder, etc.
    and also wooden devices for measuring the bottom of pants for cuffs, etc.
    do you have photos of these items?

    tom terry reply on January 25th, 2013:

    yes I have pics of the tools. give me your email address I will try to forward

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