High-class tailoring at the time was of the traditional sort, in that everything was hand-sewn.  After measurements had been made of the client (much facilitated by the invention of the tape measure in about 1800), patterns were made, which is probably the most skilled part of the craft.  These patterns were then used by the cutters to cut out all of the pieces of cloth.  The tailors and their assistants would sit cross-legged on large tables or benches, close to as much natural light as was available.  The workshops in Lower Grosvenor Street were equipped with large windows for this purpose. The bench supported not only the tailors but also the large pieces of material, keeping it clean as well.  There are many tailors even today who sit in this time-honoured way, if they have hand sewing to do.  This working position is used in many crafts where detailed work is required. Forty years ago the author knew a young watchmaker who would place his lathe-box on a chair in front of the bench and perch tailor-wise upon it in order to carry out such exacting tasks as hand-turning a balance-staff for an antique verge watch. The skilled tailor’s ability to stab the needle in just the right spot, picking up the point to complete the stitch in a single fluid movement, while giving the needle a little swivel to counteract the natural twist that sewing gives to the thread, is a delight to watch.  This twist is what causes the tangles and knots in the thread which plague the average bachelor when trying to sew on a button.  The strain on the tailors’ eyes meant failing sight for many by their forties.  The sewing of military uniforms or indeed any brightly-coloured garments (such as those favoured by the Prince of Wales) was especially hard on the eyes.  Tailors also suffered from other ailments that go with a sedentary occupation, and in addition the so-called tailor’s bunion, an inflammation of the toe-joints caused by pressure on them from their cross-legged working position.

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  1. Charles Bazalgette says:

    Thanks for your comments to these blogs, Sarah! I faked some of the sewing technique stuff, so if you can see any glaring errors please say so.

  2. Charles Bazalgette says:

    I told you I faked it. I expect you are right about the twist. I know it always happened to me but I don’t know why. I knew a tailor who used to be chief cutter to Mary Quant, but the only thing I saw him hand-sew was a stiff fabric for a lampshade. That probably needed stab stitch. I agree that for more normal stitches you either push it through several folds or just bring it out like backstitch. I think that bit need a rewrite because it’s hogwash. Thank you!

  3. Charles Bazalgette says:

    So it’s just down to a natural cack-handedness – I can relate to that! Something to do with types of material as well I think. Cloth I have trouble with generally, though wood is not a problem. It’s possible that Louis couldn’t bang a nail in either.

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