MECHANICS OF TAILORING IN THE 1780’S

Tailors-hunting-louse

This cartoon shows four of the tailor’s tools: the goose, the yard, the ‘banger’ and the needle.

I’m at pains to find out as much real technical detail as I can of how tailors worked in the 1780’s.

What their hours were, how they worked together, the techniques used in making a coat – this sort of stuff.  There seems to be very little of this information out there, at least as far as men’s tailoring is concerned.

The following quote is a good start:

Charles Booth’s description of the tailor’s work in Life and Labour of the People in London was written towards the end of the nineteenth century, but traditions in such crafts being what they were, it is unlikely that much had changed since Louis’ time:-

“Few workpeople in what are termed the organized trades of the West End spend more time in their workshops than the journeyman tailor.  He ordinarily begins work at 8 AM, although many start at 5 and 6 o clock, and scarcely leaves the workroom until 8 PM, thus usually putting in fully 12 hours continuous work in the day which is often stretched to 14 and 15 hours in busy times.  His food, which is generally partaken of in the workroom, may be put down as follows:  Breakfast at 8 or half past, consisting of tea or coffee, bread and butter with an occasional rasher of bacon, bloater, haddock or couple of eggs. Luncheon at 11 AM:  beer bread and cheese.   Dinner at 1 o’clock: beef or mutton, vegetables, pudding and beer.  Tea at 4 o clock with bun or bread and butter.  This, with an occasional glass or two of beer, constitutes his day’s food and is nearly always taken by the tailor sitting on the board with his work lying at his side and the newspaper in front of him…

Coatmaking, which is considered to be the principal branch of the trade, is usually carried on by two men working together as partners; one makes the left and the other the right fore part. The left man is the captain of the job; he is responsible for seeing the work put fairly together; he marks with cotton thread all the outlets left on the job by the cutter, cuts all the pockets and linings, makes the left side of the coat, makes and puts on the collar and gives the work the final press off.  The right man makes the right side of the coat, both sleeves, and joins the halves together.  Partners generally take rights and lefts alternately.  Vests and trousers are made by separate and single individual workmen. The foreman who cuts and gives out the work has a great deal to do with making a shop good or bad for the workers. Some are petty tyrants who never get on well with their workmen; others the reverse but in nearly all instances where the employer is himself the cutter the men are better treated and more considered.  In all firms the garments are fitted on at least once, but some cutters require their work fitted on the customer three or four times, while in other cases the customer himself insists on having his clothes tried on again and again, and when finished is never pleased until they have been altered and re altered times out of number.” 

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One Response to MECHANICS OF TAILORING IN THE 1780’S

  1. Charles Bazalgette says:

    No indeed. They didn’t deserve to be set that low in the pecking order.

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