The 18th Century tailor did not use a tape measure marked in inches, although this was apparently invented by George Atkinson in 1799. He used a ‘measure’ – a long strip of paper or parchment, to measure his client, marking each dimension on the measure with a small snip of the scissors. He would presumably write by each snip what the dimension was. Although tailors used a yardstick, and could by checking the measure against it record the number of inches in each dimension, the measure was often just placed straight upon the paper pattern in order to mark it, without the use of inches at all.
To make a suit coat the tailor noted as many as 14 measurements. Each tailor had his own particular way of marking his measure, and thus one tailor would have found it difficult to understand another tailor’s measure. Since he himself may not have done the cutting, it is possible that Louis did record measurements as well, or used a system that his cutter would understand.
The cutter kept paper patterns which suited the dimensions of the Prince. When preparing to cut a garment for a customer the tailor selected a pattern of the right size and laid it on the doubled fabric and traced around it lightly with chalk. Next, using the customer’s measure, he checked the dimensions of the outline, marking the necessary corrections in chalk and redrawing the draft accordingly. The tailor then cut the material.
Once all the pieces had been cut out the first task was to stiffen the foreparts of the coat with buckram, which was linen treated with a thick glue size and then dried.
The buckram was about four inches wide at the shoulders, reducing to about two inches near the armholes and then running all the way down the fronts to the bottom, only a little wider than the space needed for the buttonholes. This layer of buckram was tacked to the back of the coat material. Then the buttonholes were marked out, about two inches apart for a coat and 1 ½ inches for a waistcoat. A second piece of buckram was then added, not extending so far down as the first, and then the edges were strenghtened with a further strip of buckram, whereupon the three layers of stiffening were whip-stitched to the edges of the coat.
The pocket holes were then cut, the pockets attached inside and the pocket flaps stitched on. The back pieces were joined together by back-stitching on the wrong side and fine-drawing on the right side, working from the skirt-opening upwards. Before joining the foreparts to the back, they were pinned together and the fit was checked, probably upon a tailor’s dummy. The seams from the armholes to the start of the pleats, and the shoulder seams, were then sewn using the same stitches as used for joining the back. Then the neck-edging was sewn in. The side-pleats of the frock were then made, and firmly secured at the top. The sleeves were then made and set into the armholes. The coat would then be pressed to ensure that the shoulders in particular were correct. The heat of the iron would soften the size in the buckram and so it could be moulded, stiffening again as it cooled. With the main tailoring completed, the silk lining would be made and sewn in and then the coat would be passed to the finishers, who would make the buttonholes, add the buttons and collar and apply any silk twist edgings or other decorations.
“The Taylor’s Complete Guide, or A Comprehensive Analysis of Beauty and Elegance in Dress, 1796” was the seminal English publication on tailoring, and here describes how to make a pair of breeches:
‘Cutting and making Worsted Stocking-breeches, ribbed or plain.
‘When at your cutting-board and having your stocking-piece before you, observe the following maxim, which entirely results from the stretch or elasticity that there is in all framework of this nature, and requires that the breeches must be three inches longer than the measure.
‘Lay your measure upon the piece within one inch and a half at the top, then extend it to the intended place for the knee, and mark it and cut it longer an inch and a half below at the knee; then for the width, lay on the measure at the bottom of the knee, and mark for cutting one inch narrower than the measure upon the stuff in the double, and one inch less in gradation all the way up the thigh, and be sure to abide by the following example for the stride:– First make a deep fall down, and having laid your finger upon the measure at the bottom of the knee, with the other hand extend the measure to the fork, and make the stride within three inches of the length of the measure, this will give proper room for the elasticity of the materials, and ease and freedom to the wearer.
‘Next cut your leg seam very straight, and not hollow as is the common practice, and let your side seams be likewise straight from the knee up to within four inches of the hip; and observe that you put in a gusset piece from that place on the outside of the hip, two inches and a half wide at the top, and cut taper or bevelled to a point five inches long both of the outside and the inside. When this done and your beeches are put on, you will find that the ribs go straight doen the thighs, which will avoid and provide against an abominable error in the trade, of twisting the ribs across the thighs, making them appear crooked, inwardly inclining, which seems to the spectator (according to the old vulgar adage) as if people were ill shap’d or knap knee’d. When you have got so far, cut your seat at the joining of the waistband, less by two inches double; and in making, let your knee-band be cut one inch longer than your measure, and back it on lining, and set it with the knee-band to the breeches; this will keep them to the full size at the bottom, and make them lie agreeably, and rise to the springing of the calf of the leg if required. Let both the knee-band and the waist-band be beared on according to your length of them (both) and not the breeches, which though diametrically opposite to the common practice in use, we do affirm is positively right, and the true justified by and proved by long experience, and which will convince every practitioner on his first essay, if he does but adhere to the rule.’