Early Tailoring Manuals

Because tailoring was taught by traditional apprenticeships, skills were passed on from master to apprentice without the need for written manuals. The most skilled aspect of the trade was cutting out garments from the bolt of cloth. In G. B. Moroni's painting The Tailor (c. 1570), the fashionably dressed artisan prepares to use his shears on a length of cloth marked with tailor's chalk. These markings would probably have been based on a master pattern. The earliest tailors used cloth patterns because paper and parchment were too expensive at this period. Paper patterns became widespread and commercially available in the nineteenth century.

The earliest known tailoring manuals are Spanish. These are Juaan de Alcega's Libro de Geometric Practica y Traca of 1589 and La Rocha Burguen's Geometricay Traca of 1618. These books illustrate ways of drawing patterns to use fabric in the most economical manner, but have no information on technique. Later manuals, such as the important L'Art du Tailleur by de Garsault (1769) have more detailed instructions as to measurement, cutting, fit, and construction. The typical workshop had a master tailor, who dealt directly with the client and cut out garments. There might be several cutters in a large es tablishment and they were at the top of the tailoring hierarchy, for cutting out was the most skilled part of the trade. Under them other journeymen tailors were responsible for a variety of activities, including padding and sewing in interlinings, pockets, and the difficult task of assembling the sleeve and turning the collar, as well as manipulating the heavy shaping iron called a goose. Apprentices were usually responsible for running errands and sweeping up scraps of fabric before being taught basic sewing skills. When sewing machines were introduced, machinists, who might be women, were also added to the workshop floor. The tailors who sewed the garment together sat on a workbench near natural light with legs crossed, hunched over their work. To sit cross-legged in French is still to be assis en tailleur, or sitting in the tailor's pose.

The first manual in the English language is the anonymous The Taylor's Complete Guide, published in 1796. After this publication, there were many important manuals produced during the nineteenth century, including Compaing and Devere's Tailor's Guide (1855) and most importantly, E. B. Giles's History of the Art of Cutting (1889) which has been reprinted and provides great insight into the nineteenth-century techniques from a master tailor who knew many of its practitioners personally.

A spirit of competition and enterprise marked the first half of the nineteenth century, when tailors patented a multitude of inventions, manuals, systems of measurement, and fashion journals aimed at the man-about-town and his tailor. Some of the most important of these were the Tailor and Cutter and West-End Gazette. The endless cycles and revivals of women's fashions seemed illogical and capricious compared to the more rational, linear, and technologically innovative development of men's dress. The finest tailoring combined the principles of science and art to produce clothing that was both engineered and sculptural.

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