Gem(s) from The Modern Tailor, Outfitter, and Clothier

As if I don’t have enough tangents leading me away from sewing productivity, I’ve started reading this book that’s highly recommended on the tailoring trade’s forum. Now “Modern” is a relative term here. The books (there are 3, I got the first 2) were originally published in 1928. The originals are astronomically priced in the used book section. But luckily affordable paperback reprints are now available.

Anyhoo, here’s the first gem I want to share, complete with some old fashion turn of phrase!…

From “Tailoring as a Vocation” in “The Modern Tailor Outfitter and Clothier – Vol 1“, by W.H. Hulme, Head Teacher, Clothing Trade Dept, Leeds Technical College, 1928

Every cutter [pattern-maker] should possess a sound knowledge of the principles which underlie his work. These principles, or laws of fitting, are as old and as well-established as the human form itself. Various good “Systems” have been propounded, embodying those principles of form-fitting, so far as they have been discovered and utilised. The student will master, in principle and in detail, one of these well-tried systems. Many systems have been laid down, tried — and then forgotten. Given a sufficiency of ink and foolscap, to invent a new system presents as little difficulty as to launch a new sect; to the system maker falling the less lucrative task. The tailoring trade has, for years, been the arena in which conflicting theories of cutting have been hotly contested; often the combatants themselves have been obscured by the dust they raised. And the end of this spirit is not yet.

However, the art of cutting successful garments is still based upon the work of the inquiring mind, on test and long experiment, on failure and eventual success. The shrieking of slogans has not helped much; indeed, the atmosphere of strife is inimical to progress. A right judgement, compounded of many qualities, with perhaps common sense and experience as the chief, is demanded of the modern craftsman. The world demands authority–and is willing to follow blindly. “This do…and the rest is easy,” says the quack. In our better moods we denounce dogma–yet we deal very gently with the dogmatist. The man who speaks as though he utters ultimate wisdom is always certain of a large audience. He saves us an immense amount of individual thought. There are numbers of men who put their thinking out to be done for them. Those who would spurn the idea of wearing second-hand clothes, have no difficulty, it would seem, about adopting second-hand opinions.

Sounds familiar? Ouch! ;-)

The tailoring trade has had its full share of these dogmatist; some indeed are happily still with us. It is quite likely, however, that the “royal road” of the dogmatist is, after all, the wrong approach to success. Indeed, we may hazard the opinion that no royal road exists.

The older virtues of work and patient experiment will take the young student some distance. Ability to weigh and to appraise the theories apparently conflicting, to have such a grasp of the known principles of sartorial art that he can trust himself to do his own thinking, these will carry him further than the credulous swallowing of nostrums. “We have seen it in a book…” or “A great man once said…” cannot be accepted without reserve by the young man seriously facing his future. The world is full of people who long for a certain and safe specific for success. The proprietors of certain patent medicines, and quacks in other walks of life, do rather well out of their understanding and exploitation of this very human trait.

The final resolution of sartorial problems, however, tarries. Nothing is static, everything is in a condition of flux. Our conclusions are tentative, and much of our knowledge is empirical. The profession of medicine has used empirical remedies for many centuries. “It works…but how?” The candid tailor will admit as much of many points in his own practice. In common with more learned professions, we have not yet fully emerged from the misty realm of “rock-of-eye.” The putting into systematic form, however, of the ever-increasing mass of trade knowledge proceeds apace. Each method of obtaining results has its devotees, but it is significant that the practitioner so often infuses features of his own into his adopted system. The keynotes of success are test and experiment. The hugging of pet theories and preconceived ideas is fatal. The young tailor must dare to think and to back his conclusions.

The body he seeks to clothe will be his starting-point: just another way of saying that a knowledge of the science of anatomy must lie at the roots of all his work. He knows, for instance, that the seams of various garments follow certain curves. Why? Because the body demands that its contours shall be followed. But this merely touches the question. The last word on human proportion, too has yet to be uttered. Of girth we know something; but what of height and its relation to girth? The limitations of knowledge in many other directions are sufficiently obvious to need further words. The tested results of the experience of others will be accepted–but as a starting point. One of the most successful cutters of the present day, when in his twenties, lived in systems by day and dreamt of them at night. Now he says, “Systems? Scaffolding! necessary…but still scaffolding and as such must conform to the exigencies of the building!” Every teacher makes his contribution–and passes; the trade is always moving on. The one who arises and says, “Behold, I show you a mystery” is not to be understood as uttering finality. He is merely making a personal and tentative contribution to an age-long controversy.

Granted, most of us aren’t setting out to be Saville Row tailors. We just want to make good looking clothing for ourselves and maybe loved ones. There is nothing wrong with farming out the mental hard work. But just be careful how you pass on any tips and advice, and how you judge techniques that perhaps didn’t quite work out for you. Sometimes we don’t follow instruction correctly (maybe the instruction wasn’t written clearly or comprehensively enough). Sometimes the technique simply isn’t appropriate for our body shape/size/posture, skills, equipments, sewing and/or wearing context. There may be a grain of truth in the technique, but is it universal truth?

Another gem from Vol 1, this time from “Some Problems of the Tailoring Trade”, by F. Chitham, Director, Harrods, Ltd. (high end London dept. store).

Sizes are the very lifeblood of the ready-to-wear…Bad sizes means slow-moving stock. It is no part of the ready-to-wear trade to cater for freaks[!!!]: that is the province of the bespoke.

He would so not get away with that today! LOL.

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