Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Hand of the Cloth | The Hand of the Maker

A 1976 issue of the Journal of the Costume Society of Great Britain highlights an interview with Mr. Daniel Nelson, a gentleman who actively worked as a tailor in and around England until his retirement in 1969. The ins and outs of his tales are exciting and compelling to a guy like myself who obsesses over this sort of thing daily; nothing more exciting, really, than hearing stories of coal burning to heat a tailor shop and keep the hand-forged irons warm in 1917 as cutters snip away at a newly ordered pair of plus fours.

Perhaps the most exciting though, is Mr. Nelson's description of early ways of achieving curves for coat collars and arm holes. He says, "Tailoring is like the work of a sculptor or an artist - you've got to know the proportions of the body. Now, I'll show you how a lot of tailors used to cut undercollars. They put their foot on a piece of paper, and the draw a line from the back of the heel, round the inside of the foot, to the centre of the toes. Then they drew a straight line across for the collar edge."

"A lot of people had a great deal of difficulty in making the curve of a scye. You could use the and laid flat on the table to guide you, like a set of French curves, to draw the shape."

This is all so beautiful to me. When looking at most any tailor's drafts it quickly reads as a mess of geometry and convoluted arithmetic. This bit of history reveals a much more human, more bodily starting point for the pinnacle of architecture and structure in men's clothing.

When reading this I was immediately reminded of my good friend Illenk Gentille Andilolo, an Indonesian dancer, who explained to me that all measurements and folding on his traditional clothing and performance costumes was simply determined by the width of the wearer's fingers. 3 fingers for the front folds of a woman's sarong, 4 on a man's... if I recall correctly.

Article: An Edinburgh Tailor's Story - Mr. Daniel Nelson interviewed by Janet Arnold, march 1975. Journal of the Costume Society (Great Britain) Number 10. 1976


Anonymous Mr. C said...

Are any of those old body proportion measurements still practiced here in terms of tailoring? Y'know, like your inseam is the distance from your elbow to your wrist, (or some such business).

2:40 PM  

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