Beginners, Home-sewers and those passionate about tailoring.
I wish to welcome you to the Cutter and Tailor Forum and glad you have found this little vault of tailoring knowledge on the web. I am not an official spokesman for this forum, just a passionate contributor and thought this will help cover the absolute basics to help one get started, this will help keep the posts down asking the same questions over and over again while giving a central depot to all the beginning information to be referred to.
As alluded to above, over the past few months or so, there has been certain reoccurring themes in the threads started by those new to tailoring that has prompted me to write this guide. In this guide I will give the beginner a step by step focused look into how to get the most out of this forum. From where to start to beginning your first garment. But first, lets take a moment to look at some basic information that will make this forum more enjoyable for all and give the beginner some back ground.
What this Forum is:
The forum was started in March of 2009 by Sator, a passionate enthusiast of tailoring, to give the trade a place to “talk shop”, to educate, and to learn from experienced tailors throughout the world. As the trade has declined over the years, the trade journals and sense of community has started to be lost as well. This forum is a step forward for a new and progressive community of, for, and by tailors. As such, the majority of the topics on this forum are advanced in nature and well beyond the skill set of the beginner. So with this in mind, new sections have been added as the forum grows for those just starting in the trade. The "The Apprentice Cutter and Tailor" <click> section was set up to allow those new to tailoring to be educated by either the pinned posts or by posing your question to other forum members. Remember, the only stupid question is the question not asked. When posting a question, be patient and humble with the replies, no one is getting paid to help you. I will tell you now, being demanding, a know-it-all, or telling the tailors how to teach WILL NOT gain you any favours and the gift cow will dry up as quickly as it produced!
What the Forum is not:
While the purpose of the forum is to educate, be it for beginner or advanced practitioners of the trade, this is not your own personal tutorial site. In the past people have even made demands of the contributors. This is rude and frowned upon. Please realise many of the contributors to the forum are busy and make a living out of tailoring, their advice is given with the best intentions and from their own time. While the contributors are more than willing to answer your questions and help, remember that you can only be helped as far as you are willing to help yourself. With this said, please let me guide you in how to help yourself.
First off, this is NOT a historical or costuming forum for home sewers, if you ARE a professional costumer please read this thread. If you come here to learn how to make a Victorian Frock coat by the weekend, FORGET IT! You will be shown the door as this is NOT the scope of this forum and there are many costume forums available for this sort of thing. Some may think I am hypocritical in my view of this as I, myself, am considered an expert in the field (toots horn) and openly write on and make historical garments. To answer this, I respect this forum and its rules. I respect the members of this forum and their expertise and thus follow the guidelines probably more than most here. While I do make historical garments, I am, first and foremost a tailor. Lastly, on this subject, DO NOT message me if you think Sator or any of the mods are being unfair to you or your aspirations to learn historical tailoring, I will always side with the ToS(h)* of this forum. Thou hast been warned.
Beginning your journey:
As the forum has been up for well over a year now, and through the prolific and tireless scanning by Sator and others, it should be some time before you actually have to ask your first question. In each section there is more than enough to keep one busy until you hit a snag and need to ask for help or advice, typically around the first fitting. We do understand that a little help is needed to discern what is important to where you are and where to need to be, so the following will give you a rough guide in how you should focus your efforts. Again, there is more than enough information to get you started in tailoring, please be aware though that no book, article or on-line tuition will ever be a replacement to an apprenticeship or personal mentoring in person by a practising or retired tailor. There are a few here that learned from retired tailors and have built up a good living. Others here have had proper traditional apprenticeships. Never-the-less they will all tell you, no matter how broad and exhaustive this forum becomes, this forum will never replace experience, wisdom and knowledge that you can only find with a tailor. Seek out a tailor if you can!
Some steps to make your learning experience better:
1.First thing you will need to do is leave any desires of grandeur, big dreams, ego and enthusiasm at the door. While these are important, they will only hurt you in the beginning.
2.Be humble and respectful not only to the art of tailoring but to the contributors as well. They have years of experience and are willing to share, so in return take in, evaluate and apply their advice if applicable.
3.Remember tailoring has a thousand years of oral traditions passed from master to apprentice, it has only been resent, in the long history of tailoring, that these “secrets” have been put to paper. As the trade is no longer a large as it once was apprenticeships are few and far between and at the present moment this forum IS the best resource to learning the art of tailoring. As mentioned before though, it is NOT a replacement for learning from a tailor in person.
4.Make an effort. Take a little self initiative with the following advice and put it straight to practice. The more you show, the more willing we are to give input and advice to help you develop your skills.
5.Lastly, we will be honest with you even if you are not honest with yourself. We have passion for what we do and as such respect the art and science of the trade. With this understood, not being honest in our thoughts and actions will be disrespectful to the trade. Also bearing this in mind, some posts by contributors my come off or perceived as condescending and/or condemning in nature, this is not the case. Unlike costuming or home sewing forums where everyone is nice and give compliments over every little thing, we will not. So please do not take it to heart, as professionals we have professional standards. This is good, as you will always know we will be honest in our critiques, which will help you better yourself in the end.
As with any trade, there are certain foundational skills that need to be mastered before making a serious study of the trade. You can not build a house if you can not swing a hammer so to say. So here are some recommended steps to get you to the absolute basic skill set before you attempt any tailored garment.
Your first hurdle, when starting out, is to hold and use your thimble properly. A simple enough thing you might think, it's not for most people. This in itself will test your mettle in wanting to become a tailor, or at least learn tailoring methods to improve your home-sewing projects. Your thimble should be an open top thimble, to make sure it's the right size you must place the thimble on the table, wide in up. Now place the middle finger of your sewing hand into the thimble. The tip of the finger should be able to touch the top of the table easily yet not fall off when you lift your hand. This in mind, lets find a thimble, look at this thread <click>!
Once you get a thimble that fits, you need to purchase a blister pack of multi-sized betweens.
In Continental Europe, get Prym no. 5-9 betweens. The no 5 needles (the longest) are used for basting and buttons. The no. 7 (middle) is for general sewing and seaming. The no. 9 (shortest) for felling and thick cloths.
In the UK and North America, get John James no. 3-9, The no 3 (largest) then would be used for basting.
Soon you will get a feel for the different needle sizes and can purchase them by the size as you need them.
Now that the thimble and needles are sorted, you will need a bit of good worsted cloth, preferably with a pinstripe, a cake of bees wax and a spool of 40wt mercerised cotton in a contrasting colour to the worsted. Once you have these simple tools read this thread!<click> Paying particular attention to the opening section of Liberty's work as this explains how to sit and hold the thimble and needle. If there is any doubt if you are holding the thimble and needle correctly watch this <click> about 1:37 in until about 2:00 then watch it again. Look at where the base of the needle is on the thimble and mimic the movements.
Here are some helpful hints, start with ONLY the fore stitch. This will help your muscles gain memory of the movements and holding the thimble without making any extra movements. Hold the needle so as your fingers are about a 1/4” from the point. The reasoning behind this is when you bite the needle into the fabric and break the cloth over the point you should always have a 1/4” stitch. Think of it as the amount past your fingers is the stitch length and when you grab the needle at the same point each time you, have calibrated the length of that stitch and each succeeding stitch. If you have problems keeping the thimble in that position as you are not used to it/ can't get the muscles to work that way, try this <click>.
Do this exercise until each fore-stitch is evenly spaced and straight and you have full control over the needle and thimble. Be honest with yourself, this will take a week to a month depending on how often you practice. Then move on to the back-stitch and repeat the process all over. I am not being funny, I am dead serious about this. This is a serious trade, not a hobby, and it will not be easy. If you do this right from the beginning, I guarantee by the time you make your first garment the workmanship will be much cleaner and you can take a little more pride in the finished product. Once you have a thorough understanding of the fore-stitch, back-stitch, cross-stitch, padding-stitch and prick/side-stitch you are ready to move on to
Your First Garment.
Your First Garment should either be a skirt (recommended) or a pair of trousers. I had been an advocate to start out with a commercially available pattern, but I have come to realize much work would be needed to make them suitable for tailoring that you might as well draft your own. It can be a little daunting at first but like the stitches it gets easier with practice. Once you make up a few you will start to see how the pattern truly works and be able to adjust more readily.
Each person here has their own drafting system that works for them, and if you ask them they will tell you “it's the best” so we will try and start with something simple. Mansie has been kind enough to provide a nice trouser draft in metric <opens a download of the system>.
For this you will need some craft paper, a yard/meter stick, a tailors square (fairgate) and hip curve (fairgate) along with a good pencil, I use a .07mm mechanical with H lead. After you draft your pattern, cut it out, place pieces on your toile cloth and trace the patterns with a good sharp chalk. Add inlays and add marking threads and then cut out.
Now we are ready for making up!
But now, how do we actually make this up? Simple, get a book. The most basic work on the fundamentals of the trade can be found in Roberto Cabrera's “Classic Tailoring Techniques: A Construction Guide for Men's Wear”. It's not the best in my opinion, but it's the easiest and most widely available text on beginning tailoring. This is probably the most recommended book on the forum and is a good base to launch from. There are a few methods scanned in the apprentice forum, but they are a little more advanced or antiquated and you will be scratching your head more than if you use Cabrara's book. Make up a few trousers, perfecting your patterns and using Cabrera's methods. Once you achieve proficiency using this book, move on to Trouser Making By Archibald Whife and Phillip Dellafera . This will give a more in depth look into classic trouser making and will give you much more professional results.
As a side study whilst making your trousers have a look at Jeffery's blog:
BUT I WANT TO MAKE A COAT!
While you may be enthusiastic and roaring to jump right into making a coat I strongly advise against this approach. The amount of work needed in order to get to the point of tailoring a coat is currently well beyond your skill set. Not trying to be mean just being honest. I know trousers are not as exciting, but a well executed trouser will give confidence and will make you stand out. People are so used to the ill fitting tubes the ready to wear markets call trousers people forget what a properly made and fitted trouser feels like and have become almost a second thought in planning ones wardrobe. Truth is, a good trouser should be the foundation of your wardrobe.
By the time you make a couple of trousers by this method you will be ready to move on to Waistcoats/ vests. Again, start with Cabrera and then move on. While not many people wear waistcoats today, they are making a comeback and will help provide applicable skills toward your goal of making a coat in a couple of years time. Yes really
And finally, for those who do not necessarily want to learn tailoring but just improve their skills, try DPC's site on trouser making <click>. His style of basic trouser making has the home-sewer in mind and will provide you with some ideas from this perspective. You can also find David Page Coffin's book on trouser making here! <click>
* ToS(h)- My own acronym for “Terms of Service (historical)”
- Sator, Kerry, tsch and 18 others like this