how I learnt to not sweat my quick hemming

So I like to not just recreate garments but to understand how they came to be made in different ways.

I look at society at large as well as technological advances.

A pattern that seems to repeat is to shift the focus of care of fine detail when technology can make a process faster/cheaper/safer

So very early dress is often incredibly carefully stitched. Tiny invisible stitches. But the garments are not complicated- seams tend to be straight.

Fast forward to the 16th Century and you have looms and many workers on them making fabrics faster. You see stitches that are functional being made faster and a lot less carefully where they aren’t seen but a lot more complexity of cut and layers.


By the 19thC you get very dimorphic clothing for men and women with totally different fabrics and fitting and construction. And it’s not that one is better than the other but the investment of skill is applied in different ways.

For example in the 1880s you have tailors suits for men from wool with hair canvas to build up their shoulders and otherwise not change the shape of the body but the appearance.

For women of the time the corset shapes the body itself. Once you do that you don’t bury it under layers of fabric. So you get bodices that are flat lined. To make it sit as closely as possible and to avoid stress wrinkles the two layers of fabric are generally very stable but much finer than we tend to imagine them to be. They fit like a glove over the corset so what we see is the solidity of both layers.


So jumping back to the 16thC I ask myself where is the expertise applied and what is given to less skilled hands.

And that is cutting and fitting is by the master and sometimes journeyman, but all the plain stitching is by the hands of many apprentices. And apprentices were children.  Children who were learning their trade and expected to learn quickly and work even faster.

So under those circumstances you learn to be as conservative with your time as possible. Stitches that are functional and stable are more important than hiding them, getting as many done as possible to earn your keep most important.

And this bears out. Stitches are neat and hold the different layers of fabric Just So but there is not an extra stitch anywhere. Not where they are not needed. You save that kind of fancy work for where it will not only be seen but be needed.


Linen goods of the time though are still made with the old technology- straight lines, tiny stitches to the point they can be invisible.

So this is why I am passionate about the technical aspect of costume. Each stitch, each cut, each trim is the work of many people who are at different stages of their career and reflect current technologies.

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