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Tailoring Terms

Jargon of the house to help facilitate communication; we have selected a few of the main tailoring words and phrases we thought you should know about:

Baby – stuffed cloth pad on which the tailor works his cloth.

Banger – piece of wood with handle, used to draw out steam and smooth cloth during ironing.

Balance – adjustment of back and front lengths of a jacket to harmonise with the posture of a particular figure

Balloon – having a balloon – a week without work or pay.

Baste – garment roughly assembled for first fitting.

Basting – tacking with long stitches to hold garment parts together.

Bespoke – a suit made on or around Savile Row, bespoken to the customer’s specifications. A bespoke suit is cut by an individual and made by highly skilled individual craftsmen. The pattern is made specifically for the customer and the finished suit will take a minimum of 50 hours of hand work and require a series of fittings.

Board – tailor’s workbench.

Bodger – crude worker. Common to other trades.

Boot – loan until payday. Can you spare the boot? Can you give me a loan? Dates from crossed-leg days, when a tailor recorded the loan by chalking it on the sole of his boot.

Bunce – a trade perk, like mungo and a crib (see below).

Bundle – components of jacket or trousers bundled together for making-up.

Bushelman – journeyman who alters or repairs.

Canvas – a cloth usually made from cotton, flax, hemp or jute and used for providing strength or firmness.

Cat’s face – a small shop opened by a cutter starting out on his own.

Chuck a dummy – to faint. Allusion is to a tailor’s dummy tumbling over.

Clapham Junction – a paper design draft with numerous alterations or additions.

Coat – jacket. (Only potatoes have jackets, it used to be said)

Codger – tailor who does up old suits.

Cork – the boss.

Crib – large scrap of cloth left over from a job, usually enough to make a pair of trousers or a skirt.

Crushed beetles – badly made button holes.

Cutting turf – clumsy, unskilled working.

Cutting system – method of pattern preparation using a particular process of measurement and figure evaluation. Scores have been devised since methods of working out the proportions of the figure were first explored in the late eighteenth century

Dolly – roll of wet material used as a sponge to dampen cloth

Draft – sketch or measure plan of a garment

Drummer – trouser-maker.

Goose iron – hand iron heated on a naked flame

Gorge – where the collar is attached

Have you been on the board? – are you experienced?

Hip stay – old-time name for wife.

Interlining – material positioned between lining and outer fabric to provide bulk or warmth

Jeff – a small master: one who cuts out his garments and also makes them up.

Kicking – looking for another job.

Kicking your heels – no work to do.

Kill – a spoiled job that has to be thrown away.

Kipper – a tailoress. So called because they sought work in pairs to avoid unwelcome advances.

Log…on the log – piecework: the traditional and complex system of paying out-workers.

Made-to-measure – garment made to a customer’s individual requirements, to some extent, but not necessarily by hand

Mangle – sewing machine

Mungo – cloth cuttings, which by custom the tailor used to retain to sell to a rag merchant for a little extra income.

On the cod – gone drinking.

Pattern – a template model used for cutting garments

Pig – an unclaimed garment.

Pigged – a lapel which turns up after some wear.

Pinked…pink a job – making with extra care.

Rock of eye – rule of thumb: using instinct born of experience, rather than a scientific cutting system

Skiffle – a job needed in a hurry.

Skipping it – making the stitches too big

Small seams – warning call when someone being discussed enters workroom.

Soft sew – an easily worked cloth.

Scye – the armhole: from ‘arm’s eye’

Skirt – part of a jacket that hangs below the waist

Striker – assistant to a cutter

Tab – fussy, difficult customer.

Trotter – fetcher and carrier: messenger.

Tweed merchant – tailor who does the easy work: a poor workman.

Whipping the cat – travelling round and working in private houses: common practice in old days when a tailor would be given board and lodging while he made clothes for a family and their servants.

McCann Bespoke Tailoring Terms 2