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.