Tailoring(2): Words and Tools in Tailoring
Notes of Apprentices is practice and observation about "craftsmanship". Pictures and words in the Tailoring series is provided by Springzi and translated by Lin Biaojie.
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In the vocabulary of tailoring, the most ubiquitous components of Chinese characters are the "衤" and the "月" (which mean, respectively, clothes and the moon). One can figure out easily that in the end, all the words are roughly centered around "measuring" and "cutting".
"衤" is the same with "衣" (which means "clothes"). As a result, there are words like "sleeve top", "armhole", "upper closure", "under closure", "crosspiece" and so on (which are all, if written in Chinese characters, with the component of "衤"). "月" (which means "the moon") is surely (from a Chinese point of view) connected with our body, with words like "neck circumference", "chest circumference", "waistline" and "hip circumference".
I asked my teacher why he called "月" a mix of the meaning of flesh and the moon, with the Chinese character seemingly only connected with the moon. After a moment of thinking, my teacher said: "Because my teacher told me so and maybe these words are also connected with meanings of ‘flesh’. Words like ‘fat’, for example, is written with a component of ‘月’." That actually aroused my curiosity and after some research I found that though they look the same, "月" comprises of the meaning of "the moon", "flesh" and even more meanings. Because of the similarity in old Chinese (like "肉" and "月" are actually of roughly the same look in old Chinese), they are all now attributed with the component "月" to reduce further troubles in writing. Yet in Taiwan "月" is still differentiated with "⺼", with the former meaning "the moon" and the latter meaning "flesh". Finally I understood why the majority of Chinese characters with the component "月" is not concerned very much with the moon.
Thereby I learned some knowledge about old Chinese while learning tailoring. That was a big surprise.
Returning to the processes of tailoring, when cutting out each and every component of the garments, in order not to mistake the ups for downs and fronts for backs, I have to mark clearly. For example, the front or upper piece can be marked with a cross using chalks. Some other components can also be marked by their utility, with the indicative Chinese characters written in a simplified form.
(The picture above is a sleeve component. The side with a cross is the front sleeve curve.)
(The simplified character of the Chinese word "front")
(The simplified character of the Chinese word "collar")
Next let’s talk about the tools used in tailoring:
1. Sewing Machine
Professional Sewing Machine
Merit: Able to work with thick garments
Old Treadle Sewing Machine
Characteristics: Owned by many families in the past, equipped with the necessities for the daily making of one’s own clothes.
Home Sewing Machines
Merits: Compact, able to work with various stitch formations
Shortcoming: Unable to work with thick garments
2. Overlock Machines
This model is a three-thread overlock machine, with other models also available. Yet this machine is of course not of great use to amateur tailors. Therefore, in reality thin garments can be sewn from inside out or use other stitching methods of, for example, the home sewing machines.
Hand needle, sewing machine needle and stationary needle
(Hand needles and stationary needles)
Sewing machine needles are divided into ones with round bottoms and flat bottoms.
Round-bottomed needles are used on high-speed sewing machines, the professional sewing machines mentioned above, for example. It requires great caution in installing these needles because their bottoms are round. At the lower part of the needles there are grooves. They can be installed correctly only when the grooves are facing the user after installation.
Flat-bottomed needles are used on home sewing machines. The installation is also rather easy, for the bottoms of the needles are flat. They can’t be inserted with the wrong side.
Threads are in general divided into 5 categories: polyester threads, nylon threads, silk threads, cotton threads and woolen threads.
The defining characteristic of polyester threads is their strength. Yet they are not heatproof, overheat in ironing can melt the threads. Polyester threads are a kind of threads that is most widely used.
Elasticity defines nylon threads. Yet nylon threads are not conformable enough, which means they can easily render a garment floppy. Therefore they are mostly used in overlocking.
Silk threads are glossy, but breakable. As a result, they are normally used in the making of woolen clothes or decorative designs. Silk threads are the second most widely used threads, only next to polyester threads.
Cotton threads are characterized with inelasticity, instability and roughness. Therefore, they are used to preliminarily secure the garments before further sewing and stitching.
Woolen threads, self-evidently are threads used on knit-wears. Of course woolen threads can further comprise an umbrella of other kinds of threads. Yet in tailoring, woolen threads are at best used as decorative threads. Therefore, here I won’t go any further.
When sewing, garments with different colors should be matched with suitable sewing threads and bottom threads.
Tailoring scissors of different sizes and the so-called "Gabar" scissors (with an official name of "yarn scissors with spring")
Leather rulers are used to measure body sizes. Normal rulers are used in drafting. The merit of wooden rulers is that they can help press and secure the ironed garment for it to cool and shape.
A thimble should fit the size of one’s finger. It should be worn on the second knuckle of the middle finger. The thimble mustn’t be too tight in case it restrains the movement of the middle finger. When holding a needle, the bottom end of the needle will be pressed against the thimble.
When drafting, the color of chalks should look similar to the color of garments, preventing them from smearing the garments, for marks of chalks are hard to cleanse.
9. Some other tools
Irons, teasing needles, drills, tweezers, paperweight, line pressing roller......
What shown above is only a collection of the most commonly used tools. There is a far wider variety of small tools which will be shed light on later on the occasion when they are used. Hereafter the process of tailoring will be presented to great lengths in order to further clarify what have been illustrated. The utility of these tools will surely be further discussed.