Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Victorian Tailor

As evidenced previously, I love books. Every time I start a new project, I end up buying at least one to tell me what I need to know.

So this weekend, we're starting my other half's Victorian frock coat. This resulted directly in the purchase of an extant example from the very early 20th century, and the brand new book The Victorian Tailor: An Introduction to Period Tailoring, by Jason MacLochlainn.

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Original edition (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780312642334
I first learned about this book when I was Google-searching Victorian tailoring for men, and Jason's name came up again and again, on his Livejournal, on the bespoke and historic tailoring forum The Cutter and Tailor, and on numerous other forums. It seems that in this world, he's one of THE authorities, and I noticed his very affordable (approximately $18) book was only a week or two from release. So, I ordered it.

Let me tell you, I am SO IMPRESSED.

Jason has crammed an amazing amount of information into such a manageable-size book, from a general chronological survey of historic drafting techniques and measuring systems and a detailed decade-by-decade timeline of men's fashion 1830-1900 to the proper tools of the tailor's trade and (my absolute favorites, and those of my other half) extremely detailed diagrams of tailoring stitches that are completely clear to both experts AND beginners.

The second half of the book covers pattern-drafting using included scales, an approach familiar to those who have used any of the La Volta Press publications, including the Fashions of the Gilded Age books. It contains patterns for waistcoats, pants, and coats, and takes you step by step through drafting, cutting and making-up the included examples.

It concludes with what is essentially a "workbook", several small exercises to practice your skills before you turn yourself loose on your expensive piece of wool or silk.

I found this book to be invaluable to both of us. Other Half is just learning to sew, and since he got to read this book first, he was quite gratified to share with me all the cool facts and tidbits he picked up from it, as well as finally understanding some of the concepts of pattern grading I tried and failed to explain to him. He understood almost all of it, and has been asking some very good, educated questions instead of the typical learner's helpless "What do I do??"

Jason is so clear and thorough in his instructions that I don't see how anyone could try to make a garment from this book and NOT succeed. He breaks down every single step of assembly into numerous individual sub-steps, illustrated with period illustrations, clear modern line drawings, and quotes from period sources.

This also leads directly into my only complaint about this book. He often gets so deep into the nitty-gritty of things like pocketing or inserting lining that he misses important concepts like fitting the coat, or altering for atypical bodies. He does promise more information in future books, though, so don't go and lynch him yet!


  1. Wow, thank you. Reading this has put a huge grin across my face. Thank you for such a favourable review.

    A little back story if you will allow me to indulge myself for a moment.

    I originally pitched this to Batsford as an all inclusive 2 volume set, circa 800 pages to cover as much as humanly possible into a book on Victorian Tailoring. About a week into negotiations I was given 160 pages, 50,000 words, one volume. This was because of two factors. The first being a first time author, the second was the economy with it being quite low at the time (early 2009). So I agreed and set off to work. I ended up with 89,000 words and tried desperately to get them to expand the book to no avail. So what you see in print is the effort of three edits. I tried my best to keep it simple, comprehensive from chapter to chapter and most of all touch on the elements I though might need a little more explanation. I figured since I had such little space to work with I stressed this work to be marketed as an introduction so I may expand upon it in the future.

    So have no fear, the next book will be all about body coats, from draft to completion including an in depth analysis of defects and fitting the human form.

    Thank you,


  2. Jason-

    So great to hear from you! Glad you stopped by :)

    Thanks for the clarification, I'm very excited to hear that there is indeed a next book. And my sympathies on the publisher drama... It seems like red tape gets in the way of pretty much everything worth doing in this world.