A history of clothing
It is considered that people began wearing clothes about 170,000 years ago. The first clothes would have been made from animal skin to protect the body from the elements. As time went by a choice of textiles became available and clothing became a reflection of different cultures.
Clothing can be made from many different types of textiles - cotton, flax, felt, wool, ramie, silk, leather and fur which can be woven, knitted, sewn, netted or looped to make fabric.
In England clothing and fashion has changed over the centuries. During the Middle Ages people wore undergarments made of linen and outer clothing made of heavy wool which were in natural colours. Only the wealthy could afford to wear clothes in bright colours. In Tudor times the wealthy wore garments made from brightly coloured silk and the middle classes wore clothes made from linen and wool. The very poor wore simple woollen clothing. Towards the end of the Tudor period a way to show off wealth was to wear a ruff around the neck. In the 18th century styles varied from elaborate embroidery to plain dresses made of muslin. The poor wore plain and practical clothing. At the end of the 19th century womens dresses became flat at the front with a bustle at the back and fine tailoring became important for wealthy men. Fashion changed significantly during the 20th century, particularly from the 1920s when the corset disappeared, hemlines rose and waistlines dropped. In the 1940s, due to the Second World War, clothing was affected by rationing and new clothes were re-fashioned from old clothes and people would make do and mend.
In present times the British fashion market is a leading industry. The art of creating bespoke handmade clothing remains very popular as a functional, elegant and decorative craft.
Tools of the clothing trade
Shears: These are large scissors, specially designed for cutting fabric. For example, tailors in Savile Row would deftly use shears to cut wool cloth for bespoke suits.
Tailors Chalk: A tool for marking fabric without causing permanent discolouration. Dressmakers might use tailors chalk to outline where a garment needs adjustment.
Sewing Needles: Essential for hand sewing, these come in various sizes. In historical times, craftspeople in the British Isles would use needles to meticulously stitch together garments.
Thimble: A protective shield worn on the fingertip to prevent injury while sewing. It ensures that when pushing the needle through thick fabrics, the fingers remain unharmed.
Pinking Shears: Scissors with serrated blades, used to cut a zigzag edge on fabric. This prevents fraying and gives a decorative finish, especially on items like scarves or the inner seams of garments.
Seam Ripper: A tool designed to un-stitch sewn seams without damaging the fabric. For instance, if a dressmaker notices an error in the stitching, a seam ripper would be employed to correct the mistake.
Tape Measure: A flexible ruler used to take body measurements and fabric lengths. A traditional British tailor would never be without one, ensuring the perfect fit for every garment.
Dressmakers Dummy: A mannequin used for fitting garments during the creation process. It provides a three-dimensional view of how a piece of clothing drapes and fits.
Embroidery Hoop: A circular frame that stretches fabric tight, making it easier to embroider. Historically, many British households would feature hand-embroidered linens and garments, all perfected using this tool.
Iron and Ironing Board: Essential for pressing fabrics and finished garments to give them a polished look. After sewing a linen shirt, for example, it would be ironed to smooth out any wrinkles.
Rotary Cutter: A tool with a circular blade, perfect for cutting long, straight lines or curves on fabrics. Quilters, especially, find this tool invaluable when crafting patchwork creations.
Pin Cushion: Often filled with stuffing or sawdust, this tool holds pins and needles securely. A classic British example is the tomato pin cushion, a staple in many sewing kits.
Materials used in clothing
Wool: A textile fibre obtained from sheep and certain other animals. Iconic British examples include the warm and durable Aran jumpers or the fine tailored tweed jackets hailing from Scotland and the Hebrides.
Cotton: A soft, fluffy staple fibre that grows in a protective case around the seeds of the cotton plant. This material is often employed in crafting everyday garments, such as the classic British cotton T-shirt or lightweight summer dresses.
Linen: Made from the fibres of the flax plant, linen is known for its durability and coolness. A quintessential British example would be the crisp white linen shirt, ideal for summer garden parties.
Silk: A luxurious and smooth fibre produced by silkworms. British ballgowns and elegant ties, especially those found in upscale boutiques, are often crafted from this opulent material.
Cashmere: Obtained from cashmere goats, this soft and warm fibre is luxurious to the touch. In Britain, cashmere sweaters and scarves, particularly from Scotland, are cherished items, renowned worldwide.
Hemp: A sturdy fibre obtained from the stems of the cannabis plant. Historically, in the UK, it was often used for ropes, but today it can be found in sustainable clothing lines, like hemp trousers or jackets.
Leather: A durable and flexible material created by tanning animal hides. British craftsmanship shines in items like leather brogues, belts, and the ever-stylish biker jackets.
Suede: Made from the underside of animal skin, usually lamb, it is softer and more pliable than standard leather. In the UK, suede has been famously used in fashioning desert boots and elegant handbags.
Jute: A long, soft, and shiny fibre that can be spun into coarse threads. Traditionally, in Britain, jute was primarily used in sackcloth, but it has since found its way into eco-friendly tote bags and rustic footwear.
Nettle Fibre: Extracted from the nettle plant, this fibre was historically used during times of textile shortages. Today, its gaining popularity in sustainable fashion, being woven into shirts and dresses.
Techniques of clothing
Weaving: An age-old method of intertwining threads to form fabric. The Harris Tweed jackets, made in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, are iconic examples of cloth produced through intricate weaving patterns using wool.
Knitting: This technique involves creating fabric by interlocking loops of yarn. Classic British Aran jumpers, known for their distinctive cable patterns, are hand-knitted using wool from local sheep.
Crocheting: Using a crochet hook to interlock loops of yarn, this technique is distinct from knitting. Traditional British tea cosies or delicate lace collars, often crafted from cotton, demonstrate this method.
Felting: By compressing and matting fibres together, a dense, non-woven fabric is formed. The classic British felted hats, made from wool, are a testament to this techniques popularity.
Dyeing: Introducing colour to natural fabrics. The Pembrokeshire-made traditional Welsh tapestries, renowned for their vibrant hues, often employ plant-based dyes on wool to achieve their distinctive look.
Embroidery: The art of decorating fabric using needle and thread. The intricate designs found on British samplers, often stitched on linen, showcase the meticulousness of this craft.
Quilting: A technique that involves sewing two or more layers of fabric together to make a thicker padded material. British patchwork quilts, often crafted from cotton remnants, are a charming representation of this craft.
Smocking: Decorative stitching used to gather fabric. British childrens dresses, especially traditional ones made from cotton or linen, often feature this delicate technique.
Leather Tanning: The process of treating animal skins to produce leather. British brogues and leather boots, made from tanned leather, are iconic examples of footwear shaped through this method.
Beading: Adorning fabric with beads for decorative purposes. On the British Isles, beaded silk purses or evening gowns often showcased this embellishment.
Appliqué: Sewing pieces of fabric onto a larger piece to form a design. In Britain, linen banners or flags, especially historic ones, might feature appliqué techniques using various natural fabrics.
Tips and tricks of clothing
Know Your Narrative: Every piece of handmade clothing has a story. Whether its a linen dress inspired by Cornwall summers or a woolly scarf reminiscent of Scottish highlands, sharing these tales can engage and entice potential customers.
Display Matters: Opt for tasteful, uncluttered setups. Utilise clothing racks, wooden hangers, or even dressmakers dummies to showcase items like tailored tweed jackets or hand-knitted cardigans.
Offer Try-Ons: Create a small, private space with a mirror where customers can try on pieces. When they experience the fit of a soft cashmere jumper or a tailored cotton shirt, they may be more inclined to purchase.
Provide Care Instructions: Include guidelines for washing and maintaining the garments longevity. For instance, with a delicate silk blouse, recommend gentle hand washing to retain its sheen and structure.
Engage with Attendees: Be approachable and willing to answer questions about the crafting process, materials, or sizing. When discussing a hand-embroidered cotton dress, highlight the hours of craftsmanship that went into its creation.
Bundle Offers: Consider offering discounts for purchasing multiple items, such as a set of linen napkins and a matching tablecloth, enticing shoppers to buy more.
Utilise Social Media: Promote your stall location, special offers, and featured items on platforms like Instagram or Twitter ahead of the craft fair. Post pictures of bestsellers like a popular leather belt or a chic beaded purse.
Offer Bespoke Services: Highlight the possibility of custom orders. If a customer is enamoured with a wool skirt but desires a different hue, being open to personalisation can secure a sale.
Clear Signage: Ensure prices are visible, perhaps on tastefully designed tags. For an intricate lace shawl, include the price alongside information about the hours of work involved, adding value to the piece.
Build a Mailing List: Encourage visitors to subscribe to newsletters or updates. This way, fans of your hand-crafted suede shoes or embroidered hats can be informed of new collections or future events.
Accept Various Payment Methods: While many might carry cash, having a card machine or digital payment options can increase the chances of selling higher-priced items like tailored wool coats or intricate wedding dresses.
Ideas and inspiration for clothing
Tweed Accessories: Capitalise on the timeless charm of tweed. Craft bow ties, caps, or even stylish wristlets. For instance, a Harris Tweed flat cap can evoke nostalgic British countryside vibes.
Linen Delights: Harness the breezy elegance of linen. Consider crafting lightweight summer dresses or relaxed trousers. A sleeveless linen tunic, for example, can be a hit during warmer months.
Hand-Knitted Woollies: Embrace the cosiness of wool. Craft chunky scarves, mittens, or traditional Aran jumpers. A hand-knitted cable-knit beanie would undoubtedly be popular during chilly seasons.
Cotton Tees with British Prints: Print or hand-paint iconic British symbols or landscapes on quality cotton T-shirts. For instance, a tee showcasing the London skyline or a quaint Cotswolds village would resonate with both locals and tourists.
Silk Scarves: Delve into the luxury of silk. Design scarves with prints inspired by British flora and fauna. A scarf adorned with watercolour painted roses or bluebells can elevate any outfit.
Heritage Aprons: Craft aprons using materials like cotton or canvas, reflecting traditional British culinary heritage. An apron featuring a classic British tartan or stripes can be a nod to the nations baking traditions.
Leather Accessories: Craft items like belts, satchels, or wristbands from quality leather. A hand-stitched leather wallet with an embossed British crest or emblem can be both functional and fashionable.
Childrens Attire: Focus on the little ones with cute dresses, rompers, or hats. A smocked cotton dress or a tweed waistcoat for toddlers can be quite the crowd-pleaser.
Heritage Nightwear: Bring back classic British nightwear styles. Think cotton nightdresses or pyjama sets with traditional prints, like Victorian-inspired floral patterns or subtle pinstripes.
Beachwear: Reflecting the British seaside, craft items like linen cover-ups or cotton beach bags. A beach tote featuring prints of famous coastal towns, from Brighton to St Ives, could be a craft fair favourite.
Upcycled Vintage: Source vintage fabrics or garments and give them a contemporary twist. A Victorian lace collar, for instance, could be transformed into a statement necklace or attached to a modern blouse.