Closer look at preindustrial sewing techniques

Sewing and economy

Sewing techniques rationalized and facilitated the work, and as well as the cutting the sewing was influenced by economic thinking. In cutting and adding pieces seam allowances were made as narrow as possible but they could also be made wide to allow future changes. Excess fabric was folded and sewn into the garment.

Choice of sewing techniques

The choice of seam depended on the material, if the garment was lined, how intense a strain it should suffer and what qualities it should have; smooth or flat, stiff and supportive, visible or not. The type of garment and the placement of the seam were factors carefully taken into account, as well as wear and tear during washing and future changes. Changes in material and cut also meant changes in sewing technology. Thinner, ductile fabrics and improved cutting during the late 1700s also improved sewing technology.

Sewing techniques during pre-industrial times were by no means static but evolved from the end of the 1600 - century and the early 1700s towards greater diversification.

Investigation by Pernilla Rasmussen of techniques in the female fashionable dress 1770-1830 in Sweden shows that sewing technique is characterized by great diversity and that the tailor’s acquired qualifications in sewing was bigger than previously thought. Tailoring was characterized by both tradition and individuality – within certain frames there was space for a personal approach.

  • Some techniques were valid for the entire period. This applies above all to the simpler methods for assembling patterns, which are the basis of the pre-industrial sewing technique.
  • Other groups of sewing techniques are strongly linked to construction and material such as rational methods for joining two layers of outer fabric and two layers of lining in one or two steps. Cutting could also be replaced by sewing technique - for example pleats or gathering.
  • The techniques could also be influenced by fashion. For example piping and padded rolls contributed strongly to the aesthetic impression of fashion in the 1820s.
  • Fashion was created not only by the use of different materials and cut but also by means of sewing techniques.


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