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Why are tailors so often portrayed sitting cross-legged while they work? People raise the most tantalizing questions on Twitter. On Sunday 8th March @janegiscombe tweeted:

cross-legged tailors

And when you start to look through images you become very aware of the tailor’s position. Jane’s comment came about because of a Thomas Rowlandson cartoon:

hot goose tailoring

Hot goose tailoring. Rowlandson

The position is often referred to as sitting in the ‘tailor-style’. It is an ancient and archaic practice within the trade to sit cross-legged on tables in front of the window. When it actually started is debatable but there are visual references dating from the 15th century where the tailor is shown sitting in his window similar to the Rowlandson, above.

Reasons appear to be that it was comfortable, convenient, efficient and communal – tailors and assistants could sit together when they were working on large pieces of work:

Interior_of_a_Tailors_Shop_1870

Tailor’s Shop 1870

The position allowed people a full range of movement especially when dealing with heavy and large amounts of material.

Tailors premises usually had large windows to get maximum natural light and the benches they sat on kept the fabrics off the ground and away from dirt.

Savile_Row-_Tailoring_1944

Saville Row 1944

A big thank you to Jane Giscombe for making the observation. Her site Dr Williams’s Library Adopt Scheme is doing some incredible work on ensuring we have a wonderful tradition to look back on. Well worth a visit.

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