The Bespoke Tailor
The house was small. I remember it well despite my later experience of more spacious and comfortable homes. It consisted of one large room divided into a living and a sleeping area, but even in the larger living area there was hardly room to swing the proverbial cat.
Nevertheless the focal point of the living area was a large table ‘the counter’ which served for meals and for the tailoring activities of my elderly great uncle who made the most beautiful suits in the village. I can still see myself following every movement of his enormous scissors, watching the fabric fall away on each side of the cut while it made its steady progress, showing flashes of sharpened metal as it moved along. Sitting in the old settee I always stretched over the armrest as far as I could to see if he had followed the neat white chalk lines he had drawn. After the thin metallic sounds of the scissors, there followed muffled thumps as he worked with an unusual and extremely effective tool. It was a much used and well smoothed goat’s horn whose very hard but now blunted point he positioned on the cloth and struck with a small hammer. This made a series of small indentations which served as guidelines on the cloth for continuing his work. As a result ‘the counter’ became covered with small smooth pits marching in silent lines over its surface.
I was around eight when I began to turn my attention from these activities to looking at the different textures and subtle patterns on the pieces of cloth that were stacked ready for work. When my uncle was out of sight I used to feel ‘the goods’ reverently between thumb and forefinger as I had seen him do when the cloth had been brought to him and the request for a garment made. Some plainer pieces I mentally described as smooth and stately, while others that were thicker, more textured, I thought of as being proud and luxurious. I felt that this showy group must surely consider itself ‘a cut above the rest’. I remember feeling sorry for the other guys and hoped they would regain status when they lay proudly, all made up on their owners’ bodies.
When it came time to try on a garment I sometimes marvelled at how strange the different pieces of fabric looked now cut into various shapes as they were being placed, pinned and adjusted on the receiving body. I thought, was this proud ‘Mr Cocoa Brown’ who had looked so invincible in the waiting stack? Didn’t simple ‘Mr Navy Blue’ look handsome now sitting proudly on a bulging shoulder?
Time and time again, as my uncle gently folded a finished garment, and someone walked away with a neat parcel in his hands, I thought of the transformation from cloth to clothing that I had witnessed, as a work of wonder. I remember wanting to say to the client as he took his leave, “You’ve not seen what I have seen. You hold a miracle in your hands.”