The Medieval Tailor The Medieval Tailor

Homepage of Sarah Thursfield

What do I do?

My sewing skills were absorbed early from my mother, grandmothers and great-aunts: I spent the 1960's making dolls' clothes and felt toys, progressing in my teens to wild and mostly regrettable adventures in dressmaking and embroidery. My first 'period costume' was made for the Totnes Elizabethans in 1970, but fortunately no pictures survive.

Action Man(tm) Commando Outfit.

I took City and Guilds Fashion(Parts I & II) in the early 1980's, and started making clothing for re-enactment —— and that's when it really got interesting, because I found that reproducing historic garments took much more than different pattern shapes. It's not simply sewing it by hand, but putting it together in the right way: understanding why the seamstress had one set of methods, the tailor another, and why neither of them worked like a modern dressmaker. And why the details matter: the buttons, the band-strings, the design and scale of the embroidery, the thread you sew with. I've come to appreciate the quality of workmanship that went into the simplest items of clothing from thousands of years ago, and to understand the continuous evolution of technique which links the first Palaeolithic needles and the first sewing machine.

Fitting a kimono

Medieval dress is particularly frustrating and fascinating, and it's the period 1000AD—1500AD that interests me most. I've had to become an amateur historian, because what's in the average costume history isn't always reliable or accurate, or even helpful.

As a result I often challenge received ideas about medieval dress — but I do so on the best information I can find, from sketching effigies in obscure parish churches to trawling through Shrewsbury's income-tax returns for 1311, or reading archaeological reports on crumbling fragments of ancient cloth. I know something of the trades and professions which produced the clothes as well as what those clothes were like, and what we can learn about how they were made. But I'm still first and foremost a tailor and seamstress, learning by making the clothes and finding out how they work in use, and sharing ideas with other enthusiasts.

17th C doublet, showing decorative stitching example.

Over the past thirty years I have made tents and lace, jeans and banners, and clothing from the Bronze Age to the present day. My hand sewing is among the best in the business, and as a pattern cutter I can reproduce the essential shapes of any era. Simple processes involving basic tools are often dismissed or ignored today, and the qualities of lasting workmanship they embody seem irrelevant. I'm proud to be a traditional craftsman, and keen to pass on one of the most ancient of human skills to anyone willing to learn.

Stitching lace on a machine.

Link to information about Sarah's book,
									     'The Medieval Tailors Assistant.'

Buy the Medieval Tailor's Assistant

These images were copied by Sarah from original sources.

These images were copied by Sarah from original sources and are an important part of her research into medieval garments.

Here's what I do:



About Sarah