Monday, April 4, 2011

V1C3: Tools for Precision Cutting

The tools for laying out, securing, cutting and marking have a rich heritage.  We take these tools for granted today as pins are now cut from a single piece of metal and are packed into boxes or thrust into crimped paper by robotic machinery.  Early pins were made by hand from brass or iron and the tops were crimped or bent at the top--  sounds crude but even these were considered a luxury.  That is where the terms "pin money" and the practice of picking up a stray pin as a thrift behavior and bringing good luck. Pincushions were popular and had many different names "pimpilowes, pimpilos, pimplos, pimploes or pyn-pillows."  These were lavishly embroidered, made in fanciful shapes, sewn by hand and even worn as ornaments.  During the reign of Elizabeth I, no lady of the court was found without their pincushions and the Queen herself was presented with one as a New Year's gift-- (a very elaborate embellished one for royalty, of course).  In the 18th century the "pin poppets", small hand wrought ivory cases and other such devices were popular and became heirlooms passed down from one generation to another.

Tape measures themselves were also kept in valuable ornamental housing made of wood, brass, bone ivory or mother of pearl with little inventive devices to wind the tape.  The tape measures themselves were ribbons with measures embroidered or inked upon them-- were not always standard and made of different lengths--they were not uniform.  It wasn't until the 19th century that a yard length became standard.  Measures were commonly subjective.  In Medieval England the lengths of fabric to purchase were measured with the length of an arrow until the 12th century in which a yard was length of the King's arm with the first joint of the thumb thrown in for good measure.  The King's foot was the foot measure of 12 inches or three barleycorns laid end to end.  This continued until the 16th century when the "ell" -- a 45 inch unit was developed.  An ell stick was marked with nails every 2.5 inches (a meteyard" which tape measure where then modeled on.  Eventually "standards" replaced the ell and were made from carefully prepared metals and kept in controlled environments to prevent degradation.  Once technology was developed, the standards were then measured and developed precisely based on light wavelengths.

Scissors also evolved from beautiful art objects to utilitarian efficiency.  Upper class people would keep the ornate craftsman-made scissors safely in special cases to protect them but the lower classes had basic iron scissors to use that did not cut well until steel making refinements in the late 19th century were developed.  Notched steel wheels also were developed for pattern tracing ("Harpers Copying Wheels"-1875) not much different from our marking tracers today that we use with carbon or chalk papers.  Of course a smooth wheel was developed for use with knits to prevent snagging the threads and causing runs.

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