Thursday, November 27, 2008

Made to measure

For those who have been wondering about their options when ordering made-to-measure suits, below is a list of alterations which are typically available- far more than the few length and girth adjustments which may have been offered in the past. Keep in mind that the success of the fit relies entirely upon the person measuring you since they are required not only to take measurements but to be able to judge your posture. If you are concerned about the salesperson’s ability to fit you, ask about trunk shows in which representatives of the company which will make the garment will be in store- often there are discounts offered during these shows and you will be sure to have an experienced fitter on hand.

This list is by no means exhaustive (and covers only the jacket- there are more for trousers) but will give you an idea of the flexibility of modern MTM programs.

Lengthen/shorten jacket
Lengthen/shorten sleeve
Button stance higher/lower
Pocket higher/lower
Increase/reduce back
Increase/reduce center front
Increase/reduce waist
Increase/reduce seat
Increase/reduce waist and seat
Sloped shoulder
Square shoulder
Easy armhole
Full chest
Flat chest
Longer/ shorter strap
Dip neck
Pinch neck
Short/long neck
Big/small neck
Forward shoulder point
Big arms
Deeper/higher armhole
Sway back
Round back
Hollow back
Prominent/flat blades
Arms back/forward
Increase/reduce point to point
Left low/ right low

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Something great just happened

I learned a new technique just now. Well, not exactly. It's just a different way of doing something I do already but I never thought of doing it that way. Chris Despos, a Chicago tailor, posted some photos of his work on Styleforum, showing how he balances patterns down the center back seam.

But I'm not excited about learning a new way to balance checks. I am excited because it was another reminder to me of how we get boxed in by our own dogma. The line at center back is the very first line you draw when drafting a suit pattern. You square down and out from a point which is the neck. I then shape my center back seam, 1/2" to 3/4" in from that line at the waist, down, depending on the shape of the back. I have always done it this way. It is almost sacred to me, being the first few lines in a draft. It has never occurred to me to do it any other way because to do so would require some shaping which I already know how to do anyway for a different style of back- his is a brilliant combination of the two methods. So why did I never think of doing it Chris' way?

Because I always did it my way. That's all.

How many other techniques or interesting ideas am I not open to just because I am still tied up by my understanding of the "rules" of tailoring? Chris just reminded me to open my eyes and my mind a little. He reminded me that when we think we know something or understand something we close our minds to learning new things.

Thanks, Chris.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Plaid matching

Back matching

Some tailors are not so concerned with matching patterns while others are obsessed by it. I am of the latter school. The photo above is a jacket by Paul Smith; he has some extremely clever people working for him. Notice how the plaid of the sleeve matches the plaid of the jacket (well, the right is a little off)? This is the first time I have ever sen this. Is it a fluke? Can it be reproduced? I can reliably match the sleeve to the front every time, so is it possible to do the same on the back? I have been puzzling over this for a while. Once conclusion that I have come to is that so long as I have the little "wedge" where I make the front pocket (is there a real name for that wedge?) I will not be able to balance the sleeve plaid on the back. When my laptop is feeling better and I get Illustrator back, I will post a draft explaining what I mean. I think I am on to something, but to do it I have to eliminate that little wedge and I think that might cause the lower front to kick out a bit so I am hesitant; I have never had much success without it. Does anyone have any thoughts on the matter? Does anyone even care?

Friday, November 21, 2008

The vital importance of pressing

I recently posted a tutorial on a forum about touching up a suit, with the admonition that you should never steam a suit or hang it in a steamy washroom. I received a number of replies that people saw absolutely no harm in doing so and that they had been doing so for a long time. I found it odd that, despite several tailors on that forum all insisting that one must not steam a suit, people insisted that they knew better. Having taken a deep breath, I realize that not knowing the importance pressing plays is tailoring a suit it would be difficult to understand the effects of steam.

I will say that pressing, which includes the shaping before, during, and after tailoring, plays one of the most important roles in shaping a suit, more so than many of the sewing operations. To illustrate the point, let's look at the shaping of a sleeve.

Look back at the photo of my suit and have a look at the way the sleeve curves to follow my arm. To do this we need several seams and some careful pressing. The elbow seam follows the outside of the sleeve, but the seam at the front of the sleeve is tucked 3/4" to 1" inside the fold of the sleeve in order to conceal it. In the photo below, observe carefully how the lines of the check on the undersleeve are straight but the top sleeve are very curved. This is not at all natural.

Undersleeve 2

Normally we need a seam at the exact place that shaping will occur, that is to say, right along that front fold, not 1" back. If I fold the topsleeve back in its natural state, observe below that not only is the front of the sleeve straight, but the curved edge goes in the opposite direction from that which we want. Here comes one of the bits of tailoring magic.

Top Sleeve 1

I will use a great deal of steam and pressure, holding the iron in one hand, pressing down in a very specific method, and carefully stretching the top sleeve the length of the curve. There is technique to this that must be learned properly or the sleeve will never hang properly. Using steam and heat, I have re-shaped the top sleeve and re-set the shape, much like using curlers or a curling iron on hair. It is no longer a flat, two-dimensional piece of cloth, but has a shape. Folded into position, the seam now takes its proper shape and the sleeve will curve with my arm.

Top Sleeve 2
Just the way I used steam to shape the sleeve, if I use steam on the sleeve without holding its stretched, curved position, I will undo this shaping. The sleeve will relax and hang straight instead of curving, and the tension created will cause a small break just below the elbow. It is a subtle thing to some, but to tailors it is glaringly obvious. It is one of the first signs that a suit has been mishandled. You probably never noticed before, but maybe now you will. And this is only one piece; not a piece of a suit (and there are many) is left flat, without any of this sort of manipulation, and steaming a suit can undo it all. You may not see it at first but you can learn to see it, and put your steamers away.

BY request, here is a tutorial on touching up a suit which I originally posted on Style Forum.

A large part of the beauty of a tailored garment is due to the shaping and molding imparted by a careful and elaborate pressing. In a manufactured garment. there are over 20 different underpressing operations and around 15 steps in the final pressing, most of which have specially-designed forms and machines. Pressing is an art which takes a long time to learn and it is not within the scope of this post to teach proper pressing; I will, however, attempt to show you how to touch up a garment at home without wrecking it, since bad pressing or steaming can ruin a well-made garment.

Wool is a hair, like human hair, which can be shaped using heat and steam. Think of a lady putting her hair in curlers and sitting under a hair dryer, or using a curling iron. We use the same principles when building shape into a suit.

First of all, NEVER use a steamer on a suit, and never hang your suit in a steamy bathroom. This bears repeating. NEVER use a steamer on a suit, and never hang your suit in a steamy bathroom.

A steamer will undo all the shaping that was created when the suit was made, and steaming a suit can also make problems appear such as puckering and blown seams, breaking sleeves etc. I know a lot of people enjoy the ease of a steamer or hanging a suit in the bathroom to get rid of wrinkles, but it is really a very bad idea. There is a video on the internet showing someone pressing a suit with far too much steam and without a good understanding of a suit; during the video the person blows one of the seams, which starts to pucker terribly and she is unable to fix it. It is just this sort of mistake I hope to prevent you making. If you steamed a lady’s hairdo which hat been set using curlers or curling iron, the hairdo would fall limp and lose all its shape- you wouldn’t do this and you won’t do it to a suit for the same reason. Also, when pressing, let the area you have pressed cool and dry thoroughly before moving the garment since it is still malleable and you can cause more problems; do not press until the fabric is dry as the fibers will become brittle- factories and pro pressing equipment use vaccuum to draw the excess steam and heat out so the process is faster.

Have a look at this video (with apologies to the woman who posted it)


The first thing to address is your pressing equipment; if you only have an ironing board to work with the weight of the jacket falling off it will make it very difficult to control, you also need something to work smaller areas like the sleeves. For this reason I suggest getting, or better yet, making a good sleeve board. Lower your ironing board to about hip level and place your sleeve board on top of it.

You will need a press cloth, a bowl of water, and a small sponge or rolled-up wash cloth. To make a press cloth, get a fairly heavy cotton drill from your local sewing supply store and was it a few times to get any sizing out; a press cloth is important because it helps prevent the shine that is extremely difficult to remove.

Have a look at my finished garment- it is not flat, but made up of many shapes and curves- the convex curve of the chest, the concave curve of the waist, yet another convex curve at the seat, the complex shape of the shoulder, the gracefully curving sleeve, the rolling lapel, the curve of the collar as it hugs the neck, and so on. Your pressing surface is flat; pressing a shapely garment on a flat surface will generally ruin the shape of the garment, unless you know how to work with the shape and the surface.

In the sewing process we use 3 techniques to build shape-

Darts and seams, in which the shape is built by sewing.
Easing- drawing fullness or excess cloth onto a tape or another seam.
Stretching and shrinking using heat and steam.

If there are stripes or checks in your suit, it helps to observe them as they will show you where you are distorting your suit as you press it. When I say to "keep it short" it means you should be trying to shrink the cloth a little and be careful not to pull or stretch at all- this is crucial to the shape of your garment.

The worst areas will be behind your knees, the crotch area, the elbow of your sleeve, and the back of your jacket. Remember you are PRESSING your garment, not ironing it; do not rub the iron all over the place. Use steam sparingly, since your iron will send steam all over the place and not necessarily where you need it. If you have a small crease or impression in an otherwise good area, moisten the press cloth just the size of the crease and press- this way you will elminiate the crease without possibly disturbing the rest of the garment or causing new impressions.

The pant is pretty straightforward- using a press cloth and a fair amount of steam, place the sleeve board inside the leg and press out any creases in the crotch area. Be careful around the fly, using less steam, as it is difficult to press it well without making marks or puckers.

Now place the pant flat on a regular ironing board, lifting one leg out of the way. Press the creases first from the inside, then from the outside, being careful around the seam area- the thickness can cause you to blow the seam on the other side of the pant. Many tailors will shape the pant leg by gently shrinking the crease behind the thigh.

Now on to the jacket.

Place the back on the sleeve board, centering the side seam. If the jacket has side vents, place a piece of heavy paper under the top layer of the vent to avoid making an impression on the under vent. Press the seam carefully. At the top four inches or so of the side seam, as well as along the armhole and shoulder seam we have worked some fullness- the back is longer than the side body and the back shoulder is quite a bit longer than the front shoulder; if you steam this or press without adequate pressure you will blow the seams and they will pucker. Be careful not to touch the sleeve with your iron. Keep the seam short- do not stretch it. Lift the vent away and press the undervent.


Work across the back, keeping the area between the shoulder blades short. If you have a center vent, use the same technique as for the side vent.

Centering the side body on the board with seams toward the edges, press the side body keeping the waist short so as not to ruin any of the suppression. The top four inches or so of the front is longer than the side body- there is some fullness in this seam which will also pucker if you are not careful.

SIde body

The front is one of the easiest areas to wreck and one of the most obvious when you know what you are looking at. Look back at the photos of the finished garment and observe the shape of the chest. This is built by the front dart, but also some maniuplation of the armhole- there are several layers of canvas unerneath to help build up this shape. When working on the front, ALWAYS keep the dart along the edge of your board, and NEVER place it flat on the board like this;


If you were to press the chest this way, you would flatten the chest, and you will likely see some blousiness under the arm as the extra fabric collapses.

Lay the front of the jacket, lining the dart up with the edge of the board and press the front area as shown. Make sure the stripe is straight. If you must press the flap, place a piece of paper under it before pressing, then lift it and remove any impressions, the same way you pressed the vent.

Press the rest of the front, again lining up the dart with the edge of the board, being careful to keeep the lines straight as you go around the armhole. Be careful around the sleeve cap not to use too much steam since you don't want to disturb the sleeve.

Shoulder 2

Press the lapel and collar as shown, lining up the roll line with the edge of the board, being careful not to remove the crease since you will have a hard time recreasing the collar and lapel. Try not to touch the collar too much as you will likely stretch it and it will not hug your neck anymore.

To press creases out of the elbow area, insert the sleeve board into the sleeve with the under sleeve showing, lining up the back seam (outseam) of the sleeve with the edge of the board; the inseam of the sleeve (the seam along the front) should be about ¾” in from the edge. Achieving a well-curved sleeve is a minor miracle of stretching, shrinking and pressing, so be careful here.

Insert the board into the sleeve, keeping the curve as shown, and press out any creases.

Flip the sleeve, keeping the outseam along the edge of the board, and press the top sleeve.

Now place the jacket over the board, and press the top of the sleeve, but stay away from the amhole seam as you could wreck it there.

If you have blown any of the seams (if they look a little puffy instead of flat), reduce the heat of the iron, turn the steam off, and give them a gentle press.

After cleaning your suit will need a good press- if you suspect your dry cleaner uses the inflatable steam bodies, or does not do a good job pressing, innist that they not do it and find a good presser or tailor to do it for you. It will cost more but is a good investment for the appearance of your suit. If they will allow it, watch them as they press- you will develop an appreciation for the real complexity of it and the care that goes into a good pressing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Finishing the linings

One thing that is easy to spot is a hand-finished lining. The little stitches are fairly uneven and poke through the edge of one side of the seam which has been lapped over the other. There are several reasons to do this, and a multitude of different areas it may be done.
tacking the pad

The most common area felled by hand is the armhole. Have you ever inserted your arm into a sleeve and the lining twisted or bunched or caught on something and you felt caught in your sleeve? Tailors don't like having stuff like linings and facings just floating loose, twisting one way while the jacket goes another. So the seam allowances of the lining on better jackets are basted (sewed) to the seam allowances of the sleeve- they now act as one unit and won't twist, or worse, hang out the bottom. Having attached these two means that we can no longer get inside the sleeve to close the armhole by machine, so it is closed by hand. But even more important than that, stitching through multiple layers make things firmer. More stitches make things more firmer. This principle is used during padstitching to add more or less firmness and structure. Machine stitching through many layers becomes stiff and hard. Stitching through the armhole to close the lining by machine, you are sewing through the jacket, sleeve, many layers of canvas and the canvas and felt in the sleeve head. Even the loose stitches used on special machines to do just this don't do a great job, and can also compress these layers which affects the shoulder expression. Sewing it all up by hand you get none of the stiffness associated with machine-felling. Two very good reasons to close by hand.
Before we even get close to the sleeve, though, better garments have been tacked together in a similar fashion to the sleeve. More affordable garments have a facing and lining which is all assembled together in one piece- it is joined to the jacket at the front edge, along the hem and the bottom of the sleeves, and the whole is turned right side out through a hole in the sleeve lining, which is then sewn shut from the right side; this is a process called bagging. It is quick but everything is hanging loose- it's like wearing two garments which don't necessarily move together. A better garment, however, will have the facing attached to the front edge, then basted in place- the inside edge of the facing is then tacked into the canvas so it won't move. Some factory-made garments will also be tacked a small amount at the side seam, but often the facing is the only one to be tacked.

There is also the issue of engineering a lining or not. There is a lot of shifting and manipulation in the process of tailoring. Better garments are usually cut bigger than required, like at the lapel, so that after the padstitching which makes things move around a bit, the lapel is later trimmed to shape. This kind of shaping and trimming goes on throughout the process so you end up with the perfect fitting garment. It is very difficult to predict how fabric will move and shrink during production and if there is no allowance for this you can end up with a garment which does not fit quite as perfectly a it should. A bagged lining assumes that the fabric will react exactly as you think it will (it never does) and so many factories struggle with alining that is too long for once fabric and too short for another, or for tight or twisted linings which pull at vents and sleeves. Not pretty. So back to the bespoke lining. The lining of a bespoke garment will be cut much bigger than the cloth so that as the fittings progress and the garment takes shape, we can trim down the lining to fit, basting it into place, and a we work across the garment, from the tacked facing edge, we can then tack the side seam all the way, the back seams, then the shoulder seams which are sewn to the shoulder pad before felling...... Every single seam has been tacked to the canvas or the cloth of the shoulder pad. Nothing is left floating freely and once we have built the shape, it is there pretty much permanently. All these tacked seams prevent us from closing up from the inside so all the lining seams are felled by hand. This is definitely one of those operations, in my opinion, in which the hand-sewn method wins, pardon the pun, hands down.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A moment to rant

What I LOVE about this blogging thing is I get to rant about whatever I want without bugging anybody (unless, of course, they are foolish enough to read my ranting).

While I do not dislike the jacket pictured below, I am not happy about the buttonholes. The thread should be grey of some shade and I have two shades- one light and one dark. The lighter shade looked too purplish and the darker shade looked too, well, you see what it looks like.

I called Gutermann, my thread supplier, and they informed me that they no longer stock silk buttonhole twist, but that I could order it from Germany. Minimum order quantity is one box. $140. For buttonhole thread. I don't know what the german for fa'ncullo is, but my dark ugly buttonholes are as close as it gets.

end of rant

Friday, November 14, 2008

Finished jakcket

I'm getting ahead of myself, but here's one the finished jackets (I ended up making two).




Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Looking at the undercollar of a jacket will reveal a lot about the quality of the jacket. A more in depth explanation will follow for the serious geeks, but the reader’s digest version is this;

There are several ways to make a collar, some better than others. At the top end it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between hand-made, machine made, etc. but the one generalization that can be made is that if you see zig-zag stitching along the edges of the collar (figures A & B), it is not the best type of construction construction. This is an example of a more economical way of producing a collar and is either just felt or fused felt but it is certainly not felt with linen padded to it as you would find in top-of-the-line garments.

Let me clarify one thing though- it is not the stitch itself which is necessarily better or worse; the type of stitch used is an indicator of the way in which the collar is assembled and attached to the jacket, and THAT is where there are a lot of differing levels of quality.

collars 014

Here is a diagram of the types of stitches I will refer to in this post.


Here is a collar which has been machine padded. Many people (myself included) feel that there is no added benefit to padding by hand over machine- but that is the subject of another post. The stitching and tape is used to stabilize the roll line; some tailors will draw this tape, keeping it close to the neck, all depending on how they construct their collar. The stitching seen at G is a very good indicator that the collar has linen canvas padded to it- the padding at the edges will be slit open so that the seam allowances of the top collar can be inserted BETWEEN the felt and the canvas, making a nice flat collar without visible impressions. Also notice that I have begun to trim away the canvas at the edge- this is necessary to prevent the canvas from showing through and is quite time-consuming. Aside from the fact that padded collar canvas costs three times what just plain felt does, it is this trimming operation which is the impetus behind factories using only felt.

collars 021a

In the photo below you see a collar made by Samulesohn- it is very difficult to make out the stitches at the edges of the collar but it is clear that they are not zig-zag stitches. The outer edges at C were done by machine, but one that closely resembles a hand-stitch.

collars 002a

The AMF machine which makes a stitch which is virtually indistinguishable from a hand stitch is pretty hard to find these days, so some factories are using a blindstitch-type machine to fell the collar. Same general procedure but different stitch like the one shown at D. Mechanically it is the same as the AMF stitch or hand-felling, but is unattractive. That said, you don’t usually go around with your collar up so who cares?

The little turn-under shown at E has been hand-finished and is the traditional way of finishing a collar, giving a smoother, flatter finish.