Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Constructing the pagoda shoulder, part 1

Preparing the canvas

The shoulder is arguably the most discussed and the most controversial element of a tailored jacket; the whole garment hangs from the shoulder, and the shoulder receives much of the strain from movement. There are perhaps as many ways of constructing, or “expressing” a shoulder as there are tailors, but there area few general shapes, or silhouettes. Some of the names have become muddled throughout the years, but I am going to chiefly examine one of them. Known as the “spalla insellata” because of its resemblance to a horse saddle, it is also known as a “spalla incavata” (concave shoulder) or pagoda shoulder, for obvious reasons. In the 30s the Apparel Arts referred to a natural shoulder as having a concave line, not the round one most often referred to today as a natural shoulder. To understand why, we look at the human shoulder (well, a plastic one. This is a family show, after all)


It is clear that the shoulder line between the trapezius and the acromion forms a concave curve; the front of the shoulder area is more complex due to the curvature of the clavicle and the protrusion of the top of the humerus, the ball which fits into the socket of the shoulder joint. It is this joint which is all important here, because this is where the whole arm moves.

Observing all these hills and valleys we can appreciate the complexity of the shape of the front of the shoulder and perhaps understand why the shape and location of the shoulder seam is crucial to this area. The closer the seam comes to all these curves, the easier it will be to accurately contour them. It was once fashionable to slant the shoulder seam backward which was a way of introducing some fullness over the shoulder blade, much like the vault dart or shoulder dart; the yoke of the shirt conceals one of these darts, and on heavier figures they are often included on the scye or the shoulder seam. In my posting on the one piece back, we saw how the gentle curve of the blade could be accounted for with a bit of stretching, shrinking, and a bit of wadding (shoulder pad) to fill in the hollow, rendering a backward slant unnecessary. It can also have some unfortunate results should the garment encounter humidity and the fullness puff up, unsupported by the shoulder.

a&s steamed

For these, and a few other reasons, the backward slant is generally only seen on garments from a few houses who like to maintain tradition and who may not have taken the time to fully examine its implications, feeling secure in the received wisdom without questioning it.

Going back to this complex formation, the astute pattern maker will recognize that, not only is the shoulder seam location important, but another seam or dart, or perhaps several, would be appropriate, even necessary. Throughout published literature, tailors have illustrated ways in which these additional shaping mechanisms could be introduced to the canvas, with three principle variations. These two seem the most logical;


Darts like this will introduce shortness in some areas and length in others, shortness being indicated by the red arrow, and length being indicated by the blue arrows. The first example makes sense, but it introduces some length to the neck area, which, in my opinion, is asking for trouble as extra length may give trouble in the form of a collar lifting from the neck. It also introduces a great weakness in the canvas along that seam by cutting through the hair line. Any shaping of the outer canvas must be carried through all layers and it may be difficult to maintain this shape while providing support.

The second example is also valid, but introduces fullness to the chest, which is fine in a draped style but perhaps not so for cleaner cut chests. It also creates weakness in this area, though it would be easier to make up for this with haircloth.

Another look at the shoulder anatomy suggests that neither of these is the best location of the cuts or seams- the ideal location and slant are indicated by the red and green lines.


The third example is the one generally seen today, though the illustration is somewhat incomplete and inaccurate.


The cuts, or vees, should correspond with the hollow indicated by the red line in the photo of mannequin just above. These will throw fullness over the shoulder point and create the little hollow and bulge, but as we saw in the soft shouldered coat, this alone will not create the pagoda shape. Most modern coats have these vees to give some forward pitch without creating fullness at the neck or over the chest. To get the pagoda shape, a few more cuts and manipulations are required.

As we look at my way of constructing this shoulder, rather than a slavish adherence to any formulae I may suggest, try to understand the concept behind it so you can adjust to suit your taste or figure, or to work out a totally different shape of your own.

Start with a cut about 3” deep, 1/3” of the way across the shoulder, with an inclination similar to the little red line on the mannequin. Using a bias piece of canvas, open this cut 5/8” to ¾”. When I cut my bias strip, I make a step the width of the desired opening to act as a guide. This will stick out the top but I will trim it off after.


This will provide forward pitch but to get the complete shape, a little stretching will be required along the armsye. Normally I leave it off to the end of the canvas construction, but to give an idea of the final shape, I have done it first.


Observe the hairline of the canvas, how it bows upward. The combination of the cut and the stretching create the same effect as the two cuts illustrated in the first diagram, combined, creating length along the shoulder and the armscye, but keeping both the chest and the neck edge short.

To cut the haircloth piece, strike a line along the straight grain of your canvas about 10” long to measure the inclination of the roll line. Let’s say that the short arm of this angle is 3”. Draw a straight line down the center of the haircloth long enough to extend from the shoulder to the desired length of the chest piece (another subject entirely), use the measurement obtained from the canvas, 10” by 3”, to draw the angle of the roll line, and cut along this line. Place the hair cloth pieces together along the roll lines, line up the canvas roll line with the cut edge and draw in the rough shape of the shoulder seam and the first cut location as well as the scye shape, then rough cut the chest piece, which will later be trimmed to fit the canvas more accurately.

It is vital that all shaping remain constant through all layers, but if all the cuts occur in the same place, there will be structural weakness and thickness which is not good. Treating the cuts as darts, which can be transferred anywhere around their apex (a subject covered at great length in regular patternmaking courses so I won’t go too much into here) the cut of the haircloth should be pivoted slightly so as not to occur in the exact same place as the canvas cut. A cut is then also required is in the scye area as show, since the stretching we will do on the canvas is difficult to achieve properly in haircloth. We will open the cut of the haircloth in the same manner as the canvas, but leave the armscye cut open. For now.


Using the haircloth piece as a guide, we will cut what we call the perk, or shoulder support piece, also out of haircloth. This piece is very important to a clean shoulder and should not be cut on the straight grain but on the bias. Some makers prefer a perfect bias, I prefer a partial bias; this bias not only supports the hollow created in the shoulder shown by the diagonal green line above, but also makes stretching easier. To get my grain line, I measure an angle 3” long and then 1” toward the neck point, then join the points for my new grain line. Use the chest piece as a pattern, using this new grain line. The perk should stop about 1” below the cut on the chest piece, and should go straight across. In the image I have drawn in the hairline, not the grainline, so you can see how the perk will support the area.


Trim the perk so that it is about 3/8” inside the roll line and shoulder edges to avoid thick ridges. Halfway down the roll line portion of the perk, make a horizontal cut which will almost reach the shoulder cut of the chest piece. Instead of using a bias strip on this portion, we will use the chest piece as an anchor to open up the cut, but only 3/8” this time. Notice how all the cuts radiate around the same point? This is extremely important to get everything to gel together correctly when finished. Notice also how there is some weakness which creates a ripple of length along the roll line? This will be privoted toward the shoulder soon.

perk fixed

Now baste the chest piece on to the canvas, being sure to keep the roll line straight, which will force all the length created by the cuts over to the shoulder point. VERY IMPORTANT.

A straight cut piece of canvas should be used to cover the front edge of the chest piece, where the hair often pokes through and bothers the wearer; this will also help to stabilize the roll line and keep the length over the shoulder. You may want to use a strip of pocketing to cover the lower edge of the chest piece to prevent poking through as well.


Despite the staggered cuts, the canvas should be coming together like this, with all the shaping being sent toward the shoulder point.


Place a piece of felt, flannel or domette as you like, and pad stitch the canvas the way you normally would (another subject) but leaving the shoulder free. Make sure to keep the area around the neck straight, and pad this area a little more heavily to stabilize that weakness in the perk we saw earlier. It is now that we should use the iron to stretch the armsye area; the canvas will stretch, the perk will stretch a bit but will also shift, and the scye cut in the chest piece will open up, but still be loose. Commercial canvas front makers like Interforme have big pressing machines which have shapes which support the chest while stretching the shoulder all in one shot. Once we have basted the canvas to the front and inserted the shoulder pad, we will then pad stitch through all those layers- the cut will be open but supported by the perk underneath which is longer for that reason and the shape will be fairly permanent and won’t “break down” with time. Ahem.

Now the canvas goes in water overnight (never never never skip this step, no matter what canvas makers say about being preshrunk) and while it is soaking and drying we can make the shoulder pad. The canvas will get a torough pressing when it dries out, and another little stretch in the scye. And now I wait for the flannel to arrive so I can cut the cloth. EDIT** CLOTH JUST CAME!*** But while we wait, go back to the posting on the canvas for the soft shoulder- one pice of canvas, one little cut. That's it. Compare the two, knowing we have only completed the first of several steps; some people contend that the soft shoulder is the greater art form. I beg to differ.

And meanwhile an amusing little article about Bill Fioravanti, who also favors the concave shoulder. I have never met him, but Chris Despos has only good words for him, and if I am not mistaken, called him one of the best fitters he knows. High praise indeed!

In response to Dukemati's question, my canvas and haircloth are both from Rovagnati Vincenzo spa; the canvas is the lana 180g (sometimes I use 200g) and the chest piece is made from 21 pick haircloth- nice, light and resilient. If you are in North America, their distributor is Interforme Interlinings, esturino at interforme dot com; Emilio Rovagnati will be here next week, I will ask him about worldwide distributors.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Brioni vs. Samuelsohn- the hand-sewn lapel

Going back a bit again to the Brioni coat. This blogger may need Ritalin.


A curiosity here- the top collar is cross-stitched to the lapel by hand. What is a bit curious is that normally the top collar goes on AFTER the facing, but in this case it is clearly put on first. The facing must then be drawn on by hand. Which is curious in a factory setting. You may also notice that I have unpicked the lapel buttonhole to examine it more closely. This one needs some more research as to how they did it- I have seen this "upside-down" lapel buttonhole on some Zegna Couture, some Tom Ford, and some Neapolitan garments- the purl is much smaller and underneath the lapel making a very smooth, shiny buttonhole as though it had been done with a satin stitch and not a buttonhole stitch; the right gimp is crucial to this, I think. But back to the lapel sewing.

In a bespoke atelier where the shape of the lapel and position of the gorge may change during fittings, it is common to shape the lapel during the fitting, baste the seam allowances in place to check the result, and then fell them permanently to the canvas. The facing is then shaped with the iron, then basted on to the lapel, and slip-stitched in place. This is what we mean by hand-drawn; the gorge seam and the long lapel seam is sewn by hand. Here is an image from Sciamat's blog showing the process of sewing on the facing by hand.

drawn on

In heavier cloth this is fine but lighter cloth will never be quite as crisp as a machine-sewn edge. The other disadvantage is that only the jacket seam allowance is felled- the facing seam allowance is free; when machining the edge, both seam allowances can be felled to the canvas making for a crisper, flatter edge. Regardless, even Oxxford, who prides themselves on doing absolutely everything by hand, sew the facing on by machine (at least on the garment I looked at) In a factory setting where the shape of the lapel is pre-determined I don't see any reason at all to sew this seam by hand- in fact, I think it is one of the few spots where machines give better results. But apparently Brioni has a reason to do otherwise.

I suspect it has to do with the silk facing and the fact that it may be very fragile; I will have to check but I would be surprised to learn they do all their production this way. I certainly would have noticed the ridge formed when doing the collar first, as they have here, so I am fairly confident that this is exclusive to their dinner jackets. What is also a little odd is that this sequence makes it impossible to finish the facing and linings flat; normally I like to have the side seams joined, then work the facings and linings on to the jacket flat on a table (where I will have more control, and as Sciamat are doing in the photo above) before joining the shoulder seam. Then the under collar is affixed, then the sleeves set, then the top collar, then the lining finishing.

The sequence here is a little different- first, the lapel is pad-stitched, then the edges are trimmed and turned then felled in place, then the flannel is applied to the lapel and then the side and shoulder seams joined; the collar can then be applied, both the undercollar and the top collar. Perhaps they then set the sleeves and finish by working on the facing and lining by hand, which is more difficult to do with a closed coat (rather than flat); this would avoid possible damage to the very delicate silk during the production cycle, as there are many opportunities to snag on machines, tables, and people.

All this extra work to preserve the delicate silk costs LOTS of money so the synthetic facing is now looking like a much more economical option, and most lay people probably wouldn't be able to spot the difference on a finished garment.

So once again the Brioni is splendidly made and delightful to look at and wear for the connaisseur; it is perhaps a bit like a wine novice spending hundreds (thousands?) on a bottle of Chateau Petrus- will he really appreciate it or would he be better off buying something more affordable which he will find equally pleasant? That is a question that only the consumer can answer for himself when making a purchase. It's all a question of budget and taste, I guess. На вкус и на цвет товарищей нет.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Soft jacket completed

Now that I'm done the jacket, I should really shorten those shirt sleeves....

Cloth 12 oz 100% wool by Reda (same Italian mill that did my drape jacket cloth). No chest piece, no sleeve head, no wadding, no shoulder pad, mother of pearl buttons. Whereas more structured shoulders have the sleeve seam allowances opened or turned toward the sleeve, in this case, like a shirt, the seam allowance is turned toward the body and pick stitched in place. By hand, of course.


Inside, not much else, either. French seams, lining in the sleeves but that's it.


Now where is that flannel?

Thank you all for the comments. In response to malwae's question, here is a close-up, but you don't see much; the stitching should be subtle and the colouration is such that it is hard to see anything. However, the ridge formed by the reversed seam allowance is visible. Not much to see on the inside.


As for Jordan's question about the breakpoint, the collar is what controls where the lapel will break. The chest piece, bridle tape and pressing may help to support it, but the collar must be on right for it to break in the right spot; that's why the forumites' experiments with "re-rolling" button-3 jackets into button-2 or 3-roll-2 are ill-advised- you really need to alter the collar to get the lapel to consistently roll to a different point.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Making Trousers


My copy finally came this week!

It's very common for us in the garment trade to examine garments, analyze their construction and adapt what we find to our industrialized settings; in this excellent book, David Page Coffin has done the same but with the home sewer in mind. Those who have enjoyed the "Look under the hood" series will love this book, as the first chapter is devoted to the same exercise with 11 pairs of trousers, and the accompanying DVD has many more photos, and a few bonus trousers that didn't make it into the book. GOLD!

Though intended for the home tailor, the book can be useful for professionals who are looking for inspiration, ideas, or who just want to break out of the factory box since it is not limited, as we often are, to our segment, sex, or quality level.

Well written, well photographed, and and well illustrated, this book and DVD is a must have for anyone interested in trouser construction. BUY THIS BOOK!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Softness- the other extreme

The weather is turning so I am in the mood for new clothes but the flannel hasn't come in yet. I've been eyeing a few jacketing lengths so I cut myself something on the other end of the spectrum; a true "spalla camicia" or shirt shoulder, the softest possible jacket in this light, soft dove colour with steel, oatmeal and rose check.


The spalla camicia is one of the typical neapolitan shoulders and generally has very little supporting it; as such, it can often look sloppy. Some even exaggerate the sloppiness, easing in extra folds of fullness which I find a little showy and unnecessary (which, considering my love of pagodas, is saying something). A short, wide sleeve cap is in order.


While some like to support this kind of construction to make it more suitable for suitings, I only make this kind of thing for soft, slouchy sport jackets, and as such I use no haircloth, no chest piece, no shoulder pad, no sleeve head, no wadding of any sort. The front canvas has a soft piece of wool felt to cover any possible scratchiness and to give just a bit of body, but other than that, nothing. Softness and lightness. The whole jacket is cut on the easy side, rather than being fitted, and will look a bit like a soft cardigan.

soft canvas

I opened the shoulder about 5/8" to give a bit of forward pitch, and a slight manipulation of the cloth as well, but nothing like what will go into the pagoda shoulder which we will see soon, I hope. In this case, I have used a zig-zag machine to open the wedge.

I still use a fairly small pad stitch on the lapel to give a nice, full roll.


It will be finished soon so I can get straight to work on the suit when the cloth comes in.

I response to Lynn's questions, yes, I zig-zag right along the cut line to keep the edges of the canvas from curling up. With finer cloth I put a piece of non-woven fusible on top to completely hide it since it can sometimes make visible impressions on the outside.

As for the pattern, this would normally be a special pattern unto itself if I were in the habit of keeping basic patterns for myself, which I don't. I like to experiment and try new things so I never cut off the same pattern twice when cutting my own garments- every time it is new. The basic principles remain for obtaining the desired silhouette but I always try to introduce new things to the mix in terms of drafting and construction. Obviously, at work, I keep a library of collars and pockets and lapels and things, but for my own stuff, it's new every time.

Besides, the lines are so different between a structured, rope-shouldered garment and a soft, spalla camicia, that it's not really worth trying to adapt one pattern to become another.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Brioni vs Samuelsohn- a look inside

Continuing the look at these two dinner jackets, we start to look at the guts of the coats, the interior workings, starting with the hem felling.

The hem has been blind stitched by hand (top left) using a very fine thread- thick wools are easy to do but a fine, tight silk is quite a challenge so I am impressed wit he skill of their hands. In a previous post we saw there was some sort of pick stitching running along the hem of the Brioni coat; now that it’s open we can see that there is a Silesia hem interfacing that has been held in place by a Columbia stitch (upper right).

The hem interfacing is a fusible non-woven (the light grey creeping over the edge of the hem) and the hem has been blindstitched by machine.

The importance of the hem interfacing is that the Silesia will never delaminate (never come unglued) from dry cleaning or steaming which, though rare now, is a risk with the fusible interfacing. The structural difference between stitching the hem by hand or by machine is so minuscule that, in the long run, I don’t think it matters to the quality. I will make a distinction between quality and craftsmanship, however.

Compared to a fused garment, whose hem is usually only tacked in place along the seams and will definitely sag when steamed or cleaned, or just with wearing in humid climate, there is a definite difference in quality between that and a felled hem like the two above. So between the fused garment and a Samuelsohn there is a huge, measurable difference in quality and the extra money is definitely worth the investment; between the Samuelsohn and the Brioni, however, there is a nuanced level of superior craftsmanship- what you are paying for in the Brioni is no longer necessarily a longer-lasting or more comfortable garment than the Samuelsohn, but a level of craftsmanship which the Samuelsohn does not have. If you area an oil sheikh for whom money is no object, the Brioni is the clear choice because of the skill and craftsmanship required to make it; if you are on a budget and are just looking for reliability (a Chevrolet, perhaps) then in your case it may not be worth the extra money to go up from Sammy to Brioni. Nuance.




Notice that all the edges are overlocked. Silk ravels a lot so this is absolutely a necessity; good wool won’t ravel as much so it is not required. The inlays at center back and the side seams are about 5/8” wide; if you were to gain weight and have this altered, assuming a smallest possible seam of ¼”, you could then gain ¾” at each seam, or a total of 2 ½” circumference

Curiously, the inlays are 7/8” wide. So by the same math you could gain 1 ¼” at each seam, or a total of 3 ¾”.


At this point I have a good look at the finishing of the lining in the Brioni and it is clear that the little pickstitch along the edge of the facing seam is not decorative- the lining has all been inserted by hand, though I would need a good macro lens to show it clearly. Which brings me to the construction of the facing and the lining.


The silk has been fused with a soft non-woven interfacing to prevent some of the seams and stitching underneath from showing through. They have taken the step of covering the canvas of the lapel with flannel so that the canvas and the inner works don’t leave marks, but this is not enough to cover the edge seams, which are graded to avoid thickness. In the photo on the left you can see the lining peeled back, then the satin facing, and about one inch of the flannel extending past the silk, then the felt covering the chest piece. The silk has been tacked to the canvas using a long hand basting. The way that this has been constructed is a clue that the facing has been made in the traditional way, that is to say, it has been drawn on by hand, though this will be confirmed once the facing is open completely.

The facing has been felled to the canvas by blindstitch machine. Again, structurally equivalent to doing it by hand (it is no more secure by hand than by machine) but it is an indicator of the process of building the inside. The lining was joined to the facing by machine, then the pockets made on the lining, then the facings were attached to the jacket fronts. After turning the edges, the facing is basted in place, along the edges and then along the lining seam, which permits this machine felling from the inside. The same could have been done (though by hand) on the Brioni, but we are about to find out it was not.

Facing felling

On the left is the gorge seam, and you can see that the canvas has been covered by flannel. You can also see that the gorge seam allowance has been cross-stitched by hand, but it is curious that it is the collar seam allowance and not the facing. This very important detail will be covered in a later post.

Faciing underside


Though it is not very clear in the photo, peeling back the flannel we can see the pad stitching has been done by machine. It is irregular, telling me that they did not use the automated machine, perhaps because it is a peak lapel and they felt the need to vary the stitching through the peak. It’s what I would do.

The neat rows of stitching indicate that this was done on the automated pad stitching machine.

lapel padding

At this point I can tell for sure that the Brioni facing and collar have been drawn on by hand, whereas the Samuelsohn, like almost all other manufactured suits (including Oxxford) has been done by machine. This will require a whole post unto itself.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Brioni vs. Samuelsohn, Battle of the dinner jackets

So before we go back to the pagoda shoulder, a side-by-side comparison of two dinner jackets, one by Brioni and one by Samuelsohn. This will be done in several parts as I am too lazy to get it all done in one shot. Samuelsohn is on the low price end of the full-canvas makes and Brioni on the higher end (in this case, the Brioni is easily four times the price of the Samuelsohn, if not a little more). So what makes the difference?

Cosmetics- both are one-button, peak lapel DJs. The Sammmy is 100% wool with a center vent, the Brioni is 100% Silk with no vent.

Brioni- made by hand
Samuelsohn- made by machine


Sleeve finishing
Brioni- hand-made immitation buttonholes
Samuelsohn- machine-made functioning buttonholes, hand-finished sleeve lining

Sleeve finishing

Brioni- hand-made, flat construction jetted pocket (nice, soft, flat, discreet) with hand-stitched mezza-luna tack
Samuelsohn- machine-made (ribbed) flap pocket


Breast Welt

I apologize if it's not clear.
Brioni- hand-made and finished pocket welt, pick stitching also done by hand
Samuelsohn- machine-made welt with tiny zig-zag stitching to fell the edge of the pocket, no pick stitching.

breast welt
Let's pause for a moment.

There is some confusion about pick stitching and what it is or is for. Pick stitching is the tiny little stitches on the edge of some garments- it is placed there to hold the edge crisp and flat, to prevent edges from rolling, but is not structural. As such, a hand stitch is the same structurally as a machine stitch- they both do the same job. Machine pick stitching is not meant to bamboozle anyone- it performs the same function as hand stitching.


Hand stitching is much smaller and looser and thus more discreet than machine stitching (I'll show both later) and once you're seen the two side-by-side it's easy to tell them apart. Some makers (mostly southern Italians) do their hand stitching with a slightly thicker thread and is just as ornamental as it is functional, but it is still easy to tell them apart by the slight irregularity of the stitches and the tiny prick of the hand stitch.

Hand stitching machines have pretty intense feeders which tend to damage delicate satin, which is why it is not so common to find it on dinner jackets and why there is none on this Samuelsohn garment. It is also much more evident on Satin than on regular cloth and some people find it ostentatious so is often omitted. It was a necessity on the Brioni, for reasons we will get to later.


Brioni- there is a hand-made buttonhole done with the upside-down buttonhole stitch I was studying in a previous post (and now realize I may have posted the wrong photo) plus a boutonniere loop underneath.
Samuelsohn- no lapel buttonhole



Brioni- The facing on the Brioni is a luxurious pure silk which is not common to see any more because it is very delicate; damages are common and replacing a facing on a finished jacket is one of the most infuriating jobs. If you are wearing real silk lapels, do not hug anyone wearing jewelry, and keep your dancing partner at a distance for fear of snags. But it is VERY nice.....
Samuelsohn- This has the more common synthetic facing. Note that this type of satin is made specifically (and only) for tuxedo facings and is just as expensive as real silk in most cases. It is popular because it is more resistant to damage, not only during construction but during wear.
In this part we look at some of the details that we can see inside the jacket but without opening the lining up. Clues for the thrifters among us.

Hem finishing

Brioni- The hem has been closed by hand with a tight little stitch. There is also what appears to be a pick stitch running close to the hem- most likely holding wiggan or some sort of hem interfacing in place. It looks like this was done with the Columbia machine (Juki makes one too) which is a type of imitation hand stitch. More on this in a minute.

Samuelsohn- This hem was closed by a felling machine- the two parallel threads are what distinguishes the machine stitch from a hand stitch which may look similar. This type of stitch is usually a good indicator that the coat was not bagged and that the hem itself was felled rather than just tacked like in lesser garments.

Lining hem

Facing and lining seams

Brioni- there is a little pick stitch which was clearly done by hand along this seam. Some manufacturers put a Columbia stitch as decoration along this seam, but on garments such as this, it is possible that the stitch is not primarily decorative but functional- it may be used to fell the lining to the facing by hand. This can also be done with a more discreet stitch, but if the finisher is talented, it can be functional as well as decorative. The lining must be opened up to know for sure.

The lining has been closed by machine and there is no decorative stitching along this edge

Facing lining seam

Neck Finishing

Brioni- several interesting things. The pick stitching continues around the neck, a further suggestion the lining has been felled by hand. Notice that the lining is lapped over the collar. Also notice the seam in the collar stand- this is a two piece collar, as in my previous post about collar drafting. Silk is very difficult to shape with the iron so they were wise to make this a two piece and avoid possible fit trouble. The shoulder seam of the lining has been felled by hand, which means the lining is held in place along the shoulder pad and won’t shift around.

Samuelsohn- The collar is lapped over the lining, and felled with a machine-made pick stitch; there is also a row of pick stitching just inside the roll line to hold things in place. The shoulder seam has been closed by machine which means it is loose and not tacked to the shoulder pad.

Neck lining

Pickstitching by machine

The pick stitch is that little tiny stitch done along the edges of garments to keep the edge flat and crisp and to keep it from rolling to the wrong side. This was traditionally done by hand but machines have been developed which resemble it, some more than others.

There are two types of machine pick stitch- one that resembles the hand stitch very closely on both sides, and one that doesn’t.

Of the former type, there are two major makes of machine, the AMF and Complett; the Complett, new, costs around $25,000 and is VERY slow. The AMF is an antique and can only be found in bankruptcy sales. The stitch looks presentable on both sides, and can be recognized by its uniformity. It is also usually a tiny bit longer than a stitch done by hand.

Columbia and Juki are two makes of machine that do a single-thread pick stitch which is much faster but has a chainstitch on the underside, making it suitable only to applications where the underside will be hidden, like along the edge of the facing or to lap certain seams. If you look very closely, the pick portion of the stitch also shows two threads instead of only one. These machines are also much cheaper- a few thousand dollars for a new one.

In this photo, the stitching on the very edge was done with a Complett machine, and the one further away was done with a Columbia machine.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Next suit

Just bought some cloth for my next suit. A 13/14 oz charcoal flannel from Minnis. We'll look at constructing the pagoda shoulder when it arrives.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

More on Pagoda Shoulders

Karen asks about how to construct a pagoda shoulder, but first, a bit of background. Initially known as a "natural" shoulder as it followed the natural curved formed by the hollow between the clavicle and the acromion, the term has been appropriated to denote the round, sloped shoulder seen on Ivy League suits of type sold by Brooks Brothers, Southwick, Paul Stuart, and the like.

If we no longer see the pagoda shoulder very often, it is likely because it is, in my opinion, the most complex to construct and requires specific handling of the wadding, if any, in the shoulder; the canvas construction supporting the shoulder requires some extra work, and a careful manipulation of the cloth to give not only the concave shape we see when seeing it head-on but, more importantly, the distinct forward pitch of the shoulder. Some tailors who like a rounder shoulder seek to preserve what little elasticity is present in the shoulder area; my preference is instead to follow the actual contours of the body in order to create comfort and avoid pressure on the shoulder points, distributing the weight of the coat across the trapezius instead. So all this pagoda business is really more about comfort than aesthetics, but it can also appeal to some.

Enough blathering.

This will require a series of posts, as first, the cloth requires some ironwork without which we will never achieve the correct three-dimensional shape out of a flat piece of cloth (see post on trouser ironwork if you're not familiar with the concept).

We need a series of "fishes" or "wedges" (reverse darts) and cuts in the canvas underneath, then some careful pad stitching.

We will look at making a shoulder pad for those, like me, who need a bit of help.

Then, instead of waiting until the shoulder has been joined to add the pad, we will attach it to the canvas after basting the canvas to the front. This step is crucial to the final shape of the shoulder.

I suppose I'm going to have to make myself another suit. :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Another suit completed

I don't know why I have always hated the term "pagoda shoulders", but I do. Spalla insellata sounds a little better if you speak Italian but sounds pretentious to those who don't. Well, whatever.


But to something more important. I think that the survival of our craft depends not only on the propagation of the technique but also the survival of our suppliers. It's getting harder and harder to find the necessary stuff for making nice suits so when I find someone who makes it just a little easier I like to support them. I normally buy cloth in large quantities from the Italian mills, but when I want to cut something special, they aren't very helpful. Enter people like Andrew Rogers, from whom you can buy half a meter of Fox, Minnis or Harrisons cloth if you want; we need to keep people like this in business. So if you like the cloth I used for my suit, check out his stuff here or at; he offers good service. And tell him I sent you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The trouser- fitting & completion

If you're just joining us, back up one post first. We were discussing the ironwork involved in making trousers.

David asked what the difference would be between a trousers done with this ironwork and one done without. So the first fitting I sewed the seams straight with no manipulation, no fullness, no stretching, no shrinking, and the result was this. Not a very nice line. The hem is turned up at the bottom so it puddles around my ankles, but look more at how it hangs around my knees. Not clean

trouser fitting

Then I ripped them down to show the ironwork in the previous post, and put them back together again. This is the result, which I much prefer.

trouser side front

Trouser rear

While David is right, some of the shaping will be lost with wear, but I can put it back with a careful pressing. Those who steam their pants are ruining all this shaping and will have pants that puddle around their legs; by pressing them with a good iron and observing the shape illustrated in the T&C thread you can have a marked improvement in the fit of the leg.


To answer a few questions, the first thing that will help getting a better press on your trousers is a wider ironing board; normal household ironing boards are too narrow to fit the entire leg so you not only have a hard time visualizing the correct shape, but you also tend to do the front only and then shift the pant and then do the back (or vice versa) when you should really be doing the entire leg at once. The Rowenta board that I have at home (in the pictures) is great for this and has a much better pad than most domestic boards. I know that some department stores have followed their lead and started producing wider boards as well.

Next, some puddling around the legs can be from bad fit and can't be rectified by pressing; hip-forward posture or flat seats will cause cloth to puddle around the knees in a horse-shoe shape and no amount of pressing will fix that. But assuming you have a trouser that fits adequately, it also helps if the manufacturer has made provisions for this kind of shaping. As I mentioned, the knee notch is shifted so that when the seam is sewn the back thigh is sewn on tight to the front which has some fullness, and there is some fullness in the back calf area. This allows us to stretch the panel opposite the fullness, like when constructing the inseam of the two-piece sleeve, and work the trouser up when busting the seams (industry jargon for pressing the seams open). If this was not done (for expedience during production) you won't be able to get the full shape out of the trouser, but you will be able to help it a little. When pressing your trousers, always keep this shape in mind and your results will be much better.

Like any part of any garment, it helps to visualize the shape of the body which is being covered. The trouser is not really two straight creases- the leg makes a bit of an "s" shape so we will recreate this shape in the pant. Whenever we want to create a curve in a garment without a seam, we have to stretch the outer arc and shrink the inner one, so if you are dealing with misfigures, keep the person's shape in mind when shaping the garment. Refer to the diagram below- stretch over the front of the thigh, stretch the seam into a forward curve, and shrink the excess under the back of the thigh. Do the opposite on the lower half, working the curve into the shape of the calf. Notice that the creases are not straight and that the hem of the trouser will dip lower in the back than the front.

If and when I can get my hand on a video camera I will post video of the process with and without a vacuum table (which is a godsend).


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cutting trousers- a cultural divide

We've been discussing trousers on the T&C forum & it occurred to me that I haven't really looked at trousers on my blog. Largely because I feel that there is a lot less room for individual expression and nuance in trousers than in jackets, which I, of all people, should know is not really true. I explain.

Working in the RTW industry in Canada gives me an interesting perspective in that I sell garments in Canada, the United States, and sometimes central America, Europe and Asia; regional variations in taste and fit are more obvious to me than someone who only sells into one market. But let me focus on Canada and the U.S. who share a similar history and culture but have very distinct tastes in trousers. I can sell basically the same cut of jacket into the States as I do in Canada, though generally a little easier in the U.S., but the trousers are a deal-breaker. It has always been a basic truth in our trade that (despite the fashion cutomer whose preferences bounce around quite a bit) Americans like a big, roomy, pleated, high-waisted trouser and Canadian prefer the opposite, namely a trim, plain-front, low-rise trouser. We had some leftover suits hanging in stock that had been cut for the States and no matter what kind of promotional price we might offer in order to get rid of them here, nobody wanted to touch a pleated, easy trouser so we had to cut them down to slimmer, plain front versions in order to liquidate them in Canada. A major expense (and royal pain) but we had to do it.

The British and the Neapolitans have different cultures and sartorial traditions so it is understandable that their preferences in cut should differ, but why would we find such a disparity between Canada and the U.S.? I've never really thought much about it until now.

Which brings me back to my next project. Bigger, easier trousers are more forgiving in their fit and require a bit less shaping in order to get a good fit; close-fitting trousers, like those that I cut for myself, need a bit more help. I just got a nice, sturdy piece of English cloth from which I'm going to make a suit and we'll look a bit at the shaping that goes into a traditionally-made trouser. Some of it is at construction level, but the shaping that I do in pressing can be used by anyone who is pressing their trousers at home to refine the fit a bit.

My next suit- a navy twill with a soft pink stripe.


Having typed this, I wandered over to T&C to see that Sator had posted this article on shaping the trousers. which saves me the work of having to illustrate it. I don't have much to add except that in a factory setting in order to control the amount of stretching and shrinking, we shift the knee notch up by 1/4" to 3/8" on the back panel- this has the effect of introducing fullness into the calf area and shortness in the back of the thigh. When we press the seams open and crease the trouser we then stretch the back thigh and front calf, eliminating any ripples of fullness in the seam and doing the same shaping.

The waistband should also be shaped, which is not illustrated so I will do that. To allow for that shaping, we ease some fullness on the front panels onto the waistband when sewing it on ( which is alluded to in the German text).

So here's a bit of a recap of the German text on ironwork, but with an explanation of WHY we are doing it. Note that normally I construct the fly before joining the front to the back but it would be difficult to see the result of the shaping so I am putting them together in the wrong order for the sake of this demonstration.

When the two panels are creased along their center line and placed next to each other, we see a gap at the thigh and the knee. Trousers which are narrower at the knee will have a greater gap and require more shaping than ones which are a little looser, as will trousers which are cut closer at the thigh. These are not really flared bottom trousers- the camera distortion makes it look like that.

trouser open

If we shift the back panel to meet the front as if the seams were joined, we can see the excess length this creates at the back of the trouser, which often puddles around the wearer (not to be confused with a garment which has not been cut properly for forward hip posture, which will also puddle around the calves)

troouser together

To make up for this extra length in the back we will use a combination of stretching the seam around the thigh and the knee, and shrinking a bit of the length out at the back. As David rightly pointed out in the T&C discussion, the trouser is subject to strain during wear so some shaping is bound to be lost- this is true of some of the shrinking so I prefer to do more stretching than shrinking. Notice the stripe line in the back panel.

trouser shaped

The panels are then joined and the back of the calf given some additional shaping.

trouser pressed

Here is the waistband which has been pressed into a curve to conform better to the waistline. Lower-waisted trousers need more shaping than higher-waisted ones.