Thursday, November 25, 2010

Stu Bloom on Garment Maintenance

I've almost finished packing my boxes and will be moving in the next few days so things will be quiet for a bit. In the meantime, a guest posting from Stu Bloom from Rave FabriCare on garment maintenance. If you ever had questions about maintenance, garment shine, or those nasty double-creases down your trousers, this may interest you.

I'll be back once I've unpacked in the U.S.

Hi Jeffery:

There are 26,000 dry cleaners in the USA and almost every single one will tell you that they "focus on the details" and "deliver top quality cleaning".

This is, of course, utter nonsense.

Regarding the claim that they "focus on the details", here's the problem: true quality cleaning is not about a few details. It's about hundreds of details. And more specifically, it's the combination of those hundreds of details that produces true quality dry cleaning and true quality shirt laundry.

What I want to know is how can a cleaner claim that he "focuses on the details" when his entire operation is geared to same or next day service? How can a cleaner claim that he "focuses on the details" when your garments are picked up on day 1 and delivered on day 3? And how can a cleaner claim that he "focuses on the details" when he charges $12.50 or $20.00 for a two piece suit and $2.25 or $3.00 for a laundered shirt?

Regarding the claim that they "deliver top quality cleaning", how is that possible when their entire focus is on pushing more and more garments (quantity) faster and faster (speed) through their "production system"? And how is that possible when they have "production standards" that dictate that each of their pressers produce a targeted number of pieces per hour and when their pressers are paid by the piece?

True quality cleaning involves the right combination of skills, equipment and specialization, and pricing and turnaround that's correspondingly appropriate. Dry cleaning consultant Kenny Slatten said it best in a 2002 article in the Western Cleaner & Launderer: Every cleaner thinks that he produces quality work. But most don't have a clue what true quality cleaning is all about.

That having been said, what are some of the hallmarks of true quality cleaning?

Technical skills, equipment and specialization

True quality cleaning is a highly skilled endeavor. Most of my cleaners and pressers (aka finishers) have been with me for 10+ years and were hired for their TECHNIQUE, not for their EXPERIENCE. One of my best pressers, for example, had less than a year's experience when she joined RAVE FabriCARE.

Jeffery, that's where most cleaners fail: They believe (and they're encouraged by equipment manufacturers to believe) that fancy equipment will compensate for the lack of skill (by the way, we have plenty of that fancy equipment in our 7,500 square foot, state of the art facility). This problem is particularly acute when it comes to pressing. The overwhelming majority of pressers have many years of experience doing the wrong things over and over again. It's almost impossible to retrain an "experienced presser." Bad habits die hard.

On the other hand, when you have someone with great technique you can guide that individual into producing "near perfect" work over a period of years. I'm sure it's much like guiding a tailoring apprentice over the years to the point that you can trust their skills. Tedious but worth it over the long run.

But skilled technicians alone without the right tools and equipment won't be able to get the job done.

At RAVE FabriCARE, we have different finishing stations, equipped with different types of finishing pads, adjusted to different pressures, equipped with hand irons set at different temperatures, and staffed by pressers with different skills, to accommodate different categories of garments and even different types of fabrics within a specific category of garments.

To understand this departure from the industry norm, you must first recognize that ordinary cleaners typically employ only two types of presses in their dry clean operations: pant presses (slacks, trousers and shorts) and utility presses (blouses, shirts, blazers, sport coats, dresses, skirts, sweaters, etc.).

Finally, the right technical skills coupled with the right equipment permits you to specialize. At RAVE FabriCARE, for example, we follow a specialization regimen that's rare in the dry cleaning industry.

At the vast majority of ordinary cleaners almost everyone is a "jack of all trades". The "dry cleaner" presses pants when he's not loading/unloading the dry clean machine. Other pressers interchange constantly between trousers/slacks, sweaters, jackets/blazers, shirts/blouses, ties, formal dresses, etc. etc. The battlecry is loud and constant: get the stuff out the door and pitch in to get the work done, even if you have no idea what you're doing.

By contrast, a true quality cleaner would NEVER permit such cross utilization.

At RAVE FabriCARE, for example, a garment finisher who specializes in slacks, trousers and shorts would never be assigned a sport coat or a dress.


Because skilled finishing is all about technique. And few finishers -- even highly skilled finishers -- have developed their technique to the point that would allow them to move seamlessly between different categories of garments. (As I've said before: “technique” does not equate to “experience”. Most pressers with many years of experience have zero technique.)

Not only that, but a true quality cleaner has different finishing stations to accommodate different fabrics within a specific category of garments. For example, a garment finisher who specializes in cotton/linen slacks, trousers and shorts would never be assigned a wool, silk, poly, acetate or rayon slacks, trousers or shorts.


Because cotton/linen pant presses are equipped with a “harder” pad, are adjusted to a higher pressure, are equipped with hand irons set at higher temperatures, and requires a hand finisher with a “stronger arm”. By contrast, wool, silk, poly, acetate and rayon pant presses are equipped with a “soft” pad, are adjusted to a negligible pressure, are equipped with hand irons set at lower temperatures, and requires a hand finisher with a “delicate touch”.

At a true quality cleaner anything less is simply unacceptable:

Here are some more examples of specialization at RAVE FabriCARE.

• One dry cleaner for cotton and linen garments: one dry cleaner for all other fabrics.

• One presser for cotton and linen trousers/slacks; one presser for trousers/slacks comprising other fabrics.

• One presser is responsible for steaming and blocking all sweaters and knits. That's all she does all day.

• Three pressers hand press all cotton/linen blouses and shirts (that have not been assigned to our shirt laundry).

• One presser presses all sport coats, suit jackets, blazers and coats.

• All formals and wedding gowns go to one presser. She also does all ties.

• One presser presses all bespoke garments and made to measure garments (other than bespoke and MTM trousers and slacks)

At a true quality cleaner, you won't find those common "bang and hang" machine pressing practices typically found at ordinary cleaners: shine; seam, flap and button impressions; moire-like press pad impressions; double creases; wrinkled seams and linings; and other "crimes of fashion".

Instead, your fine garments will be delicately finished. By a skilled garment finisher. The old-fashioned way. By hand. Using a hand iron. Both inside and out. No matter how long it might take.

“Pressing”, as practiced by ordinary cleaners, is such a poor descriptor of the art of finishing. Of course, a skilled finisher must know how to apply pressure to achieve a smooth finish on a linen or cotton. But a smooth, soft, hand-finish, that minimizes the possibility of shine or seam, flap or button impressions, best defines the finest professional finishing.

When you consider the difficulty involved in aligning technical skills, equipment and specialization, I know why your blood pressure rises every time you think "dry cleaner"!

Dry cleaning machine operations

I’ll go out on a limb here: you probably wouldn’t operate your home washer the way ordinary cleaners operate their dry cleaning machines!

That statement may sound harsh but it’s not. Especially when you consider that the vast majority of ordinary cleaners

• mix dark and intermediate colored garments

• mix light and intermediate colored garments

• mix red, black and other dark colored garments

• mix regular and fragile garments

• load their machines to full capacity

• add or inject moisture into their dry cleaning system

• reduce the length of their “wash” cycles

• increase the temperature of their “dry” cycles.

This produces the fastest and cheapest -- and worst -- dry cleaning. What I call “ordinary cleaning.” And what ordinary cleaners call “exceptional” or “award winning” cleaning.

A true quality cleaner will run their dry cleaning machines quite differently from ordinary cleaners.

At RAVE FabriCARE, for example, we always scrupulously sort our garments into at least 5 like-color classifications, and at least 2 fragility classifications. We never add moisture to our dry cleaning fluid to control any possibility of shrinkage. We always under load our machines to ensure maximum soil removal and reduce pilling. We always extend the length of our wash cycles for maximum soil removal. And we always dry at lower temperatures to further control any possibility of shrinkage.

What’s more our dry cleaning machines even have completely separate filter systems for light/intermediate colored loads and dark colored loads.

By contrast, the dry cleaning machines at many ordinary cleaners have a single filter system. This means that the dry cleaning solvent or fluid from both their light/intermediate colored loads and their dark colored loads flows through the same set of filters. As a result, some of the dye residue from their dark garments that accumulates in their filters will eventually find its way onto your light/intermediate garments.

The result?

Whites, creams and pastels that are grey and dingy.

Pricing and turnaround

Is there's a strong correlation between the quality of the product your cleaner delivers and the price they charge for that product?

You bet there is.

So if your competitively priced cleaner that tells you that they consistently "focus on the details" and deliver "top quality cleaning" they're being disingenuous. I would call it lying.

RAVE FabriCARE, for example, is not a "competitively priced" or "value-priced" cleaner. We do not offer discounts, specials, coupons or deals. Nor do we offer a two tier pricing system, one price for your "regular" garments and one price for your "fancier" garments.

At RAVE FabriCARE, we deliver extraordinary care for fine garments and household textiles. And we price our services accordingly. This means that we set our prices at a level which affords us the opportunity to concentrate solely on the quality of our work.

As you can probably appreciate from my prior comments about skills, equipment and specialization, setting prices is the easy part. Consistently delivering on our commitment to extraordinary care -- every item, every order -- now that's the complicated part. And that's the difference between true quality cleaning and ordinary cleaning.

Turnaround is one of those topics that really gets my blood boiling.

While every other cleaner is proud -- yes, proud -- of their same and next day service and three day pickup and delivery service, we offer one week service. It's been that way ever since we opened our doors in April 1988.

Why? Because we don't -- and won't -- produce "bang and hang" or "ordinary cleaning".

Bang and hang cleaning or ordinary cleaning essentially involves tossing your garments into a machine, banging them out on a press, hanging them on a wire or wood hanger, stuffing them in a bag with or without tissue, and cramming them on a holding rack or shuttling them out the back door. Believe it or not, this is standard operating procedure at the vast majority of ordinary cleaners, including many who profess to be high-end cleaners.

Every cleaner is faced with the same strategic dilemma: They can either focus all their resources on consistently producing the finest garment care possible or they can deliver the same bang and hang work offered by 26,000 other cleaners in the U.S.A.

A quick turnaround means that they've made a strategic decision to focus on the latter. I'd go out on another limb here: no true quality cleaner would offer same or next day service or three day pickup and delivery service.

That, Jeffery, is my quick attempt to convey our philosophy on garment care.

Questions, please!

Additional reading

Caring for bespoke garments (part one)

Caring for bespoke garments (part two)

Your dry cleaning bill of rights

A true quality cleaner's dry cleaning standards.'s-drycleaning-standards.aspx

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brees' Blazer

Well, it's done.

I hope it fits.

brees blazer

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A different kind of Sport Coat

Usually the dissections performed for this blog are of a destructive but educational nature. This time, I am called to tear something apart only to make something new again.

This project has been in the pipes for quite some time now, but my imminent departure has mean that it must be completed in the next few days. But let's back up a bit.

I got a call from a retailer who was looking for a favor; he had a call from an agent whose client had an idea- he had seen someone on tv flashing the inside of his blazer which was lined in jersey and the logo of his team, and client wanted one of those to commemorate a recent game. I was having a bit of trouble following so I asked them to just send me the jersey so I could have a look at it and have a better idea of what I could do with it.

A week went by and I had no news of the jersey so I called the retailer back. "Yeah, yeah", he said, "it had to go to the dry cleaners first". Heh. Well, the thing finally came. There wasn't enough of the jersey material itself to line an entire coat so I did a few sketches of what I thought could be done, which were sent off to the agent. Not approved. We went back and forth a few times until I hit on exactly what he wanted, but there was not enough jersey to do it. So time to get creative.

I figured these things had to be available on the internet, so I went surfing. Bingo. Found them. Authentic jerseys. I'll just buy a couple of these and I'll have enough, as long as they are a perfect match. But wait. Screen printed logos. Um, no, these are embroidered patches. Made in Thailand. No, this is made in, uh, Berlin, WI. So not a match. Damn.

Call the store back and get them to call Reebok who makes these things and see if we can get some cloth or some practice jerseys. Back and forth again.

Meanwhile I figured I should start taking the pieces apart to get them ready for when I have all the jersey I need. This is kind of like the couture technique I sometimes use for wedding gowns where I take a piece of lace, select certain motifs within the piece, carefully trim them out, then rearrange the pieces over the garment to be re-embroidered by hand. In this case, instead of lace, it is sports crests. Well, these jerseys are made to withstand nuclear attack. Sewn down with very thick and durable thread, and glued on for good measure, I sat with a seam ripper to slowly unpick them. In certain cases they numbers were double-stitched so it twice the amount of time. To get three crests and the name off took me a whole evening of work, but at least I could sit in front of the TV and do it.



I rarely watch TV except for times when I am doing mindless work like this, and since I can only half-watch I don't put on anything that requires too much attention. Antiques Roadshow is one of those shows- I can have it on and just listen only to glance up at it every once in a while. My grandparents were hard-core antiques collectors so I know all about patina and provenance and preserving original finishes, and at one point I was starting to feel a bit guilty about what I was doing to this poor jersey, thinking that maybe it should have been preserved intact, but who am I to tell this guy what he should or should not do with his used clothing? Anyway, as I look over the bits and pieces with my AR hat on, I find that there is a hologram on the back of one of the crests- could there really be a black-market trade in fake super bowl crests that they need to identify them in such a manner? And the numbers inside the jersey are puzzling- I wonder what they stand for?



OK So now I've got most of the bits I need, time to cut the coat and get sewing. As is often the case with celebrity clients, I only get a set of questionable measurements from an assistant or an agent- rarely do I get more than that to work with so the fit is not always optimal. You might imagine that they would want to get a good fit, especially since they are having something custom-made, but not everybody cares about sleeve pitch and to be fair, they probably don't have the time for fittings, either. So if you happen to see this guy on TV and his collar doesn't sit right, I'm not entirely to blame.


I cut the lining pattern out of jersey, made two breast pockets, then laid out the pieces according to the design we agreed on. The large numbers were easy enough to baste into place, but when I got to the crests I started bending and breaking all my needles- they were just too thick to baste. They didn't take to being pinned either, so for the small ones I just had to carefully eyeball it at the machine, which is easier said than done, having to pivot around tight curves on a zig-zag machine.


I will have to make up the jacket and press it before inserting the lining since the bulk from the crests will prove challenging. I will have to put a few layers of padding on the press table to "absorb" the thickness of the crests when doing the final touch-up pressing.

So from this,


came this

Brees Jersey

then this


then this


Now, looking at the photo I realize that I reversed the position of the captain's crest and the super bowl logo. Damn. Have to undo it and fix it.

I'll have the coat finished in the next few days, at which point I'll post a photo of it finished. And since I don't watch much TV, if anyone should ever see him wearing it, I would appreciate hearing about it (because yes, this jacket is for Drew Brees and yes, it is his super bowl jersey). Just so I can check the fit of the collar, of course.

Lining a jacket with Hermes scarves? meh. That's so 2009.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Garment maintenance

Most tailors have a tenuous relationship, at best, with dry cleaners, because of the things many do, in the name of expediency. I won't get into the details because my blood pressure is plenty high these days, but I want to share what was, until now, a hidden treasure trove of information about garment maintenance. Hidden to me, anyway.

I had heard of Rave FabriCare and about some of the extraordinary lengths to which they go to care for garments, both cleaning and pressing, but a recent exchange on StyleForum brought their blog, True Quality Cleaning to my attention, something which I had never seen before, probably because it's not all that easy to find on their website (are you reading this, Stu?)

I have never used them, but reading through the site, they say all the right things to lead me to believe that they really are the best place to consign one's clothing. I'm not talking about your 3-for-1 specials, but if you have been investing in quality clothing, it's worth investing in its maintenance. I'm frequently amazed at the number of people who will spend ages bulling their shoes to a perfect shine but who don't want to spend a few extra minutes on clothing maintenance, or a few extra dollars on proper cleaning and pressing. Sure, a hand-held steamer may appear to get the wrinkles out, much the same way a good coating of shellack will give your shoes a quick and easy shine. You don't varnish your shoes, do you? So why not care for your clothing properly? For those who are wondering about maintaining garments at home, between wearing and cleaning, all I can do is say that no tailor that I know of owns a steamer- we use an iron to PRESS out the wrinkles.

They do mail delivery cleaning for all over the US, Canada and Mexico, so if I weren't moving I would give them a try right away. Once I get settled I will send a suit in (incognito, of course) and report on how it comes back to me.

Anyway, anyone interested in clothing maintenance should have a browse through their blog- it's wonderful to find someone who seems to care as much about maintaining clothing as I care about making it.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fitting Challenges

Every so often I will get a call from a store who is having a hard time fitting a customer. We do our best to work with a stock garment, taking as many photos as possible so that I know how to adjust the pattern for a MTM garment, but sometimes it's not enough so we will do a basted try-on, and again, lots of photos. Normally I prefer to do a video-conference using skype so that I can guide the fitting in the store, but that is not always possible.

A few years ago I got such a call- the store was having a difficult time knowing what to do for a particular customer so they sent me some photos. They were going to use an expensive cloth so once I saw the photos, I decided that not only was a bated try-on going to be necessary, I thought it wise to do it in scrap cotton first, especially since they had no video capabilities. They took measurements as well as they could, I drafted a pattern, not having actually seen the customer in person, then we cut some cotton for a first fitting shell. One thing I determined we were going to need was what I call a "hammer dart", which is actually the point of this post; a colleague asked me a question about it and I figured I would share what little I know about with everyone.

I learned the technique from an Italian tailor who called it a "cuneo martello" and which I translate as hammer dart, because of the shape of it. Until I examined a Caraceni suit (danke, VLV), I had never seen it done by anyone else, but then I found reference to a similar technique in a french manual.

Here is the Caraceni version

And here is the French version


Back to my customer.

I sent the cotton fitting shell to the store and saw that we had a lot of work to do. The customer was, fortunately, aware that there are limitations to what we can achieve with MTM, particularly when I am not there to see him in person, but you could fit a large grapefruit between the lapels and his chest, so bad was the gaping due to his very prominent chest, the shoulders were massive, the fronts a mess, and the sleeve just atrocious.


I had hoped to be able to have a second fitting, this time in the actual cloth with the canvas in place, but he was suddenly in a rush to get his suit so I had to go to a straight finish.

Armed only with the low-quality Iphone photos you see here I made certain adjustments to the pattern and finished the coat. I didn't expect perfection from it, nor did we get it. I asked for photos of the finished garment so that I could make further adjustments to the next suit, should there be one (there usually is). One side is still gaping badly, though not nearly as it would have done without that hammer dart, and there are still a number of things to improve for the next one, but it's a far cry from the mess he would have had off the rack. The trousers he is wearing are not the ones we made him, BTW.


So if you are a difficult fit but can't afford bespoke, know that if you find the right salesman in the right store who has a good relationship with the right manufacturer, there can still be hope for a better fit than you would get straight off the rack.

We do care.