Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Asola Lucida- a lightbulb goes on...

So I had another little moment of insight. Or maybe my thickheadedness deserted me briefly.

I was contemplating my lapel buttonholes last week, the by now infamous asola lucida ones, that is, and finding them just too chunky, especially when compared to some nicer ones like the Tom Ford. The thread I am using is just too heavy.

To wit



And theirs


Silk buttonhole twist is only available in two sizes these days, the finest being size 40, which is the one I use. But still, it is not nearly as fine as the thread used on the nicest lapel buttonholes. So I was wondering where I could find both buttonhole twist and a much finer thread but offered in the very same colors, something I have never seen before. Then I had my little idea.

Buttonhole twist is 3-ply- that is to say, it has three yarns (rather than the typical two) twisted together to form the thread. If I were to strip the twist down, I would have three very fine threads to use, solving my problem. Of course, such a fine thread would require three times as much work to cover the same space- I think it was Francesco Smalto who said that 140 stitches are required to execute the asola lucida. Using a thread this fine, I believe him. Compounding the difficulty, a thread which has been stripped can be difficult to work with. It's just the sort of punishment I seem to enjoy inflicting upon myself in order to make a pretty buttonhole, and another detail over which to obsess for a while. So I started ripping apart the buttonholes on a few of my jackets, pulling apart silk twist, and reworking them over again.

Obsessive Buttonhole Disorder. I wonder if they make a pill for that...


Wednesday, January 18, 2012


My copy came in the mail this week.

O'MAST from Kid Dandy on Vimeo.

One of the few pleasures that I have derived from working in tailored clothing factories, as opposed to working in a tailor shop, is that there are invariably a sizable group of old guys from the old world who like nothing better than to sit around, shooting the breeze and talking about what life was like back in the day. Back in the day meaning, of course, back in Italy. I could almost write a book. In fact, maybe someday I will.

O'Mast, a documentary by Gianluca Migliarotti, is an intimate portrait of some of the last remaining Neapolitan tailors and their clients. Perhaps lacking in a definite story or arc, it was exactly like sitting around on a coffee or lunch break with the guys. Only missing was coffee. While the stories had an immediate appeal for me because they were so familiar, one thing jumped out at me for the first time, if only because of the context of some of the recent political discourse.

(If you're interested, and if you are a regular reader of this blog I should think you will be interested, the DVD is only about $25 and cad be had at the Armoury's website. The Armoury is in Hong Kong but shipping was super fast.)

It's a story I have heard a thousand times if I have heard it once. At age 11 or 12, a young boy would be sent to the tailor shop to apprentice. Maybe after school. Maybe afternoons. Maybe he would drop out of school entirely. His pay, if he were lucky enough to get any, might be 100 to 150 lire a week. He would ride his bike from his village several miles to the nearest bus or train, where he would spend his weekly salary on train fare into the city. The lucky ones might have enough left at the end of the week to buy a cup of coffee, though not likely. At Christmas the master expected a gift or tribute of some sort to thank him for the time he spent training the young apprentice. The system produced some of the best tailors in the world, and helped drive the eventual cachet of the "Made in Italy" brand.

Perhaps I have become desensitized to the story, having heard it so many times. More likely I can relate in a sense since, like so many other pursuits, it is generally agreed that one must start early in life in order to gain a proper mastery; piano lessons, ballet lessons, gymnastics... those who become successful at these pursuits are more likely to have started lessons at age six than at age 20. Something to do with the 10,000 hour rule.

Those readers who are fortunate enough to be insulated from the Republican primary season here in the U.S. will have missed Newt Gingrich's recent assertion that poor children should be made to work as janitors in school. My initial reaction was, naturally, one of shock and indignation. He did, suggest, however, that they be paid some sort of wage, which is more than can be said for the tailor's apprentice. So what was a charming story about learning the craft of tailoring now has the taint of child labor. How do I reconcile the two?

I'm not sure that I can.

It's one thing to say that it was an economic necessity and a part of the harsh reality of post-war Europe that children had to be sent out at a young age to work, essentially, for free, with the only benefit being that they were learning a marketable skill. But the same logic could be applied to Newt's argument and I'm not sure that's a good thing. It also highlights the question of whether such a training regimen was really necessary in order to create the generation of craftsmen that is currently disappearing and is not likely to be replaced without such a draconian system of apprenticeship.

While I am certain that each of the tailors interviewed in the film would tell you that they were entirely thrilled to have had the chance to apprentice as they did, I am equally convinced that not one of them would send his own child out to repeat the process.

I don't really have a point here. I'm just thinking out loud. In print. Whatever.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

More experimentation with drape...

Wow. It’s been a while. Let me start by wishing everyone a happy new year!
In the past six weeks I had been home all of five days, and non-consecutive ones at that so I’m way behind in all of my projects. The Ariston coat is long-finished but I need to photograph it and now I have a small pile of cloth to cut.

J&J Minnis was having a sale- the Crown Classics bunch was being offered at twenty pounds a meter plus VAT. So it’s time for another experiment.

Some time ago I experimented with drape, referencing a draft manipulation published by Whife in the Modern Tailor, Outfitter and Clothier. I had seen a number of published texts on the construction of a drape coat but had never handled the real thing so I kind of made things up as I went along, in terms of construction. The finished result was this.



Some of the details were goofy but the silhouette wasn’t bad.

Then I bought this vintage Anderson & Sheppard coat and learned a few things.


Most particularly, about how the drape in the chest is achieved by cutting the haircloth away from the armhole.

chest open

So this experiment is two-fold. First, the piece that I bought from Minnis is dark brown with a chalk stripe. I have never owned a brown suit and I’m not sure if I will like it or not. One way to find out, right?

Second, I will try this drape thing out again, but this time with an eye on the A&S coat. I like the shape and the flare to the skirt, though it’s perhaps verging on costume. The one thing I’m not really sure about is the chest. While I agree that the chest emphasis flatters me, as in the first attempt, I don’t think I can stomach a proper drape, with the haircloth cut away from the armhole, on a suit. I think I’m just too stuck in my ways for that. So I may keep the full haircloth in the chest. At which point it begins to resemble a Tom Ford cut.


We know that he was a customer of A&S before starting his own men’s line. So it’s very possible he went through the same thought process- extend the shoulder a bit and emphasize the chest to create the illusion of more waist suppression but build the chest up with a good amount of haircloth so that it’s clean and not sloppy. I’ve heard people moan about the fact that he was just copying this one or that one, but really, who isn’t inspired by somebody else? A&S was “inspired” by Scholte who was “inspired” by military uniforms…

One last question mark that remains in my head. Normally when underpressing the fronts, we keep the stripes closest to the armhole completely straight from the waist up to the top, working the chest forward toward center front. Since the objective of the traditional drape cut was to have a fold of cloth near the armscye, I figured that working the chest forward would negate that fullness near the scye and on the last coat I didn’t straighten them out. It seemed to work, but this time I think I’ll stick to the rules about stripes and see what happens.

So in all a lot of risks and a good chance I’ll end up not liking the suit. But at twenty pounds a meter at least it’s not an expensive risk, and worth the investment for whatever I might learn out of the process.


My bad- I should have been more clear about what I mean by "drape". I'm not referring to the drape of the cloth or the patternmaking technique of draping, but to a style of coat that was created at the turn of the last century, was very popular in the thirties and virtually disappeared in the fifties. A primer, as well as the draft manipulation used for the last garment can be found here.


In response to a question about underpressing the fronts, the stripes act as a guide for the correct pressing, and this is a critical step before basting the canvas. The stripes nearest the scye must run absolutely straight from the shoulder down to the waist line (this will cause a distortion in the stripes forward of the dart- this is normal). The stripes closest to center front must run straight from the waist down to the hem. This has the effect of crookening the shoulder point a tiny bit during pressing, but is separate from the issue of whether it is a straight-cut or crooked-cut coat. Hope this is a bit clearer now.