Tuesday, November 22, 2016

NOTES ON MY COSTUME

I had a few questions about my halloween costume. I made it in a huge hurry so I don't have photos or details to share, but I'll explain what I can in an attempt to answer some of the specific questions.

The cloth was a brocade I found at Joann Fabric- I decided on the Wednesday what I would be wearing to a party on the Saturday and ran out at lunch to find something. I had hoped to find a red and black flocked jacquard but couldn't so bought this brocade instead. It was reminiscent of the outfit Joffrey wore to his own wedding in the Game of Thrones (the scene where he dies of poisoning). I have a mannequin that is fairly close to my own shape so I draped the pattern directly in the actual cloth- fortunately it was cheap enough that I could buy extra which would allow for that, so instead of using muslin which isn't the same in terms of drape, I used the actual stuff. The only drawback to doing that is I don't have a record of the pattern, in case I ever wanted to use it again. that said, it was fairly easy to make so I wouldn't have trouble duplicating it.

I wanted a fairly clean bodice so it was interlined with tailor's canvas. Someone asked about interlining for silks- I personally wouldn't use the same interlining on silk as I do woolens- you need to balance the hand and the drape to the cloth. There is no science to it, just play withe the cloth and various interlinings until you get something you think works together. I used to make a lot of ladies wear using dupioni silk which has a crisp finish to it so is suitable to tailored styles, unlike softer silks, and would sometimes use broadcloth as an interlining (cutting the exact size and shape as the silk outer pieces, basting them together and working them as one piece) and then something a little crisper as interfacing on edges etc. I thought briefly about using boning in the bodice to give a really clean look, but decided against it. The sleeves and body were lined but the cape part over the sleeve was not- the edges were turned twice and top stitched. The cloth was crisp enough that the hem of the garment didn't need interfacing.

Does that cover the questions?

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Working on my Hallowe'en costume

An homage to Game of Thrones' King Joffrey Baratheon. Still need to make the sash and then I'm almost done.

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Friday, August 5, 2016

100 HANDS

A few months ago I was contacted by Dirnelli who had seen something he thought might be of interest to me. A handmade shirt. And before I go much further let me preface by telling recent readers that one of the original intents of this blog was to explore the merits, myths and mystique of handmade clothing, with a particular focus on suits, sport coats and trousers.

There is a lot of romance surrounding the art of making clothing by hand and I feel that a lot of the techniques have been mythologized beyond what they should be, mainly repeated received wisdom without challenging the shibboltehs of 100 years ago. Such myths as seams having to be done by hand in order to give them elasticity of which a machine is not capable, to which I ask, if a machine is not capable of producing a seam with elasticity, then are bathing suits, underwear and athletic wear all sewn by hand? Or perhaps that a hand-sewn seam will mold to the body in a way a machine-sewn seam can not. It is said that hand tailoring is just better than machine sewing. This is often part of a marketing spiel designed to sell you an expensive product.

It is true that there are certain steps in the tailoring process which are still better done by hand, not because it would have been impossible to create machines which would reproduce the same effect, but that the cost-benefit ratio never made it worthwhile to develop such machines. No hand will ever sew with the same mount of regularity and precision as a machine will. A lockstitched machine seam is far stronger than a handewsn running stitch or backstitch. A machine will always create cleaner, more even, and usually stronger results.

But let's now back up a little bit.

While it is true that a machine will usually create a more perfect result, perhaps perfection is not always the desired result. Would you rather have a perfect photocopy of a treasured painting or drawing, or a rather a less perfect one drawn or painted by the hands of an artist?

When we do away with the silly argument that a handmade garment is measurably better than a machine made garment, there is certainly a case to be made for the appreciation of the craftsmanship that goes in to a hand made garment. When making my own suits for myself will generally do most things by hand even though I have access to the best equipment and machines that exist, merely because I enjoy doing and I enjoy the imperfect result of the work of my own hands.

Back to the story of our shirts.

When I first heard of this handmade shirt my initial reaction was mixed. When I first learned how to make shirts, many steps were done by hand merely because we didn't have the right equipment or the technical expertise to properly and neatly finish them by machine. I have seen beautifully-sewn shirts being made by hand at Hermes but which would admittedly not stand up to a machine washing. I was ready to hear the usual story about this or that step must be done by hand in order to infuse the soul of the mountain in whose shadow the shirts were sewn or some such nonsense. But when I spoke to the founders of the company they were refreshing forthcoming about their approach. They made no pretense about hand sewing being the sine qua non or substantially better than machines. They simply appreciate the tradition, the skill and the craftsmanship.

And that, to me, is a whole other matter. I can definitely relate to that.

So they offered to send me a shirt to look at. Based in Amsterdam, the production is actually done in India. I won't dive deep in to their story here as you can read all about it on their own website. Suffice it to say that a shirt with this level of workmanship would be completely out of the reach of most people if it were done anywhere other than a place like India or China. And perhaps I need to remind some readers that India and China were producing some of the best textiles in the world while the west was in burlap diapers. Some of the most intricate embroideries and handwork that I have ever seen have come out of Asia so we need to suspend our knee-jerk association of Asia with cheap, badly-made crap for a moment.

This shirt truly is hand made. Certain seams which require strength have been sewn by machine using impossibly tiny stitches, but practically everything else has been done by hand. While many hand finished shirts I have seen use longer, lighter stitches usually out of expediency, those stitches are often delicate and do not withstand the kind of abuse to which a shirt is often subjected. In this case, however, the sewing is astonishing, both in the density of the stitches which make for a far more durable garment, as for their evenness and regularity.

The collar is constructed by machine but attached to the body entirely by hand using almost invisible slip stitches, and the buttonholes are excellent.
Perhaps you can see the almost invisible stitches used to keep the placket in place.







The same density of tiny hand stitches is used to finish the flat-felled seams on the side of the shirt and the sleeve, as well as the armscye seam. The cuffs and sleeve plackets have been finished by hand with slip stitching, pick stitching and a hand bar tack.



The hem has been rolled using the same technique we find on the best scarves and pocket squares.



Naturally, buttons are mother-of-pearl and are sewn on by hand. I am going to subject this shirt to the usual indignities of laundering, both domestic and "professional" to see how it holds up by judging bu the density and bite of the stitching I see no reason at all to believe it won't hold up. Only a few washings will tell for for sure. And even though this is made in India, the amount of labor involved is very high so the price will reflect it- this is not a shirt for bargain-hunters. But for people who love craftsmanship and appreciate the details, as I do, there is a lot to love in this shirt and while many of the customers in the luxury market are impossibly driven by brands so might not give this shirt the same consideration they would to a more famous maker in the south of Italy, I think that would be a shame and they might be missing out on a splendid garment.


UPDATE

Having visibly struggled in the attempt to produce decent close-up shots of the detail, 100 Hands kindly sent me some of their photos, shown below.







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Monday, May 2, 2016

A piece of history

I just took over an office from someone who left Hickey Freeman. It was the office occupied by former designers and executives of the company and hadn't been cleaned out in, well, ages. It's in the corner of a suite of offices which have remained largely unchanged since they were built in 1912. I figured I might find some little treasures hidden in boxes, forgotten. I never thought I would find something that is so significant, at least in my mind.

There is a little side office adjoined to mine, in which there was a drafting table on which the designers would make their patterns, plus some shelves and two garment bags tucked behind the door. Behind the door and a stack of patterns I found this. This is a morning suit which was made for Walter B. D. Hickey (sr.) in 1929, six months before the market crash which caused the great depression. Mr. Hickey was the chairman of Hickey Freeman in the late sixties and judging by the date and size, it must have been made for him when he was a boy. His son, Mr. Hickey jr., now retired, was in last week for a visit- I will give him a call to see what he knows about this garment.

What is particularly exciting about this is the provenance and the condition. When looking at vintage garments we often have no idea for whom it was made, by whom, and when we do, there is often little information about them. In this case, not only do we know when it was made, for whom, exactly who that person is (and that person has a prominent place in the history of the clothing industry in America), but this garment was never worn. It is in mint condition. The silk lining in the sleeves has started to deteriorate a little, but the silk in the body is absolutely immaculate. I've never seen a garment of this age in this condition.

I'll post more photos when I get back from travelling next week, but in the meantime I'm going to reach out to a few people to consult with them on proper storage and what the best home for this would be. The costume institute, perhaps?



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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Made in the USA- United States Olympic Team

Very proud to be a part of the making of the United States Olympic Team uniforms.



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Friday, April 1, 2016

Trunk Show

I'll be doing a Hickey Freeman trunk show at Richards in Greenwich CT and then Mitchells in Norwalk CT this weekend. If you're in the area, drop in and say hi.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Something new for next spring

Something new I'm working on, with completely un-padded shoulders. This is not your father's Hickey Freeman.

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

My brain hurts

CAD software can be pretty complex. I've been using the same software for about 20 years now, from a company called Gerber Technologies. I do all my pattern design, grading, alterations, and made-to-measure on this platform. Or rather, I did. When I joined Hickey Freeman they were in the process of doing a very significant upgrade of their own CAD software, from a company called Lectra (it's actually former investronica software, but they were bought by Lectra). In a way it was fortunate timing because everybody had to be retrained on the new version they are installing because they jumped four versions. Lots of new functions. But for me, who has never seen this platform before, it's like unlearning how to ride a bike and trying to learn how to do it upside down and backwards. Blindfolded. It has some great functionality built in but it's just killing me trying to learn it in the very short period of time that the trainer is here from Spain. One great thing is that I have it installed on a laptop so I can bring it home and work in my pajamas. I could never do that before so this weekend is all about practicing with this new software.

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