Wednesday, February 18, 2009

To drape or not to drape

I'm getting ahead of myself (again). The windowpane coat is finished but I'm going to wear it and abuse it for a while before making any further observations on it. On to my next experiment.

A whole lot of fuss is made over the drape cut, some claiming it to be the ultimate in bespoke silhouettes and others deriding it as just bad cutting. Many people aren't very clear about just what drape is, especially since what is made nowadays as drape is perhaps far from what was being made in its heyday. The proponents of it claim that it is not only more elegant, it is also more comfortable. I favor a clean-cut chest over drape and feel quite strongly about it, however I have never worn a drape coat and I am also not so much of a testa dura to not put it to the test. So my next experiment- to cut myself a drape coat and do the wear-test.

First, what is drape? Opinions can differ on the details, but drape is primarily characterized by soft vertical folds of excess cloth around the scye, on the premise that this affords more movement or comfort. It seems to have been made popular (some claim it was invented) by Frederick Scholte, a famous cutter at Anderson & Sheppard, a Savile Row house. EDIT- I AM INFORMED THAT SCHOLTE TRAINED A&S CUTTERS BUT WAS NOT, HIMSELF, AN EMPLOYEE OF A&S. Cutting manuals of the time state that it was not clear where the drape came from, whether from England or the States or even Europe, so I wonder if it really was invented by Scholte or the fact that he popularized it misleads us. I don't know. They also pioneered a "soft tailoring" school which sometimes confuses people, since a suit can be clean-cut but be soft, and a draped suit can be structured. Here are a few examples, the first being Mr. Hitchcock, the current head cutter at A&S, and one of them being a very extreme version, just in case you missed it.




The same vertical fold would appear at the back of the scye.

I have two texts which give instructions for drafting a drape coat- one is Whife's Modern Tailor, Outfitter and Clothier of London from the late 40's, and Regal's Garment cutter, which, if I am not mistaken, dates from 1933 so they are both from the period of greatest popularity of the style. Regal's gives a draft with a moderately small drape allowance- 1" on the half while Whife gives well over 1 1/2" on the half; Whife also gives options for a closer-fitting seat and appears to be more of what we see in the drape cut. One feature it does include is a front dart which extends all the way to the hem, something that we rarely see except on Rubinacci, some Huntsman and perhaps a few other Neapolitan tailors. I know that this was hugely popular in Naples at around the time that English tailoring was catching on there, and I would prefer a cleaner seat so I chose to use Whife's draft with dart extending to the hem. It is the first time I have drafted and cut this sort of thing and it posed a certain challenge where matching the pocket was concerned. More one that later.

The draft instructions are actually manipulations to the regular draft so I started by drafting a pattern to their standard grid, then followed their instructions for turning that pattern into a drape coat. I made the pattern without a separate side body, another thing which is new for me. One of the reasons I am doing this is to see exactly what the drape coat of the day would have looked like and felt like so I am trying to stick to it to the letter. Being a checked fabric, I have left the sleeve until I am happy with the fit of the coat since changes to the armhole will affect how well (if at all) the checks match. Once I get the armhole nailed down I will draft a sleeve to fit it, using my own sleeve drafting system, not Whife's.

Here is part of the instructions for the drape manipulations- you can see there areas which are getting larger, and also the extreme straightening of the neck point. Further manipulations include cutting through the front to open it up and create the long form dart


One thing that Scholte was known for doing was putting the canvas on the bias. I have been trying to get a look inside vintage A&S jackets to see if the whole front was on the bias or just the chest part; I suspect it was just the chest part. The large piece of canvas that goes all the way down the front is quite supple and I see no reason to put it on the bias. The chest, however, has stiffer hair running across it but not lengthwise; putting this on the bias, running diagonally toward the top of the shoulder, would give dimensional stability but be softer when the arm was reaching forward. It would also allow the extra cloth in the scye to drape and form that famous fold- otherwise the crosswise hairline would just fill the chest out and it would be less evident. So I am cutting the main front on the straight and the chest canvas on the bias. I am not putting any other chest plates or shoulder reinforcement pieces a I would for a fully constructed garment, nor am I putting a shoulder pad.

I have done two fittings so far (which is hard to do on yourself, even with a 3-way mirror) and this is what the coat is starting to look like. The bag is a skein of silk thread- the way most finishing threads are sold, as opposed to on spools. You cut one end of the skein and that makes pieces of thread just the right length, and all the same length. The thread is pre-waxed.


It was very tempting during fittings to clear the scye (clean up the chest) since to my stubborn eye it just looks wrong. But I resist! It is quite a lot of drape, even though I allowed the minimum suggested by Whife.

Manipulations with the iron play a big role in shaping so I will note now what I did. Since the chest seems amply big on its own, the only manipulation was a bit of shrinking of the scye near the front pitch notch. I stretched the neck and first two inches of the front shoulder to give the forward pitch, and that is all I did to the front. The side seams were stretched as usual, as well as the blades of the back and center back seam (see my previous post on shaping the back). I would normally tape the back scye, drawing it short, but Whife admonishes against it so I did not. That is the full extent of the manipulations with the iron.

Having a seam going down the front means that pockets won't necessarily match at certain parts. Iammatt was kind enough to show me a closeup of one of his Rubinacci coats which they had cleverly managed to disguise this mismatch at the bottom of the pocket. I was not so successful, but I think it has more to do with the width of the check- the check on Matt's coat was much wider. I will do some more looking into this later.

This is Iammatt's Rubinacci. The check mismatch is very well disguised.


Even though I find the drape amount excessive, it was what Whife described so I am going to leave it. Tomorrow I will be able to draft my sleeve and go to that fitting. Then I will post some photos of where I am at with it.


brendan said...

Hi Jeffrey, great post....this is my favourite source of information on tailoring!

I have come across the ''Bradford Coat System'' by Herbert Hildreth, its approx 100 years old. I am happy to email you a copy if you are interested in taking a look.

R. Jeffery Diduch said...

Hello Brendan

I'm not familiar with that book and would like to have a look! You can reach me at jeffery_d at ymail dot com.


brendan said...

Will email it out to you today...hope its of some academic use! Ive never seen the system brought up on any of the forums. I hope you can carry on posting, this blog is fantastic! I used to work for a well known shop on Savile Row for many years (just as a ready to wear salesman though), though I do my own sewing at home.

ClaireOKC said...

This is a fascinating post. Although I'm not a tailor (I'm a dressmaker), this reminds me a little of the manipulations that I have to make for a large chest.

And having been through the 80's with huge shoulder pads, (and seeing that this style originated during the 30's & 40's in which large shoulder pads were the style), I wonder if this wasn't a variation of that large-shouldered look that wasn't so structured and therefore being softer, at the same time the larger scye could accommodate the larger shoulder and padding that was in fashion during the 30's & 40's.

Fascinating in as much as the history and the technique.

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