Monday, December 28, 2009

Henry Poole & Co.

Reputed to be the founders of Savile Row as well as the creators of the tuxedo, Henry Poole has a long and proud history of tailoring. Their website has a good amount of information about them so I won't get into it much, except to say that they have also been known to be among the more flexible and progressive on the Row. They even had a female cutter as early as the sixties, IIRC.

My most recent purchase has two front buttons with hacking pockets, side vents, and the long front dart we have now seen on a number of garments, and no separate side panel.

Sometimes these dissections can provide more questions than answers, and this garment is no exception. Because of their willingness to adapt to customer's wishes, to be innovative in the craft, and to not be too adherent to any particular "house style", it is difficult to make generalizations based on one garment. I suppose that can be said of all of them, but in this case in particular, I am stumped about a few things. More knowledgeable readers are encouraged to let us all know what we may be missing here.

To start, there is no label inside the pocket with a date or customer name on it. One instantly wonders if this may be ready to wear but I have found no information to the effect that they ever offered RTW; the garment has also clearly been fitted to somebody's shape and not a stock size, and alterations have been done by very skilled hands, likely ones that were involved with the initial construction of the coat.

The buttonholes are fairly neat, though it is quite obvious that only two of the four sleeve buttonholes function and two are shamholes.

buttonhole front


The inside pockets are neatly finished in what I now guess is the Row's manner of finishing. The hand felling is neatly done, if not quite as tightly spaced as the Huntsman.

ins pocket

The hand felling is more obvious around the neck and shoulder.


Another surprise, which is not so easy to see in the photo, is that the back was not cut so as to be able to match the collar. Notice the spacing of the blue lines on the back compared to the collar. We hear a lot about the importance of pattern matching, but this is not the first time that we see a back cut so as not to match the collar, and I recently saw a photo of a number of sleeves (from another Row maker) whose checks were off by a mile. I guess it's not as important as we have been led to believe.

collar matching

The front canvas is linen only, no hair, which is another surprise. I expected this from a soft A&S-type garment, but not from Poole. The chest feels fairly firm and the hand padding is also fairly dense so I'm not sure of the reasoning behind using linen and no hair. It's possible that the cloth is so bulky that the cutter felt that hair canvas was not necessary for the front. The roll of the lapel would not be as rich, but again, that is a personal preference that they may not share.


Let's look again at the canvas, only closer.


The lapel and the collar have been padded by machine.


I've explained my feelings about hand padding the collar before, namely that I don't feel that it's necessary, but I do prefer a hand-padded lapel. I've been told that Gieves has padded their lapels by machines for a long time now; I'm wondering if this is normal for Poole or was done especially for this garment for some reason. In their forward-thinking they may have determined that the slight added benefit of hand padding may be offset by using bulky cloth and linen canvas and that there is not enough benefit to merit the significant cost. Mere speculation on my part. I really don't know.

Ripping away the felt which covers the haircloth in the chest, we find a large piece of haircloth with a linen support piece in the scye and another haircloth support piece in the shoulder. So this coat is actually ever-so-slightly more structured than the Huntsman, which is supposed to be firmer. Fascinating.

The shoulder vees in the canvas have been stitched down with canvas, the way I would expect them to be (the Huntsman vees were left free, for reasons I have yet to figure out)


There is a fairly minimal amount of wadding in the shoulder but also a piece of pukh (for want of an english word)


Here is the pad once it has been removed


The sleeve head is the "on roll" type, which I don't like for reasons which are obvious here. They tend to disintegrate and get lumpy over time, whereas a shaped sleeve head conforms better to the shoulder and won't fall apart like this. On a sport coat it's not really an issue, but on fine worsteds it looks bad.

sleeve head

Which brings me to the greatest surprise of all. For me.

IN the photo of the sleeve wadding, you can see there is a piece of gray lining around the bottom of the armhole. Looking closely, we see that the sleeve has been set by machine. Many houses insist this seam and the shoulder seam must be done by hand to allow for flexibility and to be able to fit the fullness of the sleeve in, but not only has this been done by machine, the initial thought of "cost saving measure?" is instantly dashed by the fact that the lining sewn onto the armhole is straight cut. This prompts a look at the shoulder seam.

shoulder seam

Not only is it also done by machine, but there is also a straight-cut piece of lining staying the seam.

What does this mean?

It means that the tailor at Henry Poole not only disagrees with the idea that the scye and shoulder seams should stretch, he has inserted a straight-cut stay to PREVENT the seams giving any.

WOW. Double WOW. This is potential bespoke heresy. But is there anything to it?

I'm now, more than ever, tempted to take a trip over to London to have a series of chats with people, especially now that I would like to understand the tailor's reasoning behind this complete about-face from tradition.

In the meantime, however, a series of experiments testing the validity of the theory of elasticity in these seams are in order. Maybe Poole has already quietly done their testing. I will also measure the size of the sleeve compared to the armhole and the amount of fullness they have worked in to test the theory of the necessity of hand-sewing the fullness.

And since Santa Claus brought me a camcorder for Christmas it will be that much easier to illustrate the results. Thanks, Santa.


A few interesting suggestions have been made.

I don't think that this garment was a licensed garment for several reasons; first, I acquired it from a vendor in London, not the far east where the licenses are held, but more importantly, I believe the label of licensed product reads Henry Poole of Savile Row wheres this garment bears the full Henry Poole and Co. 15 Savile Row etc. This is also an indication that the garment was made after 1982 when they moved form their premises on Cork to their current address. The garment, in almost all respects, has all of the hallmarks of a London-made suit. It is also of a size which would surprise me to see sold in Asia.

I think the most likely answer is that this was a made-to-measure garment rather than full bespoke. The cost of such garments, being lower than bespoke, could explain the machine padding, even though, as I am told, Gieves and Hawkes has been doing their bespoke in this way for years. It could also explain the lack of a customer label. I might contact Poole for comment, though their reluctance to do so would be understandable, in which case I will have to try to put my hands on a garment which we know to be bespoke, for comparison. Perhaps one of Mark's friends have worn out one of theirs and would be willing to let it go for a small price?

I should also add that I have never heard anything other than the highest praise for Poole, which can not be said of all the houses.

There was a coat on ebay, made in 2007, cut by Simon Cundey himself, which would have made a perfect comparison garment but I was outdone in a last-minute bidding frenzy. To whomever outbid me I say "grrrr". But I will keep trying. And Kiton is definitely next on my list, particularly since they made some pretty dubious claims in print recently. We shall see about that.....


I am led to believe that management at Poole's was unaware that the padding was being done by machine and have since insisted that all lapels and collars be padded by hand.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Getting into Huntsman's trousers

A notice came today indicating that the post office is holding a parcel for me. That must be the Henry Poole coat so I had better get the Huntsman finished!


This suit was cut for a very short man, but in typical English fashion, the trouser is cut with a very high rise and a fishtail back. Intended to be worn only with suspenders (or braces, as they would refer to them), the waist is cut very high, there are no belt loops, and the fly closes with buttons. It looks just like a page out of a tailoring manual from the turn of the last century. It's actually charming!

Here you can see just how long the rise was cut, even for this very short man the square extends only to the bottom of the fly- not all the way to the inseam, which is a few inches further.


Notice how the back is cut very high, without a separate waistband, in order to accommodate the suspenders.


The front has been cut with a waistband to allow for two forward pleats and the pick stitching of the pocket is barely visible.


Instead of a bulky seam, the pocket edge has been turned under, having been reinforced by a piece of linen, and finished by hand.


The pocket inside has been finished by hand, as has all the curtain and facings. The facing has been felled to the pocketing by hand, and you can see the enormous inlays left at the outseam. The trouser had been altered, probably at the final fitting as a previous seam line is evident. but even the original inlays were pretty big, allowing for considerable weight gain.


A bigger view of the outseam. Generous inlays have also been allowed at the inseam.


The waistband has been finished by hand, using a large piece of lining folded over three times.


The back of the trouser is finished with the same lining, leaving ample pleats in the curtain to allow for future alterations.


Here you can see how the back was reinforced with linen prior to finishing. A lot of extra cloth has to be folded in to allow to rebuild the points if the trouser has to be let out or taken in (one of the minor drawbacks to this style is the amount of work required to do what is otherwise a simple alteration.


The front of the waistband was done in a smart way which will deserve a post of its own to explain how it was done, as I think this will interest home sewers. The banroll was attached to a piece of linen and the two were attached to the double width waistband cloth in such a way as to make it very stable and prevent shifting, and the edges of the cloth meet up neatly to create a smooth, even finish. Notice the inlays left at the waist to allow the waist to be raised even further.


The seat seam has been sewn by hand, which brings me to a point I keep trying to make.



As we can see in this trouser, a lot of the craft of tailoring has changed little in the last hundred years. More. A lot of the basic truths have also been repeated, without changing, over that period of time. It's almost religious. One of the maxims is about the hand-sewn seam and its flexibility-

A hand-sewn seam has give and a machine-sewn seam does not, therefore a hand-sewn seam is superior to a machine-sewn seam.

Let's put that in context. A hundred years ago, the only machine available to tailors was the plain machine, more correctly known as the lock stitch machine, because two threads interlock to form a stitch, and a series of those stitches for a seam. It is strong and has very little give, so in an area subject to strain, such as the seat of the trouser, a lock-stitch seam could break easily. A tailor, however, could sew the seam using a back-stitch, a stitch which loops back over itself, which allow the seam to stretch a fair bit. In this context, the above statement is entirely true- a hand-sewn seam is better than a lockstitch seam. We hear this in reference to seat seams, shoulder seams, sleeve seams, and more.....

Though many things have not changed, and tailors are justly proud of the tradition we have maintained, technology HAS changed since then. There are now machines which not only replicate that looping hand stitch but better it, creating complex looping chainstitches with one or several threads which are far more flexible and strong than any hand-sewn backstitch. Those machines can be expensive, though, so most tailor shops will not bother with the expense of such a machine which is only good for 3 or 4 of the hundreds of operations involved in making a suit. My guess is that many of the tailors who chant the mantra of the hand stitch have never seen a lot of the equipment available today. And even though you will hear it repeated often that hand-sewn seams are superior, if you look inside what you thought was a very well-made pant and see that the seat seam has been done by some sort of machine, do not feel that you been been short-changed because the seam was not done by hand. In fact, it is likely that the seam is much stronger than a hand-sewn seam.

So before you go blindly repeating the received wisdom about the hand-sewn seam, know that while it was once quite true, and that it is still true in certain contexts (like that of a small tailor shop, equipped only with lock-stitch machines), it is certainly no longer entirely true. It is nice to know your garment was crafted entirely by hand, but is no longer strictly necessary in order to achieve the same degree of quality, or better, in this instance.

Rant over.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Breast pockets, Huntsman-style

This one's for the tailors. Tiny little details that I obsess over.....

I have always operated under the assumption that there were two basic methods of setting the breast welt pocket (with many variations on the methods, but two global methods).

The first being the hand-made method, in which the welt is constructed (usually by hand), sewn to the front, then the ends felled or slip-stitched in place by hand. This is how I have always made my breast welts.

The other method is the factory method, in which the welt ends are machine-stitched on top, either by micro zig-zag (which is the common technique)or, horrors, by plain machine. The zig-zag method looks like this; you have to look very closely at some garments, but it is there and it is visible.

IMG 099

Every once in a while I would come across a garment whose welt ends looked cleaner, more solid and better executed than the ones felled by hand, but there was no visible stitching on top, leaving one to assume they had to have been done by hand, but with some very talented hands. I knew there was something that I was missing, something I had yet to figure out. The breast welt on this Huntsman coat was one of those types. I have removed some of the pickstitching, but you can see how the ends are done- cleanly, with no visible stitching, yet they are solidly affixed.

breast welt 1

breast welt 2

That's what's fun about studying other people's garments. We learn. We can improve.

Looking inside, we can see that the breast welt has been tacked by machine, but from the inside. At first it seems obvious, until one sits down to try to do it. Hmph.

breast welt inside

I finally managed to figure it out. The welt has to be constructed in a totally different way than I am used to, but I got it.

breast welt mine

This suit has just about paid for itself now. Now I have to practice this, oh, about a hundred times or so before I do it on somebody's garment....


This blogging thing's cool. I got an email from someone who trained at Henry Poole, saying that this was how he learned to do welts there, and then proceeded to send me an explanation of his method. Most of it was pretty much what I had figured out, but there is nothing like experience. When you have done it a hundred times you come up with little tricks to make it easier or better, things that did not immediately occur to me. So he saved me a whole bunch of trouble; in the interest of sharing, I'll put together a tutorial showing the method.

Thanks R!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Huntsman, Ripped and smoothed, part two

Since my last post, a reader emailed me to tell me that the initials of the cutter would be found on the label, those initials being "TH". I assume this must mean Terry Haste, former MD of Huntsman, but was he there in 2000? I'll have to go back and read the book again. Or do some more homework. But in any case, we're not evaluating the cutting here, only the sewing. It's just fun to know a bit about the suit.

Another thing I have been thinking about; there was a mass exodus from Huntsman during that period so anything not quite up to par may be a result of them losing their best people. Or it may not. More to think about. Meanwhile, let's get ripping.

The finishing inside is quite neat; the felling is so neatly done that you have to look close to see it in spots. There is no pleat in the bottom of the lining and to tell the truth, I'm not sure one is really needed, looking at this suit. Hmm.


The neck is neatly done as well. The facing/collar seam has actually been opened and drawn on the whole way, rather than clipping and working the facing over the top collar around the neck which creates some bulk. Extra work, but I like it and will use it.


Two pockets on the left, one on the right, neither with any kind of closure.


While I was surfing Ebay listings I found the pockets odd, as they seemed to have been worked onto the lining, the way manufactured suits are done, and like this one-

IMG 063

I prefer to set the pockets onto a cloth facing which will carry the weight better. It also makes relining much easier- if the pocket has been cut through the lining and goes onto the facing, as in the picture, it's a bit of a beast to reline neatly since you have to work the new pocket exactly over the hole in the facing- margins of error no more than 1/32" or so. Not a job for your average alterations tailor. Well, I should have known better. I didn't notice that the lining was a bit crooked at the pocket- this would have given it away. The pocket is not actually worked through the lining (though the smaller one just below it is)- the pocket is worked through a cloth facing and the lining is felled to conceal the work. It is common for most Italian tailors to leave this facing exposed in a bit of a decorative manner, like in this shot from a Zegna Couture coat (notice also the hand-felled lining with a backstitch instead of a felling stitch- we also saw this on the Brioni dinner jacket I dissected)

but Huntsman has chosen to conceal it entirely; naturally, it has all been done by hand.

pockets peel

pocket open

Now on to some of what gives the suit its shape.

The bridle has been taped with lining instead of the cotton tape which is more common, and the lapel has been sparingly pad stitched. Remember that a lot of the stitching poked through- it is probable that the padding was done by an apprentice. I personally feel that denser pad stitching on the lapel will give a richer roll, and the results that I get would seem to support that theory, but I haven't properly tested it yet so I can't state it as fact, only as received wisdom. Which can sometimes be false. The undercollar (not shown) has been padded by hand, something that I HAVE tested extensively and found that it is not necessary to do by hand- the machine does just as adequate a job, in my opinion.


The canvas front is a lovely, dense hair canvas which has not been singed. I need to find out where this canvas comes from. Huntsman has a reputation for being a firm coat so I expected to find more in the chest. Instead, there is only one piece of haircloth, on a partial bias, and a rather thick piece of chest felt.


The direction of the hairline is surprising since this won't support the upper shoulder as well and there is no additional shoulder support piece.

The "vees" or shoulder cuts are left open rather than being fixed. I'm not sure how I feel about this yet. Readers who survived my pagoda shoulders will remember that these vees are opened and fixed in place to provide the shape to the shoulder and without them being fixed in place they can shift around so the shoulder shape will not be constant. This could possibly be a good thing since there is perhaps more movement allowed, but I think this would be very dangerous in lighter cloth- the hollow created by the open vees would make a very visible dent in the shoulder which would be very obvious in light cloth- the only thing covering them is the piece of striped lining on the top and bottom. I need to think about this for a while.


There is a moderate amount of wadding in the shoulder and two small pieces of collar linen. This is certainly a lot less than either Oxxford or Brioni put in their shoulders, again a surprise, since I expected a firmer shoulder from Huntsman.


Here is the pad removed


In the sleeve head, FOUR layers of heavy felt. This is a lot, even for me who likes a good, healthy rope. The effect is not bad, but its a bit chunky and lumpy since it's put in straight rather than shaped, which is now the norm (sometimes tradition should give way to innovation).
sleeve head

The back of the scye (as well as the underarm) has been padded with cotton and chest felt. This was common in the days of body coats (Sator will love it) but I haven't seen much of it lately; I'm not sure if this is common practice for them or if this gentleman had very hunched shoulders which needed some help. Judging by the, um, proportions of the suit, I am guessing the latter.


I went plowing along without mentioning that the shoulder seam was sewn by hand and that the sleeve has been sewn in by hand. More on that later.

So far so good, the only major surprises being how LITTLE stuff there was inside. I was expecting much more. As some of my other garments begin to arrive, we'll have a better basis of comparison, though. Need to find an A&S......... But before that, the trousers, which seem to have changed little in the last 100 years.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hunstman, Ripped and Smoothed

I just finished reading Richard Anderson's recent book, Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed. It tells of his apprenticeship and work as a cutter at H. Huntsman, widely regarded as the Row's best and most expensive tailor, and how a change of ownership and some questionable practices led him to leave and start his own bespoke house, Richard Anderson, Ltd. I rather enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone who has an interest in Savile Row and the business of tailoring.

Having read the book, I thought it only fitting that my next dissection should be a Huntsman bespoke garment dated 2000, right around the time of his departure from the house. I don't think we'll ever know who cut it or if it was off an earlier pattern, but that's not really relevant to us right now.


There's a lot to show so I will do this in several installments. I also now realize that I need some better lighting and a macro lens (thanks NOBD); I hate what flash does to these shots and daylight is in short supply these days......

To see bigger versions of the photos, click on them which will bring you to my Flickr site. Click on "All sizes" above the photo, which should give you the full size, or the ability to select it.
The coat is their typical one button, with a notch (or step) lapel.

Functional sleeves buttonholes (the quality of which are just ok) are a little close to the hem, suggesting alterations. Strangely, one sleeve has four functioning buttonholes, the other has three functioning buttonholes and one sham hole.


Here's a shot of another coat. This was made for Voxsartoria by Steed Bespoke Tailors.


Now a trick question. If I hadn't told you which was which, but instead told you one was from the house reputed to be the absolute best and most expensive, and the other was from a much less-expensive off-Row tailor, would you have guessed right? If you guessed wrong, go get Edwin to make you a suit. Not that we should judge the merits of a suit on buttonholes alone, but Edwin's seem just a little neater, and it should be the other way around.

Back to Huntsman.

Now notice the two-hole buttons and the fold-up hem. Most RTW and MTM is not done like this as it is quite bulky BUT it allows alterations to the sleeve length after the holes have been cut. Ebay scroungers take note.

slv underside

The front buttonhole. Notice the off-coloured pad stitching peeking through under the lapel.

front hole

Underside of the lapel, where you see more of the padstitching peeking through.

lapel underside

Notice the font configuration- unlike most modern garments there is no separate side body so the underarm seam stops at the pocket. The front dart, however, extends to the hem, a detail often associated with drape cuts.

front dart

And finally, for today, the side vent, with an extra-wide underlay. Notice how the finishing of the lining is done.


Check back soon for more, as there are more interesting details in the coat, and tons in the trouser. There's also a Henry Poole sportcoat coming so SR fans stay tuned.