The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Classic Tailoring

"If, after measuring the client, pre-shrinking the fabric, making and correcting a muslin, you are very anxious to get on with actually making the suit, you may not care to hear at this point that professional tailors do not use tissue paper patterns. They are just too unwieldy (the patterns, not the tailors).

The only positive quality about a tissue paper pattern seems to be that it fits neatly, or not so neatly, into a pattern envelope. On the negative side, it wrinkles, it tears, it flies away if you sneeze.

Tailor's make their own patterns on sturdy paper or on oaktag. The oaktag pattern can be laid in place on the fabric, weighed down rather than pinned, and traced with tailor's chalk. Small holes are made in the oaktag pattern through which dart tips and pocket points can be marked. Notches are cut into the edge of the pattern at waistline, hem line, roll line, etc. When not in use, the patterns are hung neatly on pattern hooks. . ."

Thus begins chapter 5 of both Classic Tailoring Techniques for Women's Wear and Classic Tailoring Techniques for Men's Wear, both by Roberto Caberera and Patricia Meyers. Published within a year of each other (and both of them older than me), these books really ought to have been one. They are a great way to teach yourself tailoring; both books cover basic stitches and tailoring supplies, information on fabric and how to work with it (including pre-shrinking, straightening the grain, and nap), layout and cutting, fitting and oodles of pocket and buttonhole details, as well as all the classic tailoring details. They are arranged in the exact order you would need to use the material, and give step by step instructions, as though you had a teacher right in the room with you. At one point he even admonishes, "Do not spend time measuring your stitches. Just get a general sense of the size, and proceed." (This is quite a necessary warning for me, as most of my hand stitching has been embroidery, and I'm a bit of a fanatic for trying to get those even, perfect stitches.)

The only frustration is trying to figure out which book to get. They have only a few differences. Most topics and construction techniques are exactly the same, word for word. They both cover pants and jacket, complete with pockets, buttons, canvas, sleeve heads, and the entire works. On top of that, the Women's Wear covers several types of skirts, the peplum jacket and pleated pants. The Men's Wear covers vests and more complicated pant constructions--waistband curtain and French fly. Obviously, if you only intended to do women's tailoring, you'd buy the appropriate book (and then snatch the other out of the library if you wanted to make a vest). Likewise you'd want the other book if you intended to only do men's tailoring. Supposing you wanted to do both? I suppose you'd have to buy one, get the other out of the library and read any missing parts, and then wing it from there, hoping you remembered all the odd stuff out. Or you could buy both books, but that seems a bit of a waste, since they are 98% the same.

There are relatively few differences in actual construction. The men's suit has a fairly well built up chest and shoulders, the women's does not. They both have the supportive canvas, but only the men's has padding stitched in. In Men's Wear (which was published first), Caberera explains "These layers of fabric, heavily concentrated in the chest area of the jacket, are meant to give the jacket a body that does not depend completely for it's life on the human body wearing the jacket. The purpose of the canvas is to control the fabric and reduce its susceptibility to wrinkling and stretching." In Women's Wear he says instead, "[. . .]This solid breastplate is unnecessary and unflattering to the feminine figure."

My best interpretation is that the canvas is necessary for a flat and smooth fit. The padding is simply pectoral muscles for the man without a gym membership.

Anyone brave enough to attempt teaching themselves tailoring is probably already pretty proficient at fitting anyway. (Unless you're crazy like me. In which case, there is probably no hope for you, and you'll have to learn everything from the school of Hard Knocks. Which can be fun, but it takes a lot longer.) But if you aren't, these books also both supply a good amount of fitting directions. One might think that these might be highly specialized between books, but it's not. Although the shape the hips varies greatly between men and women, the amount of alteration that men need is not that greatly different from the amount of alteration women need; and in any case, it is the same alteration. There are a few specialized fitting instructions or alterations (only the men's edition has an alteration for "muscular inner thighs", for instance).

The most interesting alteration I saw was the one for a low shoulder (not to be confused with a sloped shoulder or a tight neckline).
"[. . .]It would appear that the logical pattern correction would be a deeper, slanting seam at the shoulder. Doing his would make the armhole smaller, which, in turn, would necessitate making the sleeve smaller. The fact is that the correction has nothing to do with the armhole. It has to do with the rib cage area. The shoulder is low because the body is contracting itself somewhere between the armhole and the waist, on one side. The adjustment is somewhat complicated--however, it works.
He's right; it is rather complicated. A lot of tailoring is. If you want to know how, get your hands on one of the books.


Anonymous London Tailors said...

The fundamentals of men's and women's suits are very similar but there are still some important differences. Tailors are best off focussing on one or the other.

5:08 AM  

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