The Making Of A Bespoke Suit - By A Suit Maker.
After 22 years of tailoring, I’ve been asked to write how to make a bespoke suit.
Firstly, we must assume we have taken an order by way of a customer coming into our premises. What happens, personally John & I have a very relaxed & business attitude towards serving customers. We feel it’s better to be relaxed when spending money, rather than going into some stuffy nosed over priced tailors who spend a fortune of your money marketing themselves.
One of the first things that we would establish is what the customer would use the garment for, it may be a simple business suit for travelling, therefore as a tailor we should be looking at certain cloths that would not crease & would be more practical for this. Or, it may be a luxury suit possibly a wedding suit, it is for the tailor to gather the information & make the customer feel relaxed. My personal advice is that you should feel that the sales person is listening to you. On many occasions I’ve seen new customers come in with screwed up wrinkly coats made from beautiful cloth that they have been sold by over enthusiastic sales people suggesting it would be an appropriate garment for travelling.
Once you have determined the cloth & your still not sure if it is exactly what you want, do not hesitate to hold the order (hold the order is simply asking them not to order to cloth in, but to reserve the cloth from the cloth merchants, thus giving you time to make your mind up …… pleased don’t take long).
You have now chosen the cloth, we will talk about the cloth as in the different types and the practicalities of several different manufactures & qualities.
There are some wonderful companies that produce superb light weight cloths like Scabals who I’ve recently made a suit with extra trousers. The cloth was a super 150 with cashmere at 7-8oz costing well over one thousand UK pounds. Personaly, I thought the cloth was beautiful, but unfortunately I think we could have used a better cloth to get the end result (Hey what do I know…. I’m just a Tailor, been doing this for 22 years, but who ever listens to me).
Below is a list of some of the different fabrics which may help you:
Classification: Specialty hair fiber.
Source: The Cashmere (Kashmir) or down goat. From the fine, soft undercoat or underlayer of hair. The straighter and coarser outer coat is called guard hair.
Geographic Origin: From the high plateaus of Asia. Significant supplier countries are: China, Mongolia and Tibet. Today, little is supplied by the Kashmir Province India, from which its name is derived. The cashmere products of this area first attracted the attention of Europeans in the early 1800s.
Gathering Process: The specialty animal hair fibers are collected during molting seasons when the animals naturally shed their hairs.Goats molt during a several-week period in spring. In China and Mongolia, the down is removed by hand with a coarse comb. The animals are sheared in Iran, Afghanistan, New Zealand and Australia.
Annual Yield: Up to one pound of fiber per goat, with the average 4 to 6 ounces of underdown.
Natural Colors: Gray, brown and white.
Cloth made of carded short-staple wool fibers. After weaving, the cloth was fulled or shrunk to make it denser and heavier. Broadcloth was England's traditional fine woolen manufacture. (p.375 Montgomery)
Lightweight cloth made of long staple combed wool yarn. The name was derived from the village of Worstead near Norwich, a center for worsted weaving. (P.375 Montgomery)
Made by the process of combing, as opposed to carding - serge, bunting, rep. Weave is the most prominent feature of the fabric. Worsted yarns are generally made from long and lusterous varieties of wool - prepared by combing.
"A variety of yarn or thread, spun form long staple wool which has been combed, and in the spinning is twisted harder than usual. (P.616 Cole's)
It is a product made from long-stapled wool combed straight and smooth before spinning. (Silverstien)
Made from woolen yarn "slightly twisted in the spinning, and of open texture, the object in view being to have the cloth soft and spongy, without regard to strength... All the sort are occasionally dyed, though more usually sold white. Flannels are bleached by the steam of burning sulfur, in order to improve their whiteness." (Beck) (P. 238 Montgomery)
Derived from the Welsh word for wool. Flannel was one of Wales' main industries, but the flannel sold in the fur trade was produced in Yorkshire (Anon 1811:14, NBL). It is a light or medium weight woollen fabric of plain or twill weave with a slightly napped surface. The flannel used in the fur trade was generally of a coarse quality and came in a variety of colors including white, red, blue, yellow and green. The United States began producing cotton "flannels" during the nineteenth century. These were napped cotton textiles which today are used predominantly for pajamas and shirts. In North America today, we tend to use the term "flannel" to refer to these latter type of fabrics. Properly speaking, however, these textiles should be called "flannellettes," as they were called in Canada (and probably Britain) up until very recently. (Silverstien)
Angora goats produce a beautiful luxurious incredibly durable fibre called mohair which rates amongst the warmest natural fibres known to man. It is a fibre that is justifiably recognised worldwide as the one fibre that ultimately enhances luxury products.
South Africa, from where all our products are directly sourced from fair trade producers, currently produce more than 60% of total world production of mohair.
Leading fashion houses worldwide have long recognised the intrinsic value of mohair as a luxury fibre. Today, ongoing research clearly reflects mohair's outstanding value in non-fashion products and household textiles. Mohair's properties and characteristics allow end-product production houses to differentiate their products, all capitalising on the fibre's natural, unrivalled beauty, durability, silky texture and numerous other qualities.
Mohair is a strong, lustrous fibre that makes an ideal yarn and fabric. It drapes well and resists wrinkling or shrinking. It is stronger and warmer than wool, keeping heat in during cold weather and is a barrier against hot summer temperatures. Mohair isn't "itchy" because it doesn't have scales like wool. It accepts dye with an exuberance that is unparalleled. Natural coloured mohair has variations of shades that are exceptionally beautiful.
Mohair is one of the most versatile textile fibres. Its characteristics are similar to wool, except that it does not have the scales that can irritate the skin.
Let’s talk about measurements and figurations. When a new customer comes into the premises, the cutter should be looking at the figuration of the person, looking for the most natural position in which he or she holds themselves, because typically, as soon as you are put in front of a mirror you stand up straight & unnatural & wonder why the suit doesn’t fit when you go home. Which goes back to an original point about being a ‘comfortable & relaxed atmosphere’. The more natural you stand, the easier to look at your figuration & balance.
Most tailors will use a preset form ….. this is not to say that writing on an old piece of brown paper is wrong. It is simply what is done with these measurements that is important. Allow the tailor to take your measurements in most natural stance, thus giving him the very best chance to see your figuration when drafting the pattern.
You could have 2 customers both 40inch chests 36 waist & 42 hips but the patterns could be completely different due to figuration & balance. An older customer would generally lean forward slightly giving a slightly longer back balance, you may have served in the armed forces & stand very erect giving a long front balance, you may have slopping or square shoulders one of your shoulders may be lower than the other which would mean picking up the shoulder and crookening up on the neck, stopping the collar falling away off your neck.
I could go on and on and on but I feel that you may have the point. I believe what John & I have is a wonderful rapport with customers which sometimes is described more of a theatre than a tailors, believe me it is to get the customers relaxed so that we can observe & do what we do best.
Ok, we’ve now cut the pattern & noted all your deformities & decided you need surgeon rather than a tailor, but apparently we are cheaper than surgeons.
The pattern has been cut & the cloth has been chosen & I’ve done that all in 2871 words. The suit will only take approximately an hour to cut unless it is a cheque which has to be cut piece by piece to match each & every cheque.
And now we prepare the cut suit, say…. a jacket & trousers by trimming them (trimming is a term used for preparation for the tailor, trimming consists of putting all the linings canvass together). When a garment is trimmed, this is commonly called a ‘bundle’ this would consist of:
For the Jacket:
There are basically 2 types of canvass used, each type has a like medium & hard grade. Depending on the original consultation & the cloth, this would depend on what canvass would be used & what grade. The basic 2 grades used are woolen canvass & linning canvass
There are several different types of hair cloth used of numerous grades. I personaly use about 10 different grades depending on the construction of the coat & the weight of the cloth, shall we say for simplicity number 1 grade is very lightweight number 2 is slightly heavier & number 10 is obviously the heaviest. Again, taking the cloth & the customers original consultation into account I would chose the most appropriate hair cloth.
This is a fine cloth used to cover the hair cloth over the canvass stopping the hair cloth coming through the canvass & cloth. Some of the older tailors still do not use Domette but prefer using felt (please advise these tailors that it is now 2004 & cloth has changed in the last decade. Customer don’t just want to look good but also feel good in what they are wearing).
There are dozens of types of body lining to chose from, again depending on the original consultation you may chose to have a pure silk lining or
Acetate Poult - Black, White, Ivory and Greige
Acetate Microfibre Lining
Acetate/Viscose Satin Lining
Bemberg 100% Ponginette Lining
Bemberg Taffeta Shot Lining
Bemberg Twill Lining
Viscose/Acetate Shot Twill Lining
Viscose Rayon Heavy Twill - Military Cols.
Viscose S/L Regency Stripes
Viscose Satin Lining - Tailoring shades
Viscose Twill Lining
Ermazine Lining – Viscose
Personally, I think blue cloth blue lining grey cloth grey lining, but this is not to say you cant have it, remember its just a lining, don’t be sold it as a sales gimmick.
Generally, my company prefers to use whatever lining we’ve used in the body to be the same as the sleeve lining except for special requests for example stripe lining or on dress wear white or cream lining.
There are several types of linen, again this would depend on the cloth. The linen is commonly used on the backing of the pockets for strength & in the cuffs where the button holes & the buttons are sewn. It can also be used at the bottom of the jacket, on the back neck & on the back syes.
Yes…. You’ve guessed it, there are several different types & grades & also colours. We prefer to generally use a medium weight pocketing with matching colour to the garment.
This can be found under your collar, it is the felt like cloth which is one of 2 pieces to complete the under collar (Collar Canvass being the second part). This should always be cut on the bias & generally be of similar colour to the cloth. This is not to say you could not use a red colour melton on a blue or black jacket & create a feature of it.
There are basically 3 types of collar canvass, type 1 is a linen canvass cut on the bias generally used by Anderson & Sheppard (Savile Row). This creates a very soft collar, unfortunately it can also look a little messy in my opinion if done wrong. Type 2 is a medium grade canvass which is much stiffer & type 3 is a slightly harder canvass from type 2.
When trying a garment on for the first time, generally it will look brownish in colour on your fitting, this is the collar canvass.
Stay tape is used on the front edges of the coat, generally it would be made from linen. It is to help the front edges not to stretch or twist & should always be sewn on by hand. You will probably never see this as the facings would be sewn on for your next fitting.
This is a pre-made wadding specifically used to go around the sleeve head when finished. It is sleeve head wadding that gives the roundness to a sleeve around your shoulders. In 22 years of tailoring, only 1 company does not use this method – Anderson & Sheppard who uses a small piece of domette cut on the bias with a small strip of wadding inside & folded thus giving the soft round shoulders & sleeve head which have made Anderson & Sheppard famous.
As a company I have a choice of over 5000 shoulder pads, we have chosen to use 3 pads that are made exclusively for us & re modeled by each of our tailor to our individual requirements. Again, Anderson & Sheppard do not use (well they didn’t use, not saying they don’t now use….. but not saying they don’t use shoulder pads) to simply say they use wadding covered by a piece of lining which they call a ‘shoulder pad’ giving that soft shoulder look.
Button twist is used to make button holes, there a thousands of colours, but generally most tailors will only use 1 or 2 makes for the simple reason of quality of twist.
This is used when making button holes. The gimp is placed along the button hole & the button twist is sewn around the gimp giving the button hole a slightly stiffer finish. There are several different grades of gimp.
Generally, Anderson & Sheppard use plastic buttons, at John N Kent we use real… I said ‘real’ as in not plastic but real horn buttons but by special request we could get ‘plastic’ buttons if you so require……. enough said.
There are generally 2 manufacturers we use to supply us cotton. Depending on the cloth would depend on what cotton we would use, this would also effect the size needle & tension we use on the sewing machine.
Sewing silk is used on hand sewing, your linings will be sewn with sewing silk, the under collar where the melton attaches itself to the cloth is also sewn with sewing silk, but can also be used to sew shoulders & sleeves by hand.
Ok, we are now ready to start making the garment. The first thing a tailor will do is to read the garment ticket giving him all the instructions he would require to make the garments eg, pocket sizes lapel width & shoulder width. After reading this he would open the bundle & he would take the body canvass & hair cloth to the tailors kitchen where he would soak the hair cloth & canvass & then place them on a line to drip dry (this is to shrink the canvass & hair cloth).
After checking that all the linings & silks etc are in the bundle, he would prepare it for the pocket man (the pocket man is a highly skilled tailor who will spend his life putting pockets in). He would also sew in the front tarts that the cutter has marked & sew on the side body creating a front of a garment.
Once the garment has come back from the pocket man, the tailor would treadmark the garment (these are the small stitches between 1 & 2 cm on the edges of the garment, this tells the tailor where the cutter requires him to finish. Any cloth beyond the treadmark would be called inlay & can be used to let out the garment). Once the garment has been fully treadmarked the tailor would prepare the canvasses & the hair cloth. Once they are cut & placed over the chest piece of the body canvass, the domette would also be cut.
This is where the argument starts, to machine pad or hand pad ? I have a very simple view on this matter, what ever is right for the garment should be done, for example, there are 2 types of machine padding, type 1 would create a very hard typically Savile Row chest, type 2 would create a very soft Italian canvass. Hand padding generally has only 1 type, what ever is correct should be used. I personally prefer hand padding, but would happily have machine padding if it improved the overall feel & look of the garment.
Once the canvasses are padded, there is special cuts that are machined into the canvass which help create the curvatures of a chest, this is also done with the use of a iron & a skilled tailor.
The canvasses are made & the pockets are in, the next stage is to canvass the front of the garment, this is commonly referred to as a ‘forepart’. Canvassing in my opinion is one if not the most important part of coat making. Simply, a badly canvassed jacket should be placed in the bin.
The tailor will then either machine or hand pad the lapels. Once this is done he will then based the front edges to the treadmarks (these are all the long white stitches you see on your fitting) he will also then do the length of the garment. Once the foreparts are prepared, the tailor will then press them to the appropriate chest & hip shapes. Once this process is done, the tailor will make the back up then based the back to the left & right forepart, leaving inlay cut by the cutter & left for the tailor (inlay is left incase the garment needs altering).
At this point, the tailor will hand mark the shoulders & back neck. The back shoulder is slightly wider than the front shoulder. Shall we say a 6inch front shoulder will have a 6.5inch back shoulder & it is for the tailor to work that extra 0.5inch of cloth into the appropriate place on the front shoulder (this extra cloth is called fullness. The use of fullness is generally put in the back shoulder to go over the back of the shoulder, minimizing tightness.
Once the shoulders are sewn together (closed) the under collar is prepared. This would be down by measuring the back neck & the front gorge & lapel. The tailor would use the measurements to cut an individual collar for each garment, he would then based the collar melton & collar canvass together & hand pad it. Then, skillfully press the under collar to the appropriate shape required & then based the under collar to the treadmark stitches on the back neck gorge & lapel (which has been marked by the cutter).
Once the tailor has read (assuming he can read) the garment ticket, he will make the appropriate shoulder pad for each shoulder (left & right, as each may be different).
At this point, the tailor would prepare the sleeves which the tailor will measure the arm hole, shall we say for arguments sake 23inches, he will then prepare the sleeve approximately 25inches. At this point. He will based the sleeves in to an exact measurement for which the cutter has marked, again putting fullness in the sleeve where appropriate. Some garments subject to use, require more or less fullness than others. You may also consider that a cashmere cloth would need more fullness than a mohair cloth. Generally, the cutter would cut the required amount into the sleeve.
The garment would then be pressed & sent back to the cutter for a fitting.
The cutter would then fit the garment on a customer, marking all appropriate alterations (please note, I will also be writing extensively in a future post, but Penny has threatened to finish this one & not do anymore if I go on & on) (note from Penny, he don’t arf go on).
Once the garment has been fitted, the cutter would remark all alterations to the garment. The garment is then sent back to the tailor, the tailor will then prepare the garment for a second fitting, this would mirror the first fitting subject to all alterations.
After the second fitting, the garment should be ready to be finished. The forepart would have the stay tape sewn on by hand. The facings would also be sewn on. The lining pockets would be attached to the canvasses. The back would be sewn to the left & front foreparts, each shoulder would be individually marked & prepared to be closed. The under collar would be attached to the garment & the top collar would be cut & prepared & then placed on the under collar (the top collar is the piece of cloth that you see on the outside). The sleeves would be re-cut & made to the exact length & width required by the cutter. Once the sleeves are sewn in, the sleeve head wadding would be attached to the sleeve.
The cutter at this stage may require a third fitting prior to the button holes going in & any small alteration would be done at this point. Once the cutter is happy with the garment, it would be sent to a finisher (better known as a kipper). The finisher is usually a lady, quite offen the tailors wife or girlfriend (if he has 2 finishers, he may have a wife & a girlfriend). Back to the point, the finisher is a highly skilled person who I have much respect for which will sew all the linings & button holes by hand. A well made button hole is a piece of art & should be appreciated as that. I recently employed a finisher whose button holes are some of the best I have ever seen.
Once the garment has come back from the finisher, it would be sent to the presser, who would take between 1 & 1.5 hours to press a garment. Once pressed, the garment would then return back to the original tailor to be buttoned & sent back to the cutter as a finished garment. It is not unusual, once the garment is finished to have small alterations, which would be done by and alteration tailor (a specialist in altering finished garments).
The customer would then take the garment home & may bring the garment back for slight adjustments as the garment settles onto the customers body.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing this. As most of you know I am a working tailor & cutter who gets immense pleasure in not just sewing but also talking about my work. I treat tailoring as much as a hobby as I do a job & would ask you not to hesitate to ask me any other questions on bespoke tailoring.
Savile Row, Master Tailor
from Ask Andy forums
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