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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Learning About Tailoring

Prince Philip who has his suits made by Norton & Sons of Savile Row
Tailor, Tailoring
Two words that have always intimidated me. Words that conjure up English gentlemen on Savile Row, the bearers of generations of secret sewing and fitting knowledge. The domain of the elite wealthy, those who live in the rarified world of bespoke suits and it's sister,Haute Couture. 
Tailoring was discussed in hushed tones in Fashion School and we never did delve into the intricate details of a tailored suit although we did learn how to draft jackets and drape them. But all the intricacies of the work involved to create a hand-tailored garment? There was a special class for that but since I was 20 and interested in making clubby mini dresses I stayed away from it. So years later, I have yet to make a fully tailored garment. 
Tailors tools circa 1900

To add to the mystique of the tailor, here is a description from one of my favorite sewing books written for the home sewist,"The Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book from 1961"
"Custom tailoring requires great patience, and precision. It takes years of apprenticeship to master it. This book doesn't attempt to make a tailor of anyone. Only years of working directly with a skilled tailor can accomplish that."
I think words like that would definitely put most home sewists off of the idea of ever trying to make a tailored garment!They create a divide between the home sewist and the trained tailor or fashion designer. But there are a few stalwart souls that might decide to ignore unencouraging advice like this, to say the least.
I can compare tailoring a coat to cooking. The tailored suit is like a really fancy holiday dinner that you plan for weeks and spend  days cooking. The average person does it maybe once a year. There is no reason that with a little self-education that the average person can't cook this way as well. Of course, it might not taste as good as a professional, but it can come close.
 Like gourmet cooking,tailoring is not something you want to rush through and a project can take weeks to complete. Just take it slowly, do a little everyday, and you will eventually finish!The traditional bespoke coat is 85% made by hand so it will take you awhile!
Of course,your first tailored jacket isn't going to be anywhere near as well made as a professional the first few times. But the knowledge you will learn from trying the traditional tailoring techniques will add to your sewing arsenal. 
In working with commercial jacket patterns you can add these steps to create a much better fitting and well made jacket. Most pattern directions won't tell you about all these details and you will have to use a sewing book with a tailoring chapter instead of following the directions in the pattern.I recommend some of the older sewing books as they seem to have more extensive chapters on tailoring.
Here are some common characteristics of the bespoke or custom made blazer or coat. There are many but I will stick to the most common and basic aspects that I have learned about in my study on tailored garments. You can adopt some or all of these techniques to improve your own jackets and coats:
  • Custom fitted and designed pattern for each customer. You can achieve this in your home sewing without pattern making knowledge by simply making a muslin of a store bought jacket pattern and spending some time making adjustments on it so it fits perfectly.
  • Hand sewn canvas or horsehair interfaced facings tacked down by hand with a pad stitched area at the part of the lapel that folds over called the roll line.This helps the lapel lie flat.
  • Two pieced sleeves with hand made pads at the sleeve head and a horsehair strip interfaced to the sleeve hem to make it more stiff.
  • An under collar made of hard flannel cut on the bias and with a center seam.Often the under collar will be interfaced with horsehair canvas as well.
  • Corded or bound buttonholes.Hand worked keyhole buttonholes are also acceptable depending on how casual of the jacket.
  • A full lining attached by hand. Often there will be a smaller pocket on top of a larger welt pocket, called a ticket pocket.
  • Angled welt pockets or hand attached patch pockets.
  • Buttons that are attached by a tiny button on the other side to make the attachment stronger.
If you would like to try your hand at tailoring here are a few patterns that would be great to start with:
Burdastyle # 105 from 10/2011
Burda# 122 A from 9/2011
Burda# 6049 The Ehren for men

I just finished my first tailored jacket.I chose to make a coat for my two year old from a vintage pattern from 1942. I figured that If I made mistakes they wouldn't look as obvious on a tiny garment!
So how about you readers? Have you ever tried a tailored project or is it something you have avoided for years as well? 

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  1. Thanks for doing this write up on tailoring. I've been looking at various books on couture sewing and haven't decided on which one to buy. Most are very expensive.

    So, how did the little coat turn out?


  2. I'm a bit impatient with sewing. After the garment starts to come together I rush to get it done. I have to tell myself to slow down and follow the instructions. So tailoring? It's on my to-do list and I hope to get better at it. I did make a nice suit once with welt pockets, so I guess I'm not that oblivious to it.

  3. I have not undertaken a fully tailored jacket but did make a well sewn jacket a few years back:

    It includes underlining, interfacing, ?sleeve heads, lots of hand stitching...

    Good for you for doing so much on a little guy's jacket!!

  4. I took a tailoring class years ago and made my husband a wool blazer. Every time he wore it, he got compliments on how nice it fit and how great it looked on him. It was truly worth all the work. Too bad he gained weight and it no longer fits.

  5. I dream of knowing more about tailoring. Same as you, my recent attempt at sewing a tailored garment was a jacket for my son. More of this on my blog :
    I would love to make a tailored coat for me. In this vain, I think Ralph Lauren last show was very inspirational.

  6. I made a jacket when I was 19 with the help of my mom. But that's the last time and I don't remember a lot of it. I do plan to learn it one day though (when I have less little ones in the house), especially since I can NOT find a jacket or coat that would fit in the store (my measurements don't fit any RTW size and so I do need something custom made).

  7. I actually bought some wool fabric and a pattern to make a coat this winter, but I never got around to it. I started reading tailoring books and decided I needed more practice. It always nice to read blogs and get tips from people that know/have done this before. I would love to see a post of the coat you made.

  8. Im at the very beginning stages of making a Burda jacket... with no tailoring skills... yet! What am I thinking?! I wish I was doing it for a small person!

  9. I'd love to see the little jacket you made!

  10. I really liked these tips and saved them for future use. Thanks. =)
    Alesha <3

  11. Really like te style and content of your blog. I'm a clothier form London and am always trying to find new info an my profession. Will keep reading and would love to chat some time about your experiences.

    Check out my blog if you would like to see what I do.

  12. You are very encouraging. I actuatlly went to a fashion design school that taught nothing about sewing for men. I will be visiting your blog again. Keep giving tips and let us see that little jacket.

  13. Thanks TyshawnNicole. Glad you like the blog and will keep updating.


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