Suits You, Sir...


Or, An Adventure in FTL Tailoring

This project grew out of adversity.  Firstly, we had news last year that a friend had liver cancer, so sorrow and grief were inevitable.  There was little we could do for her and her family other than hope and pray...  But I knew there would soon be an occasion for Alan to dig out his suit.

Before Christmas I had a tailoring student from the London School of Fashion working with me.  In order to show her something, I dug both of Alan's suits out of the wardrobe, the one I had made some years ago, and the one he had made by Burtons for our wedding, now nearly 27 years ago...

Alas!  And Alack!  The moths had done their worst and feasted on the worsted!   I was going to need to make a new suit rather sooner than I had hoped!  Never mind, there would be time in the New Year to get that project started...

Um...  No...  Sadly, our friend lost her battle just after New Year, and we had two weeks notice for the funeral.  I knew I had MOST of what I needed in the way of fabrics, but a quick try-on of the extant suit confirmed that Himself has added rather too many inches to his waistline this past year for me just to dig out the old Vogue pattern and remake that...  A goodly chunk of what follows was first aired on LJ, in Dress Diaries.

I thought I'd have time to play with my new Wild Ginger Tailor Made and work out a suit of suitable style...  No such luck!  Oddly, for something called Tailor Made, there is no option for a traditionally tailored jacket, and to work out how to do this suddenly ceased to be an option when the timescale was so drastically contracted.  I had only until January 21 to get this done - barely a fortnight!!  It  needed to be packed and on the road the day before...  And my darling man spends part of each week working 200 miles away, so opportunities for fittings were...  um...  limited!

So, no pressure, you understand!


FTL Pattern making!  Project launch...

OK, a few weeks before Christmas I downloaded a pattern for a jacket from Burdastyle.   It wastheir Stinchcomb man's jacket pattern.

The first thing to do with the pattern was to print it out...  All 67 pages of it!  And the instructions...  And then asses what I had.  This was a fairly traditional jacket pattern, including lining, but made for speed tailoring, and with less structure than I really wanted.  So I needed to add the extra levels of internal structure once I had the main jacket cut.  I had to use speed tailoring methods on this one for two reasons: the first is time.  There was no way do this with hand worked pad stitching in the time available, and anyway, as this is a test piece in many respects, and being made from a poly/wool mix from the stash that must have cost all of 3.50 per meter, I wasn't gonna bother!  The expensive lovely pure English woven wool I have for the other suit will get the gold treatment, but not this!  OK?  'k...  :)

So I started with a glue stick, the rotary cutter fitted with a 'used' blade saved for paper cutting, the cutting mat and the ruler, and set to work...


I ended up with a HUGE and unwieldy sheet of paper!  Cutting all the bits out roughly made it easier to handle.  I'd measured Himself, and knew I needed to grade between two sizes.  I also knew that I'd have to alter the shoulder line slightly at some point...


There are a lot of lines on the paper, so I first needed to identify all the ones I'd need.  Highlighter gel roller pens are great for this!    Next came cutting out the pattern.  Not too difficult, though there are a LOT of pieces, what with two part sleeves, facings, collars, lining, pockets, blah, blah, blah...  ;)   

I transferred the required pocket markings to the toile fabric with the same roller pen!  Why do anything less permanent and less visible on the bit that will be thrown away?  And this is made from old recycled curtain linings.  I'll recycle them again as bag linings after this.  Nothing wasted, you know!  I just wish fabric was like pastry,  and you could scrunch up the scraps and roll them out again...

The next thing to do was stick it together...  I had a new-to-me sewing machine up on the end of the bench, from a weekend collection and clean-up, so I threaded that up and used the toile as a test project for the machine!  This is a 20+ year old Husqvarna Viking Optima 190, for the interested.  Anyway, it did the job a treat, so that was OK.

The toile fitted himself fine except for the expected bit at the shoulder/neck.  He has VERY square shoulders, and the front of the jecket needed lifting at the neck on the shoulder seam.  I remembered doing this last time, but needed to check just how mutch adjustment is needed.  Turns out to be a wedge about the width of a standard seam allowance at the inner end, tapering to zero at the shoulder point.  It was a matter of moments to rip this out, re stitch it and do a second fitting.  Yup, marked with that highlighter again, so you can see it!

And this is where I left it for the night.  The last picture shows that seam closed up.  It's the same on both sides (he's pretty even, for a wonder!)  Oh, and to make the break hang right at the front, I steamed some seam tape to it!


The next day I planned to follow up by experimenting with collar pieces and sleeves, just to ensure they all fitted together, before cutting and sewing the jacket.  By Wednesday evening I wanted the jacket ready for fitting, and a toile for the trousers.  This jacket pattern comes sans internal chest pieces and the like, But as I was speed tailoring using a fusible interfacing, I thought I might not need them.



Progress in Fits and starts...

Well, I started later than I'd hoped the next day, but once on the job, things went well. well...

Altering the shoulder seam pulled the back of the neck up and forward just a little too much, so this was gently trimmed to lie flat again.  I also transferred the other changes back to the pattern:


The next bit was checking the sleeves...  First I made them up, pressed open the seams, and put the ease stitching in.

Mini Rant: Why is it that pattern designers put so much ease in sleeve heads?  It makes for a horrible, bucked, careless look!  And so amateurish...  I'm with Kenneth D King and Claire Schaeffer on this one: for an adult you need between a half inch and an inch and a half of ease, depending on the size of the armscye and the type of fabric.  Luckily, this pattern has it just about right, and the sleeve head went in about as perfectly as is possible with recycled coarse cotton calico ('muslin' to our USA friends) and no sleeve head support! (Rant off)

A tip from my pal Teri, who used to teach advanced sewing and tailoring at university level: when putting in the sleeve, the very crown of the sleeve head NEEDS NO EASE!  Leave about 3/4" either side of the shoulder seam/centre of the sleeve cap without ease.  This ensures a neat, smooth insertion at the most visible point on the sleeve head.  :)



And a little sewing machine porn for the desperate!  This thing has The BIGGEST Foot Control EVER!  Great for standing up to sew, as I have been doing with it on the end of me cutting bench!

I took a coffee break to write up the progress so far...  Hm...  Why is it that one never has Cafe Direct's Fair Traid decaf instant when one wants a fly cuppa?  And Himself appeared to have snaffled the 4 star version.  I did NOT want to go grinding coffee at this point, so dug in the back of the top cupboard to see if there was anything there...  Half a pack of pre-historic ground stuff flavoured with chocolate and cinnamon.  Despite it's age (dunno when we got that, and it MUST have been a crimbo prezzie from several years ago!), but it was still fragrant and tastes just fine!  Sewing machines run on coffee, you know.  Especially brown and cream sewing machines! 

More progress, though slower than I'd like.

Some things are taking longer than anticipated.  Never mind.  Quite a bit more got done over the next couple of days, though I'd have liked to be further forward than I was.  The Fibro was rearing it's ugly head, and there isn't a lot to do when that happens but bite down and get on...

There is something to be said for asbestos fingers...  Like Yes Please!  Pity I don't have them....  Can they be retro-fitted?

The cutting table was cleared off again, and I got down to work...  First was checking that I had all the bits.  This pattern doesn't use the collar piece I have (more later), so I put that aside, along with the trouser waistband.



I also cut the lining, but there are no pix of that.  It's amazing how much mess cutting out generates!

After cutting came fusing...  If interfacing says 'Iron On' up the side, chances are it's that nasty Vilene/Pellon stuff that wrinkles and bubbles.  Don't use it, especially not for a task like this.  There is a place for the non-woven interfacings, but this isn't it.  .  Think 'Fusible', think 'woven', think 'hair canvas', and you'll go far.  Possibly to the nearest A&E along the way, but farther than you'll get with the other stuff!

Each iron sized area takes 20 seconds to fuse.  The iron is on the steam setting, with the steam pressure at medium.  There are two whole fronts and all the little bits...  It takes time!  And it's hot.


I like to use a larger area for things like the jacket front so that I don't have to move it during fusing.  I do cover the bits with a pressing cloth when I do it, to protect both the fabric from the iron and the iron from the fusible glue.  That's one of the besetting sins of the kids when I'm teaching: fusing a sheet of Bondaweb to the sole plate!

Once this lot was fused, I needed to put the pattern back on an mark up...


There are a lot of marks to transfer, and this speeds it up.  Don't hammer too hard...  I've cut holes in lining with this thing!

One I'd got everything marked up and the front dart sewn, it was time to start on the pockets and things.  I really didn't like the way they did them on the Burdastyle site.  They looked a bit too 'home made' rather than Tailor made.  I decided that a quarter inch welt for the lower pockets was wide enough, and doable on this fabric.  The horsehair canvas I used on the welts was a bit overkill.  Next time I'll use something lighter just for this bit.


Of course, the first thing to do is baste that slit closed so you can do all the other stages...

Then I make up the flaps.  Rather than cut clips in the seam allowance for going round corners, I just trim it very close and press them carefully.  Making sure the seam rolls to the underside of the flap is a job for more steam and another boiled finger or three.


I used the pocket flap to help mark the slit extensions, and then boiled the rest of my fingers getting those welts down to a sharp quarter inch! 


The flaps and the pocket bags get stitched in place with some invisible stitching in the ditch along the edges of the welts.  I think this looks better than the big ugly welt on the original:

   I wasn't keen on their top pocket welt, either... And my flaps had much better corners!

  My attempt got stitched down by hand later.

I didn't set too and just make the pockets.  The sewing room is upstairs and the pressing space downstairs, so what I tend to do is prepare the first stages of several bits and take them up to sew, bring them down again to press, and so on.  So dovetailed with the front construction and the pockets was the collar the back, and the sleeves...

The centre back and the sleeves have vents at the bottoms.  They are made in much the same way, though the beck vent is left open at the bottom...



The lining will be added later, by hand.

Meanwhile, the other steam driven area is the collar.

The collar on this is a two-part construction, not one I' familiar with on jackets.  It feels more like a shirt sort of construction, and I can't quite get used to it, despite having done the toile and seen that it works.


Though the upper and lower or under collar are visibly different, I did mark the U and L as a belt and braces exercise.  Here the collar parts are stitched and trimmed.  Once this is pressed, the under collar is stitched to the jacket and the upper collar to the facing.  Here you can see the differences in the two constructions.  I much prefer the second, more traditional approach, where the upper collar is cut in one piece and the under collar cut on the bias in Melton, in two halves, and then applied by hand.


I think that when the collar is complete, the more traditional method and construction give a sharper, neater finish.

 Still, it didn't look too bad...    (Ignore the unpressed bits!)

At this point I listed all I had still do do on the jacket:

Hand baste in place the sleeve heads and shoulder pads.
Assemble the lining, including one last welt pocket!
Press the body of the jacket and the hems.
Final collar roll shaping...
Insert the lining

So the bulk of the jacket was done, and I could get on and work on the trousers on Friday and Saturday.  Sunday was a planned day off, complete with Sunday Lunch at Mother's, which was lovely.  I could then get to all the final finishing on Monday, to go on Tuesday.

On with the Motley...

Progress was very slow on Friday.  Fibro gave me Fog In Head and everything ached horribly.  Bums!  Also Miss Sugar Puff snuck upstairs and into my duvet as I was sipping my tea and put out industrial strength Z-waves.  So I went back to sleep!

I managed better in the afternoon but was still not where I wanted to be at this point.

I did a bit of research after a comment on a newsgroup I belong to were discussing linings.  It gave me some ideas to cure something that has bugged me for years.

The first thing I did was get the sleeve heads and shoulder pads into the jacket.  




I like to baste these in by hand.  It tends to give a slightly softer result than incorporating the sleeve head support with the seam.  In this instance I'm using pre-formed sleeve heads and shoulder pads.  I think I'd prefer to build the shoulder pad from scratch next time and use old fashioned woven Domette in the sleeve head.  However that takes more time than I had to spare this time round.

Then I turned my mind to the lining and made that up. I started with the final welt pocket.  Speed constraints mean that this jacket gets a single inside breast pocket rather than the three that went into the last suit I made and inside the one we had made for Himself when we got married.


The sleeve linings were also made and put aside for later.  

OK on to the irritating bit...      

There are more ways of killing a cat than drowning it in cream and more ways of not getting a jacket lining as nice as I want it than I care to count.  There is one particular bit of the 'traditional' way of lining a suit jacket that I have a powerful aversion to and I was looking for a way to 'cure' this.  What is it with this nasty bit of raw edge at the bottom of the facing?    

This is the bit I'm on about at the bottom of the front of the jacket and at the vent:


Somewhere I'd heard mention of a 'cure' so I went and looked...

Turns out that Kathleen Fasanella ( has done a set of tutorials on just this aimed at the higher end of RTW.  OK so this isn't RTW but I see no reason not to incorporate her method in this suit as it gives a much neater finish.

Getting from THIS  
  to THIS    was interesting and took longer than I'd hoped, what with first having to get my fibro fog round it (Fog in Head - World Isolated!) print it out to take to the sewing area and then do the work.    

Kathleen also has some interesting comments on the ease in jacket linings and how one should distribute it and control it.  I always did feel that letting it drop to the hem and form a pleat was mistaken as it's needed in the upper back/shoulder area...  Ms Fasanella's notes are well worth reading and considering even if you then choose to follow a different path.  Please find the tutorials and links to more of her discussions here: 

What I ended up doing was easing in the lining in the chest area so that the ease remained in the upper half of the jacket where it is needed.  

Right.  The final hurdle with the jacket was working a similar neat finish to the sleeve vents and then slip stitching the lining in at the armscye.  After that there were only the buttonholes and a little hand finishing.  The End was Nigh!

The following day I planned to take a rest from the jacket and do the trousers.  After the fiasco's of the last couple of summers when my son the Giant Mutant Ninja Teenager grew out of all his trousers the month before going off to the International Centenary Scout Jamboree at Kandersteg in Switzerland in 2007 and then did the same again in July 2008 before going off to Biaritz with the school for 10 days on an outward bound adventure course, for each of which emergencies I made multiple pairs of trousers and shorts, I am not afraid of trousers.  I've done jeans, I've done yank-on with elastic waists. I've done multiple inset, welted, bellows, and patch pockets, zipped and unzipped.  I've done full length, cropped, shorts, and ones with zippy-off legs.


And when they were up, they were up...
And when they were down they were down,
And when they were only half way up, I was arrested!

Thank you, Spike Milligan...

So to covering his embarrassments..

The trousers are not being difficult so far.  The toile was almost OK, so I got on and cut them out...  More about the slight problems later.

I'd hoped to save some fabric by getting the trousers cut from a single length, but as Himself is a little more rotund than of yore, the pattern was slightly too wide to fit.  Never mind, it's not as If I was short of fabric!


There were pocket facings and welts to cut after this, and the pocket bags out of the pocketing used earlier for the jacket.  And I cut the facings for the fly from pocketing rather than fabric.  I didn't interface them as I thought they would be quite stiff enough with the layers and the zip...

Every time I do a fly front on trousers, I have to look it up.  It's just one of those things that WILL NOT stick!  I think it's to do with being dyslexic and having trouble knowing left from right.  Ah, well...  I got it done, and it came out neatly, so no worries there.


At the bottom of the fly shield, just where it meets the fly facing (which you can't see), there's a bar tack.  This doesn't go all the way through to the outside, just attaches it firmly to the facing so that there is less strain on the bottom of the zip when taking them off and on.  It also makes the opening a little more discreet...  You can see in the last picture that it doesn't show from the front.

I don't know what blokes do to their breeks, but mine are forever busting out at the crotch on bought ones!  As I don't want to top stitch these, the seam is first sewn, and then I take a second pass at it on top of the previous line of stitching, using a small, narrow zigzag.

You can still press the seam open and flat, but it makes it stronger without adding discernable bulk.

What has it got in it's pocketses?

Nothing yet, but no doubt piles of junk at some point...  I usually dislike the cheap, shoddy pocket stuff you get in bought suits, and the nasty nylon...  But this black cotton is nice and substantial.  In the past I've used curtain lining, medium weight calico (muslin), and pillow ticking!  I've also use poly/cotton sheeting, quilt cotton, and linen.  They have all stood up to the wear fairly well.

One of my pet hates is pocket openings that sag.  These got taped to prevent sag!



I'm pleased with the way the stripes matched here.

There was also a hip pocket...


The first thing I did was fuse some woven cotton interfacing to the pocket opening area, on the inside.  This got hidden when the pocket was in place.  I then trimmed down the welts and made the pocket opening.  The pocket bag was quite an easy construction, with the area visible through the pocket slit faced with some of the fabric.  I tried to get all the stripes matched up as best I could.  After reading Thomas Mahon's thoughts on putting the stripes the other way, I didn't dare do anything less!  

I did pinch a neat idea from Himself's wedding suit and bar-tacked the ends of the pocket.  Knowing how much gets crammed into a hip pocket at times, I thought it could do with all the help it could get!  The bar tack goes through all layers of the pocket.  I shall put a button on later.

Once this lot and the side seams were done, the waistband went on.  This was fairly simple, but came out a bit wider than I was expecting.  Never mind, it holds them up!  I did ensure there was that classic bit extra at the waist to let out if need be!

There's a little hand finishing to do, a hook and bar to attach, and the hems to turn up.  Not too bad for a day's work.  I did take the whole thing and the thread up to Mum's and sewed some of the hand finishing while we nattered.  The suit passed Mum's critical inspection.  Phew!

 OK, so with that little bit still to do, and what was left of the jacket, I thought it should all be doable by Monday night...  Um...

Oh, and while I was sewing, Miss Sugar Puff decided to mountaineer up the Adria Saxonia treadle (circa 1887!) to see if that could distract me...


OK, I've tried to do this next bit three times, but the computer wasn't having it...  I knew the poor thing needed some 'housework', so I deleted a few spare copies of pictures, tidied up a few things, and then discovered I'd made a mess of this whole page and needed to reload all the pictures I'd put on it!  GRR! ARGH!  The easiest thing to do turned out to be to defrag the disk.  Um...  Well, that took FOUR WHOLE HOURS!  No wonder the poor thing was limping along like a deflated three-legged donkey!  However, it's all better now, so maybe THIS time I'll be able to save what I've done before several hours' work evaporates on the 'save' command!
The End is Nigh!
Having done the waistband on the trousers, a quick try-on showed that really, more fitting was needed.  There was too much fabric in the front of the body of the trousers.  I shall need to refine the pattern before I do the next version.  I fixed a decent part of the problem by taking in an inch from the front half down both legs from crotch to knee, but the waistband will have to come off at some point, and be lowered.  This is a shame, as the waistband came out fairly well on the inside!
Under the jacket, they were OK for an emergency.  I cheated and put the hems up by machine! 
The last bit of the jacket was to get the sleeve vents and hems up and put the lining in...  As I wanted the sleeve vents to be as neat as the front hem of the lining, this took a little thought and ingenuity.  I decided that a nice mitred corner would look good.  So first I marked up the corner...
This then got stitched, trimmed, turned through and pressed.
The hem was then pressed all round, and caught up to the seam allowances.  I've yet to deconstruct a man's suit and find the sleeve hem (or even the jacket hems, come to that!)  sewn up all the way round, so I don't.  Catching them to the seam allowances and then attaching the lining seems to work perfectly and it saves time.  At this point I sewed the sleeve buttonholes into the outer side of the sleeve vent.  They went very well, but the machine developed an ominous clicking on the second side of all the buttonholes...  Hm...  Time for a service, methinks!
The last bit was to get the sleeve lining in and sew on the buttons.  Easing the sleeve lining round the top of the armscye wasn't too hard, and when I come to fix the jacket problems, the hand stitching will be easy to slide out, being sewn with the best silk thread! 
The jacket doesn't look its best on Fred, the tailor's dummy.  Dialled out to Himself's measurements, round the middle, it'll still never be wide enough across the shoulders!  I'll need to pad it out like an American footballer for that!  Still, it's better than nothing and will give you an idea of the finished article.
In the end, given the time constraints, I wasn't too ill-pleased with it.  The sleeves need to come out and be rotated about half an inch, at which point I'll also swap out these rather heavy sleeve heads for some lighter ones.  The heavy duty ones can be saved for winter coats.  The trousers will get their waistband fixed, and taken in slightly, and that should make them look a lot better.  I need to put some care labels in, and then I'll send it off to the dry-cleaners for a final pressing, and that will improve things a lot!
Another thing I'll have to look at is the camera settings...  Despite all my fidgeting, it seems to have over-exposed most of the pictures and given them an odd cast, so the thing looks gray...  Really, it's a rather smart dark navy!
January 2009.