The word “vent” is followed by “spleen” or “frustration” with some frequency, and I know why.
I spent yesterday afternoon trying to line my sleeve vents neatly the “old school” way following Kenneth King’s instruction in his Smart Tailoring DVD set. And while my first attempt was successful–after a fashion–it wasn’t pretty.
Apparently there is widespread aversion to lining sleeve vents among even professional sewers.
Checking some of my home sewing library sources I found only one–Vintage Couture Tailoring, by Thomas von Nordheim— that gave any instruction for lining sleeve vents specifically, as opposed to jacket and skirt vents.
Von Nordheim writes,
If you have a working vent construction, as in this jacket [used as the demonstration project in this book], the finishing at the hem is not quite as straightforward. Some Givenchy couture jackets in the author’s collection have fake vents, meaning the vent and blind buttonholes are only done in the shell fabric, but the lining is finished in a straight line around the hem as described. This could be considered a shortcut and not really acceptable in fine bespoke tailoring. Although rarely used, a vent and buttonholes on a sleeve should be made to work.
It does seem odd to bother making a vented sleeve and then use a cylindrical lining that almost entirely covers that lovely mitered overlap.
We no longer live in the time when surgeons had vented sleeves so they could unbutton and roll them up in an instant to keep working while continuing to be properly attired. (Where did I ever hear this explanation of vented sleeves, and is it even true?)
Who knows–maybe someday I will have a sink full of dirty dishes to wash when I’m wearing this “McCall Mannish Jacket,” and a bespoke tailor will be passing through the kitchen just as I unbutton and fold back my sleeves and plunge my bared forearms into the suds. The bespoke tailor will notice my beautifully lined vents and say, “Nice work–Gieves and Hawkes?”
Then I’ll wake up.
Well, if ever I should be in such a situation, I’d like to be prepared. So I gave Kenneth’s instructions a try.
The really tricky part–the only tricky part for me–was judging exactly where to cut into the lining. If you have sewn a vent you know what I mean, and if you haven’t and never will, you probably don’t care to read a boring description by an inept amateur, so I’ll save us both time.
The important thing to know about sewing a vented sleeve is there’s this slash you make in the lining so it will turn back just so, and the lining lies neatly and beautifully flat in just the right place with no fiddling.
Kenneth’s lining didn’t just lie beautifully–it reclined languorously, like an odalisque.
He made it look easy. The camera came in for a super closeup. Kenneth found the place to cut to, marked it with a pin, positioned his tailors’ scissors, and made one decisive clip.
I watched this seconds-long section repeatedly, trying to divine how he knew where to cut into this lining. Once you cut, there is no uncutting, so I wanted a formula to follow.
You see, in the aptitude battery I took a few years back I scored low in the paper-fold test, which measures how well you can imagine and recollect…uh…marks on paper that are hidden by folds.
Now, you might not think imagining and recollecting marks on paper hidden by folds is an aptitude until you’re up against lining a sleeve vent. Then you will have wished you scored higher. Because you have to be able to grasp how the lining lies now and what will happen if you cut into the lining at this angle or that angle and which is the best angle.
I tried to simulate the situation with a piece of folded paper, which at least helped me avert a full-out blunder.
After staring at my sleeve lining for so long you would have thought I was trying a new meditation exercise, I made a tentative cut, an irrevocable decision.
It was not too bad.
Not too good, either.
The resulting lined vented sleeve lacks finesse, but I can only go up from there, right?
I had another sleeve to go, another chance at achieving excellence in vent-lining, but the spirit was not willing. I opted to slipstitch the lining in place temporarily.
I’ll bring the sleeve, which should be attached to the jacket shortly, to Kenneth’s tailoring details class in Cleveland in July to get advice from the maestro himself.
Together we can roll up our sleeves and plunge into the task of lining to impress even the most meticulous bespoke tailor–or surgeon.