London-Bound

Readers,

The subject line read “Bespoke Tailoring–2-week short course at FTM.”

“FTM” is the Fashion and Textile Museum in London. I had visited it as part of my research two and a half years ago for “Sewing Destination: London, England,” which I wrote for Threads magazine. I had been getting the museum’s e-mail newsletter ever since.

Suitings awaiting a tailor's needle.

Suitings awaiting a tailor’s needle. (photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

Every few weeks I’d glance at the announcements flowing from FTM about its exhibitions, events and courses and enjoy imagining attending. Then I’d get on with my day.

But this subject line grabbed me. Immediately I clicked on the link.

Gieves and Hawkes, at No. 1 Savile Row

Gieves and Hawkes, at No. 1 Savile Row (photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

“Led by a Savile Row tailor,” it said.  Wow. “Including tours of Savile Row,” it said. Wow!

“Download the Course Outline,” it said. I did.

Great tailoring requires great materials. English woolens.

Great tailoring requires great materials. English woolens. (photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

It just got better–and more daunting.

“All-day field trip exploring London’s tailoring centres and the market for bespoke.” Yes!

My favorite research project ever: my article in the June-July 2012 issue of Threads.

My favorite research project ever: my article in the June-July 2012 issue of Threads.

“Students will understand the technicalities of fitting a garment [right…in one day?] and begin to draft their own pair of trousers using Savile Row techniques.” Eek.

“Students will be invited into three tailoring companies to be shown the unique ways of working within each company.” Ahhh.

Lock & Co., one of London's great old hatmakers mainly for men.

Lock & Co., one of London’s great old hatmakers mainly for men. (photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

“Using all of the techniques learnt the previous day, students will create their own waistcoat baste completely by hand.” Hmmm. Maybe. We’ll just have to see how much I learnt first.

Despite my qualms about drafting patterns, since anything beyond the simplest alteration gets the better of me, the thought of being exposed to the arcane arts of British men’s tailoring from a pro, in the company of fellow enthusiasts, in my favorite city, was almost more than I could stand.

A great suit calls for the right hat. Jack admires the hats in the window of Bates.

A great suit calls for the right hat. Jack admires the hats in the window of Bates. (photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

I forwarded the e-mail to Jack at work with the single sentence: “I want to do this!”

He wrote back, “And I want you to do it.”

The next day I registered for the course.

I have never felt worthy of working with worsteds. Will that change?

I have never felt worthy of working with worsteds. Will that change? (photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

That was just under three weeks ago. I learned yesterday that only a few places are still open, and the course is expected to go. It takes place January 14-24.

The evening of January 9 will see me boarding a plane in Minneapolis, landing at Heathrow at noon on the 10th. I’ll have a few days before and after the course to revisit some of the places and events–museums, vintage fashion fairs, street markets, and stores–that I covered in “Sewing Destination.”

Well-tailored menswear can have a long life: a vintage menswear store called Old Hat.

Well-tailored menswear can have a long life: a vintage menswear store called Old Hat. (photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

Between now and the flight I’m assigning myself some homework:

  • planning a travel wardrobe
  • reading about the history of British men’s tailoring
  • studying men’s pattern-drafting and tailoring books

As to the last of these three assignments: I won’t be an expert, but at least I’ll be able to ask better questions.

But, just maybe, I’m being too pessimistic.

Could be a bespoke waistcoat for Jack be in the offing?

A souvenir from my Threads magazine research: swatches of Harris tweeds handwoven in Scotland.

A souvenir from my Threads magazine research: swatches of Harris tweeds handwoven in Scotland.

Menswear, and the Women and Men Who Love It and Sew It

Readers,

Smoking jacket, 1925-1929. (Photo: Goldstein Museum of Design)

Smoking jacket, 1925-1929. Accession no. 1992.025.018  (Photo: Goldstein Museum of Design)

I am looking forward to writing a thank you letter like this someday (soon, I hope):

Dear Threads editors:

As a long-time subscriber I want to thank you for the single most informative, exciting and life-changing issue of your magazine I’ve ever read: the menswear issue.

For a serious home sewer like me, locating information about fitting and constructing menswear has been like looking for a needle in a haystack. I know it’s out there (I was a librarian for years), but it’s hard to find, and not always easy to understand when I do find it.

I knew I was in for something special when I saw a man on the cover. And it just kept getting better: page after page of topics I realized I’d wished for years someone would address directly and in depth:

Smoking jacket, 1925-1929, detail. (Photo, Goldstein Museum of Design)

Smoking jacket, 1925-1929, detail. (Photo, Goldstein Museum of Design)

  • Analyzing male figures for fit and flattery. Now I understand men’s proportions so I can sew better for Jack.
  • Best menswear patterns, tested and evaluated by your stable of discerning sewers
  • Sewing Destination: New York, menswear edition, listing tools, supplies, classes, and museum collections of interest to menswear lovers. I’m planning my trip.
  • David Page Coffin’s article on trouser styles and construction
  • Kenneth King’s companion article on trouser-fitting and pattern-alteration

    Women have loved menswear styles for years. From 1941: "Misses' Mannish Jacket"

    Women have loved menswear styles for years. From 1941: “Misses’ Mannish Jacket”

  • The article on vintage smoking jackets, with photo details. Gorgeous.
  • That 1920s smoking jacket from the Goldstein Museum of Design on your back cover–I want to make his and her versions for Jack and me!
  • The interview with the owners of The Vintage Showroom, in London, and their book, Vintage Menswear. Menswear for sports and outdoor work has so many practical details to incorporate into clothes for women, too.
  • The workspaces of three menswear-sewers. What beautiful spaces in their functionality, like professional kitchens. And I like how one sewer called his sewing machines his “power tools.”

    My rendition of the "Mannish Jacket." (Photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

    One of my four renditions of the “Misses’ Mannish Jacket.” (Photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

  • The interview with the designer of that small independent pattern company devoted to menswear patterns, with his emphasis on writing clear instructions. Much success to him!
  • Sewing for historical reenactment events, which I was barely aware of before–it’s a very big deal. Interesting!
  • The “Closures” article by the plumber who started sewing his own pants was hilarious.

I just wanted to say bravo, editors. Dare I hope the rousing response from us readers will mean that menswear topics are guaranteed a home at Threads?

Sincerely,

Paula DeGrand

Beau Ideal

Readers,

Jack.

Jack.

The only thing that’s short about my husband, Jack’s, figure analysis is this post.

After standing him against a big piece of paper taped to the wall and tracing his outline as accurately as possible, I can now reliably report:

Jack is tall.

Surprising, I know. But, there you are.

I’d  had my suspicions, of course. But I wanted to be sure, so I collected the data and analyzed it.

A few months ago, using “Analyzing Your Figure” in the Singer Sewing Reference Library’s book The Perfect Fit, I’d learned a few things about myself that you can read about here.

Marta Alto and Pati Palmer describe making a "body graph" in their book.

Marta Alto and Pati Palmer describe making a “body graph” in their book.

It was only later that I discovered “Make a Body Graph” in Marta Alto and Pati Palmer’s book Fit for Real People, and right away I wanted to do one. Marta and Pati’s methods come from having taught and fitted thousands of people and having answered recurring sewing questions for decades.

So it was Fit for Real People that I turned to when I drew Jack’s outline on the paper.  Basically, this exercise, like the ones I did for myself, tells you about proportions. It doesn’t address back curvature or posture.

You trace around the person’s body, then fold the paper into eighths to form creases, and then open out the paper again. The creases help you see where the “ideally” proportioned figure’s  shoulders, waist, hips and knees would be located. They provide a basis of comparison for a real person’s body locations. So you can see if he or she is long-waisted, or short-legged, and so forth. This can help not only with fitting but with finding the most flattering proportions in clothes to emphasize or deemphasize figure characteristics.

The outline, creased into eight segments for comparing "ideal" proportions with your own.

The outline, creased into eight segments for comparing “ideal” proportions with your own.

I said “he,” but so far in my figure analysis research–which has been a lot though not exhaustive–I have not seen references to any “he”s.  It seems to me–the ancient Greeks would agree–that men have proportions, too. I proceeded on the fairly safe assumption that men’s head lengths are ideally one-eighth of their body lengths as well as other assumptions about the positioning of the waist and so forth.

So Jack stood as still as he could while I painstakingly traced a wavering pencil line around him. Drawing accurate lines around somebody was more difficult than I’d imagined. But we’re looking more at length than width in this exercise.

I tied a length of elastic around Jack’s middle and he put it at his waist. With Jack, the definition of “waist” is rather vague. “What is a waist?” he asked. “I think of a waist as where I wear my pants,” he concluded.  (How did ancient Greek men, without the aid of pants, determine their waists, I wonder.)

At long last, I finished the outline. I had marked top and bottom of head, shoulders, underarm, waist, hip joints, crotch, and knees. I wouldn’t swear to the accuracy of the waist and hip joint markings.

I assumed that "ideal" proportions for women apply to men, too.

I assumed that “ideal” proportions for women apply to men, too.

This is where I wish Marta and Pati had magically appeared to help. Because if you’ve mismarked the waist or hip joint locations, you’ll draw the wrong conclusions about proportions.

Imagine a figure divided into eight vertical segments. In an “ideal” figure the waist is on crease at the bottom of the third segment. Jack’s waist, as he defines it, is three inches below that crease, which is a lot. But is that right?

And Jack’s hip joint: did we properly locate where it hinges? In an “ideal” figure  it’s at the bottom of the fourth segment. But we located Jack’s hip joints 2 1/2 inches up from the fourth segment on one side and 3 1/2 inches on the other side. Hmm.

And on it went. I was doubtful about half the markings I made, and so unwilling to draw conclusions.

I did learn that the major pattern companies’ male fitting model is 5’10”. Jack is 6’2″. And I’ve had to lengthen his shirt patterns in the body and sleeves by about 3 inches.

In short, though, all I can confidently conclude is,

Jack is tall.