Tailoring with Kenneth King

Readers,

A couple of weeks ago–okay, it was January 15–I was searching the Threads magazine website for a clever technique of Kenneth King’s that I’d used for cutting ravelly fabric when I stopped dead in my tracks. I read the announcement, probably just minutes old, of the release of his new DVD set, Smart Tailoring.

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Following “old school” and “new school” techniques from Kenneth King, I hope to fulfill my ambitions to tailor jackets and coats from fabrics in my stash like…

Forget ravelly fabric! Five-plus hours of instruction by Kenneth King on the topic that most haunts my sewing dreams? I had to learn more right away.

these, and...

these, and…

I must have watched the 36-second video of him in that dapper bow tie describing his “old school” and “new school” approaches to tailoring half a dozen times. The thought that I could produce more consistently well constructed jackets and coats under his tutelage sent my heart soaring.

these, and...

these, and…

I had recently looked into taking a tailoring course at the local college of art and design, but the $3600 price tag was a little hard to swallow. So when Taunton’s advertising copy compared this set to a professional course, taught by someone with a long record of caring about quality, seeking to understand the “why” behind the “how” of construction techniques, and explaining processes clearly to ambitious amateurs like me, my decision was made.

these, and...

these, and…

So the morning of January 15 I ordered Smart Tailoring. The afternoon of January 17 I came home from errands to find the set in the day’s mail. After dinner I started watching Disc 1.

Over the next several days I watched the 331 minutes of Smart Tailoring with rapt attention. I understood almost everything Kenneth explained and demonstrated, which was very encouraging.

these, and...

these, and…

Even more encouraging was something I could not have predicted. While watching Kenneth hand-basting or manipulating the fabric, I was absentmindedly rubbing my fingers and right thumb together as if I were plying that needle or handling that wool along with him! If that wasn’t a sign that I should get cracking on a tailoring project, I don’t know what is.

these, too.

these, too.

In my optimistic mood I asked myself, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to make one jacket trying Kenneth King’s “old school” tailoring techniques and another jacket trying his “new school” techniques?

It certainly would, I answered.

So what pattern would I use for the “old school” jacket?

Since Kenneth demos sleeve vents and a back vent, that suggested McCall 4065, from 1941, the “Misses’ Mannish Jacket.” I’ve sewn four jackets from this pattern, and they fit and are very comfortable.

I have sewn four versions of this "Misses' Mannish Jacket" from 1941.

I have sewn four versions of this “Misses’ Mannish Jacket” from 1941.

For the “new school” jacket, I have a number of contenders that have the required notched collar. I love them all but have been intimidated by the prospect of the usual suspects:

  • fitting and altering the pattern
  • choosing the right interfacings
  • construction
  • …have I left anything out?

    Shall I choose one of these patterns to build my tailoring skills?

    Shall I choose one of these patterns to build my tailoring skills?

Because, although I have taken classes and private lessons, laid in a supply of excellent tailoring books and DVDs (once a librarian always a librarian), and diligently worked on my own with occasional very good results…

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I took copious notes and made numerous samples making the jacket that graces my home page. Threads magazine featured it, too. Good training for becoming a sewing blogger.

 

I remain a tailoring scaredy cat. True.

I continue to look longingly at my jacket and coat patterns and think I just don’t know enough yet to turn them into real, living garments on my own. A well made, well fitting jacket or coat is no fluke–it takes skill, and a lot of judgment calls that the books never say enough about for my taste.

When I didn't find detailed enough instructions or diagrams for my sleeve vent, I made them for myself.

When I didn’t find detailed enough instructions or diagrams for my sleeve vent, I made them for myself.

I know, I have myself to blame, too. Even though I sewed three of the “mannish jackets” in one big project, (two of them plaids, all of them with different pocket types), and the jacket on this home page, which appeared in the Reader’s Closet feature in the July-August 2012 Threads magazine I didn’t go on to practice my budding skills regularly. I was too exhausted.

Reader's Closet, Threads magazine, July-August 2012.

Reader’s Closet, Threads magazine, July-August 2012.

However, the flames of my jacket- and coat-making desires seem to be inextinguishable. They may smoulder for a while, but the embers flare up again when I see an announcement of a class (Tailoring With Savile Row Tailors, anyone?) or–a DVD set by a really good teacher like Kenneth King. When I find my hands holding and pinning an imaginary jacket front along with a video, it’s time to give tailoring–and myself–another chance.

My first jacket I made from this 1936 pattern, and my introduction to vintage sewing. I haven't been the same since.

My first jacket I made from this 1936 pattern, and my introduction to vintage sewing. I haven’t been the same since.

And this time, I promise myself, it will be different. I have a different goal this time.

I like that the back is as interesting as the front.

I like that the back is as interesting as the front.

This time, my goal is not to produce jackets–or, what I really mean is, not only jackets.

Basically, the message in my tailoring notes here is "Avoid compounding errors!"

Basically, the message in my tailoring notes here is “Avoid compounding errors!” (And fusible interfacings.)

My ultimate goal is to make tailoring Not A Big Deal.

Oh, tailoring will continue to require time, attention, and effort. But I want the way I look at making a jacket to be the way I look at making Thanksgiving dinner, which I happen do pretty well. (Thank you, cooking school.) Homemade stock, homemade bread for the stuffing, homemade gravy, homemade pie crust and pie, homemade ice cream, a turkey roasted to perfection, vegetable sides…all of which turned out fine last time, according to my guests.

I simply planned and executed. A good Thanksgiving dinner was well within my capabilities. It took effort, but it wasn’t a struggle.

It was not a big deal.

Building a solid tailoring knowledge would help me make jackets with these nifty buttons.

Building a solid tailoring knowledge would help me make jackets with these nifty buttons.

A couple of days after I received Smart Tailoring, I wandered over to Kenneth King’s website. I knew he occasionally taught a class or two in the Midwest, my part of the country. Indianapolis, was it?

I stopped dead in my tracks–again–when I saw that Kenneth will be visiting Cleveland this summer to teach his tailoring techniques in a two-day class. Janie’s Sewing Corner, where the class will take place, is just a 15-minute drive from in-laws with an open invitation to stay.

Working my way toward breaking this pattern out of its 1930s envelope.

Working my way toward breaking this pattern out of its 1930s envelope.

You can guess what I did. July 25 and 26 will find me in a sewing classroom in Cleveland, Ohio, with either a heap of jackets or a heap of tailoring questions for Kenneth King. Preferably both.

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Coming up: a “mannish” jacket using “old school” tailoring techniques.

And that will be a big deal.

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7 thoughts on “Tailoring with Kenneth King

  1. So you would say that the DVD series is a good resource? I’m hoping my local library will have it/get it! From the photo of your striped jacket I would say your tailoring skills are already quite fine, but I’m looking forward to reading of your workshop days.

    • Smart Tailoring looks very promising, but I won’t pass final judgment till I really try it!
      And speaking as a former selections librarian, I suggest you ask your library system to buy this set if you’re interested. Your library probably has an online form for requesting purchases. If not, talk to a real, live librarian. It is possible that your purchase request will be filled right away, no problem. Or, if the acquisitions budget is tight, the selector might keep your request on a “wish list” to fill later if there’s still some money in that pot to be spent before the end of the fiscal year. (This might be more information than you wanted–I basically meant to say go ahead and ask! I always paid attention to patrons’ requests for purchase and tried to fill them as often as I could.)

  2. You have some wonderful fabrics there, you must make them up!
    Good luck with your skills development.

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