I’ve started watching Smart Tailoring all over again, pausing the video every couple of minutes to jot down notes. This DVD set is packed with information and I don’t want to miss a thing.
Kenneth King starts Smart Tailoring by saying
“I’m going to be talking about ‘old school’ and ‘new school’. ‘Old school’ as I define it, is the classic tailoring techniques of the European tailors and a lot of the old American tailors. ‘New school’ is a method that I developed myself because I needed to be able to make a really well constructed garment that was beautifully shaped and held its line indefinitely.”
Last year I got quite a good look at the ultimate in “old school” techniques: the bespoke tailoring of London’s Savile Row. It’s understated, elegant–and with so much fitting and hand stitching, incredibly labor-intensive to produce and expensive to buy.
Thankfully, Kenneth King’s version of “old school” doesn’t require a seven-year apprenticeship.
And his “new school” version is not of the “make a jacket in a day” variety. In both cases he employs techniques that give great and long-lasting results.
Kenneth goes on to say
The benefit of tailoring is that you can have it exactly as you wish. You can combine the ‘new school’ and ‘old school’ techniques; you can change fabrics; you can change styles to reflect the trends and to reflect your taste–so you can have it your own way.
The techniques of this most staid and tradition-bound area of garment-making can be the springboard for great freedom and originality. Isn’t that interesting?
After the introduction we move on to the section on materials.
“The success of the ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ methods is dependent on the understructure,” says Kenneth, so a description of tailoring canvases is in order.
The purpose of the canvas is to give an idealized shape over which the fabric drapes. Now, some people say when they hear ‘tailoring’ they think tailoring is always hard and stiff, but you can start with a very, very light canvas.
He shows five canvases ranging from very light to very heavy. What I found especially interesting was that a canvas might be supple or stiff in all directions, or it might be supple lengthwise but stiff crosswise. There has to be a reason, and a right application, for each of these canvases. I still have a lot to learn about which canvas to use when.
I have a bolt of fusible tailoring canvas, but I think it wouldn’t meet with Kenneth’s approval. He describes the fashion fabric as draping over the understructure, not being fused to it, which would likely change the fabric’s hand, and not in a good way.
It so happens that today I’m wearing a jacket I made using this fusible canvas. It’s worked great for ten years, but I assumed the risk of its possibly coming loose from the fashion fabric.
If I had a tailoring business I would worry about using this fusible for a customer because I couldn’t be sure the garment would keep its shape indefinitely. I’ll stick with sew-in canvas.
Next are materials for collars:
- Collar canvas, which is malleable when steam-pressed but stiff when it cools, used in “old school” tailoring to interface the under collar.
- Collar felt, used for the under collar in the old school. Since felt is a nonwoven and so has no grain, an under collar can be cut from it in one piece, avoiding the bulk of a center back seam. Collar felt comes in just a few, neutral colors.
- Collar melton, a thick coating that can substitute for collar felt. It has a grain, so the under collar must be cut in two pieces on the bias and sewn at the center back. So you do get a seam, which means dealing with the bulk. But unlike collar felt, collar melton comes in great colors. And it can be fun to turn up your collar and reveal the surprising contrast of a cheery red under collar. In an aside, Kenneth adds “I think it looks fabulous.” I find myself smiling back and agreeing.
- pocketing, which is glazed on one side so it doesn’t stick to the fashion fabric
- silk organza, for staying armholes and edges in “new school” tailoring, and
- cotton muslin, for various old and new school applications like back stays.
Kenneth weighs in on the debate over how to treat your fashion fabric before cutting out the pieces. I’ve read (and followed) some elaborate directions for wetting wool fabrics and drying with towels, pressing with lots of steam, and all but saying a prayer to the patron saint of tailors to prepare yardage. I always wondered whether taking this much trouble was necessary or even effective.
Kenneth’s advice is simply to leave pretreatments to the pros. When he buys fabrics he takes them straight to the dry cleaners. “I have them steamed before I put them in my stash so they’re what’s called ‘needle ready’ when I need them.”
Now that’s being prepared. That’s also being committed to using your fabric rather than having it languish in the land of sewing dreams. Dry cleaning ain’t cheap.
I had steam-pressed the wool tweed for my practice run with my little Rowenta iron and called it a day.
Then I had two thoughts:
- I said I was going to follow Smart Tailoring. Smart Tailoring says to have a dry cleaner steam press this.
- My fabric didn’t come to me from a store but from the Textile Center of Minnesota’s annual fundraiser (“the world’s largest textile garage sale”) from somebody else’s stash.
The colors in this tweed say “vintage” to me–like actual 1950s shades. The fabric had been folded and exposed to light for so long (decades?) that a fade line ran lengthwise down the middle. (In the warehouse lighting and the frenzy of the sale I didn’t notice or care.) Then I began to wonder how clean this fabric was. Okay. I surrendered.
Tuesday I brought my yardage to the dry cleaner for both cleaning and steam-pressing. For the three yards the bill was an eyebrow-raising $34.39.
Or was I naive?
For the equivalent of a dozen such dry cleaners’ bills I could buy a Reliable i300 ironing station and happily steam press my own yardage. I foresee well over a dozen tailoring projects in my future. Two dozen, easy.
Continuing the roundup Kenneth describes the supporting roles of
- the cuff interfacing called wigan
- shoulder pads
- double-fold bias tape, and
- stay tape or twill tape.
- He concludes with advice about basting thread.
I find myself mulling over a 750-yard spool of white basting thread on the B. Black & Sons website. How long would it take me before I said to myself–“Whoops, I’m running low! Better buy another one soon!”
I wonder. Maybe not as long as I think.
Because Kenneth wraps up this section by saying,
For those who really don’t like hand-stitching, once you appreciate the value that hand-stitching in the form of thread-basting gives to new school and old school tailoring, you’ll change your mind. When you’re basting the layers together, everything stays exactly where you need it so you can do the different operations.
To me that’s just another way of saying that thread-basting will give me more control over my work.
It is not fun when you’re deep in a tailoring project to lose control and make an irreversible mistake.
Control would be very nice. So would fun.
Maybe I’ll go ahead and buy two spools of that basting thread.
I have a feeling I’m going to need it.