Tutorial-- Quick, Easy, Draped Cowl Variations !

Saturday, October 30, 2010
With even more draped cowl patterns like this one from McCalls appearing in recent pattern catalogs, this revisit of a popular tutorial I wrote a few years ago is even more relevant today.

So, now I'll show you how quick and easy it is to make countless variations like these shown below from a basic draped cowl neckline...that can be done in mere minutes!

First, start with a drape-front cowl (photo #1 below) already in your wardrobe, or make one with the many patterns that exist for this style.

As shown In photo #2, turn the garment inside out and flip the front facing up to expose the wrong side of front of the top.

Next, for the most basic variation, pinch some fabric near center front, twist it a bit, and hold the “twisted pinched” fabric with a rubber band, as shown in photo #3.  I am showing this with a regular rubber band so it shows up in the photo, however a small clear "ponytail" band works best. Later, if you want to make this design change permanent, the 'twist' can be stitched. Or just remove the band, and you have your original draped cowl back again :)

Now turn down the facing to cover the banded fabric, as shown in photo #4.

As shown in photo #5 below,  when the garment is turned right-side-out, the twisted detail becomes a new interesting design feature of the top.

Where you pinch and band the fabric is totally up to you: higher, lower, to the left or right of center, using 2 or 3 twists, etc. There are infinite possibilities for design variations like these.... Have fun!

TUTORIAL: Ravel Grading...A Master Tailor's Technique

Monday, October 18, 2010

There are many ways to grade seams. Among them are trimming one seam allowance narrower than the other, turning the scissors on edge to "bevel" the allowances, and using Pinking Shears.  But the hands-down most elegant and effective way I was ever shown, is to "Ravel Grade".  This was the favored technique taught to me by my Master Tailor mentors during my apprenticeship. You are unlikely to find this technique in any tailoring books, as it is a very esoteric "old world" technique.

Below you will see a photo of 2 pieces of wool, that have been underlined with Pro-Weft Fusible Interfacing to within 3/16-inch of the seam edges. The 2 pieces of wool have been placed right sides together, and you can see (very faintly in blue), that a 5/8" seam has been sewn down the length of the two pieces, on the right.

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The first and only step in the "Ravel Grading" process is very easy. Merely ravel off a few threads from the edge of both seam allowances, leaving soft fringed edges. So what does that accomplish?  In this example, by completely removing the warp (lengthwise) thread  from the seam allowance edges...the fabric there is now half as thick as before!
NOTE--Both seam allowances will be trimmed to 3/8" in some areas like lapel edges and jacket fronts before being Ravel Graded, and will remain "married" (not pressed open).  But instead of being the thickness of 2 layers of fabric, one layer has been raveled away resulting in the edge-bulk being totally eliminated...the finished lapel and jacket front edges (collar edges, etc) will be sharp and completely flat after pressing.

^ Click to enlarge ^

In the photo below, you will see the seam allowance pressed open. Notice how elegantly the bulk from the allowance edge has disappeared, because the fabric there is now half  of it's original thickness!  And to think that all that needed to be done was ravel away a few threads :)
^ Click to enlarge ^

So I ask you...which seam allowance shown below will be far less likely to leave a "pressing ridge" on the right side of a finished garment?  The "pinked" side...or the side that was Ravel Graded ?  Especially if your fashion fabric is very thick, highly slubbed, or other wise textured?  Why the "Ravel Graded" side, of course :)
^ Click to enlarge ^

SEWING NOTES: Medium weight wool flannel fabric is underlined with Pro-Weft Fusible Interfacing, a very lightweight highly flexible interfacing available exclusively at Fashion Sewing Supply.  

In case you are wondering...about half the beautifully tailored, very expensive garments that were created in the shop during my apprenticeship were made with fusible interfacings that my mentors imported from Italy.  When I created my own line of custom-milled fusible interfacings, I managed to reproduce the same uncompromising "premium" professional quality. If they were still on this earth, I dearly hope that my mentors would be proud of my efforts :)

TUTORIAL- Felled Shoulder/Sleeve Cap Seam Technique (revisited)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010
  Since I am unable to sew because of my health, and because I have so many new blog followers since I first published this tutorial, I thought it was due for a "revisit".


Progress on the Vintage Mens Shirt continues!

Now the sleeves are sewn...and I thought you might be interested in seeing how these sleeves are drafted and set. It is done differently than most methods seen in modern printed patterns.

(Click Pic to enlarge, use browser "back button" to return)

Take a look at these pattern pieces. I've marked the stitching lines so that you can see that the sleeve seam allowance is twice as wide as the corresponding seam on the shirt back (and front, not shown). The seam allowance of the sleeve is 1", and the armscye seam allowance is 1/2".

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As you can see in the photo below, when the stitching line of the sleeve and armscye are matched (right sides together), the sleeve cap allowance extends beyond that of the shirt. The sleeve is set by stitching along the stitching line of the armscye. It's much easier to do if you first mark the 1/2" seam allowance as you can see by the blue lines. When you've set sleeves this way several times, you can just do it by sight. In fact, when I hand-draft shirts, I almost always draft the sleeve allowance at twice the width of the armscye allowance.

(Click Pic to enlarge, use browser "back button" to return)

Here is the sleeve set into the armscye, from the wrong side. Because the sleeve seam allowance is wider, it is "auto-magically" ready to be felled...with no trimming needed!

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To begin felling the seam, just fold and press the larger (wide) sleeve seam allowance over the smaller (narrow) one, enclosing it. In the lower portion of photo below, the larger seam allowance is folded over the smaller,  and still open near the top of the photo.

(Click Pic to enlarge, use browser "back button" to return)

When the sleeve allowance is completely pressed over the armscyce allowance... next press BOTH allowances towards the shirt. Look...an "instant" felled seam !

(Click Pic to enlarge, use browser "back button" to return)

All that remains to finish setting the sleeves is to topstitch a scant 1/2" away from the well of the seam from the RIGHT SIDE, through all layers....as shown below.

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And this is how the felled sleeve seam looks from the wrong side, after the topstitching is complete. Nice and smooth, neat and easy...with no raw edges.

Tailor Made London - A follow-up

Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Shortly after my previous post, John at Tailor Made London got in touch with me with a lot more information about his service. I don't intend to reproduce his entire email here but I will quote from it heavily and, I hope, representatively.

The delay in me making this follow-up post was due to me wanting some clarification around prices, as this is a useful way to benchmark tailors against each other and make a fair assesment of who is worth the money and who isn't.

I asked for two prices:
Firstly, a two-piece suit made in pure wool (non-super number) from a good manufacturer (I actually specified Holland and Sherry, but they only stock H&S in Super 100 and up, so the quote is based on Dugdale, another very well-respected cloth maker) with a half canvass, no basted fitting, and working cuffs. This would be around £349 from Cad and the Dandy.

Tailor Made London quoted me £560, which is by no means unreasonable, but it does suggest a generally slightly higher cost than the majority of other tailors in this corner of the market.

For a suit made in super-100s wool, with a fully floating canvas a basted fitting and hand-stitching (which is as close as you will get to a Savile Row suit) Cad and the Dandy charge £799, while Tailor Made London quoted me £950.

I won't comment further on the prices, as there are plenty of variables that may make comparisons between C&tD and TML inaccurate. I have tried to make the comparison as fair as possible, but factors like the quality of the workmanship are hard to quantify, and could justify a higher price. At any rate, TML suits are, as you would hope, considerably cheaper than a similar option from Savile Row.

My biggest question over the whole laser process, and one echoed by at least one of the people who kindly took the time to comment on my last blog about Tailor Made London, was the extent to which measurements taken by machine, even very accurately, necessarily translate into a well-fitting suit. I felt that the judgement of the cutter is more important here in being able to assess the whole body-shape, stance and so forth, in a way that a machine cannot.

John Buni, from Tailor Made London, says:
"What is inherent in our process is the use of the data to form a twin body image and then transpose that data to form the individual’s pattern for the cut. Here is where we differ from someone taking a multitude of measurements manually or otherwise in that we take into consideration the person’s stance and posture. The latter would be laboriously difficult to carry out manually first time. Of the thousands measurements taken about 100 primary ones are used by our head-cutter to produce an individual pattern to fit the 3D image and make any adjustments where needed."

I raised a number of questions about the way the suits are made, and the options available, and it appears that Tailor Made London do offer traditionally constructed suits with all the features you would hope for:

"Turning to suit construction, we offer a half-floating canvas with horsehair as a standard product, unlike majority of online/ visiting/ travelling tailors who would offer a fused canvas as the norm but some may offer a ½ floating canvas option at much extra cost. We do also offer a full floating canvas construction if requested."

I did wonder about how the cloth was cut, and it turns out it is cut by laser. Whilst the traditionalist in me recoils at this, I can't see any real problem and, as John explains, it keeps costs down by reducing cloth wastage. It would potentially make pattern matching difficult, but John says this isn't a problem, as the suit is "assembled by a skilled tailor to ensure pattern matching where necessary."

I suppose I remain unconvinced that the laser-scanning really adds value to the tailoring process, but the main thing is that Tailor Made London appear to be getting everything else right in terms of cloth selection and craftsmanship. Of course, I can't be certain of this without buying a suit and, perhaps unfairly, I don't think I'm likely to, but I wouldn't necessarily discourage anyone else from trying them, and I would be interested in hearing (and seeing) the results.

Many thanks, also, to the readers who left some unusally interesting and thoughtful comments on the previous post about Tailor Made London.