A new jacket: The basted fitting

Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I returned to Cad and the Dandy over the weekend for the basted fitting of my new jacket. It's looking great, the cloth looks even better in a larger volume as the loud black and white check blends into a soft grey at a distance. Cad and the Dandy have, by now, got a pretty good idea of my fit, and fewer changes are needed. All the same, it's nice to have the opportunity to check everything. The shoulder width in particular is very hard to alter once the jacket has been made up, and moving the buttonholes is close to impossible, so the basted fitting is a particularly good opportunity to check these.

Even the lapel width could be tweaked at this point, but I'm perfectly happy with it as-is. In the end, the only changes necessary were to mark the shoulder position accurately, and to pin the chest to exactly where I want it. Getting these fine adjustments right without a basted fitting is difficult or impossible, and it is why it makes such a difference. Adjustments to a finished suit can make large improvements, but there is a limit to what they can fix.

After this, the whole jacket is ripped apart again, and sent to a coatmaker to finish. A handmade suit takes around 50 hours of work, and most of that is in the coat. It will, therefore, be at least a couple of weeks before I'm likely to get this back. A painful wait, I think.

Sometimes I need Ruffles...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I love my profession as a ShirtMaker...I truly do. But sometimes I just need to take a break to sew something whimsical.   This dress is one of my original designs...drafted by hand. It is a simple design, so the drafting was fast, fun, and easy...and the sewing was a delight.  Especially since it is for a little girl who is as sweet as can be!

I made these dresses for 4-year old Julianna, who like her little sister Brooklyn are like "adopted grand-daughters" to me :)    Recently when I gave her some shorts and tops I had made for her, she politely asked, "Mrs. Pam, will you please make me some more pretty dresses?"   That little voice went straight to my heart, and the result is the dress you see above, and the one below...

The bright and happy little dress was made with a pattern from the summer 2011 issue of Ottobre Design. I "tweaked" the design a little bit to suit my mood at the moment I was cutting it out...adding a pocket and making the skirt fuller by adding a piece of coordinating fabric.

Next, between sewing shirts for my clients, and filling orders for interfacing...I need to make some new "pretties" for Julianna's little sister, and something nice for their mommy too! And just maybe I'll have a little time left to sew for myself...

Sewing Notes:  Both dresses are made from lightweight 100% cotton fabrics. Bodice facings are interfaced with "ProSheer Elegance" Fusible Interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply.

Top Hats

Friday, June 24, 2011
Another Royal Ascot has been and gone and, this time, I made the wise decision to expensively upgrade my top hat from the rather poor example I wore in previous years.

Top hats come in a variety of different shapes, sizes and styles, and at least two colours. I wouldn't claim to be an expert on top hats, but here is some general guidance which I have picked up and which may be useful.

Black or Grey?
At Ascot, there is probably a slight slant towards black top hats, but there are still plenty of grey ones to be seen. Grey hats may be slightly more casual, but I am not aware of any event (with the possible exception of a strangely formal funeral) at which it would be unacceptable to wear a grey top hat. Grey top hats are a must with a matching grey morning suit, but otherwise the choice is entirely yours. My own preference is for a black hat, partly because good ones have a particular beautiful shine that grey hats lack, and partly because a black hat can also be worn with evening tails. Not that it is easy to do so without looking like a broadway chorus-singer, but it's a nice option to have.

Grey top hats are generally a little cheaper, it has to be said.

What material
This is where it gets more tricky. You have essentially three options in the 'serious' top hat range, by which I mean not a costume hat picked up for a fiver on a market stall.

These can be made from fur felt or wool, and could be hand-made and quite expensive, or available for as little as £30. The key thing is that the black or grey covering has a matt finish, and a slightly furry texture. This looks fine in grey, but is a bit cheap-looking in black, and lacks the shine that is the hallmark of the proper Edwardian topper.

Melusine wool:
This is the next step up, and is what you will find on all decent quality new top hats sold by anyone from Moss Bros (for about £200) to Lock the Hatter (for closer to £400). In between, Ede and Ravenscroft, Hackett, Bates the Hatter and numerous other places also sell them. Most are hand-made and the visible difference between them is minimal. Melusine, when carefully brushed, has a shine that is close to that of silk, and this is as good as you are likely to be able to get from a new top hat.

The top of the heap in top hat terms. Edwardian top hats were made of silk, and there are plenty scattered around second hand shops for a few hundred pounds or less. The issue is that larger hat sizes tend to be rarer, and therefore much more expensive. Some hatters, such as Lock, will do you a refurbished and refitted silk hat but, depending on your head size and the provenance of the hat, this is likely to set you back several thousand pounds. That said, a good silk hat does look fantastic, and is clearly a cut above even the best Melusine ones.

If you're likely to wear morning dress more than once or twice a year, owning a top hat is worth the investment. Even if you're not, it's a great thing to own and will give you a good excuse to seek out opportunities to wear it.

TUTORIAL...How to Sew a "Designer" Elasticated Casing

Sunday, June 12, 2011

This blouse in soft cotton batik is one that I made from 
this HotPatterns design...

This style can either be made with neck and sleeve bindings, or elasticated casings. I chose to make it with casings because I think it may be more comfortable in hot weather.

Making a casing for elastic is certainly one of our easier sewing tasks. Turn, stitch, insert elastic...done!  Sewn this conventional way, we end up with a perfectly acceptable casing that looks something like the photo below, after the elastic is inserted.  Fine...yet a little "bubbly and wobbly"...but something we have come to accept with elasticated casings.

However, by taking one additional construction step, you can achieve a "designer" look to an elastic casing garment. A very simple step that will result in a flat, even-edge casing every time, like the one in the finished garment shown....here is a close-up photo--  

So what's that extra construction step?  Edge-stitching!
After the casing is folded to the wrong side of the garment and stitched along the BOTTOM edge (leaving an opening to later insert the elastic, of course)....All that we need to do next to lend that "designer touch" is to edge-stitch the TOP fold of the casing...all the way around, as shown below--

By taking this one easy extra step, our casings lose the bubbles, 
and gain some designer panache!

Rush Order Shirts....4 down, 2 to go!

Friday, June 10, 2011
Here are a couple of quick pics of  2 of the 6 rush order shirts that need to be sent  to my clients by Saturday. I managed to get 4 of them shipped yesterday, and I have been given an extension until Monday for the others if I need it...and with my other business obligations, I probably will ;)  Anyway, please bear in mind that these pics were snapped in a hurry, right before they were due to be shipped....  Am I making excuses for crummy photos?  Yes, lol.

This shirt, hastily folded in half and "pin draped" on my photo wall, is made from light-weight textured cotton/linen gauze.  Please do not think I am losing my mind or skills... it's supposed to look rumpled and crumpled :)  I was going for the "Couture Limp Dishcloth" look, and I think I hit the mark with this one!  ;)

I had just enough time to get this batik shirt on my "man-form" and snap a pic before I needed to get it folded, packed and on its way. I just love the color of this one...don't you?  It reminds me of a tropical sea.

SEWING NOTES-- Patterns are original hand-drafted designs.  Pro-Sheer Elegance Interfacing used on the gauze shirt, Pro-Woven Shirt-Crisp Interfacing and Coconut Buttons used on the cotton batik shirt. 
Interfacing and Buttons are from  Fashion Sewing Supply.

Retailer: Upper 10

One of the minor frustrations of a blog that achieves, while not exactly worldwide fame, at least a steady stream of visitors, is the spam. Blogger automatically detects a lot of it, and the rest I quickly spot and delete, so it's not that big a deal, but it is a bit irritating. Most of it is borderline nonsense and links to dubious websites selling poly-blend suits at rock-bottom prices.

So it did slightly attract my interest when I spotted some clear spam that seemed to point back to a serious business, Upper 10. A serious business located a stones throw from my old prep school, no less, in a nice part of the City of York. One friendly conversation with whoever monitors their twitter account, and I had forgiven them their SEO-related indiscretions and was intrigued by the company.

They focus on Gentleman's accessories and their range is small but well-selected, mostly made up of top brands in each category. I suspect you would find that they have more on sale in the shop itself, and it would certainly be worth a visit if you are ever in York.

The appeal of this company doesn't end there, though. Upper 10 actually seems to be the accessories-selling branch of Mullen and Mullen, a proper bespoke tailor run by the eponymous brothers. Yorkshire is home to some of the best cloth-makers in the world, and Mullen and Mullen rightly make good use of them, so you can be fairly sure the results will be excellent.

I can't judge their quality accurately, of course, but the suits pictured on the site look fantastic, and all the signs suggest that they know what they are doing. Prices are good, at around £600 for a suit and the even better news is that they make regular visits to London, so perhaps a shirt will be in order at some point. Or an overcoat - I definitely need a new overcoat.

I'd be delighted to hear from any of my readers who have experience of the shop or the tailors, and I would certainly recommend a visit to anyone who is in York. You can take in one of the most magnificent cathedrals in the country, and then swing by High Petergate to commission a tweed suit.

Not quite panic time...yet.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011
YIKES what a day this has been...  This morning I was under a deadline to sew 5 shirts for my clients by Thursday!  Since then one client has sweet-talked me into adding another shirt (or 2 if I have time, haha) to his order...but that the extra shirts can wait to be shipped a little later.  So I have not hit the panic button...yet...not quite yet....

  • Fabrics chosen and pre-washed twice? Check!
  • Hand-drafted Patterns located and tweaked to new measurements? Check!
  • "Shirt Crisp" Interfacing ready?   Check!
  • Iced Tea chilling for my late night break? Check!
The 2 tailors on my staff who help with rush orders like these?  On Vacation!
I sincerely hope they are having a great time......  :)
SEWING NOTES-- Special Shirt-Interfacing from FashionSewingSupply.com, Fabrics from Gorgeous Fabrics, Fabric.com, and Philips-Boyne.

Harris Tweed

2011 is the 100th anniversary of the Harris Tweed trademark. Although we've all heard of it, and may even own some clothing made from Harris Tweed, I for one did not fully appreciate how specific the requirements are for cloth to bear the brand. Remarkably, it must be handwoven on the island in the weaver's own home.

There's plenty of debate around how much we overstate the importance of local manufacture. People have a tendency to assume that it guarantees a level of quality that clothes made abroad cannot possibly hope to reach. That's not true at all, of course. Nevertheless, while a cynic might suggest that demanding that cloth be made in the weaver's own home has more to do with protecting history and employment than it does with ensuring quality, it can't be denied that the strict controls placed upon materials such as Harris Tweed does ensure a level of quality that cannot necessarily be easily found elsewhere. Perhaps equally important, there is a pleasure in wearing clothes into which so much expertise and care has gone, that has nothing to do with its relative quality.

Some sewing going on...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sometimes, when I am in the midst of meticulous sewing of custom shirts for my clients...I need a break. So I steal a bit of time from my schedule to whip up some cute clothes for the 2 little girls in my life, Julianna and Brooklyn. This set features slightly re-designed versions of Ottobre Patterns from Issue 3/2009...for Brooklyn, age 21 months.  Cotton/lycra knit was used for the cropped leggings, and Kaffe Fasset cotton fabric was used for the Tunic.

I really like the color combinations...but now wonder if it might be too "sophisticated" for a toddler. 
What do you think?