Wednesday, July 29, 2009

suspender engineering

Wendy brought these suspenders (braces) in the other day. They belonged to her great uncle who died about ten years ago. He was 98 when he passed. I can't begin to guess how old these suspenders are and I haven't had time to even look for any references in my research.
What struck me was the design and engineering involved in something that was of such "everyday" use, and how little of that detail we see in things today.

Friday, July 24, 2009

It's all fun and games....

No pictures today, but I'm in at work tomorrow and I think I'll try to get a few pics to update where we are.
Just in case you were thinking that making suits for the theatre was getting pretty matter of fact, although overwhelming, we get notes from stage management who update us on what the actor's are doing in rehearsal that will affect the costumes.

As I expected, clothes are coming off onstage. Two of the actors will be removing or having their trousers removed for them onstage. OK, we do that in the theatre, actors dress onstage, they undress, they have quick changes, but it always is a bit more complicated than sitting on the edge of a chair and removing your trousers. One actor is going to take his pants off while still wearing his shoes. Have you looked at the size of the modern stylish fashion shoes that guys are wearing now? they are enormously long. So back we go to the "broken down" pair of suit trousers we are making and we need to widen the leg, and also catch the edge of the lining down in the front of the leg, so he doesn't get his shoe caught in it. He demonstrates his rehearsal technique in the fitting room today, almost falling over in one attempt. He then manages to do it by standing on the trousers in a heap on the floor while one foot after the other is pulled out.

The other guy is having someone hook their fingers in his trouser pocket and pulling on them as he drops them from the waist.

Oh, and they are going to be wet while this happens.

It's always exciting around here, what other job would have 5 people in a small room with mirrors, standing around watching with concern as someone else tries to hop out of their clothes.

Monday, July 20, 2009


This is the baste up of jacket number 8, nice wool, the fitting went well, I don't know what possessed the sewer to make up a finished collar for a basted jacket, so I guess she'll be doing that again. It's the little things like that, working with people you don't usually work with and the communication misunderstandings that can make you crazy sometimes.

Overwhelmed is how I am feeling.

Yes, it is getting down to the wire and there's no time to spare.

I asked for and got 2 extra sewers this week. Hooray, now I am supervising 7 people. That's extra work in itself- especially with people who aren't that familiar with the way I like to work.

My goal for last Friday was to have everything cut out, so I could move on.
At 6 o'clock on Friday, I cut the last pattern piece of the second footman's tailcoat, but I didn't get the linings cut out. Close but not quite done.

The real kicker though, the one that is making me more overwhelmed, is that one of the actors has been working out and dieting- you know every so often someone will come for a fitting and say they're going to lose a few pounds and they rarely do, but this time, he did. Well, he's actually gone down a bit more than a full size. Three inches smaller in the waist. Two inches off the hips and chest.
You know, I cut his trousers out over 6 weeks ago and they were nice and they were finished and hemmed and at 6 o'clock today, I was drafting a new trouser pattern to make new tux trousers and unpicking the suit trousers because I don't have any more of the fabric to cut new ones.

I can't even begin to talk about altering the jackets. I think I'll sit and stew about it a bit more.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

suit number 9 and 10

Ok, I think these are number 9 and 10.

Maybe I'm getting a bit overwhelmed, some days everything seems on track and others feel as though we will never be able to do all this work on time.

Today, the powers that be decided that our two leads should have a double of their jacket, as well as two pairs of trousers. This is so they can have one suit that stays nice and neat looking and the other will get broken down. Problem is, the designer didn't buy enough fabric for two complete suits so they will have to order more. I think I must have been looking a bit stressed in the past week, so my boss is going to hire my former apprentice to come in for a couple of weeks and she will cut out the second jackets from my patterns and make them up, because we sure don't have the time.

Other news from today:
I cut out the last tuxedo jacket this morning, fit the second footman in his trousers, waistcoat and a toile of the tailcoat. (I thought it was safer to do a toile for someone I had never seen or personally measured, but it would have been fine, I wasn't far off)
I fit this DB glen plaid suit, it's just basted together for the fitting, so it will need to come apart to be finished. Luckily, there are just a few minor alterations, so Silvia can get working on that.
This afternoon, I cut out a cream wool dinner jacket, so I can cross that off my list too.
Tomorrow's schedule has just come out so I am going to fit the overcoat I cut and have a couple of technical (no designer present) fittings, and hopefully figure out one problem that I am having with the fit of one suit and mark some alterations.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

riding breeches

We are making two pairs of riding breeches for this show and I am always happy to find vintage examples of garments to look at and to compare to.
This pair dates from 1941 according to the label inside at the back.
The wool is incredibly dense and heavy-I'd guess it is at least 17oz to 20 oz weight, and it could be blended with some synthetic fibre since the label recommends washing in warm, NOT HOT water with "Lux".

This is a detail of the inside of the leg opening, it has handmade buttonholes and very small buttons, the bottom is bound with silesia , creating a facing to the inside, where it has a little jog around the bottom buttonhole. The inside knee suede pieces are stitched on by hand both on the outer edge as well as about 1cm in from the raw edge.

The fabric is so dense that instead of bagging out edges such as on the fly extension, the wool is pinked and silesia is stitched behind, or in the case of the fly facing, the silesia binds the edge.
They have cut the fronts to make the pockets and then left all the excess fabric inside the breeches, where it sits in between the pocket bag and the front of the garment. You can just see a corner of it here in the lower right.

These breeches are cut in the way that you see in the period drafts of the time. There is ample seat room for sitting on a horse, the seams and darting near the inside knee are cut raw and whipped together to reduce friction between your knee and the saddle. The fabric is heavier than most overcoats are these days.
All of these characteristics are beautiful and functional , but not quite what is needed onstage, which is one of many reasons that I while I collect and study and dissect the period drafts, I can rarely use them verbatim for my work.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

suit number 8

This is suit number 8 of the 12 regular suits that we are making, being chalked out on my table.
There is so much work to do, and I am so busy, that I am finding it difficult to get photos and blog!
I had another day this week that was mostly fittings, so I feel that things are progressing, but there is a lot of pressure trying to juggle all these suits that are all in varying stages of construction.
One good thing is that some actors have two suits, which makes it somewhat easier for me once I have one fit and I make the corrections to my pattern, I can be relatively sure of the fit of the second suit, as I make a double breasted suit from a single breasted, or a two button with peak lapels from a single breasted shawl collar tuxedo.

The trousers here are pleated, with two outward pleats, which was a style I wasn't fond of- mostly because I didn't like how I drafted them, nor the way they were drafted in all the references that I had.(It was all about the development of the pleat placement)
I wanted to change how I was doing them so I had a good talk with my colleague and friend Evan (a fellow tailor) about what I didn't like and what I wanted to do to change them, and he confirmed that I should go ahead with what I was planning and they are much better. That talk and subsequent change just goes to show that even after 20 years, you are always learning- and sometimes the solutions to problems are staring you in the face but you don't see them for a while, and when you do, you just can't believe you didn't see it earlier. Thanks Evan.
At this point a suitable Yiddish expletive is called for- wish I had one........Oy!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

tailcoat started

Tailcoat cut out and ready to go.
I don't usually cut my patterns "net" or without seam allowances but I did this time. Most cutters here have their own method of pattern making and some include seam allowances everywhere, some have specific areas that have allowance included and some cut without and add them on the fabric. I usually have allowances included in certain areas but I changed my method here so I could be clear as to the shapes and sewing lines.

After I cut all the pieces in wool, I then cut all the linings and the canvas pieces to complete the whole package for the tailor. I then lay out all the pieces for her and we talk through the garment, to make sure that I know that she understands how far I want to go to the next fitting, any construction details that may pose problems or require creative solutions, and to convey an overall sense of the piece.
The next stage for the tailor is marking all the pieces, in this case by tailor tacking. We use a slightly heavier and coarser cotton thread, waxed with beeswax to do this. This thread, along with the wax, has more "tooth" and grips the wool so that the tacks don't fall out. We use cotton thread for all basting as it is easy to break by hand and less likely to cut the fibres of the cloth when being removed.

One change that I made after a little more research, was to the sewn on lapel piece. Instead of cutting two separate pieces, to be sewn together along the outside edge, I cut the lapel on the fold, and it will just have a little dart at the tip of the peak portion. It is pictured in the upper left of the photos.

More to come......

Friday, July 3, 2009

a lot of suits

We have a lot of suits to make and it has been a very busy week trying to get patterns made, have fittings, mark alterations, change the patterns and fit suits that are in the baste up stage.

We have quite a variety of suits to make for all shapes and sizes of gentlemen, from the 44 stout to the 38 short. The plaid suit jacket here is being finished off with some trim for an understudy. The trim is a bit odd in my opinion but it's being put on so that it can easily be removed at a future date. If you think that it looks very long, it is, because the man wearing it is around 6'5" tall. We are also just starting a nice navy chalk striped SB with semi peak lapels and on my table, I am just chalking out the footman's coatee onto the wool. I was busy with fittings this afternoon and didn't have time to cut the coatee out, so that will happen Monday morning.
Today, I cut out a Tattersall style waistcoat and fit a DB brown plaid suit, a SB grey birds-eye suit, two doublets and a 17th century coat suit, as well as a lovely SB black tuxedo. I will need to mark the alterations on those on Monday. I think I have only one person so far that I haven't made any patterns for, so I think I'm doing well. The designer returns in a week, so I hope he likes what we've done in his absence!