Last year prior to a choir performance, my husband stopped by Ginny’s Fine Fabric, per my request, to purchase a length of concert black wool, so that our second daughter could make herself the required black skirt for the concert. As always, with Ginny’s kind help, they found the black fabric. Mission accomplished. But that wasn’t all. My husband also found an Italian wool in the Austrian boiled wool style and brought it home with the hope that I would make a custom-made vest, fitted to him.
I had to smile. He knows the difference between standardized ready-to-wear clothing and something that is custom-made. Like many, he’s struggled to find clothing that fits his broad shoulders, narrow waist and great height well. He believes that custom-fitted clothing made for outside activities like cross country skiing or hunting is “the cat’s meow.”
Though most of my sewing has been for children, tailoring is a strong interest for me. I admire what the tailor does; the art. I am a frequent reader of the Cutter and Tailor’s Forum. I have taken an interest in pattern drafting. Last year, I worked through drafting slacks and capri pants for myself and my daughters, along with a couple of classic straight skirts. I also drafted and created trousers for my young son. I enjoy the entire process. And, I also know the comfort of clothing fitted specifically to the person.
I came up short in finding instructions for drafting a man’s vest, so I contacted my friend, “Mansie Wauch”, from the Cutter and Tailor forum, who is a retired cutter and college instructor, and inquired whether he had a “block” for a man’s vest. He provided instructions from his collection, and offered to “run along side” me as I worked through this project. I took my husband’s measurements and drafted the pattern. I then created a toile, and we proceeded through the fitting process. I took pictures and emailed them to Mansie for his review and feedback.
From Mansie, I learned that my husband has a prominent shoulder and how to adjust for it. (Many men have a prominent shoulder that develops as they do physical labor of various kinds and favor the use of one arm over the other.) I also learned that working with the toile is akin to “sculpting”. Sure, I’ve read about the fitting process: you make a toile, see how it fits, see how you ought to adjust, check the fit again, and repeat the process until you are satisfied with the fit, but there’s so much more to learn in the hands-on experience of this process. I learned a tailor has a “doctor’s” eye. They look at a person’s body as a doctor does, seeing figure variances and/or challenges. Do they have an erect figure or a stooped figure and so forth? Do they have good posture, or do they tend to slouch. It takes time and practice to develop this eye and understand how to create a garment properly. I also learned there is “balance” in a garment, and too drastic a change to the pattern will cause the balance to fall away from the correct balance.
I have far more to learn. One area in particular is the difference between the disciplines of pattern drafting and draping. My husband’s shoulders did not match the shoulder slope of my draft. We found that we had to drape and draw in the proper line for the slope of his shoulder, and at the same time, watch that the garment’s balance was still correct. Again, I’m still learning.
So, after several weeks of sculpting, fitting and adjusting including a few mistakes (during which Mansie kindly sent pictures of his gladioli growing in his garden in England to cheer me up), here is my husband’s Austrian-style vest:
The vest is finished on all edges with a knitted trim found at Ginny’s. The edelweiss-style buttons were found at Kelly’s Quality Sewing in Rochester. I created the buttonholes by hand, which is a lovely art in itself and could be the topic of another post. Hand (or thread) buttonholes require silk buttonhole twist, gimp and bees wax. My friend, “Ladhrann,” from the forum, pointed me to Bay Tailor Supply in California. Callum, at Bay Tailor Supply, was very helpful in receiving a swatch of the boiled wool and matching the silk twist, recommending the specific color number. He also carries a cosmetic grade bees wax, which is better than any I’ve ever tried. I loved the smell of it while melting it and applying it to the silk twist.
A few threads on the Cutter and Tailor Forum were very helpful, beginning with The Art of Making Buttonholes. If you’ve not had a chance to see the beauty of a tailor’s hand-made buttonholes, take a look here. This thread requesting feedback on First Buttonholes was timely as well. Finally, I appreciated Jeffrey D.’s writing and video on the topic.
The final finishing step to the vest was the pockets. Ah, they seem so easy, yet it was a topic of much study and trial and error. I searched each book I could find in my little library, including Claire Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing and Cabrera’s Classic Tailoring Techniques, and Mansie also sent a welt pocket method from his collection of notes. I followed my friend “Tailleuse’s”, also from the forum, encouragement to make several prototypes before working with the final product. I eventually stopped by Ginny’s Fine Fabric to discuss the topic with Ginny. I had the pleasure of seeing a vest on which she was working for a client. She is so kind in sharing how she would handle the situation. While my pockets were slightly different, the conversation was helpful. I was concerned about their structural integrity. They are stayed with silk organza, and the pocket bags are made of double-sided silk satin. They feel luxurious inside.
In many ways, my post here is a tribute–a sincere thanks–to the tailors/cutters who are sharing their knowledge, passing on their talent, and keeping the tailor’s art alive and well.