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Aug 11, 2010

Exhibition Sewing + Suit Project Fabric Purchased!

Let's face it: anybody who blogs about a sewing project while the project is underway is asking for trouble.

I liken it to a person who walks around their apartment naked with the blinds pulled up: there's no guarantee anybody's watching but chances are pretty good that somebody's got their eyes on you so you'd better pull your stomach in and give as good as you've got.

I generally don't think of myself as an exhibitionist and don't even tell me what you think.  But I realized yesterday upon reading the comments I received regarding Michael's suit project that I have placed myself center stage and the house is filling up.  I just hope I'm believable in the role.

You may or may not know that I have a theater background; I made quite a name for myself on the children's theater circuit way back when.  I bring this up because, like all performers. despite stage fright, when the house lights dim and the curtain rises, we do tend to remember our lines and not fall on our faces.  I guess what I'm trying to say is, Thank you for showing up to my little sewing show and I hope you enjoy today's installment of How to Sew a Men's Suit.  The use of recording devices is strictly prohibited.

Now on with the show!

So yesterday Michael and I went fabric shopping.   I know a lot of you are going to have strong reactions to what I am about to say but I ask that you please just read to the end and don't get your proverbial panties in a knot.

First we went to that favorite dive of dives, H&M fabrics on 35th Street.  I wanted to get a sense of what was out there, starting on the low end.  They actually had some very attractive wool suiting which, from what I could tell from the bolts with labels, was made in China.  Friends, I have great respect for the Chinese culture.  But when it comes to high quality wool suiting, well, China doesn't immediately spring to mind -- maybe some day and who knows, maybe now.  They had quite a nice selection however, and it was all $10/yd., which for me is a bit high but I am not paying, as you know.

One of my strengths when it comes to shopping is that I don't have to look at a million things; in fact, I'd rather choose from among, say, ten fabrics, pick whichever I like best, and call it a day.  But I definitely wanted to see more than what was available at H&M.  I should add that Michael brought his little "Color Me Beautiful" swatches, given to him by a professional consultant who did his entire family's colors.  (I think Michael is a "fall.")  He is extremely committed to his palette.  Fine.

Our next stop was Metro Textiles, which many of you have either visited or read about.  It's run by the notorious Kashi, who has a good reputation and some terrific stuff for sale at decent prices.  I trust him.

I wasn't sure he carried men's suiting but he does.  And that my friends, is where we bought our fabric!

It's Loro Piana, according to Kashi, imported from Italy, and who am I to argue?  It's a gorgeous, medium weight, tiny houndstooth.  I bought five yards (60") for $18/yd.  I also picked up some Bemberg rayon for lining. 

I hope you like it because you are going to be seeing a lot of it in the days ahead.  It fits perfectly in Michael's palette; he likes it and that's what matters most, no?

Meanwhile, I cut my pattern.  Fifty-seven pieces.  I don't think I'll be making the vest.

I've also been amassing my supplies and tools.  I do have a clapper, a point presser, a seam roll, a tailor's ham, a bamboo pointer -- and an iron.  And a loop turner!  I don't have a sleeve board.  I already have some hair canvas.  I know I need stay tape (preferably linen) and thread, among other things.

A big question concerns interfacing: I watched most of the Jackets for Real People DVD and they're a big proponent of fusible interfacing (their own brand).  I am leaning toward sew-in interfacing -- it sounds like it's just the higher quality, albeit somewhat more painstaking, option.  I do have a very nice weft-weight woven fusible I like; I just don't know...

I'm guessing the majority of you are going to say don't use fusible on a high quality fabric like this.  Maybe not.  I'm more concerned about finding the right weight interfacing, fusible or no.  I need to do some more research.

To prep the fabric I'm going to use the method recommended at Off the Cuff, where you throw the fabric in the dryer with a damp towel for 40 minutes.  I used this method with some wool crepe last fall with good results.  I cannot find it within my heart to pay to have this fabric professionally steamed.

Friends, that's it.  Your comments have been most helpful and encouraging and I thank you for them.  I am trying to keep the stakes low.  I'm a big proponent of the saying, "Anything that's worth doing, is worth doing badly."   (Think about it.)

Have I forgotten anything?


  1. Nice fabric Peter - and judging on the hour of your post it looks like you are more than excited about this project!

    I sewed myself a winter coat this year ( and used a very exp$$ wool. I used Off The Cuff's reccomendation and it worked fabulously.

    I also used iron on interfacing without any problem. I possibly should have researched that step a little though as I know there are dozens of interfacing options available.

    Sending energy vibes your way - I think you will need them to get through this project. Good luck.

    Cherri in Aust.

  2. If I were doing this, I would use a good quality fusible interfacing without hesitation. There's a reason it's used in RTW! I would use sew-in as a last resort, and not just because of the sewing in part.

    I'm sorry, I didn't read through this and the previous post thoroughly. Are you doing a muslin? I think it's very important to do this because men need a "high, round back" and "forward shoulder alteration" and "sloping shoulder" alteration almost without exception. It's one of my pet peeves, can you tell? :-)

  3. I love the fabric, and I agree with Meredith about using the good quality fusible.

  4. Peter,

    I really like the fabric and I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product.

    I have to say your blog is inspiring me to start back up and try my hand a sewing again. I have a partially finished skirt (I got stuck on the zipper and waistband) and a pair of trousers that only made it to the muslin stage.

    I'm going to pull it all out and have a look. I can always use an new skirt for work.

  5. Peter, you have a bunch of sewing friends cheering you on. :)

    See Peter sew! Sew, Peter, Sew! Go! go! go!

    If you cannot find stay tape in the garment sewing metropolis of NYC, you might be able to use the selvage of the fashion fabric or the lining. Tailor's chalk might be helpful, too.

    Rose in SV

  6. Hmm, I sort of expected to see comments telling you to go with sew-in interfacing and having to provide a counterweight... not so. So I'm just going to agree with cherri and meredithp: you can use fusible. Whether you pick sew-in or fusible, make sure you get the right kinds of interfacing (absolutely no vlieseline). Old school tailoring books want you to use lots of horse hair canvas, painstakingly put in place with padding stitches. Obviously, this is the ultimate in tailor's craftsmanship. However, the result will be a well sculpted garment which can stand up on it's own. Not at all a bad thing, but not really in line with present day ideas about comfort and a slightly more casual sense of style. I myself have made several wool coats and jackets using a light woven fusible interfacing made for wool fabrics to great result. You can't buy this stuff everywhere, but I would say it's worth trying to track it down.
    Oh, and you really need to make a muslin, but I guess you knew that.

  7. yep there a lot of eyes on you and that must be also coz you write so damn well:) that's why i come and see everytime what you've come up with, it's such a pleasure reading your posts... You will pull it through, I see you have everything under control plus a lot of friends to point to anything you might have forgotten... you've got the disclaimers in place "Anything that's worth doing, is worth doing badly" so you are already doing a great job keeping us in suspense and at the same time updated with the project. Go for it!

  8. Wow, I would not have the courage to put that much nice wool in the drier, but I guess it could work. (and if it does, I'll try it!)

    I have used my steam iron to "steam" wools before, but I don't know if it did any good. The only time I've ever dry cleaned uncut yardage was for my wedding dress (that was over $600 of fabric, so the dry cleaning bill was mild in comparison).

  9. I'm ready for a good show Peter! I'm suggesting testing sewn in interfacing. But try both to see which is more fab!

    Oh my! I gotta close my blinds!

  10. Yah! Go, Peter!! I love the fabric and I'm looking forward to seeing this project. I know you'll do an awesome job! :)

  11. Let me recommend an excellent classic tailoring book: Taunton's Easy guide to sewing jackets
    'Easy' is just to get you to relax :-), you won't be missing out on any good technique but you won't necessarily have to suffer. This is the only book that shows you how to use both fusible and sew-in interfacing, without interjecting knee-jerk value judgement into the choice 'cheap and shoddy', 'too difficult'..

    Basically, the type of interfacing you choose should be determined partly by what supplies you can get your hands on (I now can't get any good fusible locally for instance, but real hair canvas is really expensive) and by what effect you want. If you want super-crisp 50s style, you may get that easier with sew-in. If you want cool Armany drapiness, it's probably a better idea to go with fusible. Get my drift? You should have a clear picture in mind of what you want to achieve, -then- see how to do that.

    As to Chinese vs Italian, you should be aware that almost all textile manufacturing has left Italy. And Italian law is very lax about allowing 'made in Italy' labels if the boat comes within sight of Italian territorial waters, if that. So these days 'made in Italy' almost universally means (usually higher-end) goods made in China. You decide how much you want to pay extra for less honesty.

    That said, lovely fabric, I'm sure Michael will look gorgeous. I love a good houndstooth myself :-).

  12. Ooooooh, Loro Piana . . . molto gorgeous-o!!! And 57 pieces? You must love Michael a whole lot! I don't think I'd do a 57-piece pattern for myself!!!

  13. Fusible? Ewwww! Definitely go with a sew-in, preferably woven. It's the right thing to do! Not to mention that the right one gives a much nicer result than you could ever get with a fusible.

    There's a reason fusible is beloved by RTW manufacturers, and it's exactly why you shouldn't use it in Michael's hand-tailored suit. It's cheap and gives (barely) adequate results. (OK, reasons plural.) But that just seems so wrong for this suit. Just sayin'.

  14. You "may" not be an exhibitionist (I think having a certain exhibitionist streak is required for someone writing a blog EVERY day!), but Cathy sure is!
    I once made a Calvin Klein Jacket from a pattern with 96 steps in in the instructions. It was a little overwhelming, but it was the best garment I ever sewed.
    It's good to bite off more than you can chew once in a while, and to push beyond your comfort zone. That's how you advance.
    I'll be peeking through your open blinds.

  15. Could you guys just work out the fusible/sew-in question among yourselves and then get back to me with the results at say, 6 pm EST?

    I'll go with the majority opinion; I'm very democratic that way.

  16. I've never had problems with using fusible. But you do need to use a fusible meant for your fabric. And I agree with doing a muslin. Anything that you're messing with expensive fabric requires a muslin. I would also recommend, weather it asks for it or not, to interface the buttonholes on the jacket. I've had problems with buttonhole puckering in the past that were easily solved with a bit of interfacing.

    Good luck, Peter, and we'll be cheering for you!

  17. Peter, love this challenge! I can hardly wait for the daily installment.

    Have you read Kenneth King's book (on a cd) about tailoring? It's absolutely fabulous. He goes into minute detail and makes a big project very do-able.

    He recommends sew-in interfacing because he makes his jackets to last/be used for at least 25 yrs. If you're going to put in the work (of course you are, even with a fusible), don't you want the results to last?

  18. (I hate those kinds of questions....)

  19. I have made completely hand tailored coats and jackets. If you are willing to commit to the time, go for it, but use Kenneth kings method for installing the hair canvas. The traditional method has you catch stitch the edges to the sas as you cannot leave it in the sas. This is very time consuming. KK has you sew it the interfacing to a muslin (well washed) cut in the same sewn around the edges at 3/4 " and then cut out the muslin and cut off the edge of the hair canvas so the muslin fabric is what gets sewn into the sas. However, good fusible can be used with good results, but it is a bit different. The earlier tailoring book from Palmer pletsch, shows 3 methods to tailoring a jacket, including how to hand tailor.

  20. sas = seam allowances

    As Nancy K mentioned, Kenneth King does the sew-in interfacing differently. He's refined his methods, making them quick but with quality results.

    It's a fabulous resource.

  21. Yay, Peter! YAY! I'm almost as excited as I get before a Broadway show. LOVE the fabric! You're going to be great at this!

    I'm a huge fan of the "Jackets for Real People" interfacing. It's the best because it doesn't bubble and it doesn't show on the right side of the fabric after you iron it in. I took a pattern fitting class from Marta Alto (she's the dark haired, bespectacled one in the book), and it changed my sewing life. I'm also just down the street from Fabric Depot (home of PalmerPletsch HQ), and can get you their interfacing if you decide you want to use it and don't want to run all over creation trying to find it. I can't say enough about the quality of that stuff. Let me know if you want it!

  22. I studied tailoring at FIT with Roberto Cabrera; his book "Classic Tailoring Techniques: A Construction Guide for Men's Wear (F.I.T. Collection)" is the gold standard for info. He had not yet written that book in the 70s and, at that time, recommended the Time-Life book "Basic Tailoring The Art of Sewing", to which he contributed. The T-L book is loaded with clear diagrams and drawings. It is easy (and cheap) to find this book in a used bookstore or on Amazon.

    We learned without fusibles or pins! He did recommend using a fusible around the pockets however. The man could set in a jacket sleeve without pins or basting! He told us, at that time (1978) there were only 2 US suitmakers who did not use fusibles: Southwick and Polo. I believe even Polo uses fusibles now. Of course fusibles have improved a lot since then.

    The key to fusibles is testing and multiple layers of fusibles. I also think that shaping and taping the collar and front edges is important. Cabrera used as an example a YSL jacket in which the plaid of the fabric was made to curve to match the shape of the collar.

    Many years later I took apart an Armani jacket belonging to my husband (it was seriously out of date!) for guidance in applying interfacing (all various fusibles and applied in layers). I still have all my notes from Prof Cabrera's class and find them to be still valuable. I look forward to following your always entertaining efforts. A suit is a big step!

  23. Don't use fusible on good fabric. If you really must, get it done at Quick Fuse on 36th street. It's hard to fuse several yards of 60-inch-wide fabric with home equipment. Yes, I know someone who's done it himself, but he had a lot of professional sewing experience.

    No offense to the "Real People" authors, but I have one of their books. Many of the things they show are tailored like sacks and look at the taste level presented. Should that really be your guide? The "Perfect Fit" and "Tailoring" books are better.

    Once again, I think you should make a muslin. Not only is this your first suit, it's a vintage pattern, so it may be cut very differently from a contemporary jacket and trousers.

    I have no problem with your "credo," but I thought you were making this jacket in something like six weeks for someone who has to wear it for a family portrait. I also understand why professionals don't respect home sewers.

    Whatever. Have fun.

  24. Pamela in NH:

    I'm sure I don't have as much experience as you, but I've more recently taken some tailoring classes at FIT and I recommended the Cabrera book yesterday. It wasn't required for class, but I bought it and it is indeed a good book.

    The Kenneth King book on CD (mentioned by someone else) is very good, too. I didn't mention it yesterday because I wanted to avoid information overload.

  25. I don't have anything to add in the way of advice for supplies or such, but I'm very excited about all of this suit business. I'm all settled in my seat, my cell phone has been turned off and I'm ready for the show to be begin. :)

  26. I don't have an opinion on the interfacing, but I am interested in the process and the final results. I agree with Sue--you are pushing out and stretching yourself. You will emerge with a fantastic garment, and a lot of knowledge. I think the advice to make a muslin is on target too.

  27. I can be very cheap; if someone has thrown a large piece of pattern paper on the floor of a workroom I'll pick it up. But I would never put a piece of good wool in the dryer to preshrink it just to save money. There's another method where you wrap the wool in a moist towel and put it in a plastic bag for a day or two. You can look it up.

    Incidentally, I doubt it would be more than $5 to $10 to preshrink five yards of wool. You might want to check.

    Or why don't you ask Kashi about methods? I've never met him, but from all the accounts he sounds like a knowledgeable guy.

    The one time I ever used a large amount of weft fusible on a jacket was a "production" sewing class, in other words, pretty nice RTW, but not made to last. It also was a women's jacket that was based on a Banana Republic pattern, so it didn't require as much structure. I would imagine a man's jacket in a shaped vintage style has to be built up more.

    Every tailoring teacher I've had detests the use of fusible except for reinforcement or the undercollar.

    I think the "Tailoring" book describes the pros and cons of fusible.

    But as someone else said, whatever you do, you have to be prepared to make samples. You don't know how the material and interfacing are going to work together.

    I once had a sewing class with Kenneth King (who hates hates hates fusible). He would always bring in piles of samples of whatever technique he was demonstrating.

    In that sense, sewing is not rocket science, it's a matter of putting in the time to see what works, which, of course, is easier to do when it's one's livelihood.

    King, btw, is someone who is always eager to experiment and to streamline established techniques when possible. He's not an interfacing snob. He recommends sew-in fusible because he genuinely thinks it's better.

    Good Luck.

  28. Amber:

    I've settled in with my popcorn and king-sized Coke.

  29. You can buy tailoring supplies (and all sorts other sewing goodies) at Atlantic Thread Supply. They are very reasonably priced and provide good customer service.

    I love the fabric.

  30. Oh my! I couldn't be more opinionated about this! Okay, I will calm down and try to explain why I am so adamant.

    The interfacing is not just one piece of hair canvas. And there is a reason for that much structure, otherwise why have tailors used this method for centuries? It smooths and holds the outside fabric to a shape that will not cave in to the hollow at the bottom of the shoulder ball joint or the collar bone, it holds the shape of a smooth/chiseled back and slight roundness of the shoulders, keeps the shoulder pad and head from showing through; it makes the ideal male shape. I know I love a man in a suit because it maintains the shape of broad shoulders and slimmer waist and hips. This is in the structure of a well tailored suit.

    If this were a less formal suit then perhaps you could get by with iron-in interfacing .

    Iron-in interfacing will not give the needed structure to the collar and will be more blouse-like. The collar's rise must stand firm.

    Go to a good men's store and feel the structure; look closely at the details. Perhaps buy a ragged but quality tailored suit or jacket at a thrift store and take it apart .

    Bratling's comment regarding the suit lasting is so pertinent! To put a lot of time and effort into a garment and not have it last....

    If you do use iron-in interfacing, what have you learned?

    Progress is wonderful (using hair canvas vs iron-in) but learning the proper way first will give you a better idea of what capabilities are available. And, give you a broader knowledge base to decide sew-in vs iron-in. A knowledge base needs to be handed down and not watered down.

    Pad stitching is not difficult and actually goes fairly quickly. Stitches are large and uncomplicated compared to what most people think of the dreaded hand sewing.

    Sew-in is NOT a big deal!

    As a side note, manufacturers use a lot more iron-on interfacing than the home sewer. It is used in place of staystitching; holds better than staystitching (many people handle the various pieces in the bundling of a garment, so can you imagine how the fabric would stretch and become off grain!) and therefore more cost effective (less manpower hours, less consumer complaints). They have access to a wider range of iron-on than the home sewer, too. I do like using a light weight iron-on interfacing rather than staystitching because it holds a wider area than just a line of stitches. (Sometimes interfacing the complete pattern piece)

    I don't know if I have explained myself well enough but I will climb down off my soapbox. I do hope I have not offended anyone.

  31. Sorry Peter, here's the URL for Atlanta Thread Supply--not affiliated by the way, just a happy customer.

  32. You can use fusible for high quality fabrics you just need the right kind. Fusi-knit is a good option

  33. OK, folks, I must pop in to say that I think I am going to do it with sew-in interfacing, if only because this will require multiple layers of different kinds of padding.

    Tune in tomorrow: I have deconstructed a mens suit jacket from Barney's (don't tell them!). Surprises await!

  34. I've done several suits, and I would still go with fusible, as long as its woven fusible. I know there are several layers of interfacing and you shape as you go, but some of them can be fusible and others woven. When you get into it, you'll see which is which.

    DEFINITELY do a muslin of the front and back so you can adjust the shoulder. It's a must.

  35. Peter,
    I am so proud of you for taking up the challenge!! Looking forward to the finished suit but more importantly your journey to get to the final fitting. Oh, I am so excited for you!

  36. Doreen, any chance you could sew this suit for me? LOL

  37. Glad to hear you decided on the sew-in interfacing. (You may still need a small amount of fusible for certain areas).

    After you pretreat the wool, you might want to cut a piece and go to places like Greenberg and Hammer and Steinlauf and Stoller to look for interfacing. You could make an initial selection by holding the interfacing up to the fabric and then get some swatches to take home, or buy small amounts for tests.

    Obviously, you need thread, the usual advice being to get one shade darker than the dominant color. Some people use polyester because it's stronger, or cotton-wrapped polyester. I prefer cotton.

    If the Bemberg is a contrasting color, you'll need matching thread for the darts, and to close the pleat in the back. Polyester may be better for that.

    If you want to do fancy top stitching (I wouldn't), you may want to get special top stitching thread for that.

    You need zippers. Sil Thread has a huge collection in many standard sizes. They're easy to shorten, but Sil Thread and Steinlauf shorten zippers, although with one of those places you have to give them a zipper that's a couple of inches beyond the final intended length.

    You need pocketing or Silesia for the front and back pockets, and for the crotch protector. I've bought those supplies at New York Elegant Fabrics and Beckenstein. You have to pretreat the material.

    You may need special waistband hardware -- check the pattern. It's four metal pieces that made up the hook. Otherwise, you can use two trouser hooks.

    You might want to go to Sil Thread or Mood for muslin. Sil Thread seems to have a really wide range of weights. There's also something called "Swedish Tracing Paper," which is a medium that's sort of like thick, translucent interfacing. You trace the pattern pieces onto it, and sew them together. I've read you can even wash it. It's much sturdier than a typical tissue commercial pattern.

    You also may want to buy some white and yellow tailor's chalk for the fabric and muslin, respectively, and a red-and-blue pencil for the muslin. Instead of chalk, you could use a dressmaker's pencil. No matter what, you can't use wax paper and a tracing wheel on the suiting fabric.

    If you find the Bemberg slippery to handle, you might try lightly pressing a piece of freezer paper to it, after lining up the selvage with the edge of the paper. You iron it to the wrong side, of course.

    It's not even my suit and I'm exhausted. :-)

  38. Glad to hear about the sew in too. My first job while in school was as a tailoresses hand and I used to help deconstruct and alter men's & women's suits, even some classics like the odd Chanel or Saville Row. IMHO sew in might take longer but it is built to last. Gorgeous material. x

  39. I can't give any advice what-so-ever, but I do want to wish you good luck on this project!

  40. Peter,
    And rob you of your journey? Besides, you have plenty of really good help right here! I expect to learn more from all the feedback, too! You have a quite wonderful following!?

  41. What's a clapper? Unfortunately I don't have the attention span required to cut the pattern pieces let alone make the suit but I do have enough to follow this story to the final fitting. Sounds like fun.


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