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Aug 12, 2010

Peter dissects a Barney's blazer!


Welcome back to the show, Ladies and Gentlemen!

Do you like this gray wool suit jacket?  I hope not.  Because in my quest to create a beautiful suit for Michael, a garment had to be sacrificed.  This one.

Do. Not. Panic.  I bought it at the flea market roughly six years ago and maybe wore it five times.  I probably paid $10 for it; throw in another $10 for dry cleaning.  I have the pants too.  It's from, I don't know...the Eighties?

It's a nicely tailored garment though, which is precisely why I wanted to perform an autopsy on it.  I needed to see for myself how a jacket of this quality is put together.  It's also made from a wool similar in weight to my Loro Piana houndstooth.

It has little armpit shields...

Beautifully finished cuffs...

Inside welt pockets...

Hand-finished buttonholes...

And guess what?  NO fusible interfacing (except for some webby stuff along the hems).


The front is interfaced with 1) a layer of hair canvas (or HYMO) that lies directly against the suiting; 2) a smaller, stiffer piece of hair cloth (confusing right?) on top of which is 3) a soft fluffy layer -- maybe lambswool, probably felt.  The shoulder pads seem to be constructed with batting sewn inside layers of muslin -- or attic insulation; I don't know.  Really fascinating stuff.  Jane Rhinehart's How to Make Men's Clothes explains what all these materials are -- or should be.

I am learning many new words.  I thought Silesia was a fairy tale principality somewhere in the Pyrenees.  I was wrong; it's cotton twill fabric for pockets.  Also must purchase a thimble.

Moving right along...

The underside of the chest pad is also reinforced with some sort of muslin strips...

Here are the sleeve caps, which combine muslin, hair canvas, and a layer of the wooly/felty stuff:

Later today I'm going to Greenberg & Hammer, about a 15 minute walk from here, and see how much of this they sell; I'm guessing most of it.  (I find it a much friendlier place than Steinlauf and Stoller.)  I'll also get the necessary stay tapes.   What do you think, guys?

What's really interesting is that there is no back interfacing at all.  While the armholes are reinforced with tape on the bottom half, there is no underarm interfacing anywhere.

Meanwhile, I'd forgotten I owned this 1973 book (actually a thick pamphlet), which someone mentioned they'd used to make a suit -- it's excellent and those guys on the cover are looking pretty groovy to me.

There's a LOT of detail about creating the chest piece with handstitching as well as detailed instructions on doing the stitches themselves.  I've also discovered some useful YouTube handstitching tutorials.

Early yesterday I actually did test some fusibles I had around the house, and they bonded with the fabric extremely well: the weft weight is light and barely changes the hand; the black is considerably stiffer.

I don't know if I'll use any of either of these.  Right now I'm thinking I'll just do it the way my (late) Barney's jacket was done.  What's the rush, right?   Doing it the long way will build my character.  Did you ever read Sewcology 101?

It should be obvious by now that I am extremely impressionable when it comes to commenters with strong agendas and there are a few.  All it takes is a few guilt-inducing statements like "If you're going to put in the work...don't you want the results to last" and "I thought you were making this jacket in something like six weeks for someone who has to wear it for a family portrait" and I just want to stand in a corner, dunce cap on head.  This experience may send me back to therapy.

So that's it, my friends.  I wrecked a perfectly nice jacket from Barney's and let's hope it pays off.

Why am I sewing Michael a suit again...?

P.S.  If you've never ripped your clothes apart you should give it a try -- it's very cathartic.  (Even better, somebody else's.)

So what do you think?


  1. Thank you for sharing the pictures of your dissection - absolutely fascinating. I can imagine that was very useful.

  2. Aw shucks Peter I hope you won't need any therapy behind this at all! I must commend you for putting yourself out there and not letting the comments make you a neurotic babbling idiot (that would be me).

    I am going to have to take your advice on thrifting a jacket just to dissect in the name of science. I have the Threads article where they do that to an Armani jacket but I need to do this live like you did.

    G&H probably sell jacket kits, meaning the chest pieces already cut and all the other bits and lining for it together in one packet. I envy you being that close to a real tailoring supplier.

    Oh I remember handling a gorgeous 1940's women's jacket that was completely interfaced in the front and nothing in the back and thought it odd. I have read on other blogs about adding some structure to the upper back so it hangs as nicely as the front.

  3. Thanks for the authoupsy pics Peter!
    I've dissected half of my closet, but it was well worth it. Please post as many pics of your suit construction process as you can, can't wait to see how you put it all together!

  4. [DISCLAIMER: I have never made a suit LOL!]
    Re: your test pieces of the wool fabric + fusings... if you decide to use iron-on fusing will you test launder/wash them first to see if they come apart/warp out of shape.... just a thought! :)

  5. Hi Peter,
    I've been stalking your blog for a while but I thought I'd come out of the shaddows to ask if you'd ever come accross this blog: ?

    He's always ripping appart other people's jackets and showing the anatomy. I thought it might give you a few extra insights.

    Good Luck!


  6. I have to admit, I'm a little terrified for you! Making a suit intimidates me to such a degree that I'm afraid for anyone who tries it! And after seeing your dissection, I'm even more afraid. But, I admire your courage (courage is half the battle) and I'll be following along.

  7. I have seen that "tuttofattoamano" blog but I'll take another look.

    I wonder if this was a custom-type suit or RTW...

  8. Wow! I admire your courage in taking this on. I have no doubt that your suit will be amazing. Looking forward to following along!

  9. Ripping RTW apart is fun! My favorite pants pattern is actually a ripped apart RTW pair with added seam allowances. You do know that if you were careful enough, you can sew it all back together, right?

  10. Thanks for sharing the inside of your suit; it's very instructive, especially since I am toying with making one for Seth. Of course I've been toying with the idea for years. We get so caught up in making it fast that we forget how beautiful handmade really is and that it's worth doing. There really is a difference and if you think of the whole in small pieces it's not so overwhelming or even difficult. But, then again you've not taken anything you've undertaken in sewing as being undo-able. You just do it and that attitude will serve you well. I like to tailor. Sewing and manipulating wool is a treat.

  11. Although I haven't gone as far as ripping up my RTW yet, I do examine it for details all the time. My 10-year-old daughter took scissors to my latest wadder the other day, "refashioning" it for her sister, though, and that was incredibly cathartic :).

    Very excited for your journey! I, too, waffle on the fusibles. :)

  12. Are you scared yet? I think you are committed, and will emerge from this process a fabulous sewist with tailoring cred.

    Michael has such faith in you. How can you not go forward?

    I do look forward to seeing future posts.

  13. I love that you dissected a jacket! Fabulous!

  14. Genius on ripping apart the jacket! And I don't think you should be scared at all. What is it going to do to you? It's just fabric after all. I have complete confidence that you can conquer this, and it's going to be amazing!

  15. Thank you so much for visiting my blog and for the nice comment you left regarding my photo shoot with the skirt I made.

    PS How cool to dissect the jacket. You are so brave taking on the jacket project. Good luck.

  16. It is all way over my head, but I think you are up to the task! My boyfriend is lucky to get the occasional pair of boxers (though I do flat fell the seams).

  17. What a great opportunity to stretch yourself as a tailor! I'm sure all of the time, love and knowledge will result in a fantastic jacket that Michael will treasure forever.

    Thanks for ripping your coat apart and showing us the results. This whole process is fascinating, and if you're going to do it right, as Ms. Gertie says, "No shortcuts!"

  18. ("Family Portrait" Anonymous)

    Taking apart the jacket was a really smart thing to do.

    Greenberg and Hammer does have a lot of that stuff, but I would still go to Steinlauf and Stoller for things like the shoulder pads and the thimbles. Greenberg has the tailor's chalk that fades after 48 hours.

    The people at Steinlauf are nasty to virtually everyone (I've had discussions with other customers about this); I try not to take it personally, but I don't like it and I don't understand it. I have to suck it up because they have so much stuff that I need.

    The young woman who works there is sometimes helpful. The middle-aged lady who sits in front of the window who does things like grommets is also pleasant, but she doesn't interact much with the customers.

    They have a big selection of tailor's thimbles, open and closed. They also have the mesh strips needed for the waistband and tape.

    Sil Thread, on 38th Street (another not overly friendly place, which also doesn't list the prices), and Panda, a couple of doors down from Sil, have good selections of thread, although both Steinlauf and Greenberg have a broad selection of Gutermann thread.

    A friend needed help basting a school project, a muslin for a coat made from a tailoring weight muslin. I didn't have a thimble and sewed without one for a couple of hours. Three days later, my fingers still hurt.

  19. As the other person said, if you're going to do this it's worth doing right. Once you figure out how to fit and sew things of this complexity you'll be able to make things that you probably could never afford to buy. That's my goal.

    To me, there's no point in taking cheap stuff and sewing it; even the best designer/sewer is not a magician. The key is to take good material and notions and lavish a lot of attention on them.

  20. You probably know this, but that twill pocketing material was first produced in the Silesia area of Germany.

  21. I did NOT know that. Thanks again, Anon!

  22. Well, I understand your urge to sew this. I had to be talked down from sewing a wedding gown for a friend when there were only 7 weeks left until the wedding. I'll be cheering you on!

  23. I dissected a man's jacket once and knew at that point that I would not make one.

    This seems like a small and insignificant thing to mention and you probably already know it but...thimbles come in different sizes--really try them and get one that fits. The humble thimble is one of my "must have" sewing tools. And I'm very protective of mine.

  24. Hmmmm, no interfacing in the back. Very interesting and very perplexing! Can't stop thinking about why and the only thing I can come up with is maybe this is a summer jacket.

    It will take you awhile to get used to the thimble but stick with it and you will not dread hand stitching. The thimble should should fit tight enough to stay on your finger at all times without fitting too tightly. Mine is so old that it has taken the shape of my finger and is no longer perfectly round. I can't make one stitch without it!

    I have that same book and found it to be extremely helpful.

    So, so jealous of all the stores you have access to. I am in the Midwest and we have the illustrious choice of Joannes or Hancocks; the only place to shop if you are into quilts and fleece and fleece and fleece. Thank goodness for the internet. Now if it only had feelovision. In my next life I plan on living as close to the garment district as possible!

    Peter, you are up to the challenge! Do not be overwhelmed with the totality; just concentrate on one step at a time. Look at what you have accomplished/learned so far! As to your Sewcology 101 (VERY interesting)....I feel your pain! My only suggestion is to look at Michael to get your spark back when you are feeling uninspired....caution; do not do this if he has done something to tic you off! ;D

  25. Hey Peter, I don't know what kind of muslin-y stuff that was in the bag with the tie fabric I sent a while back, but it may serve one of your jacket lining purposes and save some change.

  26. The reason I suggested Steinlauf is because they have at least two boxes of nickel thimbles, closed and open, that start at size 5 and go up to about size 12. Ask at the counter. They cost something like $2.50. The sizing is much more precise than the S,M,L thimble sizing you see at the average sewing notions store.

    I once bought one of those adhesive finger protectors at The City Quilter, a lovely store below the Garment District. I lost it after two sessions.

    N.B., some people are allergic to nickel. A tutor I had used to wear a glove with his thimble. If you don't like nickel, there are lots of cool closed thimbles in leather, plastic, porcelain, you name it.

    I prefer the open needle because it's less hot and because I can wear it on my little finger when I'm not using it. It's one less thing I don't have to keep looking for. I bought one after I saw my tailoring teacher using that kind. But it is important to use the technique for that kind of thimble -- yesterday or the day before I included a link to English Cut and the Made by Hand blog discusses it, too.

    As I said before, you need a milliner's size needle for basting and a size 9 for permanent stitching. You also need a somewhat heavier-than-normal sewing machine needle because you're sewing wool. Daytona sells home sewing machine needles, among many other places in the Garment Center.

    The books all say to do the hand sewing by eye, and that's a worthy goal, but most of the people I know who can do that have done a lot of sewing. So I would chalk guidelines if you need them. Otherwise, you'll have spent all that time and effort and it won't look that good. That's depressing.

  27. Silesia is, actually, in the Czech Republic and Poland, very far from Pyrenees. I know, because I'm Czech, and back in 2006 (I believe) I went with an overnight train named Silesia to Poland (from there to Baltic countries, but that wasn't by Silesia).

    Good luck with the jacket! Taking garments apart is surely helpful in figuring out how they are constructed, although I never got that far in that area.

  28. Fascinating dissection. The fusible question really intrigues me . . . can you ID your choices please?

  29. Silesia: Old region whose boundaries have changed over time.

    German word.

    Silesia (pronounced /saɪˈliːʒə/ or /saɪˈliːʃə/; Polish: Śląsk [ɕlɔ̃sk]; German: About this sound Schlesien (help·info); Silesian German: Schläsing; Czech: Slezsko; Silesian: Ślůnsk [ɕlonsk]; Latin: Silesia) is a historical region of Central Europe located mostly in present-day Poland, with parts in the Czech Republic and Germany.

    "The Textile Industries in Silesia and the Rhineland ..."

  30. Wherever the hell it is, they didn't have any at Steinlauf and Stoller!

  31. I'm really keen to follow your progress with this project. I've block fused whole jacket fronts with the first interfacing you tested. I've done it on looser weaves where I want to give the fabric strength without stiffness. It works brilliantly for a less structured jacket. I don't think you'll end up in therapy; I think you'll come out of this experience with a whole new skill set and the confidence to take on anything.

  32. Peter, you're such a pro, really, I think you'll find tailoring a breeze.

    When I took my dressmaking course, my favourite part was the tailored jacket. Really, it's not that hard. Wool is truly a joy to work with, it's kind of amazing how well it responds to shaping with steam. Welt pockets are NOT hard (as I'm sure you already know), and forming the sleeve head in a woolen was the only time I have ever actually enjoyed that task.

    As for interfacing, I'm not crazy about the idea of fully fusing a perfectly lovely woolen with polyester and glue. I guess it depends on the drape of the fabric. I have read about the importance of fusing the hems and sleeve cuffs to keep a nice sharp hem.

    Maybe I'll come out of blog hiding and share some of the stuff I learned in jacket class. Mayyyyybe.

  33. The guys on that sewing book look kind of like zombies.

  34. OMG, I bought that Simplicity Sewing for Men piece new in the 70s and still have and use it. They show some tailoring shortcuts that you can combine with the traditional steps if you get in a pinch. I used them for tailoring 19th centure frock and tail coats for costumes years ago and they really cut time while giving you a good finished product.

  35. Cherri: Zombies? The red-headed one in the front actually reminds me of Max in Once Upon a Time in America. Of course, he faked his own death, so maybe he was close to a zombie...

  36. THAT was the book I was going to suggest (Simplicity) and was even prepared to lend you mine during your quest if you're really going to do this. Which you are, obviously. I got mine new and found it interesting. In my youth, I made my DH a suit or too, before I knew better, and before the internet when you could actually find the "findings" when outside of the Garment District. I haven't looked at it in a while, but I recall some very useful information, including various tie tying instructions. DH did not know how to tie one in his hippie youth, then became a banker. :-) Have you looked at any of the late Mary Ellen Flury's stuff. I think I have videos and a book.


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