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Jul 16, 2014

So You Want to Sew a Men's Suit -- Some Helpful Resources



I'll admit it: I find a men's suit to be one of the most challenging sewing projects to take on.

It's not because making one is difficult per se -- I mean, sewing is sewing.  There's just a lot to learn in order to do it.  And since everyone knows what a men's suit is supposed to look like, the result really has to look credible.  You can't cover up your mistakes with a flounce or a flower.

As far as fit, a slim silhouette (often with pants too short to break at the shoe) is currently in vogue.  Almost everything you see these days is trimly tailored.  Perhaps these silhouettes are not your cup of tea.  Hey, I'm just the messenger.  Personally, I like them.









Speaking of vogue, for us home sewists, there are a handful of in-print Vogue men's suit patterns (and maybe something from Burda, I'm not sure).

V8890:



V2836:



V8719:



For my body type -- narrow shouldered, slim, and short -- vintage 60's jacket patterns fit better out of the envelope (and are more on trend imo).  They have less design ease.  You won't find all of them in every size, but they show up frequently on Etsy and Ebay and are rarely expensive.  A sampling:











I made my suit jacket using Simplicity 8368 from 1969.  The only change I made was to shorten the length about 1" and widen the hips a touch.  That's it.



You'll need pants, naturally -- patterns for these are easier to find.  Whatever pattern you choose you're going to want to make a muslin and alter the fit according to your body and your taste. 

I recommend making your first suit in casual fabrics like cotton or linen.  They are easier to tailor than wool, far less expensive, and require less inner construction.

Here are some useful books that will help you through the tailoring process.  These can all be found on Amazon as well as elsewhere.  (The Rhinehart book can be expensive; it isn't worth paying mega bucks for.)













You will find many differing approaches to tailoring in these books, and only the ones with "men" in the title address menswear specifically but there are many similarities.  You are going to have to decide how constructed you want your suit to be, how much interfacing you plan to use and what kind.  But remember: you can waste a tremendous amount of time and effort applying couture techniques and end up with a suit that doesn't fit.   Most people will never know whether you fused your interfacing or sewed your hair canvas in by hand, but they WILL notice if the shoulders are 5 inches too wide.

My recommendation is to go for something casual first and focus on fit.  Instead of a full suit, start with a jacket.  If you can make a nice looking blazer, you can always go back and make yourself a matching pair of pants.

Are there any intrepid suit makers out there?  If you have resources that you have used and would like to recommend, please do!

Have a great day, everybody!

24 comments:

  1. I undoubtedly need more basic instruction than your other readers. As much as I enjoy all your posts and vlogs, I appreciate most of all those in which you discuss basics, technique, resources, and general advice. I just ordered three of the books you've recommended here (Simplicity, Rhinehart, and Coffin). Thanks very much, Peter -- this is very helpful.

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    1. I was surprised to find a number of copies of the Rhinehart for sale for less than $20. It can be three times that much!

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    2. I paid $16 at Amazon. :D But it's only a great price if I make use of the information, so we'll see how I do.

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  2. I was very disappointed in "Making Trousers" . I guess I was hoping it to be more of a how - to guide, but getting a look inside of different pants from many eras and from different manufacturers was interesting indeed.
    My resources are two binders full of hand written notes and detailed diagrams from my tailoring school plus two books from 1960'
    And there are many youtube videos out there that are pretty great amd very detailed, sadly many of them lack in picture quality.

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    1. I have a very different take on "Making Trousers". The first part of the book might lead you to believe that it's just a survey of pants from eras and manufacturers, but the later chapters do cover construction in detail, especially flys (both zipper and button) and pockets. The DVD that came with the book has lots of videos covering these techniques, plus things like sewing your own keyhole buttonholes on a sewing machine.

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  3. I don't really have any other recommendations but I do have something to add regarding various tailoring techniques: I have found that, although it can be a nice challenge to make a jacket using classic tailoring techniques and materials, it doesn't necessarily mean the result will be better. Of course, a jacket shaped with pad stitching and horsehair canvas will have a great shape but it will also be a bit stiff to wear and the fibres from the interfacing may sting you through the lining. And because you spent so much time and effort on the jacket you will tend to be very careful with it. So careful it may see very little wear.

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    1. The difference between a fusible coat and one fully-canvassed will be evident after some wear. A fusible coat loses shape far more quickly. In the beginning thay are also stiffer because the fusible is glued to the outer cloth. A canvas moves in a completely different way. It's also impossible to get a fully-shaped lapel bloom without canvas.

      The problem of horsehair sticking into you is addressed by covering it with a layer of lightweight flannel.

      To be honest I don't think this matters as much now with women's jackets. There is a far faster turnover in what women wear as compared to men, who are likely to see three times as much wear out of a suit. In the latter case solid inner construction matters more. Having said this, the disposable ethos has crept into menswear too.

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    2. Using hand made techniques won't ever be better if you haven't developed the requisite skill and experience. As Marc said, in a well-constructed jacket, the horse hair is covered.

      The techniques are worth mastering if you like fine tailoring, but they aren't ones that are picked up in a day or two, especially if you're teaching yourself.

      Marc:

      I agree with what you say about turnover from the p.o.v. of manufacturers. But a woman putting this kind of effort into a tailored garment will want to make something she can wear for years.

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    3. Actually work done properly in a tailored jacket will not have any of these problems. That is why it is so difficult for most home sewers to master the techniques. Just because you've pad-stitched or used hair canvas, doesn't necessarily mean the stitching is done properly or the correct canvas was used.

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  4. That Advance Pattern has The Bishop Method on the pattern cover indicating sewing instruction by the famous Edna Bishop. I love patterns like that. My mom was a seamstress , did alterations, and taught sewing in our basement in the 60's and 70's. I recently found her original copy of the Bishop Method of Clothing Construction. I just googled Bishop and found she was the educational director for Advance Patterns. Here is a bit on info on that and her.
    http://www.authenticbishopsewingmethod.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=46&Itemid=53

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    1. Thank you for this link! My mother took the Bishop Method classes and so did my Aunt who was the home ec. teacher who lived across the street from me. It was fun to see these pictures of Edna Bishop and read the history.

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  5. Do you know about Stanley Hostek’s books? He wrote 5 tailoring books one each on constructing men’s coats, vests, and pants; a book on pattern drafting and one on hand stitches. These are written for the serious student of tailoring. Stan was a master tailor and master teacher who passed away last January in Seattle at the age of 95. He generously shared his knowledge with anyone who wanted to learn, he was a skilled writer and communicator as well as a master bespoke tailor in his own right. His books are his legacy. I got to know him after attending apparel design school in Seattle where he had taught in years past. His students were my teachers.
    The second resource is Judy Barlup’s Japanese Tailoring DVD. And although the jackets Judy tailors and teaches about are a softer version of the traditional menswear suit jacket taught by Stanley, she includes the method of cutting the cloth with a slightly larger seam allowance on the “side to the public” to allow for turn of cloth and help shape the lapel. The construction techniques work well for menswear especially if a slightly softer look is desired.
    I hope you don’t mind my mentioning these resources because I do indeed sell both Stan’s books and Judy’s DVD on my website. You are welcome to browse JSMTailoringTools.com anytime and look them over. I have full descriptions of each text. And if you would like to purchase I will be happy to give you a 10% discount for the next 30 days from now through August the 15th. Just enter the coupon code ASG/ASDP at checkout to receive the discount.

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  6. In your opinion, Peter, which of the recommended books would be most helpful for reverse-engineering the fit on an existing jacket? ( that's fancy for Alterations.) I deal with this on a weekly basis and am certainly open to any additional materials on the subject!

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  7. ps WOWZA! The cheapest Rhinehart on Amazon is $55.

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    1. Yikes! I bought mine yesterday for just over $16 and there were several others at about the same price. When Peter recommends, the world listens. I recommend you keep checking Amazon and eBay; the used book market fluctuates wildly and you'll likely find it fairly soon for much less.

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    2. Indeed, if you wait a while, people will post the book at lower and lower prices (hoping to sell their copy).

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    3. If you have any used book stores in the local area, you should definitely check it out. I go from time to time to see if there are any interesting sewing books not in print anymore. I found a copy of the Rhinehart book for $5. Good luck to you on your search! :)

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  8. Peter, your suit looks great on you. My first "tailored" project (a fall/winter peacoat) will be coming up soon, and I'd like to step up to more tailoring projects, so this advice is super helpful to me.

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  9. Sewing a suit for my husband is on my bucket list!

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  10. Your suit looks great! Thank you for all the helpful tools. I am making Vogue 8719 pants. I was thinking about making the jacket also. Since I have enough material and encouragement from you I am going to do it. There sure are tons of pieces for the jacket. I am glad I am not in a hurry.

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  11. "I recommend making your first suit in casual fabrics like cotton or linen. They are easier to tailor than wool, far less expensive, and require less inner construction."

    Wool is far more forgiving. Beginning tailoring classes always teach students to sew with a worsted wool like flannel. Cotton and linen also can't be molded in the same way. Construction is dependent on the style of the jacket.

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    1. Should have been "woolen wool like flannel." Flannel does comes in worsted as well, but the point was that the wools used in beginning classes are softer, spongier, and more forgiving of mistakes.

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  12. The Cutter and Tailor forum explains what is required to learn tailoring on one's own. Created by a professional tailor, with many professionals as members, the participants are very generous with their time, but beginners cannot start out with a jacket as a first project. The rules are explained in the forum.

    http://www.cutterandtailor.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=2130&page=1

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  13. I'm a green at the gills newbie, and suit making is still a ways down the list of sewing achievements.

    That being said, I love your posts and guides. I have bookmarked more of your blog posts than the ones that I haven't. THANK YOU!

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