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Aug 13, 2010

The Men's Suit Project: Oh, Sweet Irony!


Readers, what a day I had yesterday!  First laundry, which involved washing the approximately 40 dirty dog diapers we use weekly instead of wee wee pads for Freddy and Willy.  (Don't ask and pass the Lysol.)

Then the suit project, the suit project, the suit project!

How did we leave it at the end of yesterday's show?  Oh, yes: I was going to go to Greenberg & Hammer and purchase the necessary notions to get started.  And readers, that's precisely what I did!  Only Greenberg & Hammer was closed for the week so I had to go to Steinlauf and Stoller instead.  And guess what?  They were very nice to me.  It was the late afternoon and the store was calm.  They had nearly everything I needed. 

I'm too lazy to print out all the goodies, so here's my shopping list:

And here's my score: various widths of twill tape, hair canvas, lambswool, decent quality shoulder pads, buttonhole twist, thimble, needles, waistband canvas -- the works!

I didn't get the silk thread: it was expensive at $10 a spool and I couldn't remember if it needed to match the "outer cloth" or not.  You're not supposed to call men's suiting "fabric" or didn't you know?

They didn't have linen canvas for the collar, or felted wool undercollar cloth, but I'll improvise with some canvas tie interfacing I have and find the felt elsewhere.  They also don't carry Silesia, and they only had the cheap Dritz hook and eye packages which aren't what I really wanted for the pants.  Anyway, I'm 90% of the way there.

Look, I've even started practicing my hand stitching:

Later in the day I thought, since yesterday's Barney's blazer disemboweling was such a hit, maybe I'd pick up another men's jacket -- something of lesser quality I could rip to shreds and compare and contrast here.   That would be fun, no?

So I go to the Salvation Army and I find this gray Hugo Boss blazer, Size 38, too big for me -- perfect for deconstructing.  All the way home I'm thinking of snappy blog entry titles like: "Peter tells Hugo who's Boss."

At home, I show it to Michael and on a whim, ask him to try it on. Well you can probably guess what happened next.

He likes it.  And it doesn't fit him badly either.

Readers, if I'd known all I had to do was find him a jacket at the Salvation Army....!

So we've decided to use it as our back-up, just in case I don't get the suit jacket finished in time for the September photo shoot.  It's always good to have a Plan "B," right?

Meanwhile, I found a used hardcover copy of the Roberto Cabrera book, Classic Tailoring Techniques: A Construction Guide for Menswear on eBay for the very decent "Buy It Now" price of $37.77, including shipping.  (The softcover version is $55 at the FIT bookstore.)  I should get that within the week.

I also stumbled upon and joined The Cutter and Tailor website, which has a ton of information about tailoring techniques and some fantastic tutorials.  Very inspiring if a little over my head.  Do you know it?

Oh, before I forget:  Jane Rhinehart, in How to Make Men's Clothes insists that anyone making a suit start with the pants first.  She explains, "You will see progress faster, and what you learn in making pants will shorten the time it takes to make a first coat.  Pants tailoring is elementary -- you can get superlative results with the first pair."

So I think that's what I'm going to do.  And I think I can get them done in a week.  Because in one week -- and here's where I haven't been completely forthcoming with you, my friends -- I'm....going on vacation again!

I know, I know...I was just on vacation for five days on Fire Island.  But that was sort of an unplanned vacation.  Our planned vacation is the week after next, in Provincetown, Cape Cod.  It's only one week and I promise that upon my return I will throw myself into the suit jacket project with laser-like focus.  It is August, after all.  You Europeans understand, right?  Five days does not a summer vacation make.

Oh, one more Rhinehart-related tidbit:  She'd have you draft the pants from scratch rather than use a commercial pattern; she lays out all the instructions.  Since I do have some experience with drafting a pants pattern, I think I'm going to ditch the vintage McCall's pants pattern and use Michael's own measurements.

I should also mention, for those who weren't crazy about the McCall's pattern, I also have the contemporary Burda 7842 men's sports jacket pattern as a fallback.

Friends, that is it.  I hope to get started on drafting Michael's pants pattern today.  And yes, I'll make a muslin.

In closing, have you ever secretly preferred some skanky old thrift store cast-off to a really good quality garment you bought at, say, Nordstroms, or --perish the thought -- was lovingly sewn for you?

Does your DH prefer his ancient, saggy Fruit of the Loom boxer shorts to the beautiful new ones you painstakingly flat-felled for him?

Is he "saving" yours because they're too good to wear?   Bad sign.

Have a great day, everyone!

Please stay tuned for Green Acres -- coming up right after these commercial messages!


  1. You shall have interesting times ahead peter especially with the hand-stitching it's not hard.. it's just a lot and I had no thimble because it's uncomfortable and ended up with a hole in my index finger from pushing the needle.

    I'm also jealous of the amount of supplies you've gotten for this project. If they are available here they would be at some store tucked away in some far corner and would probably cost me more than they're worth.

  2. Cool find at the SA! Thrift stores in NYC have to be better by a long shot than thrift stores in Podunk...not to mention how totally envious I am that you have access to all those great notions and fabrics. I have to search out these things on roadtrips and online. My husband doesn't understand why I STOCK the house with bolts of interfacing and boxes of spare thread....but I digress...suit project is fascinating!

  3. Quite a challenging project but not too much for you! Now that I've buttered you up.....have you sewn a tie? Will you sew a tie? Better yet, how about a seven fold tie? I am interested in a patten and instructions for a seven fold tie. I am hoping you will do all the research and work and then make available the pattern and instructions :D

    My husband wants me to start making ties to match the dresses I make myself. How cute is that?????


  4. This is a really interesting project. And I am amazed by the things you just walked into a shop and bought. Here in northern Sweden we have to order everything from England or the US and then wait for at least two weeks.

    I like to lurk at the Cutter and Tailor, feel like a nerd doing that but who knows. Have you seen the vintage pattern draftings there?

  5. I am VERY fortunate to have so much so close!

    Brenda, I have never sewn a tie...maybe someday.

  6. Hello, Peter:

    Fun info. I like the "Plan B" jacket. I think considering the Burda alternative is a good thing to do, too.

    For whatever it's worth, this is another New York tailoring supplies place that was once mentioned to me. I'm pretty sure they're closed on Saturdays:

    Gubi Linings
    61 Delancey Street
    New York, NY 10002-2916
    (212) 226-3532

    Glad you bought the Cabrera book.

    I saw some of the trouser waistband hardware at Jonathan's Embroidery (in the clear boxes against the wall before you get to the buttonhole machines). They weren't the nicest I've seen, but that's the only source I know of for sure.

    Beckenstein,the men's fabric czar on 39th or 38th definitely has silesia, but you can also use pocketing. If you want to see a store devoted to beautiful menswear fabrics it's worth a trip. I assume you're making a simple waistband. If, however, you're making the kind of waistband that has a "curtain," you use the silesia for that as well.

    I'm familiar with the Cutter and Tailor forum. It looks very informative.

    It looks like you're doing a modified form of the catchstitch -- I don't see the "x"s at the top and bottom. I have come across that method on the web. Will be interesting to see if you like it.

    You're planning on drafting the pants? From watching menswear and fashion design students at work, it doesn't look that easy to me. By the way, are the pants going to be unlined, lined to the knee, or fully lined?

    I'm not surprised that the book suggested you do the pants first. I've only taken a couple of tailoring classes, but the sequence for the series is trousers, vest and jacket, coat, or, in ladies tailoring, skirts, vest and jacket, coats. The jacket is always reserved for later.

  7. Re ties, etc., it would be interesting, but here's a thought: If the people who are the very best in the world at these things stick to only one kind of garment that says something about how easy it is to make. Savile Row makes suits. Jermyn Street makes shirts. Even they don't do all their work in-house. They contract out to specialists for finishing work.

    I have seen some horrible loving hand and heart tie efforts on the web.

  8. Gubi is exactly where they (at Steinhoff & Stoller) suggested I go for the undercollar fabric and a few other things. I'd never heard of it.

    The tie will not be a project for any time soon I assure you!

    I did consider that a catch-stitch....a first attempt.

    Not sure about lining of pants -- probably unlined. So much to think about!

  9. OMG! Totally off topic with regards to sewing but you brought it up...What brand of doggie diapers do you use?? I used to have a 4lb evil, non-potty-trained poodle who we used to put preemie diapers on with a hole cut for her tail. She also had to wear a preemie onesie also with a hole cut out to keep the diapers on.

  10. Hello Peter: I'm working on my first tailored jacket and just an energy saving hint with the hand stitching - have the motion of the arm from the elbow up, not the whole arm. I also use my office chair whose arms offer optimum support and they're a good height - I can see what I'm doing without bending over. Found this clever hint to insure symmetrical pad stitching:

    Good luck to you!

  11. *Totally* off topic: tell Michael he has such a great smile! He photographs really well.

  12. Michael has such elegant carriage!

    Nice job on the hand-sewing too. I was a long-time hand appliquer before I started sewing garments.

  13. Thanks, for the tips, guys! Rachel, I'll tell him.

    Rebecca, these are unfolded cloth diapers we use to line the bottom of a cat litter box. They don't wear the diapers, just pee into them in the box. Something we got at "Buy Buy Baby."

  14. I always enjoy reading your posts. Your idea of deconstructing a jacket to see how someone has made it is such a good one. You may wish to have a look at the following blog because he also takes a look at the inside of jackets:
    Good luck on making the suit. I'm sure it will turn out beautifully, just like all of the other garments you have made.

  15. Nothing like gathering all your supplies before the project, is there? Such anticipation. I look forward to the next posts.

  16. Hi Peter! Linen canvas is very stiff. The stuff Cabrera had us use was brown, open woven and the stiffest of any of the interfacings we used. It was hard to find 30 years ago and we had to drop his name to get it. We soaked all the jacket innards, including the tape, and then let them all air dry.

    A lightweight cotton twill will substitute for Silesia - Cabrera simply called it "pocketing."

    Felted wool you can make yourself to coordinate with your cloth. Women's suits do not use a felted undercollar, but I prefer it as it wears better and is easier to sew. We were told that only women's jackets were interfaced in the back so I wouldn't worry about that. The inside of the Barney's jacket was lots of fun to look at. I just love taking apart clothes! It's the best way to learn!

  17. Pamela in NH:

    In Garment District stores, they sell "pocketing" and "Silesia." When I took my FIT class, the teacher, a tailor with decades of experience in the U.S. and elsewhere, specifically told us to buy "Silesia" at the Beckenstein store. I'd never heard of the fabric before. In a previous sewing class, we were told to purchase "pocketing."

    Pocketing is usually plain weave (I think). Silesia (I'm not sure if it's capitalized) is twill. Both are sturdy, obviously. Silesia is considered better quality, apparently. I think pocketing comes in many more colors, however.

    For this project, I'm sure it doesn't matter, but garden-variety pocketing is in fact different from Silesia.

  18. As mentioned before, I was told by a tailor at a menswear store to wash the chemicals out of the Silesia before using it. Off the bolt it was a bit shiny had crisp in texture.

  19. Cabrera liberally used pocketing for everything, including interfacing the single welt pocket. I stapled the samples he gave us into my notebook; "pocketing" was a ltwt cotton twill. No mention was made of Silesia in my class. I doubt the nomenclature has changed, perhaps different instructors have different methods....? Peter, honest, I am not messing with you, leading you down a path to inferior materials~~~I swear!

  20. Can't speak to the DH questions since I don't have one. Had and evil H but that's a story for another day.

    I am a member of Cutter and Tailor. 95% of it goes way over my head but they are nice to me and my feeble home sewing.

    I have a tailoring book for women that says start with the skirt so you can get used to the fabric while sewing something easy. The Jacket, Not So Easy.

    You are so well on your way.

  21. Old bedsheets are a -fine- substitute for silesia. Perhaps Michael would enjoy some secret 70s flowers..

  22. Sorry for the belated comment, I'm just catching up...

    On August 10th, I wrote:

    "Have you checked the Salvation Army? From several of your other blog posts, you've managed to score big time there!"

    Need I say more???

    1. Does anyone know of a source for extra large tailors thimble?


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