Side by Side Tailoring: On Tailoring

Click on the image for a great discussion on tailoring for women!

Y’all seemed pretty keen on the idea of watching the progress of two tailored jackets – one traditionally hand tailored and the other fusibly tailored. I thought I would start this series with my thoughts on tailoring. Tailoring is a very ambiguous term these days and it seems to refer to a lot more than the art of making jackets. So let’s take down a few definitions shall we?

From the Wikipedia we get this:

“A tailor is a person who makes, repairs, or alters clothing professionally, especially suits and men’s clothing. Although the term dates to the thirteenth century, tailor took on its modern sense in the late eighteenth century, and now refers to makers of men’s and women’s suits, coats, trousers, and similar garments, usually of wool, linen, or silk. The term refers to a set of specific hand and machine sewing and pressing techniques that are unique to the construction of traditional jackets. Retailers of tailored suits often take their services internationally, traveling to various cities, allowing the client to be measured locally. Traditional tailoring is called bespoke tailoring in the United Kingdom, where the heart of the trade is London’s Savile Row tailoring, and custom tailoring in the United States and Hong Kong. This is unlike made to measure which uses pre-existing patterns. A bespoke garment or suit is completely original and unique to each customer.”

This is very much in line with how I view tailoring. Especially the part about “a set of specific hand and machine sewing and pressing techniques that are unique to the construction of traditional jackets.” I think its important to set this distinction as I see the term tailoring thrown around a lot with regards to fit. Now this may be true of some garments – garments that are tailored to your lifestyle or tailored to your specific figure, but I’m referring to the construction techniques of a jacket. More importantly, I’m referring to the specific techniques used to shape certain areas of a jacket like the lapel, collar, shoulder, hem, sleeve cap, etc.

From what I know about tailoring, there are 3 methods: hand, machine and fusible. Many times, I intermix all three methods into one jacket. There are certain things that I just really love about hand tailoring, but other things I don’t. There are great advantages to machine and fusible tailoring too and like hand tailoring there are some things that I don’t think work as well as others but these are personal preferences and I believe will vary with your experience. Also, I truly believe that the fabric that is picked for a jacket project, will give you more direction on what tailoring method you use. For example, pad stitching on my Obsession Jacket – a cotton sateen – would have been disastrous! I am not an expert tailor and perfecting pad stitching on a smooth faced fabric is not high on my to master list. So going with a fusible method made a lot more sense to me.

In this series, I’ll be showing two of the three methods, hand and fusible. You can definitely mix and match elements from each jacket to use in one jacket of your own, but I’ll try to stick to the ideas for each with each separate jacket.

All that said, what is it specifically that scares you about tailoring a jacket? If you’ve never tried one, what is the most intimidating part about making a jacket? Any tips or tricks from you more experienced sewers?

You are most welcome to disagree, agree or other, but please keep your comments respectful of myself and others. Comments will be deleted that contain hostile or rude innuendo.

23 thoughts on “Side by Side Tailoring: On Tailoring

  1. I have never made a jacket. Too intimidated thus far to try. I think the most intimidating part of this project would be the construction of the shoulder/sleeve cap. Now, I am saying this based on my fears. I know everything is easy once you know how, but since I don’t yet know how, that is my fear. What’s the most difficult part of a jacket for you since you are experienced?

  2. I think for me, it’s the very little details that make me think it will all come out wrong. I can watch a video on pad-stitching and feel pretty good about it, but knowing exactly how much seam allowance to trim or whether to catch the interfacing in the seam or exactly what I’m doing with stay tape freaks me out. I’m also not totally clear on marking my roll line when the pattern doesn’t indicate it and my muslin fabric isn’t super similar to my fashion fabric (which may have been my first mistake). I’m getting stressed out just thinking about it!

  3. I’m way too intimidated to make a jacket. It’s all the pieces and the collar and how everything needs to be exactly “perfect.” That said, I’m not totally comfortable with sleeves, so it may just be that jackets are a bit advanced for me. I want to try to make a jacket later this year, so I’ll be following this closely.

  4. I’m also in the novice group as well. Along with Kristin above (who is in my beginning sewer Facebook group!), I think we’re intimidated by all the pieces and how to alter them to our best fit.

    Honestly, there’s something before even starting construction that I feel lacking in. I know how to take measurements of myself, because there are great tutorials out there. However, I’m not sure how to interpret them! How do I know if I have a swayback, wide shoulders, narrow back, short waist, etc.?

    I can guess at my specific fit issues based on what I’ve experienced with ready to wear clothing, but I’m not altogether positive on what I need to look out for prior to attacking a jacket pattern. Is there a website or book that would have good diagrams or instructions in interpreting the difference in all of these terms and how to adjust for them in patterns? That would ease my fears about tailoring for sure!

  5. It’s the shoulders and sleeve cap mostly, and the collar is a little intimidating too. But mostly, how do you stabilize/support the shoulder/sleeve cap and insert the shoulder pad? So many little details that don’t come up in shirt and dress patterns.

  6. This is going to be such a great series! My first (and only) jacket was an honest-to-goodness men’s suit jacket with hand tailoring that I made after having only sewn for a year or so. As you can guess, it didn’t turn out very well and in retrospect hand tailoring was all wrong for my cheap, ultra-smooth fabric. Now, three years later, I am ready to try another jacket, so this is coming along at just the right time!

  7. First off, the suit in the photo….amazing. I think most of us would stop in our tracks if we ever saw someone so elegantly dressed, especially in our sweatshirt and flannel PJ bottom world. My take on tailoring is to make something that you really, really want. It makes all the effort completely worthwhile. It’s not about fast fashion, but about making something that will last and you just love to wear.

  8. I tried to make a tailored jacket once; by tried I mean that I did my usual and refused to use a pattern or ask for any help. I rubbed it off of another jacket, and did silly things like painting muslin with clear nail polish to make the fabric that I was interfacing it with. It looks fine, even if the fit isn’t perfect, but I’m afraid to wash it, because someone told me that the nail polish could stain the fabric. Oops! I’d love to learn how to really tailor something!

  9. About the linked discussion: Wow. Hello sexism. It’s not completely overt but a “why aren’t women ladies anymore” discussion is disingenuous and out of touch. Most women never looked like that tailored suit photo! And those who did had the free time and money to spend most of their energy on their looks. I’m glad we’ve been freed from that burden.

    I think it’s great to show different tailoring techniques that fit modern fabrics and lifestyles. If I ever feel the need to sew myself a tailored jacket I’m sure this series will be an excellent resource.

  10. I’m so looking forward to this series, Sunni, and I really appreciate the time I know you’ll put into it.

    Personally, I don’t really have a fear of tailoring – it’s just that I don’t know enough about the techniques and materials involved to do it. I’m thinking it will be much like anything else: once you know how to do it, it’s not a big deal!

  11. I am looking forward to the fusible version of the series. I come from a family of tailors and seamstresses. I learned how to tailor using traditional methods in my teens, but was never introduced to the idea of using fusible interfacings. Live and learn.

  12. I find the two most challenging elements are fit (it’s got to fit beautifully – not to loose or tight – in order to look “expensive”)and setting in the sleeves. But neither is hard enough to undermine the urge to undertake the entire experience. (Not very experienced, fwiw.)

  13. Oh my… so many parts are a bit intimidating! I guess that is what is scary, so many little things that might go wrong, and make the whole thing look “beck-homecky” and I won’t want to wear it after all that work. Still, I really want to try this!

    Are you going to tell us the pattern you are using? I would prefer to be able to look at what you are doing and know that I need to do the same thing that I see in the picture, rather than worrying about subtle changes in a different pattern.

  14. I have a soft spot for tailoring. I love how the fabric responds to steam, molds to desired shape. I have done some padstitching and I think there is hardly anything that will give you this amount of control and such flexibility yet stability.

  15. Frankly, as far as sewing goes, I think I could do about anything if I had good instructions. What really scares me is fitting!

  16. I’ve only made one tailored project, and it was all hand-stitched. Looking forward to seeing the difference between the two techniques as you go along! Pad-stitching by hand worked great on my thick winter-coat wool, but for the suit I have in mind to make in the future I’m sure it would be a lot better to fuse.
    Based on my experience with heavy and thick wool, I find pressing the most intimidating. To get that flat and crisp look without any sheen or pressmarks… I made 8-10 press-samples before putting the iron to my fabric and on a few places the pressing is still a little bit off. Not that anyone notices, fortunatly =)

  17. For me, since I’m working on my first jacket, the fear of tailoring is gone since I’ve been reading so much, lol (though it’s not a very tailored jacket– more casual/sporty). One of the areas I struggle with a bit is when I don’t find explanations for *why* a technique is being employed. For some reason in all the tailoring resources I’ve been pouring over, that’s sometimes an issue. Because if I don’t know exactly *why* to do something (or not to), I can’t easily apply that to another project. It’s fine when a particular example/pattern is being used, but if I want to take that knowledge to another pattern where the style and shape are different, I want to make sure I get the reasoning behind each technique. But maybe that’s me just being too anal. đŸ˜‰

  18. I’m pretty excited about this! I consider myself an experienced sewist, but I’ve never tailored a jacket, and I would love to do so when my winter coat finally bites the dust, which may be next season . . .

    I would love it if you mentioned a bit about the third method, machine tailoring, as you go, maybe not with illustrated examples and all, but just to get an idea of what the other option would be if we readers wanted to research it further. I realize that it’s already a huge project for you to take on, so if you don’t want to add anything about it, I understand. I think this is going to be awesome to see side by side!

  19. I am so excited about this post. I just bought a Vogue tailored jacket pattern today as I decided I wanted to try a tailored jacket. Number one because the tailored suit styles seem to be very “vogue” at the moment and number two because I want to challenge myself.
    I couldn’t believe it when I opened my computer and saw this post on the same day!
    I can’t wait to see your series and I love your obsession jacket!

  20. I’m really looking forward to getting more educated about tailoring techniques. I sewed a jacket with a notched collar many years ago, but have not attempted any sort of tailoring since.

  21. Yay tailoring! Were you not a wee bit disappointed that the contestants on Project Runway did not know how to make jackets or collared shirts for men? Never made a collar stand? What? A peplum on a man’s jacket? What, What, What? Go Sunni!

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