Delving Into the Tailor’s Craft

The words “hand-tailored jacket” can evoke images of understated luxury, or generations of dedicated craftsmen in the workrooms of Saville Row and the fashion capitals of Europe stitching and steaming fine wool until it is molded to perfection. Earlier generations of home sewers had ample opportunities to learn the fine points of hand tailoring in cities like Chicago. Since returning to sewing about five years ago, I’ve searched for those opportunities, but found none within a reasonable commute. Until now.

The patient and knowledgeable Carol Scott graciously agreed to teach a series of tailoring classes through the Haute Couture Club of Chicago. The first is a six-session Classic Tailoring class which began in December and will end in February. It will be followed by a five-session class in Modern Tailoring. The classes are held at the Moser Sewing Studio in Evanston. Marty Moser, Carol Scott and most of the class participants are members of ASG Chicago Chapter and three of the class participants are members of Sew Chicago. I thought it might be nice to record our progress here.

The pattern we are using in both classes is McCall’s M6172. Oddly enough, this Palmer/Pletsch pattern is a celebration of the marvels of modern soft tailoring techniques and the great strides made with fusible interfacings. I had to smile when I read Patti Palmer’s reminiscences in the introductory section of the pattern’s instruction sheet. Fusible interfacing will wait until the Modern Tailoring class. For now, it’s Hymo cloth (horsehair canvas), hand basting and pad stitching. (Okay, we’re using fusible interfacing for the welt pockets, but nothing else.) This may be the one and only time I use these methods, but it’s something I’d like to know how to do. Besides, there’s that wonderful feeling of connectedness to generations of fine craftsmen. Even though they would probably be amused by my efforts and maybe horrified with the results, I would like to pay homage to them.

Of course, we started with a muslin. Actually, it was a mock-up, because in our introductory session Carol told us not to make them out of muslin. She says jackets almost always are too tight when actual muslin is used for the test garment rather than something more substantial. Cotton twill was the test garment fabric of choice. Here’s Janet modeling her mock-up.

We sewed the front, side front, side back, back, under collar and both sleeves – a lot more work than even I usually put into muslins! The good news is that one test garment is all we made (not my usual three), and it should be good for both classes as well as future jackets from the same pattern.

I’m impressed with the pattern so far. I didn’t have to make nearly as many adjustments as I usually do. Carol told me to take the shoulders in 3/4″ and that worked very well.

I was able to enlarge the upper arms of the sleeves by curving the back seam on both the upper and lower sleeve pieces, a technique I learned from a Sarah Veblen class. It gave me the room I need where I need it without changing the sleeve cap seam length, which would have required an adjustment to the armscye, which always ends up in a quagmire. Of course, my pronounced pear shape required circumference additions, but the end result doesn’t look distorted.

We used our second class session to get our mock-ups fitted, get Carol’s input on our choice of fashion fabric and learn Carol’s method for making welt pockets. We were supposed to make sample welt pockets in class, but yours truly didn’t get quite that far.

Our homework that week included making the pattern pieces for the sew-in interfacing and cutting those pieces from the Hymo cloth after pre-shrinking with steam (a rather smelly process).

Speaking of homework, I’d better get to mine before I fall hopelessly behind in class. The next installment will be about pad stitching. Be sure to stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “Delving Into the Tailor’s Craft

  1. Nice documentation of our experience so far. I know this is wacky, but I actually enjoy pad stitching. Note to classmates, don’t wait until the last minute to do your pad stitching, the collar takes some time. The TV can be a close friend in this situation.

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