Saturday, December 17, 2011

It finally fits: The finished jacket body

We we last left off, I was nearly finished remaking the lapels and collar of Tom's present. I'm making pretty good time and I think I'll have this done in time for Christmas. Then disaster struck: today Tom texted me and said that he'd just scored a used suit from a friend. Well shit, way to rain on my parade. Here is what he sent me:
Fortunately, the fit needs some tailoring and the lapels/styling are definitely dated (likely a similar vintage to the project suit). Unfortunately, the suit is a super cool brown/rust windowpane plaid and I'm more than a little jealous. In the end, this development changes nothing; he still needs a modern styled, well fitting suit. Back to the oars collar with me.

Reshaping the collar is basically the same as the lapels. Mark off the shape you want, open the stitches, fold, press, trim, restitch. It's a smaller piece, only one layer thick, and therefore much faster going. After the shape is good, pin, trim, and restitch the felt backing.
After it's all assembled, give everything a good press and marvel in your work. But not too long, because half the suit still needs work, and now things get tricky. The second half needs to match the first half perfectly. At first, I intended to make a cardboard pattern that would let me transfer the exact shape across:
The first step was to find a stable reference point that was equal on both sides. I chose the first body dart and the lapel's notch. Then pinned the cardboard in place to prevent it from moving. Next I flipped the assembly over and traced the lapel edge.
This strategy however, has a flaw: the new side has a different notch than the unaltered side. In order to keep things symmetrical I was going to need lots of careful measuring... something I really lack the patience for. Time for plan 'B'.

This jacket's lining is edged in with a thin red ribbon. It adds a nice bit of stying, but it also provides a fixed reference point for both jacket sides. I decided to match the ribbon lines up, pin everything together, and trace the new lapel onto the old one.
It worked great. If it hadn't, I'd still have been able to do lots of tedious measuring and get the same result (thank God I didn't have to). From here out, the process is exactly the same as before: Rip the seams, fold, press, double check that it looks right, baste, trim, and top-stitch. It really does go faster once you are not trying to figure out what shape you like or anything else of that sort. The end result was, in my humble opinion, awesome.
Lets take a closer look at how those lapels turned out, and why I chose the shape I did.
In the end, I decided that the lapel edge should be parallel to the torso edge (green lines), that the top notch edge should be parallel to the pocket (red lines), and that the lower notch edge should be parallel to the shoulder (blue lines). That one was a miss, but only because I can't change the angle of the original geometry. It's possible that all that would create a notch that is too shallow, but until I find a suit with sufficient geometry to play with, I'll never know.

Still to come: shortening (and possible narrowing) of the sleeves, hemming of the pants, and I need to find a way to cut almost four inches out of the waist! Given that time is running short, I think the next step should be the pants. I already know how to shorten the sleeves and hem the pant legs, but that waist is going to take some creative thinking to prevent it from looking like crap. Stay tuned for gratuitous shots of my ass, because next time we take on the trousers!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Two steps forward, one step back.

So I stared at the progress I had made in the last update and decided I didn't like the new lapel. Something, and I'm still not 100% sure what, was off. So it was back to the drawing board, seam ripper, pin box, and iron. This jacket is going to be perfect even if it kills me. I busted out my chalk and drew up the new shape:
The goal here was to try and get the lapel edge to be roughly parallel with the side of the torso. If possible, I'd also like to make the notch/collar edge parallel to the shoulder. However, the original suit pattern prohibits this. I was satisfied with the chalk-up and so I ripped the lapel back apart. This time I remembered to baste EVERYTHING. Both sides independently and then again together. I even threw in some pins for the hell of it.
 I also decided that using black thread was not going to cut it for this project. Since I was redoing all my previous stitches, it was the perfect time to make such a decision. I think it was the right call:
Alas, this project is beginning to show me that my $25 thrift-store Dressmaker 101 is on the way out. The lower thread tension is not adjustable (that I can find) and just look at this mess. Every time I start a new stitch now, I have to deal with this:
Fortunately, I love both seam ripping and knot tying. After a few minutes of dewadding I was ready to pull out the basting stitches. The to removal of basting is to NOT tie knots when you stitch those in. That way they slide out nice and easy.
And that's it! The side and lapel are a nice press and a couple of button holes away from completion. We're 25% of the way to the finish line. Time to take on the collar and lapel notch. To make the notch I had to separate the collar from the lapel. Not all the way, but a bit farther than what was chalked in (for ease of work). To make life easy on myself, I removed the felt collar backing:
This collar is different than the ones I've played with in the past. It's a total short-cut, but one I'm likely to employ in the future. The collar edge is folded over the felt and then overcasted back onto the felt. Only the edge, not the full length. The upshot is that it makes it much easier to keep the end looking clean and even. Note that the back edge is also zig-zagged to the felt backing. I will definitely NOT put it back on that way.
Time was getting short so I decided to mock up the fit and see how it all looked. Out came the pins and requisite facebook mirror self-shot:
I'm so tired excited here that I forgot to smile.Once this is done I'm totally going to have to tailor myself a suit so that Tom doesn't end up dressing better than me all the time.  I think it's damn good. Still not perfect, but damn good. What do you think, readers? Would you change anything about the lapel shape?

Next time I'll finish the collar, make a cardboard stencil and start in on the other side. See you then.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Too wet to climb, but progress is made (sort of)!

Over a month ago, my climbing buddies and I decided to get together and climb some super-secret sport and top-rope routes (near Boerne) and maybe partake of some sweet bouldering action while we were at it. But Mother Nature had other plans. With as dry as things have been, I feel like a jack-ass for complaining about rain, but goddamnitiwantedtoclimb! Oh well, I'll have lots of chances once my kid is born, right?

So instead I stayed in and accomplished some work on my Christmas project: Tommy's suit. When last we left off I was still in the planning phase of what to do. Today I started cutting. But before I did that, I did some measurements and comparisons. First up, I compared the project jacket to two others, paying attention to the lapel shapes.
Note the more exaggerated curvature the bottom (project) jacket has. The houndstooth, after its recent rework, is very straight, and the middle jacket is apparently a long cut? Who cares. Its time to measure our new edge. I don't have lots of fancy sewing tools, but I do have a level, and hey, it's good enough right?
Hit it with the chalk wheel, and we get this:
Nice. This is a good time to decide if you want a different (read: narrower) lapel shape. I decided to stay, relatively, stock with this. Next up, it's time to press the new edge. The chalk line will work as our new guide line for pressing.
I have my press cloth crammed in there for definition and to show how much material is being removed. After both sides were pressed, I basted the new edges with high contrast green thread. The idea here is to keep things from moving while we are sewing the edges together. I've tried pins, but they never work quite as well. It doesn't take long, and saves a good deal of grief down the road.
After that, I pinned the two halves together and got to sewing. The results were not spectacular, because I ignored my own advice and didn't baste the two halves together before sewing. Instead, I pinned it and there was a little bit of shift. Nothing I can't fix later, but it was there. Baste the sides, don't pin them. And here is the rough-up of what it will look like:
However, I'm not totally happy with the end result on the lapel. I think it's... off some how. Perhaps it needs to be narrowed and the notch needs to be higher. Perhaps something like this:
I'll play with it more in the morning. I have to get up early and my baby-momma is yelling at me to call it a night. Give me some love and/or feedback. I'll toss up more tomorrow.

Friday, December 9, 2011

In over my head? What else is new.

So it's been an interesting week. The largest, and most frightening, announcement of my life went live on Facebook three days ago-- I'm going to be a father. I think I looked similar to Mr. Fox when Mrs. Fox broke the same news to him:

I then proceeded to make this exact same face for over 5 minutes. The news fills me with excitement and dread. How will I pay for all this? Will I be a good father? Where can I score a good child's suit pattern? All questions I plan to address in due time.

But first, lets get back to the present. Last time I posted up about modifications on a sweet houdstooth blazer, that I scored at a local thrift shop. It's getting lots of love and wear, however I'm starting to think that the right sleeve had been tailored about 1/4" shorter than the left. The jacket was tailored by the previous owner (Ralph Lauren never made anything off the rack that was my exact shape), and arm length differences are pretty common, plus it would explain the poorly spaced sleeve buttons. It's an easy fix, but one that will have to wait. Because Christmas is coming!

This year the family decided to try and get as crafty as possible with gift giving. A decision was made to make as much as possible and try to second hand the rest. I decided that my brother needed a nice suit. To be honest, he sort of has one, but it's been pieced together so the trousers don't match the jacket, and nothing really fits well. Sorry Tom, it just doesn't look great.

Fortunately, I have an extra-- sort of. Enter my great-uncle Wallace's old suit:
I'm not wearing the trousers here, because they won't stay up without my camera hand's assistance, and this isn't-that-sort-of-blog. Notice how baggy it is. Note the cool old curved lapels, the low placed notches, the too-long sleeves. All things that scream "Early 90's off-the-rack cheap suit". But I can fix all this... I think.

Lets another angle:
As you can see here, I have at least a half-hand's width of extra material on each side, but all the excess comes on the button edge of the coat. This was, I believe, a common practice among coat makers of the era. It lets you sell to people with waistlines in excess of their shoulders (or roughly 70% of America).

I figure I have two options in correcting this: I can convert it to a double breasted suit, thereby working this excess into the over-flap. I have buttons and a keyhole button-holer, so it's probably an easy route to take, but I just don't like the look of it (Too 'old banker' for my tastes.):
That leaves me with the option of removing several inches of material from each side. After playing with it a bit, I think that it would be easiest to do so from the button assembly; basically make the new edges about even with the inside edge of the old button holes. The pockets shift inwards when this happens, but the settle down pretty close to where they are on the houndstooth jacket, so I'm sure it will be fine.

It will be a lot of work, for sure, but still much easier than reworking the pocket seams, sleeve seams, or trying to take the excess out from the back. At this point, I even dare think this will all be a bit... dare I say it? Simple.

So the final plan for this project:
1) Hem the inside jacket facing inward roughly 3" on each side.
2) Rework the lapel edges to be straight for a more modern look
3) Adjust sleeve length
4) Adjust trouser waist and inseam

And the biggest hurdle: I'm trying to make it a surprise so I can't ask him to swing by for a fitting or to get his measurements! I know, Madness. But we're twins so I should be able use myself for most measurements. He's a little heavier than I am, so I'll include a little extra room in each measurement (although he claims to have the same waist-size I do, so I'll have to keep it all pretty close).

Tom, if you are reading this (and I doubt you are) the surprise has been ruined. Damn you. Damn you for ruining Christmas! That said, pick up your phone and call me, I'd much rather have accurate measurements for this, and I'm 300% sure the end result will fit better.

Any thoughts? I'd love a little guidance before I jump into this. Fortunately this project has fewer parts than my 97' Ranger engine rebuild (and we all know how well that turned out). Unfortunately, I only have 2 weeks to make this happen. We'll have to see how it all goes. Stay tuned for a rapid progression on this!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Release the Hounds(tooth)!

I recently set out with a few new goals for myself. The first one was to start dressing better, and that meant owning (and getting comfortable with wearing) a suit. I figured that this goal would help me in my ongoing quest to get a real job. Then I realized that I am too poor to afford a closet full of nice suits. So I bought two okay ones from the store and set out to thrift the rest. Last Thursday I found this gem hidden in a back corner:

The fit across the shoulders was perfect. The sleeves were the correct length, right off the rack. Perhaps my doppelganger bought this suit 40 years ago, had it tailored, and then placed it there for me to find. Who knows. One thing I do know, however, is that those massive lapels are a serious show stopper. If I was ever going to wear this jacket, they were going to have to go.
Yep, that is 14 cm wide at the top. Most jackets these-days seem to hover around the 10 cm mark, but Ralph Lauren wanted to make sure everyone got an eye full of this sweet, sweet, houndstooth. Allow me to also draw your attention to the mismatched body-buttons and the odd spacing on the sleeve buttons:
So lets get down to business. I had previously played with another jacket and pioneered a method of lapel reduction that did not involve taking the entire jacket apart. I decided to give it another go here. The first step is to use a seam ripper to cut the lapel open. (When you get to the boutonnière hole, you will have to cut the buttonhole stitching as well. I used my seam ripper and ripped from between the two lapel layers.)
After you rip the lapel open along the full length you intend to modify (plus a little extra for wiggle room), disconnect the collar from the lapel about along about 3/4 of the lapel (basically, separate the collar from the lapel where they meet in the notch).
Next up, Press everything flat so that you aren't fighting the old lapel. Then it's decision time: what size lapel do you want to have? For my project I decided that the pattern at-hand lended plenty of weight to the equation, so a smaller lapel would be better. However, I also didn't want an anemic skinny little thing that seemed out of touch with the rest of the suit.
I figured that 9 cm wide was a good choice. A little narrower than most of what I own, but still balanced. Pick what you are comfortable with, and fold the rest inside the lapel. Press the whole thing to give it a crisp edge and see how it looks.
If it looks good, repeat the process for the backside lapel. The importing thing here is to keep things even and identical. Don't feel bad if you have to reshape it several times, lord know I did. In the end you should get two correct sized lapels which are waaay to thick (due to all the folded-in material). Ignore the collar and the notch at this point, we will get to them next.

After playing around a little with this, I found that the real key is to hand baste the lapels in their new position. I tried pinning, but it just wasn't enough. Spend an extra minute here and tack the new lapels roughly 1/8" from the edge. This prevents them from changing shapes when you are sewing them together. You will save time in the long run, when you don't have to take the project apart 100 times (I learned this the hard way).

Once you have the two pieces in place and are satisfied with the way things look, trim the excess material out that you folded in. At the corners you may have to trim a little closer to allow the lapel to fold correctly. Just keep your material in mind, if it frays you'll be up a creek.

Now top-stitch the lapel faces together as close to the edge as you can. I think I usually sew mine around 1/8" (the space from my machine's needle to the edge of the foot). Now it's time to address that notch and collar.
Measure in as far as you'd like the notch to extend. I usually pick something close to 1/2 my total lapel width, in this case I picked 5 cm. Roll the back lapel material inside and top-stitch the lapel shut. Slip-stitch the collar back onto the lapel. This should give you a finished lapel and an oddly proportioned collar that is not-yet notched.

If you fold the collar back, you will start to see your notch forming, but you will also see how disproportionate it all looks. This is because the collar needs to narrow a bit as it approaches the notch. Trace back a little and find a good point to roll the collar-edge back to. The houndstooth pattern made this super easy:
 Roll that edge under, press the notch and new collar shape, and then top-stitch the notch-edge. I found that, when working with the notches, it is easiest to mock the lapel/notch/collar assembly up in paper or cardboard first. That way you have a solid pattern to reference back to and it ensures that you will have symmetrical lapels and notches. Once that is done, you should have one finished half:
 Repeat the above steps on the opposite side. Don't worry about attaching the collar back-matting at this point. Be sure to keep your measurements identical! Once both sides match, and are finished, trim the matting for the collar backing and stitch it in place. I do this by hand rather than top-stitching because it it not load bearing and it gives me a chance to cover up any small defects along the collar.

And that's it. You have finished reshaping your out-dated lapels. Press them with lots of steam (remember your pressing cloth!) and they should hold that new shape just fine. Strike a pose, pull out your iPhone, and update your myfacebooktube status. Here is my before and after shot:
So what do you think? Is this the worst possible approach I could take to lapel resizing? Would this have been much easier if I wasn't using an old zig-zag machine that cost me $25? Do I just have horrible tastes in jackets? Send me some love in the comments below. I'd love to see your finished projects and revisions to this process.