Friday, December 30, 2011

The Path of Least Resistance

(The Great Computer Crash of 2011, part 3 of 3)
Chapter 47
Alas! The TT&S computers are still off-line thanks to a hostile rootkit, so while it snoozes peacefully on the shelves of the local computer guru's shop, I am reduced to pecking out the last blog post of the year on my Kindle. No fear, though; even if this week is off on a bit of a rabbit-trail, my scheduled end-of-year installments will still be posted...just a bit further into 2012 than I had planned.

To make my point this week, I'm gonna talk about cars. I like cars. My daily driver is a 35 year old British motorcar. Twice a year I need to shoot grease in the suspension, adjust the valves and brake shoes, bleed the hydraulics, clean the spark plugs, set the timing, change the oil...well, you get the idea. It will get to 40 mph in about half a minute and might do freeway speeds if I had a death wish. It doesn't have power anything, and stowing its convertible top takes about five minutes. (It isn't a beater either; it's in excellent mechanical shape and runs like a sewing machine.)

It is surpassed in every conceivable way by even the most basic of modern cars. An everyday, simple modern car like, say, the Chevy Impala I rented to get the family to the beach this week, is a supercar by the standards of when my car was built, in 1976. An Impala is a barge today, (although it would have been considered merely a midsize then,) but  no car of any price thirty years ago could hope to be as quiet, smooth, powerful, quick, agile, thrifty, OR clean, let alone ALL of those things at once, as that little rental Impala is. In fact, there's very little to do in it other than turn the key, point it at the horizon, press the go pedal, and steer between the lines. Give it gas when it's empty, change the oil every couple of years, and it's good pretty much forever.  But you know what? I still wouldn't trade my old MG Midget for one.

And why is that? Because modern drivers don't have to think much, and as a result they get sloppy. Their engines are controlled by computers, so they just fling their cars around while sitting in their airbagged cocoons, without paying any heed to that mysterious hunk of spinning metal under the hood. For instance, when they turn a key, their computer controlled fuel injection systems start their vehicles instantly: and they expect no less. My car? I have to think to declutch, turn on the fuel pump, prime the carburetter, choke the intake, and only then hit the starter switch. As a result, I know every sound, every squeak and rattle that car makes; I know when something sounds different, I know just what that sound or vibration means, and I (usually!) know how to fix it.

Here is the point: if people don't HAVE to pay attention to something, they usually WON'T.

They let the engine computer, the GPS, or what have you, do their thinking for them. It is the same with the clothes they wear: the world is stuffed with easily-available, cheap, ready-to-wear rags that are practically shoved under your nose for you to brainlessly buy, with no more fashion sense than a fifth-grader. Of course, these clothes are also bereft of any aesthetic sensibility whatsoever. If you want to dress any better than that, you have to do your homework...just as, if you want to "really" drive, you have to learn to double-clutch, work a spark advance lever, maybe even a crank handle, and run an engine yourself; instead of letting a computer run it for you.

You need shoes: you go to a large store in the mall filled with athletic shoes and pick a pair. You take what is most readily available and easily offered. If you want real shoes, you must make the additional effort to find them.

You want a hat: there are plenty of stores filled to bursting with baseball caps. You want a real hat, a fedora, fitted to your head? More extra effort.

You want clothes: thousands of stores with billions of tee shirts and "pre-stressed" jeans beckon you. Real grownup clothes? More work.

Getting married? Lots of places will be more than happy to rent you a "tux." Perhaps you want a fitted morning suit with a cravat and detachable collar instead? Good luck -- you may have to rent from overseas. That's a LOT more work, not to mention money.

The reason it seems so hard to dress well, is that the world makes it so gosh darn easy to dress poorly. And most people will take the path of least resistance and just take what's most readily available.

Hopefully, if this blog has been of any use at all this year to you, it has been to show that you do not have to follow the lemmings off the sartorial cliff. If I may make a suggestion for a New Year's Resolution, it would be to resolve to go that extra mile and make that extra effort in 2012 to seek out the real clothes, the grownup clothes; and start your own one-person revolution against the men that dress like children.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Back to Basics

 (The Great Computer Crash of 2011, part 2 of 3)
Chapter 46
As this is my second week without the use of the trusty TT&S mainframe, I'm "shooting from the hip" again this installment. I'm inputting this week from my Wii, which (as it turns out) has an internet interface. Who knew?

It's an odd flashback moment to thirty-odd years ago: staring at my television screen, using my Atari 2600's Basic Programming module. One had a feeling there should be great power there, but it was hiding, just out of reach, behind a completely unworkable interface. (Remember the 2600's "keyboard"?)

It's just that sort of strange, everything-old-is-new-again feeling, along with watching the legions of last minute Christmas shoppers bustling around the local Mega Mart, that got me thinking. We've spent a very long time with pretty long and complex posts on advanced tailoring concepts over the past few months, and we should always pause every once in awhile to remind ourselves of the basics.

So this week: a reminder that no matter where you go, no matter how long you plan to be there, no matter who you plan to meet; you only have one chance to make a good impression, first or otherwise. You may think you're only running down to the Quickie-Mart for a midnight Squishee, but if that's the night you run into the Mayor, you'll never be able to take that moment back.

An admonition, then, this holiday season. NEVER "just" go anywhere. Go with intention, go with direction, and never, ever be found improperly dressed. It's a common misconception that it takes more effort to dress well than not to, and running out to the mailbox is therefore a reason to cut corners.

There is never a reason to "cut corners," sartorially speaking. Be prepared, as the Boy Scouts say.

And on that note, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. With any luck, my computer will be repaired and on my desk where it belongs next week, and we can get back on track with some proper posting!

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Drastic Measures Required

 (The Great Computer Crash of 2011, part 1 of 3)
Chapter 45
Every human's nightmare scenario came to pass the other day. My computer is comatose. A dastardly piece of malware infiltrated my firewall, and despite the valiant efforts of the little blue-glowing men in the TRONworld inside my computer, this time Sark and his red-glowing henchmen won. The registry files were run through a blender.

End of line.

So, whilst the old difference engine sits in the shop awaiting brain surgery, and with it all the pictures, files, and articles associated with the burgeoning TT&S empire, I'm inputting this week's installment on...(drum roll) Amazon Kindle3.

Which, as it turns out, is only slightly more aggravating than programming a VAX using punch cards. So, the next few weeks will be shorter than usual, and to a greater or lesser extent, off topic. The Island of Misfit Clothes will have to go on a short will all the other neat stuff I had planned. Just until my computer comes to its senses, which will probably be after Christmas some time.

I was sitting in a conference room a few days ago with about 30 other people. All the people there were there by invitation, all had plenty of notice to prepare, and the meeting was in a professional building during business hours. I was sitting toward the back, and as I was a bit bored, I started counting hats. One older gentleman came in wearing a black fedora, which he (correctly) took off soon after entering before he sat down. One man wore a black toboggan throughout. Three --THREE, mind you-- wore hoodies. With the hoods up. For the entire hour. In a 73 degree conference room. What surprised me, though, were the number of baseball caps.

Off hand, I would have said there were three or four. A specific head count, though, revealed TEN capwearers. A third of the attendees -- one in three -- thirty three point three bar percent -- think a baseball cap was completely acceptable headwear for the occasion.

More puzzling to me, though -- why there were so many 'invisible capwearers' that didn't make themselves apparent to me until a specific count? Have we, I, us, become so desensitized to the hoards of caps, their presence so ubiquitous that our brains no longer register them, while a glimpse of a single fedora immediately arrests our attention?

Caps or hats or toboggans or touques or hoods; for crying out loud, people, learn the rules of courtesy and take them off in private spaces!

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Marked Improvements

(Part 9 of the series "The Island of Misfit Clothes")
Chapter 44

When last we left our giant's size three-piece suit, the suit jacket was well on its way to a size 38 from a barrel size 45. It was still wrapped around our tailor's form, de-sleeved, with the re-positioned rear seams marked with chalk and pinned in place. The next chore is to re-work those seams to the proper shape...But to do that, it's got to come off the form and into pieces again. The pins have to come out -- but the pins are what's marking the position of the seams! Something has to mark where the seams are to go while we're manipulating the fabric, and that something is a marking stitch. Ready?

The first thing to do is make sure the pins are only going through the shell layer of the jacket, and not picking up the lining, or any other layers that are underneath. Start at the side seam, and sweep your finger behind the fabric to see if the pin has picked up the lining. If it has, hold the shell fabric in place with one hand while you draw the pin half-way out, until it relinquishes its hold on the lining, and put it back in. Do this as far down as you can reach...

...then sweep your hand up from the bottom to release the pins down there, if necessary. Do this for both sides.

Then remove the pins holding the back in place down the center seam. The jacket should now be merely wrapped around the form, without being pinned down to it. Before we remove the jacket altogether, let's mark-stitch the placement of the shoulder seams. Tailor's chalk rubs off easily, as I'm sure you've noticed by now, and it's easy to accidentally "lose" your chalk marks while you are moving things around. Best to mark them in now so that they won't disappear before you want them to!

A marking stitch is the easiest stitch you will ever do, and the first stitch most people learn. It's nothing more than a simple, running in-and-out through one layer of fabric. Graphically, a cross-section of a simple running stitch looks like this.

And when the thread is snugged down, it looks like this.

So pull out enough thread to wrap around the shoulder seam with a bit left over on each side; don't be stingy. Pink thread, you ask? Sure; it's only a temporary marker that has to be seen in contrast against the fabric -- plus I don't have to worry about wasting it, since it'll never be used for anything else.

Start at the rear of the shoulder seam where it meets the side seam, and run right up the middle of the chalk line. Take long, loping stitches the length of the needle itself, and remember to only run it through the shell fabric!

Up and over the shoulder, right down to where the chalk line meets the original seam under the arm. Don't tie the thread off; just leave it hanging.

Brush off the chalk, and here you see the marking line; it'll stay in place until you need it now.

Now we can pull the pins holding the fronts of the jacket together, and un-pin the shirt sleeves...

...and take the jacket off of our form. Now, a running marking stitch is fine for a single layer of cloth...but the overlap of the side body and back panel is currently only marked with pins. Fortunately, there is a quick and easy way to simultaneously mark two layers in the same place: the tailor's tack stitch.

Here's how it works. Instead of a simple in-and-out like the running stitch, when the thread comes out, you run back in just behind it, run forward and out again, back in just behind it, and so on. You're left with long, continuous stitches on the backside of the fabric, and large loops on the front side. It's very important not to pull the stitches tight, but leave everything loose like this, because...

...the next step is to pull the two layers of fabric apart, like this. There are long threads connecting the two layers now.

Cut those threads! The two layers are now separated, and the thread-ends that remain mark the exact point of the seam, on each layer. If there are turned-under edges that are caught by the stitching, the top layer's edge can be carefully pulled free of the thread-ends with little fuss...

...and by cutting the long stitches under the bottom layer, that turn-under can be pulled free as well. Why do you want to release the turn-unders, you may ask? Good question. When we re-work the seams, the turn unders have to change location as well, and it's easier to get those seams flat first, and work from scratch.

Get a long, double-length of thread on your needle, like this. Pull out an arm's length; we're going to need a LOT. Why double the thread?


When you cut the stitches to leave those loose thread markers, you always run the risk of losing some. Double thread doubles your chances of success.

Lay out the jacket on your work surface, with the side seam facing you, the shoulder on your left. Professional tailors work sitting cross-legged on their work tables, sewing in their laps -- but this, although it's very comfortable, takes practice. Sitting in a comfy chair and working on an ironing board is a good substitute.

Start the stitch at the bottom end, right on the seam and going through both layers.

Run under the length of the needle, and pull back out.

Go back under, just behind where the thread emerged.

Run under the length of the needle again, and pull back out.

Pull the thread, tightening the loop slightly. Keeping a finger in the loop is good practice.

Run the needle under for the next stitch in the same way.

Continue along the seam, up to the waist point, where the chalk line starts diverting the seam away from the edge.

Run the series of tack-stitches up the chalk line in a smooth arc.

The finished tack-stitched seam.

The moment of truth! Hold your breath and pull the pins.

Now, pull the fabric apart, so that the threads stretch between the seams.

Cut the threads down the middle, just like you saw on the graphic.

The side body now shows the tack stitches. Unfold the turn-under, and the stitches will pull out of the fold but remain on the top side.

The other half of the tack stitches on the back panel.

And so we snip the long stitches on the underside of the back panel...

...and gently pull out the turn-under, so that the tack stitches remain in place.

Both sides now have identical tack-stitches in the correct place, with the seams laid out flat.
But we're not done yet! The tack-stitches are only a temporary measure; they can still pull out far too easily.

Now we run a marking stitch, like we did with the shoulder seam, up the back seam...

...and the side seam.

As the saying goes: "repeat for the other side."

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wrapper's Delight

(Part 8 of the series "The Island of Misfit Clothes.")
Chapter 43
Our three piece suit has been ripped asunder on its way to a drastic refit. The next step is to wrap it around your shape properly, pin it down, and mark the proper place for the armscyes; all in preparation for re-sewing the seams. You might think we're already to that stage -- but no!

The jacket is still sitting on our custom tailor's form, where we left it last time. Fitting directly on the form at this point would be a big mistake, though! We're fitting this jacket exactly to your shape -- but remember that the form is JUST your shape, plus the thickness of the undergarments you were wearing when you made it. 

That's right; first we must completely dress the form to determine the proper thickness to allow for trousers, waistcoat, shirt, and undergarments! Without this step, all your hard work will be for nothing, and the jacket would end up too tight. Since this suit's other two pieces are far too large and have yet to be altered, let's substitute some pieces that are the same style and bulk.

Then we can add the jacket over all, and get to work. As always, this can be done on your own person (with a little assistance --) but making your own form will make things far easier for you, and I'd strongly encourage you to give it a try.

Start from the front side, up by the shoulders. Make sure the collar sits tight to the neck and smooth over the shoulders. Adjust the right and left halves as shown so that the collar notch is even on both sides. You can adjust for a low shoulder now and still keep the lapels even -- something you can't do unless the jacket has been broken apart like this.

Check that the front hem is even across both sides.

Keep the shoulders tight and in place, and smooth the fronts down the chest. Do this for both sides, and you will find the natural overlap.

Pin the overlap point. Don't force it -- let it fall where it wants to.

Continue pinning the overlap all the way down. If you've done it properly, the fronts will show nary a wrinkle and the lapels will sit tight against the chest.

Since we're not dealing with the shirtsleeves, they'll just get in the way unless we do something with 'em. Fold the cuff in and roll them up...

...and pin them at the top of the shoulder.

Now turn your attention to the back. Smooth the back tight across the shoulders, over the blades, and down. There's a fair amount of stretch in that flat piece of fabric; the more you can make it conform to the curve of your back, the smoother it will fit.

Make sure that the center seam is running straight down the center of the back. The adjustment for a low shoulder will tend to throw the seam off to one side, as might the years of wear in a secondhand piece.

Pin the center seam down. Pick up several layers of fabric underneath to hold it in place. Pin across the widest part of the shoulders, at the level of the bottom of the armscye, and the small of the back, as shown. Let the tails hang free.

Now we'll mark the armhole to fit. You'll need your own measurements for this. As seen here, our jacket's shoulder point is at 10 inches, and I need it to be 8¾ we measure both sides and mark it with chalk. (Tailor's chalk only, please!)

The rear of the armscye across the widest part of the shoulders should be marked to your dimensions. In my case, (and in most cases, unless your shoulders are especially prominant) the same measure as the shoulder point. Mark with chalk on both sides.

Now, take the two points and connect them with a chalk line.

Across the fronts, measure the difference between the proper measure and the suit's measure. This one is 17", mine should be 15" -- so I'll mark in one inch on both sides.

Always double-check yourself: yep, point-to-point is 15 inches.

Connect the points, same as with the back side. As you can see, it's not a straight line: just eyeball the line to be parallel with the existing edge, to the point that it starts curving under the arm.

Finish the curve to the underarm point, like this. Those good in geometry will notice that we've essentially moved the entire curve inwards.This is important, since the shape of the armscye must match the shape of the sleevehead. Since the curves are identical, we know they'll match.

Just for fun, here's the excess turned under, to show the new line of the armscye. Notice that the lapels, which looked so insubstantial on the large jacket, now look proportionately perfect with the narrower shoulder.

Now we turn our attention to the side seams. Start from the pin at the small of the center back, and smooth across to the side. Take the front sidebody and pull it across to meet it, as shown. Pin this point.

Let the tails fall naturally, and smooth the sidebody over it. Remember you're not making a tube -- the waist needs to flare out for the hips and seat and trousers, and back in just slightly at the bottom.

Pin the sidebody from the waist down to the hem. Done properly, there should be no wrinkles or pulls below the waist. The pins will cause a slight pucker, of course; don't fret about that too much.

Now to the top side. Pull the back smooth across the blades, and bring up the point of the sidebody. The two will find a place to lay smoothly together.

Pin along the topside. As you can see, the fabric is cooperating nicely with no wrinkles -- but you can see one troublesome bit...

...that point of the rear armscye is way too far back! We can't sew it like that, of course. But there is a simple solution. Continue the chalkline down the back until it gets to the point that it meets the sidebody. Now we have to figure out how to get rid of that pointy bit.

The astute among you may think there is an easy way out of this: merely cross the fabric the other way around, with the back panel overlapping the side body, like this. Wellll....maybe. I don't like it for this application, though.

Here's why. This is what happens with the sidebody pinned under the back panel. The rear seam, in solid green, runs straight down from the sleeve to the hem. The sidebody seam, in dashed green, runs as normally. The result is a bit awkward, for the side panel is much wider at the bottom than the top. It will make the jacket look bottom-heavy and de-emphasize the width of the shoulder. The rear seam, because it runs straight, doesn't carry the waist supression well, and has to wrap too far around the curve of the back. Flat panels with straight seams don't work well for three-dimensional curves. It will want to hang straight, resulting in an unflattering tubelike silhouette. What you want is a shape that emphasizes an athletic physique and broad shoulders -- or barring that, gives the illusion of one.

So we go back to our original layout. The solution, shown here, is simply to chalk in a curve to the rear side body seam, starting from the waist, and curving in to the armscye point. We will then have the chore of re-shaping that seam with a curve running in the other direction than it has now, which will involve sponging and shrinking the fabric. Sound like fun? It will be!

The resulting shapely line is shown in green, following the seam to the waist, and the chalk lines up and over the shoulder. Now it's a matter of doing the same thing to the other side. The most important thing here is to keep the rear seams symmetrical.

Start with the waistpoint, as you did with the other side. Check the measure with your tape to make sure the distances from the center back are equal.

After pinning, measuring, and chalking, both sides are equal and ready for the next step. This jacket has a bespoke level of waist supression: it fits right to the figure without being tight to it. If you want the waist nipped in a bit less, it's easy to dial in just as much or as little as you want. That's the great thing about doing this yourself: you are in complete control of every seam. If you are very lucky, all the seams at this point lay perfectly flat and smooth without any puckers, wrinkles, or pulls.

But who are we kidding, right? No one's perfect. Take a few minutes and even out the seams. It's easy to do one pin at a time. Here at the waist point, my back panel had a little pouf. By putting a little tension at the bottom edge, (not pulling it, just keeping it barely snug) and pulling the pin halfway, the offending fabric smooths right in, and the pin is reinserted.

Here is a good smooth pin job. Notice the chalk lines, curving in from the side body, up the back of the armscye...

...and over and around the front side.

You will notice that we didn't nip in the back seam, just the side seams. The large amount of wraparound, in this case, worked for us and not against us! The side seams were able to eat the excess width across the blades as well as down the sides. With less girth, which would only require a minor nip down the sides and no major adjustment in the armscye, a small nip down the center back may have been needed to tighten overly loose blades. Next time, we'll handle how to re-work those rear side seams, and get ready for final stitching. Stay tuned!

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