Friday, November 18, 2011

Carving a Turkey

(Part 7 of the series "The Island of Misfit Clothes")
Chapter 41
We're not slicing poultry this week, but we will be chopping up this turkey of a jacket!

The past few weeks have been your introduction to the ne plus ultra of personal tailoring: taking a grossly outsized jacket, like this one, and trimming it down to fit. Two weeks ago, we covered how to execute the surgery -- in theory. Last week we introduced our three-piece lambswool patient, and this is the week we take sharp steel to thread and start dissecting!

This procedure can be completed with many trial fittings on your own person -- but if you have built a tailor's form like we covered earlier, it is worlds easier. What? You haven't made a tailor's form yet? What's taking you so long? It's not a difficult or lengthy project, and well worth the effort.

The first stage is to remove the sleeves. Yes, it's daunting if you've never done this before, but don't worry; if nothing else, this will be a learning experience. Just follow along with me --  I won't ask you to do anything to your clothes that I'm not doing to my own as well. Turn your jacket inside-out on your form, and we'll remove the sleeve lining from the body lining first.

Pull the lining tight at the top of the arm, like this.  You'll see the stitching holding the sleeve lining in. Many jackets are hand-sewn here, but most are machine-sewn.

Removing the stitches is the same in either case: take the tip of an x-acto knife or seam ripper with a new blade and carefully pop a stitch by slicing upward. Then pop the one next to it, and so on.

When you have a half-dozen popped or so, you'll open a little slit enough to pull the lining apart a little. Now it gets quicker, for you can turn the knife downward and unzip the seam. Be careful not to get careless! It's easy to cut the lining by mistake. Just cut the stitches, pulling the lining apart as you go.

Work your way all the way around the armscye...

...and when it's completely detached, drop the lining down into the sleeve.

Now turn the jacket right side out, and we'll pull the sleeve shell.

You probably won't see the armscye stitching. Just slice gently down the middle of the seam to pop a few stitches...

...and when you see a small gap, pull it apart and continue to unzip the seam.

Unzip the top of the sleevehead first: it requires the most attention. You may find a second, loose line of stitching under the first, that holds the shoulder padding to the sleevehead, and perhaps a line of  "wadding" inside the sleevehead itself. Just slice through any stitches that get in the way.

When the sleevehead is removed, unzip the underside of the scye.

As you can see, the sleeve isn't a simple piece of fabric! In addition to a roll of cotton wadding in the sleevehead, this sleeve has several layers of canvassing to help stiffen the top of the sleeve. No matter:  keep everything where it is! Don't disassemble or flatten anything out, for that would cause trouble later. Just fold the sleeve up and keep it in a safe place for later.

Now our jacket is one sleeve short, simple as that!

And as the saying goes, "repeat for the other side."

Having been de-sleeved, the next step is to remove the front buttons. Slice them off, and remove all traces of the thread that attached them.

You may wonder why we're doing this, but it will make sense in the long run. By neutralizing the front fastening, we're removing a major hurdle to proper fit. Remember when we fixed a button stance at the start of this series? Same idea: this way, fitting the jacket nearly "from scratch," we won't be unduly influenced by where the buttons were, and can fit them afresh based on where they need to be.

Now we turn our attention to the bottom edge. We want to release the lining all along the bottom.

The lining hem is very loosely stitched, often by hand, sometimes by machine. Fortunately, it is very easy to unzip with a knife.

With the hems now free-floating, here is the result. We can now work with the outer "shell" fabric without bothering with the lining.


With the lining thus unattached, I can take the opportunity to show you what a jacket looks like inside-out; something most men never see. Notice how the shoulder pad is standing out? It's highly worked, using multiple layers of felt and cotton stitched together to hold that shape. Notice the way the hip pocket is made, and the reinforcing of the front and the chest. This has a light interfacing attached all along the front, and several layers of canvas. This is, relatively speaking, a very lightly-constructed jacket: most have much heavier interfacing and quite hard canvas reinforced with horsehair, to give shape to the chest. All reasons for us to stay away from the "professional" side of coats in our alterations, and concentrate on the back.

The back, as you can see, is plain fabric, and thus is much easier and more forgiving for us to work on. Also notice that the shoulder pads, although they sit on the back, aren't attached to the back directly -- again, good news for us.

Now, as you recall from two weeks ago, the thing to do is separate the front and back halves by unzipping the side seam. But look here! Three seams...the front one is the chest dart. It only goes as far down as the hip pocket, not to the hem: so unzipping it would do no good. The underarm seam is interrupted by the pocket, which runs through it. This is a problem as well: for unzipping it would entail remaking the mouth of the pocket. That's pretty complex stuff, and best to steer clear of. The remaining seam, in green, is the sidebody seam, and that's the seam for the job. It runs from the armscye to the hem in one uninterrupted arc, so that's the one we'll unzip.

Start at the top, the same way as the other seams we've done. Pop a few stitches...

then pull apart and unzip downward.

Unzip the right sidebody seam...

then the left one.

And now we've come to that most important of stages: the front and back halves are unconnected and free to be fit to each other individually!

Simply let the back fall naturally, and pull the top of the sidebody seam in place, and you can see instantly how well this will work. We'll save the fitting for next time -- I'll let you use the time to play around with how the seams interact on your own jacket, pin things together, and get a feel for what the jacket "wants" to do.

This illustrates why we removed the buttons earlier. With everything unattached, you can smooth the fronts in place over the shoulder and see where things want to lie, increase the overlap, account for a low shoulder, and so on.

The advantage of a tailor's form is that you can fit your own jacket to your own idiosyncratic posture. I have a bit of a stoop and carry my shoulders forward, which requires a longer back; and this method of fitting accounts for that almost automatically.

The back shows the immediate improvement that will be made from the armscye down. The shoulders are still far too wide, of course, and the extra width of the blades is also apparent here, and will have to be dealt with... It's a tantalizing taste of things to come, to be sure.

This is a perfect illustration of what happens when a faulty balance is corrected: the answer to  "Where did the extra length in the fronts go?" is seen here.

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