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!

Click here to go to the next essay chronologically, Part Nine of The Island of Misfit Clothes.

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Click here to go back to Part Seven of The Island of Misfit Clothes.

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