Friday, July 13, 2012

Liner Notes

Chapter 75
As the weeks of summer wend ever onward, the average guy who aspires to dress like a functioning member of society may come to an impasse; for there are some days that wearing a jacket --any jacket-- seems like an impossible task. A jacket, as I hope I have impressed upon you by this time, is an indispensable part of dressing not just well, but merely adequately.

In previous installments, I have alluded to the Bermuda suit and the unlined jacket for dealing with the heat on vacation, the classic Aloha shirt for casual days at home, as well as the jacket-and-scarf combo for tropical seaside resort wear. But what about those interminable weeks where you are simply going about your business at home and about town? How do you deal with the rising mercury then? Do you give up on proper clothing, put suits on hiatus, and break out the suntan oil and flip flops for the trip to the market or the walk to class?

I hope not, for there is a solution. Not all summer jackets have to be those cotton or seersucker candy-colored featherweight jobs. That's fine for the beach, but it may raise some eyebrows at the office. It's entirely possible to wear a perfectly normal-looking jacket that is no thicker or heavier than a shirt. It's all about what happens under the surface.

A great deal of the comfort of a jacket has to do with the lining. A silk or satin lined jacket serves two purposes: it slips smoothly over your shirt and waistcoat without snagging, and it serves as insulation. Most jackets are fully lined: that is, every bit of the interior surface is covered. Very nice in the winter...but it can be a bit stuffy in July.

The jacket I introduced you to last week is half-lined: silk on the front, sleeves, and shoulders, but the back is a single layer of shell fabric. Sometimes the raw edges of the back seam are covered with a thin roll of silk to prevent fraying. Quite nice when, for instance, you have to sit in a chair for extended periods. Having just that one breathable layer on your back makes a world of difference.

Taking that a step further is the quarter-lined jacket. In this case, the front and back are bare of silk, and the only lining is in the sleeves, and small triangular panels over the shoulders. In fact, when most people refer to an "unlined" coat, they actually mean quarter-lined. They are usually quite loose and unstructured: since there is no front lining, there is also no chest padding nor canvassing.

We can go even further, to skeleton-lined jackets. These have no lining at all except for the sleeves, and all the raw edges are covered with rolled silk strips. Since these don't have shoulder padding or chest padding, they have to be rather carefully fitted so as to not look overly sloppy. Some of the summery resort jackets you find are constructed this way.

Ultimately, jackets can be completely unlined: nothing in the sleeves, nothing on the edges, and but one layer of fabric all 'round. All the raw edges are rolled and basted in place. These jackets have to be fitted nearly like shirts.

One might think that the less lining a jacket has, the less expensive it would be; after all, there's less stuff to sew in, so it would be less work, right? Not at all! Lining covers a multitude of sins, raw edges, and sloppy needling. The more you can see of the interior, the more finished it has to be. Seam turn-unders have to be perfectly even, all the edges have to be carefully dealt with, and the pocket bags are hanging out on the inside and not hidden by silk, so they have to be very carefully made and finished as well. The overall cut is more sensitive to errors: instead of hanging off of the constructed shapes of the pad and canvas on your shoulders, the jacket simply hangs off of YOU.

The solution is simple. Either shell out three times as much for an off-the-peg summer jacket, or hire a tailor to make one for you. But what is the Average Guy to do? We can't afford to throw down good cash for  luxuries like unlined summer jackets...right?

I think you know where I'm going with this. That's right: we're going to make our own! This is a fun, quick-and-easy project at its most basic, or you can go into as much finishing work as you want's one of those things that you can do no matter how much needling experience you have. If you've been following along with The Island of Misfit Clothes, it'll be a piece of cake!

A few caveats, first. This, like all the tailoring projects we handle here, is a compromise of factors. We'll start from a fully-lined jacket, and strip it down as far as we can, hot-rod style. The ugly interior will be exposed, and we'll clean up as best we can, but the result will be decidedly "function over form." Without a lining, the jacket will not drop into place as you are used to; it will be have to be more carefully placed and smoothed to remove snags and wrinkles. The upshot is you will be rewarded with a "stealth" jacket that looks and works like any other, but is as light as a shirt...and it will cost you nothing but your time.

This is the jacket I'll use. It's a salt-and-pepper tweed that is a light and loose weave. I've had it a couple of years now; it's an old alteration that started out as a size 44. It fits well enough, but I have other tweeds I like more for the cooler weather, and other linens I like more for warmer weather. So it's sort of an orphan, always passed over. Gutting it and using it as a "summer unliner" will give it a lot more use!

The point is, don't do this with a new jacket. Start from a secondhand model at best, and preferably use a donor jacket that you're saving from the dustbin. Unlined jackets wear quickly, so this should be reserved for those jackets you're giving a last lease on life.

First, get a good sharp X-acto knife (or a seam ripper) and settle into a comfortable chair. Start by freeing the lining from the rear vent, then the bottom edge, all the way around.

When the bottom hem is loose, start working your way up the front edges. You will see many new and interesting things, as shown here. Cut as far up as you can. In most cases the chest pocket overlaps the lining and into the lapel fabric. No fear; just cut up to that point on both sides for now.

Then turn your attention to the sleeves. Remove the cuff buttons, and cut the lining loose all around the cuff. There may be a stitch or two that holds the sleeve lining up inside the sleeve around the elbow: carefully nip them if needed. Since the sleeve lining is still held in place at the armscye, turn your attention back to the inside of the jacket.

Start from the back of the collar, and carefully release the lining, working around the lapels and down to the top side of the chest pocket. Now you can get to the armscyes and release the sleeve lining, and pull them out. You can see the shoulder padding and chest canvas now, as well as all the raw edges along the seams. The top of the chest pocket bag is tacked in place; nip those off, and the entire lining should now be held in place by the ends of the two chest pockets. If there are any other tack stitches in odd places, now is the place to nip those as well.

About an inch from the mouth of the pocket, cut the lining free. Don't cut the pocket bag! Just the lining, and don't cut it too close, either.

Now is the time to take some attention to prettying up those pocket bags.There's nothing we can do about the fabric or the color, but at least we can hide the raw edges and make things square. Fortunately, it's not hard; just roll the edges under and sew them in place with a hidden running pick-stitch, and press the edges flat. Pay particular attention to the mouth of the chest pocket, and don't inadvertently sew the pocket shut! (Yes, I've done it myself. More than once.)

This is what the pocket bag looks like when it's neatened up.

With the pockets taken care of, unfold the lapel and turn your attention to the canvas. This jacket was pretty lightly canvassed in the first place: the fronts and lapels were interfaced along their length, and the chest pad is a pretty small package of felt and horsehair. If this was a hand-padded and canvassed jacket, it would be a shame to rip it out...fortunately, this is all machine-made stuff, and easy to nip free of the fronts with a few sweeps of the knife. Pay attention to how the canvas is sewn to the armscye. It might be smarter (and less trouble) to cut the canvas out along the seam if it is sewn to the armscye and sleeve together. Same with the shoulder pads.

With the jacket now well and truly unlined, you're nearly done. Tack the end of the pocket bag in place, to keep the pocket from sagging. Don't forget to replace the cuff buttons, and your jacket can be worn as-is, right now, and you can finish it off to whatever degree you want at your leisure. Primarily, you need to decide what to do with the raw edges. Your choices are 1) do nothing, 2) bind the edges and hold them in place with a blind zigzag stitch, 3) roll and tack the edges and hold them down as you did with the pocket bags, with a running blind pick stitch, or 4) use silk bias tape to bind the edges with a true skeleton lining.

Since I had altered this jacket to fit previously, this didn't generate enough slop in the fit to make further alterations necessary. As you can see, with the internal structure gone, it assumes a much more casual and drapey cut. You may be tempted to take in the shoulders and side seams at this point to get a nice tight shoulder line and silhouette -- but remember the whole point of the exercise is to make as light and breezy a jacket as possible for the Unbearable Days! With linen trousers and a light summer shirt, this is as comfortable a jacket to wear now as anyone could ask for.

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1 comment:

  1. I must say, this is a thoroughly inspirational post! I have a couple dozen vintage sportcoats in (figurative) mothballs that I've been saving for no particular purpose, and surely amongst them there is a good candidate for such an "un-lining" experiment. I might also try taking in the belly of the sleeves a little, just to improve the silhouette.
    Thank you for posting this!
    -- Robert