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Making the Savile Row Coat

I consider myself lucky to have been educated during the 1960/70s. I went to a school that valued vocational subjects whilst at the same time expected high academic outcomes for those who were able to achieve them. I studied GCE A level Dress, taught to high technical standards and I now realise I was so lucky to have been taught pattern cutting.

 

During my teaching career the ever changing curriculum gave me the chance to widen my experience including how artists influence design. surface decoration and digital technology. I investigated industrial practice and developed my own efficient construction techniques.

 

Teaching and textiles have remained my passion, it’s essential that skills and knowledge are passed on to future generations.

 

Even as an experienced dressmaker, tailoring is different again. Yet my love of cloth and its characteristics have certainly helped me be successful in becoming an aspirational tailor.

 

Having worked in a very busy environment I wasn't ready to put my feet up. I knew I wanted to educate and I'm available to teach individuals or small groups. However; if I continued to make clothes I knew I would never wear them all and we'd need to extend the house to keep them.

 

I discovered an online course called The Savile Row Coat, tutored by Andrew Ramroop OBE, Master Tailor and director of Maurice Sedwell of Savile Row. This was to change the course of my garment making. I was asked recently how the experience had influenced my dressmaking, this proved really difficult to answer as I realised that the two are just so different.

After making the jacket for my husband I made a coat for myself. Not many tailors make for women as the female form is so much more challenging.


In January 2015, 6months into retirement, I decided I needed a new challenge ....................and then I came across an 'offer'.


The online course The Savile Row Coat was reduced. As tempted as I was this was very expensive, however I took the plunge and invested in lifetime access to this resource. So glad I did that, I now know it's something I shall keep going back to......or so I thought. Unfortunately, lifetime seems to be determined by the life of the company and I now can't access the files!


Now this is what I was trying to achieve ..... however my cloth didn't cost £900 a metre!



I decided I would make a blazer as it seemed more practicle, my husband would get more wear out of it than a suite. So I chose a pattern with that in mind. I came across Burda 6871 and added it to my stash.


It was a toss up between that and Vogue 8719



Not sure why, but the Burda pattern was to be the one I used. I think it seemed to match the measurements I had.


By now it was summer 2015 and I'd not made much progress. I knew I would have to commit a considerable amount of time to this project ....... little did I know ..................... Also I was developing workshops and other resources that seemed to get in the way.


I had all my fabrics, interfacings etc so I made a toile and was really pleased with the fit. During a cold and wet holiday in France I gave time to pad stitching the chest canvas and collar .... sorry no photos at this point. Once back in the UK progress again stalled. So once Xmas was sorted I decided now was the time to make my Savile Row Coat.


When I was happy with the toile I cut it apart along the stitching lines and used it to mark out the cloth. Those stripes were going to be a real challenge. The online lessons used a pin stripe to demonstrate how to make sure the stripes matched, but my cloth had 2 colours and a pinstripe!


When I started I wasn't sure that I would use all of the hand stitched techniques, use them for essential elements and machine the rest. It seems that many Savile Row tailors now undertake much of the construction by machine. However, the more involved I became, the more I was determined to do it properly.


I realise now that I don't have any photos of how the chest canvas was pad stitched. It soon became apparent that the construction methods and the order of the processes were going to be completely different to those I have grown familiar with.


The pointed part of the front darts were machined, Then, along with the front seam, came my first experience of stab stitching seams and I found it really satisfying.


The dart and front seam matched well, thanks to the time given to planning the cutting out.




The interfacing, chest canvas and Domette, that have already been pad stitched, now needed to be shaped to allow for the chest and to give space for the chest pockets and anything that might be put into them. There is no pattern for the canvas and position of the darts, so I needed to follow the video carefully. Once finished there can be no bulk or ridges that could leave an impression on the outer fabric. So the darts are made edge to edge and covered with strips of lining that are cross stitched in place.


Many rows of basting were used to attach the body canvas to the main fabric. As I stitched I had to persuade the main fabric to take shape, keeping the stripes running straight. Sometimes the fabric was stretched slightly and at other places I had to build in ease.


I decided to make three outer pockets, two with flaps and one has an inside card pocket in the pocket bag. This photo shows the breast pocket during construction, matching the stripes! You can also see some of the basting that holds the body canvas in place.



The finished pocket, I was disappointed that the hand stitching made a ridge at one side. So onto the lower pockets.


With the pockets finished I moved on to the lapels. These needed the roll line supported by a strip of fabric cut on the straight grain. As well as stopping the fold from stretching it also eases in the centre section to stop the lapels gaping. The pad stitching on the lapels creates the roll of the lapel. You need to work with the fabric rolling over your fingers so that the main fabric will be shorter than the interfacing.



This photo shows the interfaced side of one lapel and the fabric side of the other. It includes the pad stitching and the finished edge.


It took 8 hours to complete the edge of both fronts! The interfacing is cut 6mm inside the seam line. Then bias tape is cross stitched to the interfacing enclosing the edge. Many rows of basting later, having folded in the fabric edge and mitring the corner another row of cross stitch meant the front was ready for the front facing to be added. This process is designed so there is no ridge round the outer edge of the jacket. The turned edges fit snugly into the space between the interfacing and the edge.



This is the underside of the lapel, pad stitched and the edge finished.


There are three inside pockets to complete. Two breast pockets and one lower security/phone pocket. Although the pockets are made using linen and lining, they are put into the facing fabric. This means that the weight of anything in the pockets is fully supported by the jacket and not just the lining.




The left front facing is now firmly basted in place. It will be one of the last things to be stitched permanently. The photo shows the pocket bag of the lower pocket with it's smaller card pocket. They are cross stitched to gain support from the interfacing, but also moving freely in the lower part. Something I had not done before was to make a tuck across the pocket bag so it can expand when used. The upper pocket in this photo is the inside one made in the facing.


The previous photo also gives some clues about the inner construction of the canvas and domette. There are a few more rows of basting keeping the roll of the lapel in place.


Now that the facing and all seven pockets were finished it was time to add the lining to the fronts.



The linings were cut using the main body cloth as patterns, with extra fabric added where necessary for providing ease. The front and side front lining sections were stitched by machine and pressed to make a very small tuck. Rather than a dart there is a tuck in the front lining.


At this stage the lining covers up the inner pockets. You can just see one of them in the photo. Again there are quite a few rows of basting holding the lining to the body of the jacket. Once the line where the edge of the lining will be is drawn, the excess lining is trimmed off, the edges turned under and basted.



The hem was finished before adding the lining. I'll explain this when I write about the back of the jacket as I have more photos. The lining is basted in place so that when finished there will be enough wearing ease along the bottom edge.


I have no idea how many hours went into completing the fronts, but it was a lot .......................


After what seems like a very long time the fronts were 'finished' …. Well, I say finished, actually they are all tacked together, but the lapels and lining won't be hand finished until much later in the process.


Time to start the back and there isn't too much to do. The back was cut out so that the stripe looks continuous across the widest part of the back and at the hem. The fabric pieces were then used to cut the lining, adding ease at the centre back , neckline and shoulder seam.


With the centre back seams stitched (the lining actually by machine!) another new technique was used to give shape to the upper back to make room for the curvature of the human body. The back armscye was eased in using chain stitch, adjusting the tension to pull the fibres together.



This photo shows the back ready to press to shrink the fullness.



This shows the side seams thread basted. The other edges have bias strips of lining tacked in place to give body and weight to the hems and vents as well as strengthening the neckline and armhole. With the hem turned up and stitched the back lining is tacked to the body fabric.


When it comes to stitching the shoulder seam it's best if the stripes match at the sleeve end of the seam. As the back shoulder is wider than the front it needs to be eased in as the seam is tacked. Now the back can be stitched to the front.


Shaping and attaching the collar is the next major task. I used collar canvas and Melton for the under collar. Melton is a wool that looks slightly felted. There are no seam allowances on the under collar, although the outer long edge will be trimmed later. As I narrowed the lapels I was unsure about the best shape for the collar, so I cut it a bit longer to be sure I could create the best shape. The collar was pad stitched to create the roll line, then pressed and stretched along the outer edge.




The making and attaching the collar is completely different to the instructions that come with a dressmaking pattern. The collar canvas was placed to the right side of the jacket fabric so that the cut edge is on the outside of the jacket. The collar was stab stitched to the jacket neckline, the seam allowance of the lapel was cross stitched to the collar and the bridle pad stitched along the fold line.



It was now time to shape the front edge of the collar. It took quite a few attempts to get the angle to look right where it meets the lapel. I followed the tailors example, marking the canvas with a biro…..!



Matching the stripes on the upper collar to the lapels and centre back is almost impossible according to the Master Tailor…. So having stretched the collar's long edge I started at the back and tacked multiple rows of stitching to help the upper collar take the shape. The edge that meets the lapel is turned in and the long edge turned so that the top collar is slightly wider than the Melton. The front edge was turned under and everything tacked firmly. The hand stitching of the edges comes later.




The Sleeves ...........................


Apart from hand finishing the bottom, the sleeves are made up and lined before attaching to the jacket. These sleeves will have fully opening buttonholes, but they are one of the last processes to be stitched.


Both seams are hand stitched and have extra inlay in case they need to be altered in the future. When fitting the toile for the jacket I had to build in some extra room round the upper arm. The linings were also stitched and the most interesting process was tacking the lining seams to the turning allowance of the sleeve, interesting as this tacking remains in place when the jacket is finished.



The bottom of the sleeves with the hem and vent tacked waiting for the hand finishing.


Before fitting the sleeves the armhole has a row of chain stitch added to stop it stretching. The linings are all kept out of the way as the sleeves are stitched. They are eased into the armhole as they are tacked in place .... no machine ease stitching allowed!


By the time the armhole is finished it will have been stitched multiple times! When the back stitching is finished the body lining starts to be attached and the shoulder pads added.


I bought premade pads and added extra shape by separating the layers, rolling them over my hand and pad stitching back together.



This shows the difference .....................



The shoulder pads are placed between the body canvas and the lining. As the body lining is stitched to the armhole the shoulder pads are stitched as well. Because they are so thick they are stitched again from the sleeve side as well.



To get a lovely roll to the sleeve head you have to add a fleece based strip of fabric. I used a purchased sleeve head that included a strip of canvas, but a double layer of fleece would work just as well. When in place and the sleeve pulled tight over it the sleeve head starts to look quite professional. The sleeve lining can now be stitched to the armhole.



With the sleeves now in it's time for what is called finishing .... in truth it's about loads of hand stitching ....the lapels, collar, linings, sleeve vents, buttonholes .... final pressing and buttons ....


Usually what I think of as finishing is checking over my garment to be sure I've trimmed off thread ends and giving the item a final press and of course to wear it. I knew there was still some fundamental processes still to do on my Savile Row Coat .............but a whole module was called Finishing!!!!!


Tasks still to do included:

> hand finishing all round the fronts and lapels to attach the facings,

> stab stitching and cross stitching the collar pieces,

> shaping the lining around the inside pockets,

> stitching the lining into the jacket at the collar and front edges,

> stab stitching the front facings near the inner pockets to stop the lapels distorting when using the pockets,

> hand stitched buttonholes,

> final pressing

> Sew on the buttons


An unexpected finishing touch was to stitch through the collar just below the roll line to help keep a sharp line.




Making the collar has been really interesting as the process is totally different to dressmaking. I wish now that I'd chosen a Melton and/or thread with a greater contrast to the main fabric. It would have made a great feature. I've already decided that I will use contrast thread on my own coat.



Here the lining has been stitched to the front facings, exposing the pockets.



If you look carefully there is a line of stitching through the facings and canvas layer starting at the edge of the breast pocket. Care had to be taken not to actually stitch in the pocket bag too. This allows the pocket to be used whilst maintaining the shape at the front of the jacket.


The following pictures are of the back vents.



The stripe is maintained at the hem.




This last photo is the top of the vent, here I made 2 rows of stitching keep the facing flat and to take strain when sitting, The stitching is through all the layers, except the outer one.



For quite a while a had been secretly dreading the hand worked buttonholes. I had spent hours working on the jacket and then had to punch holes in it, there would be no second chance. I decided that 'practice makes perfect' was the only way forward.


Having the correct materials made a big difference and the leather punch I inherited from my mum, who I think probably inherited it from her parents ...... it's much sturdier than modern ones. Silk buttonhole twist and gimp from www.kentontrimmings.co.uk have made me a total convert to handmade buttonholes.....



All bastings removed and ready for the final pressing. According to Andrew Ramroop of Maurice Sedwell this could be the last time their suits would be pressed for a very long time, as Savile Row suits are often left to air rather than being sent to be cleaned!


Here are a few images of the finished blazer..................








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