British bespoke – Part 6
At last. The suit is ready and my first bespoke experience in the UK is almost over. The blue double-breasted piece, in a small herringbone with brown-detail buttons, has been seven weeks in the making. But now it’s ready to take away.
I timed my visit to Graham Browne so I could actually see the final touches – largely, the sewing on of the buttons. This is something I particularly wanted tips on, because I’ve done it myself and, while the buttons haven’t fallen off, they never look quite right.
A tailor will use slightly thicker thread than normal, doubled up and waxed. Indeed, at one point Russell added more wax to the thread by drawing it through a little lump of the stuff.
The thread should be knotted at one end and pulled through both the cloth and its lining. Some people apparently like the knot to go all the way through, so you can see a dimple on the other side. But to me this looks like the sewing was done by, well, me. To make sure the needle goes this far through and no further, Russell puts a ruler inside – so that bumping up against this means you have gone far enough, but you can’t go too far.
Thread the button and go through the whole cloth again underneath the button – tipping it to one side. This is actually easier than my normal method, which involves me turning the cloth over every time. It also keeps the stitching more accurate. The number of times you need to sew through largely depends on whether the button will be used or is just for show (or with a single-breasted jacket, how heavy that use is likely to be).
A touch harder is sewing the jigger button – that which attaches the double-breasted jacket on the inside. The hard bit here is getting the stalk right, the stalk being the column of thread that separates button from cloth. On the jigger button the stalk has to be particularly long, to allow for the thickness of the attached jacket (as illustrated below).
You need to sew a few times through the cloth, leaving a good half-inch in slack. Then twist that slack so it becomes firmer and sew looped knots into it at four or five points. To tie one of these knots: put the needle through the stalk, draw the thread through until a small loop remains, put the needle through that loop and then tighten, creating a knot. Carry on until the bottom of the stalk and then snip off the excess.
One thing you will often notice with ready-to-wear suits is that the buttons sit too close to the cloth (on the outside this is). That creates a small crater-like indentation around the button when it is fastened. Some Italian factories now have machines that can replicate a hand-sewn stalk but many still get it too short.
So how about the suit itself? Well it’s pretty hard to describe how good it felt. Remember when I first had a bespoke suit make in Hong Kong, and I described the odd feeling of having cloth evenly spread all along my shoulders? It’s like that but everywhere. The chest feels sculpted, rounded but without ripple. The waist is pinched, but subtly. The shoulders are emphasised with equally subtle roping.
Russell maintains that the sleeves are too short, but I suppose that’s just my style. I want to show a little strip of linen and my shirts are that length. It just looks worse because I have long hands. And it’s still a long way off Thom Browne.
Russell was also a little unsure on the chest. It could be taken in every so slightly, just to clean it up, but that would restrict some movement and make the jacket less waisted. There are advantages and disadvantages, of course, and a suit from Anderson & Sheppard, say, would leave a lot more drape in the chest. But then the padding would also be softer.
One of the greatest pleasures of a bespoke suit, particularly one that is made by a local tailor, is that I can try it out for a few weeks and come back with changes. I may yet have the chest taken in, but it’s worth giving the horsehair a chance to soften up and mould to me. I may yet have the armholes taken up even further (they are currently around 3/8 of an inch bigger than some Savile Row suits). It’s all a question of time and judgement.
You haven’t escaped yet. There will be more posts on this particular double-breasted experience.