I was talking with a local bespoke tailor to sound out what they offer and how much handwork goes into their garments.
Obviously everything is struck and cut by hand on premises, but he told me that the main seams are machine-sewn. The lapels and collar are hand-padded, as is the canvas and armholes; buttonholes and other finishing are also done by hand.
I had never heard this reply before. I’ve only ever used tailors that do everything by hand (Italians). What is the logic for machine sewing the main seams on a suit? Is handsewing too labour intensive? What benefits does handsewing actually impart, beyond the supposed increased freedom of movement?
His pricing was a little lower than I am used to, so the difference in service seems like it’s reflected in the price, but I’m curious about the technical advantages or disadvantages behind the machine sewing part. I will ask in person when I visit next month, but I thought you might have the straight dope on this. For the tailor, the convenience seems obvious; for the wearer, I wonder what differences I might expect.
You have nothing to worry about – all tailors do the long seams by machine. There is no practical advantage to doing them by hand and there is a particular need for a perfect, clean finish.
When your Italian tailors say they are doing everything by hand, they don’t mean the long seams. Even Cifonelli, which puts a stupid amount of handwork in their suits – such as top stitching all of the jacket lining and the backs to waistcoats – does these seams by machine.
Generally, machine sewing is used when the task would take ages by hand – so, long seams such as up the trouser legs – and there is no disadvantage to doing so. With a long seam like that there is also a lot of potential for inaccuracy with hand work.
Hand stitching has a particular value on curved sections or where a degree of excess has to be worked in (again, often on curves). Working a large sleevehead into a small armhole is the classic one. Attaching the collar is important, as the tension affects the whole front of the jacket. And then there are nice, aesthetic points like buttonholes and trouser details.
I hope that helps