Dear Simon,


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.


Regards,

Arkady



Hi Arkady,


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

Simon  



Top picture: a handsewn seam on a Chittleborough & Morgan jacket. Details of their work on my recent Rake post here.
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Anonymous

“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.”
This does not necessarily mean that a sewing machine is not used. The way many high-end tailors do is to first hand stitch the sleeve into the armhole in order to spread the excess fabric in the correct way and then to sew the sleeve into the armhole permanently using a sewing machine. This way you take advantage of the control you get by sewing by hand and the strength and cleanness of the stitches that you get from a sewing machine.
You might want to contrast this pragramatic and honest way to how a Kiton suit is made. The stitches that are visible such as the button holes are hand made, the rest that is invisible such as attaching the canvas is made by machine.
http://www.styleforum.net/t/39536/kiton-the-dissect
http://www.cutterandtailor.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=1707

Anonymous

Hello Simon,

I have a question for you and will like to have your opinion.

I am uncertain about whether hand stitch does give benefit of anesthetics and durability on curve parts.

On curvy patch pockets, I find attaching the pocket by hand is easier than using a machine. However, by using the hard way, the pocket seems to be more durable. Can this be an example of oddity?

Have you ever talk about this with any tailor?

Anonymous

I think this is another case of Italian tailors saying one thing (“all handmade”) and meaning another (sort of handmade). The same is in evidence with the “Unlined Seven Fold Tie” — translation, mostly unlined, but with a lining where it counts.

Anonymous

Is there a London bespoke maker who does things like Cifonelli — cutting and tailoring/sewing all in-house, under the one roof or fully brand-name controlled?

One thing that, in fact, turns me way off the whole London/SR experience is the way the construction and sewing work is farmed out to unknown piece workers who stitch for numerous different brands.

Always sounds rather dodgy! One can be getting work done by the same unknown hands but with different labels and prices!

I understand teh role of the cutter, but I’d be much happier with a more direct chain of communication, with less risk of “broken telephone.”

Or is Cifonelli the only way to go for that?

Do tell!

Eduardo

Dear Simon,
we hear often that bespoke suits have their imperfections and we should learn to live with them even appreciate them and why not, cherish them for their “character”. However, when one goes for a bespoke I suppose one expects (near) perfection in the cut and the fitting? or not? so the question is, what are acceptable imperfections and what are imperfections that your tailor is trying to pass cunningly as “normal process” in the bespoke suit?

Roy Chefets

I do not agree that Cifonelli puts a “stupid” amount of hand work in their suits. They make one of the most beautiful suits in the world. I compared the finishing of a suit made by Cifonelli with one made by Anderson & Sheppard. The English suit was poorly finished in comparison.