Matching checks on a jacket
Checked jackets are always a lot of fun for tailoring discussions. Nothing makes you look harder at a fabric than working out the advantages and disadvantages of check arrangements.
The jacket above - first shown in our recent article on the new PS Plaid - is a great example.
Here’s the puzzle: given the scale of this particular check, and the scale of the gentleman wearing it, where should the checks be positioned?
Below, you can see my jacket pattern - in white chalk - marked out on top of the cloth.
The vertical position of the pattern is not that difficult. You just generally want to avoid the main horizontal stripe of the check (a) from clashing with the hem of the jacket (b).
So you start from the bottom, and place the hem of the jacket somewhere in the middle of the check. (The only exception is if you find that this position somehow makes the check look odd as it sits across the chest and lapels - eg it runs into the gorge.)
The horizontal position of the pattern is harder, and can involve some kind of compromise.
First principle: You want the dart in the waist (c) to be in between the checks, so there is minimal disruption to the pattern as it runs down the body.
That chevron on the pattern indicates where a dart will be, with the cloth being cut and pinched in, to give shape to the waist. This will necessarily distort the check, making it curve inwards. That will be less noticeable if the dart doesn’t touch any vertical lines of the check.
Second principle: You want the buttoning point of the jacket (d) to be in the middle of the checks, so they are evenly spaced across the whole front of the jacket.
When you wear the jacket, buttoned, and look front on at someone, it should ideally look as if the checks march evenly across the front, running from one side to the other. This requires the waist button to be in the middle of the check.
Third principle: Ideally the front edge of the jacket (e) below the waist button should not cut across a lines of the check. It just looks nicer that way.
You can see in the images that meeting these three principles involves a little bit of compromise.
The dart (c) isn’t in the middle of the check, but at least it doesn’t interrupt those vertical lines. The buttoning point (d) isn’t in the middle either, but not far off. Both could move a little to the left, except that you don’t want the front edge (e) to start clashing with the line just behind it.
I’m actually fairly lucky in terms of my proportions. A bigger compromise could easily have been required.
And if I was rounder or curvier - less up-and-down - more distortion would have been inevitable. You see that particularly on women’s jackets.
There are various other points of good practice as to how checks should be positioned. One, for example, is that you cut the sleeves so that they match one horizontal line of the check across the chest.
Others up and down the sleeve might not match, but you want one to, and that is the most prominent. (See top image.)
Another is that, on the back of the jacket, the checks should match the collar - so the vertical lines run up from the back onto the collar without interruption.
The two pieces of the back are therefore positioned so they are one-check-width apart at the top, where they meet the collar, and then that gap widens and narrows down the back, with the shape of the wearer.
Interestingly, it is possible to reduce the distortion in the back by using lots of darts to create the required shape, rather than the centre and side seams.
This is called a Westfield back, after a company that used to operate in Bond Street many years ago, and was traditionally done more on shooting jackets (which often had prominent checks).
You can see an example below: there are seven darts in the waist and at the top of the back, with the result that the orange overcheck looks like it hardly narrows at all.
Personally, however, I quite like the hourglass-like shape of the checks on a jacket made the regular way. It’s flattering, accentuating the waist, and doesn’t look like a mistake in the way ignoring some of the other principles might do.
One last interesting, if geeky, point.
The run of the checks on the front can be interrupted by the jett on the top of the pocket. This little strip of material across the top of the flap is usually cut at a perpendicular angle to everything else, because the material is stronger in that direction.
Some tailors don’t do this on a checked jacket - keeping all the material running in the same direction - so the pattern isn’t interrupted. Anderson & Sheppard is one, and we showed an example in this previous article.
For Bob Bigg, the coatmaker that put my jacket together and works with Whitcomb & Shaftesbury, this is ‘bad tailoring’, because it makes the pocket weaker. It’s a debatable point, and in any case minor given how lightly most people use their jackets these days.
But as an alternative, Bob and cutter John McCabe (pictured top) suggested a pocket without a jett at all. This means that the cloth runs down from body into pocket flap with no interruption whatever - even from a pattern-matched jett. You can see this in the image below.
The only problem with this option is that the opening looks a little strange if you tuck the flap in, but I’m happy with that.
In fact either way, as I said, it’s a small thing with less effect than the points about the front or back. But it is a nice little detail.
There are more points to be made about the structure and cut of the jacket itself. The former is the new softer, inset-shoulder model from Whitcomb, and the latter something looser and lower than I’ve had in the past.
But both deserve more than a paragraph at the end of so technical a piece. So I’ll leave them for another day.
You can read all about the material, which is exclusive to Permanent Style - what we’re calling PS Plaid - on this previous piece. It has sold so well that Joshua Ellis have just started weaving another piece (60m) so there's plenty of stock.
That article also has all the detail on the clothes shown here.
Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt