Matching checks on a jacket

Friday, September 10th 2021
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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

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Tommy Mack

It’s such a beautiful jacket. I thought this when I read the original PS Plaid article: the cloth looks like it really shouldn’t work but when you see the finished piece it all makes sense!

Edric

Interesting read Simon! Do the same principles apply to pattern matching on shirts with checks? Also, given the compromises involved, do you think checks for jackets (and/or shirts) should be absolutely avoided in case one’s body is far from the average proportions?

By way of suggestion, perhaps you can use capital letters when marking the photos? I had to squint to see whether it was a (c) or an (e) haha!

Michael Smith

Simon
Asymmetrical checks are a minefield especially on the backs of jackets.
I have perfect example from Stephen Hitchcock and a less perfect version by another west end tailor.
Do you have any opinion on the Armoury Ring Jacket model 12 which does not have a centre back seam. Their website shows a plain fabric but they have used extreme checks in the past (I am sure there are images somewhere on Instagram) Model 12 is a more boxy design than the classic hour glass shape of your recent commission but it does solve the issue of matching checks on the back.

Georgios

Hi Simon, great article as almost always.
I have one irrelevant question. Can you suggest some shops for vintage leather bags, briefcases etc ? Im attending often some vintage sales and shops but from my experience you cant find so easy good quality leather stuff.
Thanx in advance

Alan

The flapped pocket without a jett is an interesting detail. I have only seen that once before on an early 1950s American vintage suit that I own. It makes me wonder why you don’t see it more often on suits and jackets, as in many ways it looks cleaner than a jett above the flap. The only disadvantage is that you cannot tuck the flaps in as you say, which does not really matter if you are happy to have the flaps outside the pocket all the time.

John

I dont like the way larger checks like this create stripes on the lapel. I’ve always found it slightly jaring when the full check is not visible. For that reason this isnt a cloth i would purchase.

Martin McGrath

With you here John. My grandfather has a blanket in very similar colour/pattern on the parcel shelf of his Humber Supersnipe!!

Dr Peter

Beautiful fabric, and a lovely jacket. I do have a question about the cut.
In the fourth photograph from the top, where there is a straight view of the back of your jacket, the checks (especially the large vertical lines with the lighter color) seem to be displaced somewhat more to the left relative to the center seam in the back. If we look at where the two major vertical lines meet at the collar, we find the left line almost outside the edge of the collar, while the right line goes right under the collar.
Is this simply an artifact of the angle at which the image was captured? Or was that a compromise that had to be made? I realize it is difficult to get things precisely aligned in every part of such a jacket.

Dr Peter

Excellent points. Thanks for the clarification. I agree entirely, there’s some level of compromise everywhere.
I recently picked up a large-check sports jacket (shades of grey, blue and cream) while thrifting. It was beautifully cut and the only label was a tailor’s name, so I think it was custom or semi-custom, perhaps. Every point of matching worked, but one. The only detail that was a bit off was the collar where it joined the lapel. Not only was the little bit of the check at that edge different on the left and right sides, the notch itself was slightly larger on one side! My gifted tailor recut and re-stitched one of the notches so that they were both now even, but there was nothing he could do about the mismatch in the check part. It is barely noticeable anyway since the checks, though large are a muted blue-gray. So now I have a supremely wearable tailored jacket, and all for a low purchase price of $10 plus another $10 for the tailor’s charge!

Robert

These technical pieces are fabulous. These guys are true artisans. The attention to detail is kind of amazing. Yes, bespoke is worth it. I remember a pithy comment posted to your Shibumi jacket review from a retired cutter who noted that the back pattern of your jacket was misaligned with the collar. “…I’m not impressed…”. That was classic.

Craig

I’ve switched to jetted pockets on all of my jackets (suit and sport coat). I know I’m supposed to like patch pockets on sport coats, but I just don’t. And the flap just seems like it gets in the way. I felt guilty the first time I ordered one in that configuration but have never looked back. One less thing to pattern match, too.

That jacket would look fantastic with cream trousers.

Joel

Wonderful article Simon. Thanks!

Peter K

Does a smaller size check make this easier or harder to do?
I suppose a patch pocket would alleviate some of the challenges matching checks at the pocket.

William

Does the facing check like up with the front? It seems to be a little higher than it should be, but I’m not sure. The jacket looks amazing though!

William

Ah okay, that makes sense! I suppose that depends on the shape of the lapel, so if you have more or less belly, the pattern may not line up? It’s always something I’ve wondered about, but knowing that, I like the layout!

Out of curiosity, do the fronts and backs of the lapel on a pinstripe jacket match? Only this time, on the horizontal, rather than vertical.

Thanks for doing the deep dive on the more technical points, I love seeing how the patterns are laid out and why! Please keep them up!

LAStyleGuy

I love how Anderson and Sheppard matches the pattern on the jettings of my pockets, as you’ve noted they do. A little detail that requires lots of extra work, but results in a more seamless look to the jacket. And a way, from across the room, to spot another A&S jacket, since almost no other tailor in the world does this.

RTK

I find that suit makers no matter what the price are often not careful on matching patterns or pinstripes. I have some rather expensive pinstripe suits made by Brioni and Kiton and the pinstripes do not line up at the top of the shoulders and the matching of the pinstripes on the lapels is hit or miss. You would think an off the rack suit which is advertised as cut by hand would have better pattern matching. Live and learn I guess.

Neil

Thank You, Nicely informative.

R Abbott

Love the way the back is done, with the hourglass pattern. Lovely work!

Yoshiya

There doesn’t seem to be a perfect post to asks but you collabed with them as well… any views on PWVC X RÆBURN?

Matt Spaiser

I noticed that this jacket was cut in the more old-fashioned way without a sidebody or extended front dart. Was this done on purpose for pattern matching?

John

Hi Simon,
How relevant are your considerations when it comes MTM or even RTW jackets? How much could or should one lower his expectations and standards?
John

Mirko Rongione

Hi Simon, so there is just one dart in the jacket? Amazing job.

Ian F

Aren’t there two darts on each forepart, a chest dart and an underarm dart that ends at the pocket?

Peter Martin

Very good read!

OTAVIO SILVA

Just by curiosity, how wider is this lapel compared to your first two W&C suits?

OTAVIO SILVA

Any idea on how soon the post is coming, Simon? Thank you