And Off To The Ball!

After many adventures in and around Bath, we finally reached the high point of our trip to the UK- the Prior Attire Ball! 🙂 Held in the historic Bath Assembly Rooms, the ball lasts for four and a half hours and features various historic set dances as well as waltzes and polkas. In between, a buffet supper is served and there’s a bar. The Assembly Rooms were designed in 1769 and opened in 1771 and were intended as a social center for Bath’s upper crust visitors (to include royalty) who would descend on the town in droves (today, the Fashion Museum Bath is located in the basement of the Assembly Rooms). There are actually a series of rooms of which only one was used for the dancing and the others for the attendees to eat and socialize.

And here’s me…

Because we were staying in a hotel just up the street from the Assembly Rooms, it was a quick easy walk in clear whether (no threat of rain) thus we were not burdened with having to deal with taxis and all that (try stuffing people wearing ballgowns into a Prius- not fun!). Here’s Karin upon arrival:

With all the dancing and such, we didn’t have an opportunity to get many photos but trust us when we say that it was a magical evening and it was well worth the effort getting to Bath. 🙂

A Little Catch-Up…

Things have been hectic at the atelier- between receiving shipments of the fabric that we’d bought in the UK and catching up various housekeeping chores, it’s a wonder that there’s time for actual sewing… 🙂 Well, after a long break, I was finally able to finish up on a few vest projects that I’d been working on for awhile. Here’s one of them:

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The above vest is constructed from a pattern made by Laughing Moon that I modified for my height. The above example is the second I’ve made using this pattern and overall, it went smoothly. The pattern is based on period originals and as with the originals, there are no short-cuts- patience and and attention to detail are critical. For materials, I used a lightweight herring bone weave dark rust-colored wool combined with a lining of black polished cotton. I’ll definitely be using this pattern in the future. 🙂

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In The Works…Shirts!

In anticipation of traveling up north to San Jose for the Clockwork Alchemy 2017, I am attempting to finish up some old projects that have lingered on for far too long and one of those is this men’s shirt that I started back in March. Long ago I decided that I needed to update my modern wardrobe so I resolved to make some shirts comparable to ones that would be made custom and utilizing finer fabrics with interesting patterns and colors. Fortunately, I have easy access to Mood fabrics which offers a wide variety of Italian shirting fabrics and the choices are nearly endless and after great deliberation, I settled on a purple/white/blue striped lightweight cotton:

Adam Shirt

For the pattern, I used a McCalls shirt pattern (6044) that I modified to better fit my long torso and simplify some of the assembly steps.

However, while the fabric is exquisite both in terms of color/pattern and finish, it was difficult to work with because of the slick finish; the fabric would constantly shift while running it through the sewing machine or even when simply cutting the pieces. It took me a lot longer to cut than I had anticipated because of the need to pin EVERYTHING securely. Also, in the course of sewing the pieces together, I was forced to redo seams whose edges had shifted out of position- Mr. Seam Ripper was busy throughout the sewing process.

In the end, it was worth the effort and I learned some valuable lessons about sewing with lighter, more “wander prone” fabrics and so now I have another shirt for the modern wardrobe:

Adam Shirt

I apologize for not having as many pictures as I would have wanted but unfortunately, life got in the way. However, I will be making more “modern” items in the future so stay tuned for more. 🙂

The $300 Shirt…

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$300 for a shirt?! Are you serious? In some cases, yes, when it comes to shirts made to fit a specific individual. 🙂 And with online ordering, you don’t even have to leave home- what can be better? Well, let’s qualify this a bit- most places offering “custom tailored” shirts are in reality modifying existing pattern blocks based on industry standard sizes. In many cases, a person’s measurements will fall within the parameters for a specific standard size and thus require no modification whatsoever. So in reality, one is not getting a “custom” but rather a standard sized shirt in a specific color/fabric/collar combination that has been selected from the seller’s list of options. In some cases, it’s little different than ordering from a standard online catalog. Finally, price-wise, you’re often paying about the same that you would if you were simply ordering something ready-made and giving the standard size/neck, and arm length measurements.

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The next step up still involves working off standard pattern blocks but it’s done with more precision and detail, utilizing a greater number of measurements. The better concerns will have an individual take the measurements in person to ensure that they are correct. Also, interaction with a live sales representative/tailor ensures that whatever particular fit issues you may have can be addressed up front. Also, you’ll have a far better selection of better quality shirting fabrics and more options in regard to cuff styles, stitching, etc.

Finally, this takes us to “bespoke” tailoring which is the most expensive and the most rarely done and basically involves creating a custom pattern to the individual client. Essentially an individual patter is drafted from the client’s measurements to ensure a perfect fit. The pattern drafting alone is time-consuming (and the prices reflect that 🙂 ). This method is rarely, if ever, found outside of exclusive tailor shops such as Saville Row.

I recently decided to try my version of a “custom shirt.” This being the first time I’ve made a modern shirt (as opposed to 1880s and 90s), I decided to start with to a commercial pattern. Yeah, I know I probably should have drafted a pattern but I opted for the easy way on this. 😉

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I opted for Style D but only with a left-hand pocket and minus the flap. The pattern itself was the usual commercial tissue type so I first cut out the pieces and mounted them on tag board (the same cardboard that manila file folders are made from). I selected an Italian-made cotton shirting fabric in a French blue with white stripes along with a snow white Kona cotton for the collar and cuffs. Unfortunately, while this is a nice shirting fabric, it’s also slippery and prone to shifting so cutting out the pattern pieces and the subsequent sewing were a challenge- I made liberal use of pins and even then, I found myself having to restitch at various points (fortunately, I didn’t have to re-cut any pattern pieces).

Below are some pictures of the shirt under construction:

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Front Pocket Intalled

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Front And Back Stitched Together

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Sleeves And Cuffs Installed

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Collar and Cuffs Installed

So how is the fit? Well, so far it’s perfect and I didn’t have to make any alterations… 🙂 Now while this may seem fairly trivial when compared to custom and bespoke tailored shirts, it’s not so much in terms of the labor required. Naturally, there’s been a bit of a learning curve so it’s taken longer for to construct the shirt than it should. But even so, it’s been a labor-intensive process especially since each of  the seams had to be finished individually and everything checked to make sure it was set right.

Finally, on to the finishing details: 🙂

Adam Shirt

Setting The Buttonholes

Adam Shirt

Close-Up: Buttonhole Setting

And finally, for a little seam finishing, bias tape made in the same fabric:

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And voilà!

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Putting On The Dog (aka Going Formal)…

Tonight we took a small break from our various projects and attended the Holiday Grand Ball put on by the Social Daunce Irregulars. The Holiday Grand Ball is somewhat of a Thanksgiving Weekend tradition for the two of us, providing a bit of a break from all the usual pressures created by project deadlines and the overall holiday frenzy as well as providing an excuse for use to wear some our latest creations. 🙂

This year was no exception for Karin but for me it represented a new departure. For years, I tended to avoid men’s formal wear like the plague, usually opting for some sort of uniform. However, uniforms get old after awhile and I decided that it was time for a change so I opted for formal wear but only on my terms. Like many, I raised on the idea that if one needed formal wear, one rented it and that usually meant some sort of cheap polyester nightmare (I still have prom pictures from 1978 with me wearing a powder tuxedo that I might actually be bold enough to post one day…). In the end, it just seemed to be of such limited use item that it simply wasn’t worth the expense.

So what changed my view? Well, a small confession is in order: it was from watching way too many episodes of Downton Abbey. Yes, that Downton Abbey… For many years, I regarded formal wear (or “penguin suits” as I normally called them) as an affectation that really bore little relevance even though I do a variety of 19th Century living history events and presentations. Besides, uniforms are just way more cool… 🙂 However, after watching Hugh Bonneville I changed my mind- I like the character and he seemed to pull of the look with a sense of presence without looking affected. It simply looked way too good for me not to try it. 🙂

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So, after doing some research I decided to have a tail coat and trousers constructed based on a style that was appropriate for the 1880s/1890s. Here’s some of the inspiration for my set of tails. First, we start with some overall impressions:

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Wedding Suit, 1886; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.47.76.10a–c)

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Evening Suit, c. 1885; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.171 to B-1960)

Obviously the color choice was going to be black with both coat and trousers made form wool. Because I live in Southern California, I opted to have the coat and trousers made from a tropical weight wool. Also, I decided to have the coat made with panels of black silk set within the lapels- the contrast in fabrics between the wool and the silk make for a more interesting appearance and it’s a detail that one rarely sees on modern formal coats.

For the vest, I opted for one with a shawl collar made of white pique fabric with silk lapels, somewhat along these lines:

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Vest, c. 1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1991.388a–f)

Just for contrast, here’s one in black wool:

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Vest, c. 1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1991.388a–f)

It’s difficult to discern in the picture but it also have a shawl collar. Finally, I decided that I’d go for the “white tie” look, which was considered more formal, so I had a fixed bow tie made from ivory silk and opted for a straight detachable collar. Below is the final product:

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Not bad for the first time out! 🙂

I’ll be making some additional improvements for the next to time to include a more comfortable collar and not forgetting my white gloves. See you at the next ball…