Inside a Bespoke Coat – the internal construction and details of a handmade coat

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Most of the time when I write about the bespoke process, those posts tend to cover my experience of a specific commission – usually around design, fit and the evolution of the process from beginning to end. This post is focused on the actual construction of the bespoke linen sport coat which Bijan is making for me at the moment. It explains what’s actually inside the coat and how we go from a simple roll of linen, to a three dimensional coat.

Whilst I say inside a “bespoke” coat, what you see here will be true of some high-end ready-to-wear (RTW) and made-to-measure coats (MTM) with a floating canvas. Though this is still quite rare, with canvasses typically being fused (glued) on to the cloth for most suits.

Josh Ton, Bijan’s apprentice (is it still apprentice when he’s been there for 12 years?) was kind enough to take some of the images during the process for times when I couldn’t be there. You’ll find a mix of his and our photo’s used throughout.

The first image, below, shows the canvas stitched together for one side of the chest.

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The canvas is the foundation of the coat, giving weight and structure to the chest and shoulders, helping the coat to drape more elegantly. You can ignore the darker cloth under the grey canvas, it’s there simply to help the canvas stand out more clearly in the photo.

The largest piece of canvas is made from camel hair. In addition to giving the coat its structure, it aids in ensuring the cloth won’t stretch out of shape over time.

The lightest grey canvas (occupying the top left corner of the images above and below) is made from horse hair, this helps to give more fullness to the chest, as well as some elasticity, allowing the coat to bounce back more easily when it’s (inevitably) crushed and creased. If more horse hair canvas is used, matched with more closely spaced stitches, the coat will appear “harder”, more structured. Conversely, if less canvas is used, combined with more widely spaced stitches, a “softer” look will be achieved.

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Darts in the canvas. The canvas is stitched together using a herringbone stitch

Above, you’ll also see a long inch-wide strip of white cloth with squiggled stitches, running vertically down the canvas – that covers the darts that have been cut in to the chest, helping to give shape and further fullness to the chest. The darts are cut in and then pressed in to shape (cooked, in tailors terms) with an iron and water, giving the coat its permanent shape. It’s these unseen details which give a hand-made bespoke garment its unique three dimensional appearance. Machine made MTM and RTW suits remain unable to achieve this depth of shape to the same degree.

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Finally, in the image below, a very fine layer of flannel is then sewn on top of the canvas, ensuring that the horse and camel hair will not protrude through the cloth and irritate the skin. To a lesser extent, more coincidentally than intentionally, the flannel helps to give the coat even more body.

Light flannel cloth covering the canvas

Light flannel cloth covering the canvas

In this coat, there is no padding, whatsoever, in the shoulders. That’s generally my preference and it’s in fitting with the relaxed feel of the coat. If we had chosen to use padding (as I may do in future commissions, depending on what sort of aesthetic we’re trying to achieve) then shoulder pads would be basted in after the cloth had been sewn to the canvas.

In this image of the furst fitting, if you look closely at the shoulder, you can see it's simply canvas stitched to the linen, with no padding used at all.

In this image of the first fitting, if you look closely at the shoulder, you can see that the canvas is simply stitched to the linen, with no padding used at all.

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Once those steps have been taken, the canvas is ready for basting on to the cloth, in this case Italian linen.

The final images below show the cloth basted to the canvas. The basted stitches will remain in place until we near the end of the fitting process, before the final details are attended to (button holes and buttons etc). The basted stitches are purely functional, a means to an end, as they’re destined to be removed anyway, once the correct fit has been achieved and the coat is almost completely finished.

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For an even more detailed explanation of the step by step process of a coats construction, see New York based tailor Rory Duffy’s recent and excellent series of videos: http://vimeo.com/roryduffy

Rory will also have some more videos coming up, covering other areas of tailoring, including drafting, measuring and fitting.

Andrew is an Australian born writer, covering the world's leading bespoke tailors and craftspeople in menswear, with a focus on authentic quality, over branding. He spends most of his days running his successful (god knows how) consulting company and travels frequently to Europe for work and writing. He's a passionate cyclist, former trainee professional golfer and lover of all things Cocker Spaniel. He's married to his best friend and significantly better half, Mehri.

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