Monday, February 07, 2011

The Dressmaker's Daughter's Wedding

The Tuxedos

There is a saying in my family: I will sew menswear for love, but not money!

Making five tuxedos from scratch has surely been a labor of love. Each suit, and a tux is generally just a suit with a contrast lapel and covered buttons, has about 137 pieces of material in it. Times 5, that's 675 pieces of stuff that has been flying around my workroom these last five weeks. The tuxes have taken a total of 122 hours of labor, or about 25 hours per suit and bow tie each, from start to finish. Were I to have made these for money rather than love, they would have cost about $2,000 each.

Originally, the wedding was scheduled for March, so over a year ago I purchased a lightweight black wool gabardine, an inexpensive acetate lining, and to echo the bridesmaids' dresses, a black silk doupioni for the contrast.  Duchesse satin or faille is traditional for the contrast, but I wanted to do something a little different, and I have never seen tuxedos made with doupioni. We decided to ditch the cummerbunds, which are weird anyway, and avoid vests, and to just use braces to keep the trousers up. Actually, I have seen pictures of celebrities on red carpet runways who also ditched the cummerbund and vest, and I think it gives a sharp, clean look.

Thank goodness Vogue makes a tux pattern, although the peaked lapels were rounded rather than pointed, which I changed, and of course I completely disregarded the instructions. I have been tailoring since I was about 15, so I have a set of techniques that work for me as long as I remember to use them! They are a combination of old-fashioned hand tailoring techniques that I learned as a teenager, and newer techniques using fusibles. The way I figure, if our ancestors had Armoweft and fusible hymo, they would have been deliriously happy to use them!


To start, I got all the guys measured, over clothing, they were relieved to learn. The groom and groomsmen vary in size wildly, from 5'5" and size 36 short to 6'6" and size 50 X-long, so the first step was to adjust all the patterns and do the cutting, which took a total of 18.5 hours, or about 3.5 hours each. I went through a lot of Scotch tape and drafting paper in order to adjust nearly all of those nearly 300 pattern pieces for every one's unique body lengths. I marked each piece with the wearer's name, color coded to help preserve my sanity, and separated all the pieces into piles for face fabric, lining, Armoweft, fusible hymo, under collar felt, and chest piece felt. I took a lot of Tylenol.

Prepping the Pattern Pieces

The next step was to do all the fusing. Fortunately I have a press, but even so, the fusing took about an hour per suit.

Yes, My Press Head Needs Cleaning!

Then I sorted all the pieces into project bags for each guy. I did not want to end up sewing Brad's sleeve onto Bryan's jacket!

After 8 hours of sewing per suit, I had each tux ready for a fitting. Fortunately, the guys only needed one fitting. The trousers were completed except for a basted center back seam and finishing, and the jacket shell was complete with one sleeve hem basted and the sleeve basted into the armscye with the shoulder pad inserted so that I could check the sleeve length.

Here, the jacket front and side panel is shown, with the welt pockets completed and chest pieces in place.


After the fittings, the next step was to complete the trousers. That included sewing the center back seam permanently, hand cross stitching the waistband curtain to the waistband seam, adding suspender buttons to the curtain, sewing on the covered buttons to the back welt pockets, hemming the trousers, and finally, setting the creases on my press. I have to say that mens' trousers are the most over-constructed garments on the planet. Crotch guards?" Pul-eeze.

The Trousers

As I finished the trousers,it felt wonderful to finally complete a garment! Once the trousers were done, I ironed their RTW wing-collared and pleated tuxedo shirts and started finishing the jackets. To start, I sewed the center back and side panel seams permanently and removed the basting. Then I stabilized the neck seam and under arm area by zig-zagging twill tape to the seam lines. I zig-zagged twill tape along the roll line on the interfaced under collar, too, to help prevent the collar from stretching for the life of the garment.

To prepare the collar pieces, I layed the top collar right side down on my ironing board and placed the felt under collar on top, lining up the neck seam lines. I then pressed the upper collar outside seam allowances over the felt under collar, mitering the corners. I carefully separated the two pieces, and basted the seam allowance, trimming about half of it off to finish. This makes the upper collar exactly fit the under collar, and prepares it for hand felling later on. Lastly, to make the under collar take the shape of a neck, I folded it at the roll line, pinned it to a pressing ham, steamed it, and let it dry.

Then I zig-zagged the under collar to the jacket neckline, trimming the seam allowance off and hand catch stitching it to the collar.

Next, I completed the sleeves, including hemming the lower edge, mitering the overlap corners, and hand catch stitching the vent. I then set in the sleeves, and hand sewed in the shoulder pads, which I had thoroughly steamed and shaped on my ham, and finally, hand sewed in the sleeve heads.

Shoulder Pad and Sleeve Head

The jacket shell is completed.

The next step was to complete the lining unit. First, I sewed the facings to the lining fronts and made two inside double welt pockets (I made 30 of these altoghether, and I did not need the practice!) I sew the welts in place by hand, which takes about a half an hour per pocket, but it is idiot proof: my kind of technique! Then I completed the jacket lining and sewed the upper collar to the neck edge, trimming, clipping, and pressing open the seam.

Then I sewed the lining unit to the jacket shell from the lower edge of the facing precisely up to the lapel and collar juncture. I carefully pinned out a "tailor's blister" in the jacket lapel point so the facing material would roll over the jacket front, and I pivoted with a couple of diagonal stitches at the point to keep it sharp.

After careful grading and clipping, I turned the jacket right side out and pressed the edges lightly, favoring the correct sides for above and below the roll line so the facing did not show on the lower edge and the wool did not show on the lapel.

Next, I hand felled the under collar to the top collar. I like to use Silamide for hand sewing. This is a pre-waxed hand sewing thread that comes in basic tailoring colors, and it allows me to sew very fast. I lightly pressed the collar edges from the wrong side.

Hand Felling the Undercollar

Next, I hand sewed the lining to the armscye. Then I sewed the neckline seam from roll line to roll line with a very tiny back stitch to stabilize everything.

Securing the Neck Seam

Then I hemmed the lower edge of the jacket with a cross stitch, and sewed the lining down, forming a jump pleat to allow for movement.

Sewing Down the Lining

Next, I sewed in the sleeve lining by hand with a fell stitch, and sewed the lower lining to the sleeve hem, forming another jump pleat.

Preparing to Sew the Sleeve Lining to the Armscye

Then I made the one corded, machine button hole and sewed on the front and sleeve buttons. I am incapable of making a nice hand embroidered buttonhole, and I have been trying for over 40 years. With cording, the machine buttonhole looks fine to me. 

I had the covered buttons made for me, and I used purchased waistband curtain.

After a final press, suit by suit, each tux was completed. Actually, one of the guys is overseas and won't be here until the week before the wedding, so for his suit I worked from measurements and did not get to have the basted fitting. I might need to do some minor alterations, but I am crossing my fingers and toes that I will get lucky.

The Bow Ties

Since the purchased shirts are wing collared, I didn't want to use pre-tied bow ties with a slider, since that hardware would show and look tacky. So, I made tie-your-own bowties for each neck size out of black silk doupioni to match the contrast on the suits, which I think is very cool. Each and every one of the guys thinks that someone else in the wedding party knows how to tie a bow tie, but no one really does! I am going to print out instructions and put them in each garment bag. I learned how to do it, and I will help if I need to. 

The Bow Ties

The guys' names are written in indelible ink on the underside of the "Dry Clean Only" tag so hopefully none of them will be cussing me out if the guy with the 18" neck is trying to wear the tie made for the guy with the 15" neck.  All the other garments are labeled with names, too.

Can I go to the wedding, too? My outfit is ready!

Lint rollers are going into the garment bags, too. I have been driven mad by trying to remove all the lint and CAT HAIRS that stick to these suits! Trying to sew on black in the dead of winter has tried my patience, too. My eyes aren't getting any younger