Thread Theory

Welcome to the new era of menswear sewing. Go ahead and create something exceptional!


Pattern Review by Meg

This week, over at Made By Meg, Meg posted a great review of our Newcastle Cardigan pattern.  She was a speedy and wonderfully thorough test sewer for us and her results are fantastic (and her boyfriend makes a great model!).  She used a lightweight sweater knit and faux leather vinyl to create the classic “hard and soft” menswear look.

We’re excited that she enjoyed sewing up the cardigan and noticed the effort we put into creating easy-to-follow instructions.  She also told us that she was glad we had minimized the amount of paper that the cardigan pattern prints out on as paper usage can often be quite huge with PDF patterns…Matt is thrilled she noticed as getting the pattern down to only 24 pages took hours of work!

Thank you Meg for testing our pattern!  Check out Meg’s blog for all sorts of interesting reading and great project pictures…also, be sure to check in on May 15th when she will be offering a give-away to celebrate the launch of our Newcastle Cardigan!


Why do I want to own my own business?

Here in Victoria, B.C. there is an ad plastered on the back of a few of the public transit buses that depicts a woman in her mid-20’s sitting cross legged on a comfortable armchair with her pajamas on, her cell phone beside her and her laptop on her lap. The ad is for a school who claims you should enroll so that your future will include the depicted daily work-life.


My ‘office’

As a small business owner, I know that working from home is NOT like this for me and I don’t really want it to be. So far I have really enjoyed the challenge and also the pride that goes along with owning my own business. Also, on the flip side, I have already experienced just how easy it is to let work consume me when there isn’t a set hour when I am finished work each day. While there are many challenges to come (I’ve only just begun!), I am extremely happy with my decision to take the risk and follow my dreams.

In case you were curious (and because this blog post just happens to have been a school assignment), the reasons I have decided to start my own sewing pattern company are as follows:

1. My Personality: I have always felt that my biggest skill is working hard and maintaining motivation. Once I set my sights on a goal, I will persevere doggedly to reach the goal and check it off my list regardless of all outside strains or difficult barriers. Running my own company uses that skill and makes me feel like my personality and lifestyle are an asset to my business. I am often quite hard on myself and I really enjoy this chance to realize that I am good at something.

Beacon Hill Shoot-6

I can truly say I’m proud of the Newcastle Cardigan!

2. Timing: I realized, as I finished my bachelor degree and started exploring how I wanted my live to move forward, the industry I am most interested in (hobby sewing) has a gaping hole that to me seems desperately in need of being filled. Also, starting an indie pattern company is suuuuper popular right now making me feel as though a way to fill this hole was very possible. There are all sorts of amazing companies to be inspired by and a huge community of sewers that have connected on the internet and are willing to give advice and support.

3. Lifestyle: This point is probably a fairly obvious one to anyone who has chosen to own their own business – I like the independence and the confidence it gives me as well as the cohesiveness it creates. Working amid a hierarchy of other employees in a large company has never appealed to me. I don’t like the competition or the rules for the sake of rules. It has frustrated me in the past when employers expect “home life” to be completely removed from “work life” as though one must be considered more important than the other for a worker to succeed. I like how owning my own business seamlessly combines my personal life, my work life, my hobbies, and my work-related skills so that my life is the unbroken whole that I experience as rather than something artificially segmented by someone else.

4. Support: I am extremely lucky to have the support of my husband, my family, and my school to help me through the more challenging parts of starting up a business. A huge reason that I have chosen to start a menswear sewing pattern company is that Matt, my husband, is equally interested in such an opportunity and his skill sets have, so far, perfectly complimented mine making the start up process much smoother and cheaper than it would have been if I had done this on my own. I have the sewing knowledge while Matt and has the computer and coding skills. I enjoy learning about marketing while Matt has been eager to study bookkeeping. I cringe at the thought of paperwork (and Matt jumps right in) while Matt is overwhelmed by the many revisions needed to the instructions and patterns (and I see this as a logical and simple progression).


Some of my classmates

At school I am surrounded by inspiring classmates and extremely knowledgeable teachers (not to mention, lots of useful equipment). My teachers, especially, have been so helpful in critiquing my ideas, designs, and website, providing me with connections both for design inspiration and patternmaking, and of course teaching me the base knowledge needed when designing and sewing professionally.


My dad as a model

My family have been constantly eager to jump into brainstorming sessions and have helped me out with financing, modeling, and pattern testing.

All this support is the perfect example of why I want to own my own business – what is more rewarding than having all areas of my life united and full of excited energy to create something new! This leads me to my last reason…

5. Blending Academic and Creative Skills: While I am probably more of a logical than a creative person, there is nothing I like more than the excitement and passion that accompanies creativity. Owning my own sewing pattern company allows me to blend my penchant for writing, thinking and researching with my love of creating and designing. Many other career options I have considered have been parked clearly in one camp or the other and it pained me to have to choose between the different styles of thinking, learning and doing that I enjoy. I am glad to have a use for my writing through this blog and I am thrilled to dress a model in a garment that I designed. I enjoy the logical puzzle of writing instructions and also the creative outlet of photographing the collection. Thread Theory allows me to explore every area I am interested in and has also led to me learning about other areas that I was previously fairly oblivious to (such as legalities and budgeting).

Would you consider owning your own business? If so, what business are you dreaming of? What are the perks for you?


Newcastle Cardigan Variations

Farrell-10This week we have three different Newcastle Cardigans to present for your viewing pleasure…

#1: The nautically styled Size Large sample very appropriately modeled by a sailor – my dad!  Doesn’t it look cozy?



This was sewn up in a very thick man-made fleece with  a right side that gives the look of a faux knit sweater.  It was difficult to make the placket look crisp and flat with such an overwhelmingly thick material but it should settle a little once it’s been washed a few times.



My dad likes flipping up the collar to protect the back of his neck from the cold ocean breeze – very effective and stylish!  You can see in this picture that I top-stitched the side and sleeve seam allowances down to keep the thick seams from looking too bulky.

#2: The next cardigan on display is the finished result of my first test sewer, my grandmother (Nonnie).  She did an absolutely amazing job of precisely testing that seams matched and that the instructions were logically sequenced.  The result of all her effort is an absolutely gorgeous and sporty version sewn in size XS.  Photos on a model will be coming soon!

She used the mesh backed micro fleece to it’s full advantage by displaying the orange mesh as a contrast under collar.  She also made toggles which look so professional and, when paired with her precise sewing, really make the cardigan look high-end.

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The mesh backing on the fabric made interfacing the cardigan plackets and facings impossible but the fabric was stiff enough and her ironing was so careful that the finished garment still appears impeccably crisp.  If this sweater had a tag on it I would expect to see it hanging on the rack of a high end outdoor sports store!  Thank you so much, Nonnie, for creating this unique and well sewn version of the Newcastle!

#3: The last cardigan is one you’ve glimpsed before when modeled by my Granddad.  It’s now been photographed on the same hanger as the XS cardigan so that it is easier to compare the difference fabric and notion choices make.  This is the size Medium sewn in a cotton knit with a touch of acrylic and stretch suiting as the contrast.  These fabric choices result in a classic cardigan with more of a ‘knitted sweater’ appearance as opposed to the sportswear look that fleece and micro fleece lend themselves to.Wall Shoot-5 Wall Shoot-6 Wall Shoot-7 Wall Shoot-8

Stay tuned for the unveiling of the second test sewer’s cardigan next week – a size large sewn using fleece with leather as contrast.  This version is really on-trend – she even added dapper leather elbow patches!


What Makes Menswear Interesting to Sew?

Today’s post is a compilation meant to fight the common misconception that menswear is too boring to waste valuable sewing time on.  I firmly believe that menswear is just as interesting if not more interesting than dresses and skirts as a sewing project.  Sewists who choose to work on a menswear project are often more confined to convention than if they were to sew up a women’s garment…but this can lead to a highly satisfying project that tests your sewing precision, your knowledge of fabric properties, and your creativity when faced with creating an original garment while meeting established criteria.  (Keep in mind that I am only arguing FOR menswear sewing and am not arguing AGAINST sewing for women as all of these factors can also be applied to sewing women’s garments).

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Menswear: Searching for the happy medium between careful details (top-stitching and the right button choice) and classic conventions (such as fabric choice and a modern but acceptable fit).


Women’s Fashion: Choose any focus you would like – pursuing trends, statement pieces, wardrobe staples…any shape, any style

I have read a smattering of comments and posts within the online sewing community that explain the author’s boredom with sewing for their husbands, themselves or male children – they say that fabric and notion choices are bland compared to the bright prints used for women’s clothing.  They state that the men they sew for do not want  unusual styles so it is easier and probably more effective to just buy the brand of shirt that the man already knows he likes to wear.  Lastly, many say that there simply aren’t any fashionable menswear patterns to use for their projects so it is too much work and too much risk to alter or create the patterns needed for stylish results…well, I think I’ve addressed the last point already by starting a menswear sewing pattern company so lets move on to discussing the previous two points!

1. Fabric and Notion Choices:  I agree that, when walking into a fabric store, it is difficult to walk past the bold prints and delicate florals to head to the underwhelmingly gray suiting section or the sea of blue denims.

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A sea of fabric choices at Vithalani Fabrics in Vancouver….I picked through the prints and crazy textures to find two gorgeously soft trouser fabrics.

But once you force yourself past the prints and immerse yourself in the subtleties of menswear fabrics, you will realize (or at least I realized!) that the hunt for the perfect trouser fabric is a tough one and, as a result, is much more satisfying than simply grabbing the most trendy and thus most readily available floral voile for a new dress.

Menswear fabric choices have changed very little in the last couple centuries.

Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison as they appear in MY FAIR LADY, 1964.

An Edwardian suit fit for attending the races, as costumed for My Fair Lady. The trousers, made up with this wool suiting (with slight adjustments to the fit) would be very classy fall or winter trousers in 2013.

Wool chinos from Wings and Horns - a similar fabric choice as the Edwardian trouser sample but unarguably modern.

Wool chinos from Wings and Horns – a similar fabric choice as the Edwardian trouser sample but unarguably modern.

To continue with the example of trousers – men’s pants in the Edwardian period and men’s pants now still generally meet several criteria:  They are made of a woven material rather than a knit, the are made with a solid rather than a print, and they are made with a medium to heavy weight fabric rather than a thin draping material.  Thus, the sewist can view acceptable fabric choices of the past as either a tool to aid in picking their fabric or a ‘rule’ that can be broken to make a statement.

Menswear (and most fashion, according to what I have been learning at fashion design school) has three categories:  Line, Colour, and Texture.  Menswear has a very simple formula that can be followed to result in a custom and stylish piece:  Choose to exaggerate or ‘break a rule’ in one of the three categories and stick to the ‘rules’ in the other two.

It is very easy, when choosing fabric for menswear, to pick traditional textures, colours and weights and instead make a statement in the category of “Line” by choosing an unusual silhouette by exaggerating fit and stitching details.

Wings and Horns - Exaggerated lines - slim fitting trousers in a classic grey wool have been made unusual by adding cargo pockets and rolled hems.

Wings & Horns – Exaggerated lines – slim fitting trousers in a classic grey wool have been made unusual by adding cargo pockets and rolled hems.

Conversely, make a simple, classic garment and make a statement with fabric choice.

Engineered Garments - These shorts are hemmed at a conservative length and fit just as one would expect mens shorts to fit - but the choice of print makes them undeniably a statement piece.

Engineered Garments – These shorts are hemmed at a conservative length and fit just as one would expect mens shorts to fit – but the choice of print makes them undeniably a statement piece.

Either way will result in an incredibly stylish, custom and expensive looking piece because it has been thoughtfully created to suit the wearer – something that is very difficult to find ready to wear from a store!

2. Men who don’t want to break fashion barriers: It might seem difficult to justify pouring hours of sewing time into the creation of a shirt or trousers that are no different than the favorite department store brand that the man you’re sewing for purchases in every available colourway.  Many sewists forget that, if they slow down a little and think about the garment they are sewing and the lifestyle that it will be worn in, they have the power to create something much better than one would readily find in a reasonably priced store.

Since men are so accustomed to having a closet full of t-shirts, button-ups, and trousers that all fit the same way and perform the same job, it is easy to keep the parts they like about a garment and add ‘fixes’ to eliminate any issues.  In the world of menswear little things such as sleeve length, button placement, the width of belt loops, and how easy a fabric is to care for (can it skip the ironing process?) can make or break even the most stylish and flattering garment.  While a garment from the store might be made of the most amazing fabric and fit spectacularly, it won’t be a well loved shirt if, for example, the collar is too floppy.  Sewists have the power to anticipate these problems and one-up the stores by creating not only an acceptably stiff collar, but the crispest, absolutely best collar on a collar stand that is the ABSOLUTELY PERFECT height…now, sure, when planning a sewing project, thinking of little details like this might seem boring compared to imagining which heels and necklace will look the best with your new blue polka-dot dress fabric, but the satisfaction of seeing the well-thought out shirt on the body it is designed for for the first time is immense and anything but boring.

Here are just a few easy and incredibly thoughtful details that could be added to a home-sewn piece of menswear clothing:

  • Channels in the collar of a shirt to place magnetic collar stays in – these will keep the collar points exactly where you want them and make a button up shirt look very smart.
  • A loop at the back of a button up’s collar stand to thread the tie through, keeping the tie perfectly in place.
A tie loop - use contrasting fabric or ribbon or a sneaky self fabric loop.

A tie loop – use contrasting fabric or ribbon or a sneaky self fabric loop.

  • A “Lover’s” pocket – an inseam pocket placed at waist level of a coat so that the wearer’s partner can have a toasty warm hand while walking with their arm wrapped around them! I can’t find a picture of this but I was told they exist by my teacher at school and I think they are an amazing idea!
  • A scarf loop – a loop placed in the underarm lining of a coat that a scarf can be looped through when it is not being worn – perfect for keeping a scarf secure while the coat is stashed on the back of a chair in a restaurant.
This loop has been added close to the front which would work but might cause unnecessary bulk at the front if used while wearing!

This loop has been added close to the front which would work but might cause unnecessary bulk at the front if used while wearing!

  • Custom measured pockets – hidden pockets in a coat or the back pocket of trousers that perfectly fits the wearer’s wallet.  Or a front pocket on trousers that extends only to the point that the wearer wants his keys to sit…not halfway down the leg as is the case with pockets of many store bought pants!
Two specialized pocket options.

Two specialized pocket options.

  • Personal details such as interior hand stitching on a blazer that matches the wearer’s favorite shirt – this would act like a helpful key to make sure the man is picking shirt colors that co-ordinate with his jacket!
red stitching

Contrast stitching in a bright red

I hope this post has convinced you that menswear sewing is a satisfying and creative endeavor!  The options for details and the weight you place on the scale of Line, Colour and Texture are full of creative possibility.  Thinking through each possibility to customize your garment before you even begin sewing will result in a unique item that is well worth the hours spent to create it.

Lastly, to finish this week’s post, I have a screen shot to share and thanks to give to BurdaStyle for including the Newcastle Cardigan in their Best of March gallery!  We appreciate the supportive comments from BurdaStyle members!

Thanks BurdaStyle!

Thanks BurdaStyle!