Thread Theory

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


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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).

Beacon Hill Shoot-14

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).

IMGP1961

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!

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