Friday, October 14, 2011

The story of my apprenticeship continues in a forum I've created called Its purpose is to provide a more private place to discuss the needs of those of us who have to make things happen in the world. Clothes, grooming, ways to pamper ourselves, etc.

If you are bespeaking yourself a suit and would like a critique, start a thread!

So please, join me at

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The non-fused welted pocket

I made a welted pocket just now without any fusing whatsoever.

Compare it with this, also made by me, but with fused welts.

The fused pocket has thinner-looking and crisper welts. The non-fused pocket will not win anyone a tailoring competition. It does, however, feel very soft and natural.

I think I'll go with fused pockets but I'll use a very thin woven fusible.

Here is the non-fused pocket with the flap out.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

#2 Chinese Chef's Knife

Chinese chefs are known to use essentially only one knife, the choy dou (in Cantonese). The most popular size for the choy dou is the #2, which is 8" long as made by the best knife maker in Malaysia. Here is my well-used Brand 55 choy dou next to a brand new Japanese hand-forged gyuto.

It turns out that Chinese coatmakers, too, use essentially only one pair of shears. My sifu uses an 11" Shozaburo for everything, from big cutting strokes like striking cloth to delicate cutting tasks like cutting the Y-prong in pockets to menial tasks like snipping thread at the sewing machine. He even uses his shears as tweezers, employing them to pick up and position small pieces of cloth. He can make a coat with just one pair of shears.

I am so glad that I bought a Shozaburo in the same size myself.

Another glimpse from the inside

It's fascinating being an insider in the bespoke tailoring industry. I'm so glad I'm in it, looking out, instead of being an outsider trying to peer in.

I took the other apprentice out for lunch. I learn that he is only 19. He told me he has over 600 friends on Facebook. "How many do you have?" he asked me.

"None," I replied. "I don't do Facebook."

His working hours are long. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Saturday.

"Before you came, there was another apprentice. He was very good. He got a job at another workshop," he told me.

It became clear to me that this apprentice did not speak English. He did not even know what the English word "tailor" meant. He has also never been to a tailor's shop. He probably doesn't own a suit. I've been at the workshop for three weekends, and for all three Saturdays he was wearing the same brown T-shirt.

"You said something about your parents being in tailoring?" I asked him.

"Yah, they make clothes."

"Why don't you learn from them? Why work for the sifu instead?" I asked.

"It's a different kind of make. Different price. The sifu's price is the most expensive in KL. So my parents say I should learn from him."

The Return of Full Canvassing

"Full canvassing is back in fashion again," proclaimed a cutter to my sifu.

This cutter had just entered the workshop. He is in his late fourties. The remarkable thing about him is that he is dressed like in the 80s. He wore obviously bespoke stuff, but the look was decidedly vintage. He even sported a moustache.

"Ah Wing has reason to come back now," he continued.

"Aiyah, Ah Wing is having the time of his life lah," said my sifu. "The guy is raking it in in London."

"They're paying a lot for full canvassing now. It's not like in the old days," said the cutter. "I was just over at the workshop of [a well know tailoring shop with a shopfront on Jln Maarof] and they have one there for the past 3 months and it's still not done, hahaha. Oh BTW, there is even demand for hand-made trousers now. They go for RMXXX. For trousers! [A well known tailoring shop in a very large shopping mall in Bandar Utama] charges that much for them."

"Sounds stupid to make trousers by hand," remarked my sifu.

"It's just the visible areas. Mostly decorative. The long seams and covered areas are still by machine," said the cutter.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Jacket for a young man

There was a job for two jackets in a (cheap) light grey wool in twill weave for a father and son. I find it such a great way of bonding. Looking at the jacket, the father is obviously corpulent with quite a gut. The son, however, is physically fit. Here I show the pictures of the son's jacket.

I think the sifu trimmed away a bit too much from the seam allowance that is wrapped by the welt. Hence the small gap between the welts.

I'm not an expert on evaluating sleeves, but that one there looks very fine. I hope the cutter pitched the sleeves right and got the curvature right. It would be a waste if such sleeves did not fit the customer (a very common problem).

The gorge is totally modern.

I see a conservative -- even boring -- cut that is typical of RTW jackets. If the jacket actually fits the customer the visual impact is considerable. However, I have higher expectations of bespoke. I would have expected more quirkiness, more idiosyncracy, more character. And above all more waist suppression.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Keeping pockets in perspective

My sifu said that pockets are not that important in the general scheme of things. "You need to have pockets, but people do not choose you over others because of your pockets."

So I asked him what was truly important, if pockets weren't.

"How the jacket fits, how it rounds out his proportions," he replied.

The RM 60,000 suit

I thought I misheard him. "You mean 6,000 ringgit?" I asked.

"No, sixty thousand ringgit," replied the sifu.

This is hard to believe. My sifu had just told me that he was once given a job -- the coat portion, of course -- for a suit that costed the customer RM60K. I asked him who the cutter was. The answer was enlightening. (But I can't tell you.)

"But even suits that cost 10K to 12K are not as uncommon as people might think," he said.

I was taught to make welted flapped cross pockets today. The sifu also troubleshooted my homework pockets. Turns out the gaping can be eliminated by a certain technique.

I have a dislike for the fusible he uses for the welts. They are these stiff white non-woven fusibles. So I asked him if it absolutely has to be fusibles like these. He said of course not. "Once upon a time we did not fuse the welts. We just use a cotton muslin to give it some substance. The reason we use fusing is because it is more convenient." The sifu said he will make me a pocket in the old way so that I may experience the difference in feel.

The sifu pointed to me a jacket made by his partner's side of operations (which consists of another old sifu and three Banglas). "Notice how the quarters kick out?"

"Now look at my jackets." The quarters curled towards the wearer's crotch.

Later, he supervised me as I made a pocket flap. I pressed it, and it came out overpressed. The sifu seemed indifferent to the problem. So I asked him, "Don't you think I overpressed it?"

"What? Noooo.." he replied.

"I think I did. Look, it is lifeless and limp," I said.

"You are very perceptive. So many people cannot tell the difference. They just press the thing and are not in tune to the subtilities of the cloth. Look at the flap I made for you. Pressed just right, no?"

Indeed it was.

"I can't give you any guidelines here. It's about feel," he said.