It feels like the right way to start off the Assembil blog to begin with a sewing community challenge. Add to the fact that Assembil loves deconstruction, dislocated formal details, and the chance to get elbow deep in canvas, and an entry in The Refashioners 2017 challenge was a perfect combination.
The Refashioners challenge centres around the idea of transforming an unloved or unworn piece of clothing, and the theme for 2017 is Suits You. To learn more about the full challenge and to see some of the other work that sewing bloggers have created around this years theme you can visit Portia’s site Makery.
The initial inspiration for the suit revamp was along the lines of the current disjointed Balenciaga / Vetement styles of tailoring, which in themselves reference slouchy old Comme des Garçons and Margiela. The goal started to be to find a coloured or pastel suit in a strange shade to help steer away from the classic navy and black suit, but in the end finding a beige coloured suit lead to looking at old Prada for classic references.
The suit used for the refashion was from a Sue Ryder charity shop. In general, the fabric was in good condition, but the overall look of the suit had that slightly slumped over, tired look that occurs after a suit has been well worn. Or even in cases where it is lacking some internal support. In any case, the suit was primed for a refashion.
Part of the appeal of the suit was that the undercollar felt was a nice colour, and that the neckline was given some structure simply by popping the collar. After that it was simply a case of playing on the mannequin to see how the existing suit reacted to being moved and pinned. It became evident through the drape process and by looking at the reference images that a total rework wasn’t the aim – it was more about slightly distorting the suit that existed so that the fit looked slightly off but still interesting and appealing. And ultimately, fun to wear, because slightly off proportions and volumes create opportunities to layer in other garments.
In the end, a design that was cinched at the waist through clever seaming and volume manipulation allowed the existing canvas to support the drape of the jacket through the front. This also allowed the pockets to remain functional but also to be used as an interesting design detail. By moving the tailored jet pockets up onto the hips, this changes the proportions of the jacket. Meanwhile, the back of the jacket was a mess of volume, but this left space for some form of interesting gathering, pleating or tucking. Initially, the aim was to also use the back vents, but in the end it was more important to create tension around the hip area to help support the shape of the lower half of the jacket.
Typically, testing techniques on spare fabric at the beginning of a project is a great way to avoid issues later, but in this case all of the fabric was in the garment. One of the challenges of a refashion is that when you start you don’t know what fabric you are going to want to use from the garment, so you don’t know what will be spare. At this point, there was also potential to develop the trousers into a separate refashioned garment, or for pieces of the trousers to be panelled into the refashioned suit jacket, so it felt like the trousers were largely off limits as well.
In the end, the solution was to cut out the generous hem allowances from the trousers to create little test strips. These small pieces of fabric were used to test:
- General pressing temperature for the fabric.
- Thread colour match test on a basic seam.
- Test seam for tension and stitch length.
- Tests for different fusible seam tapes.
- Tests for tailor’s chalk.
Essentially, the area of the most concern in the construction of the process was along the new seam line that was about to be spliced horizontally through the fabric. The aim was for this seam to run between the front side seams on either side, leaving the front canvas panels and jet pockets intact. On a tailored jacket, this area is often largely unsupported by any fusing or internal structure, so thought needed to be put it into how to measure and stabilise the area before cutting into the fabric.
Part of the drape process had been to use a piece of grosgrain to support the newly shortened waist measurement. This grosgrain strip (without any give or stretch) was sturdy to pin into, and gave a better sense of how the finished garment would hang once the new seam was complete. For example, pinning only to the mannequin can cause issues because in reality you can’t pin the garment to the body. This grosgrain strip was left pinned into place on the inside of the jacket while an internal waist measurement was taken.
To retain this measurement after the fabric was slashed, a combination of two different techniques were planned to stabilise the seam. The plan was to apply a thin strip of seam tape to the fabric once the back of the jacket had been spliced open, so that the fabric would be given some support during the construction process. An even more stable cotton tape could then be added at a later stage when the back seam was sewn closed again. This cotton tape would be needed to retain the back measurement between the two side seams so that the finished jacket would hang like the draped experiment. This specific section stood at 30cm, as measured along the grosgrain.
Opening Up the Waist Line
With a plan in place and problem areas resolved, it was time to get onto the actual construction. First, the new waistline was marked with a line of coloured thread using basting stitches. This allows you to then see the waistline on the inside and outside of the garment. Additional basting was also used in a box around this waistline going through both the self and lining layers. This basting was designed to help keep the fabric layers in place, but still allowed enough space to apply fusible seam tape along the back.
The back vents were also basted closed to make it easier to refine the drape of the bottom section later on. If the back vents were retained, this basting could have been left in place right up until the final pressing of the garment.
Back to the Stand
With the fabric spliced open, this then allowed more freedom to carry out a more precise drape of the bottom back area around the hips. You can see from the images that this drape was also used to more accurately calculate how much volume needed to be darted out at the waistline and where the seams should be positioned so that they could later flow up to match the seams in the top half of the jacket.
Marking and Sewing the New Back Seams
When the jacket was then removed back off the mannequin, pressable tailor’s chalk was used to mark directly onto the fabric to draw in the position of the new seams and to make sure the seam placements would be symmetrical. Tailor’s tacks were very helpful in this process to give rough outlines of how much volume needed to be taken out and where. But using pressable chalk allows you to redraw seams directly onto the right side of the fabric, and the lines do simply press out later on (test first though!).
Basting was also used to outline the newly drawn curves so that they could be matched accurately to sew the new back seams.
Shortening the Sleeves
At this point, the top half of the jacket could be draped to fit the bottom half, back seam sewn and lining closed up. However, before closing up the jacket was a perfect opportunity to go in under the lining to alter the sleeves.
To make the overall proportion of the jacket less cumbersome, inspiration was taken from the way that some designers balance an oversized silhouette with a shrunken element so that the whole body doesn’t become completely lost in volume. In this case, a large chunk of fabric was taken out of the middle of the sleeve to create a horizontal panel line. This was again done using a combination of different coloured basting threads and tailor’s chalks to ensure the alteration was the same on both sides. Additional alterations were also done at the same time here, to slim down the seam at the back of the arm so that the new top and bottom halves of the seam would still match.
Closing Up The Back Seam
To complete the garment, a large wedge of volume was first removed through the centre back (CB) of the jacket. When the garment hung on the mannequin, this wedge of volume was almost begging to be removed because of the new slope of the shoulder on the female mannequin. This then left the top half of the jacket to experiment with to make fit with the newly seamed hip and bum area.
In the end, after experimenting with different pleats and tucks, a simple gather provided the best option as it allowed the seams to flow through between the top and bottom halves. At this stage, a line of cotton tape was also sewn along the ungathered bottom half of the seam to maintain the back waist measurement (as mentioned earlier). The fabric of the top half of the jacket was then machine basted along this seam and gathered in to meet the bottom half of the jacket. This seam was then basted by hand to hold the gathers in place, and finally machine stitched. You can see in the detail images that what were effectively small darts were sewn at either end of this back seam first so that they would meet the existing side seams of the jacket at right angles.
The final seam of lining was eased in to place and pinned to ensure that it would strain against the outside of the jacket and then this final seam was closed with a slipstitch that was also anchored through into the seam allowance of the back seam.
And below are some of the finished details of the jacket… images of the final garment can also be seen in this post for the Assembil #SuitsYou entry.