Friday, December 21, 2012

The Bespoke Sweatshirt

I just recently finished making an oversized sweatshirt as a side project incorporating a lot of what I've learned from the craft of tailoring, while marrying it to a fashion perspective.  It could very accurately be stated that I made a bespoke sweatshirt...

Apprenticing with a tailor for the last year, I've gotten a lot of experience working with woven wools and understanding how they behave, the nuances between weaves and how these fabrics can be manipulated.  However, the fashion DNA in me has really made me crave newness, and I get really excited when I get to work with novel fabrics.  As the kind of man who has us make a custom suit in Cincinnati tends to be much more conservative, most fashion-forward fabrics I see come from alterations we get on designer-level suits.

One of the most memorable was a Givenchy brown linen jacket that had treated (either by pressing, waxing or mercerizing) and looked like leather from across the room.  Linen is notorious for being prone to shining if pressed incorrectly, so to see this done on purpose was really exciting.

And actually after working on this jacket, it inspired me to play with pressing materials that traditionally are supposed to never be ironed, like silk, corduroy and leather.  In my opinion, the most interesting was with a lambskin I ironed, making sure use a lot of steam.  It became super smooth and shiny.  I used a hole-puncher to make a few hundred sequins out of the now-glossy hide and embroidered them onto a piece of wool for a sample.  Could be amazing on a lapel for a New Year's Eve jacket, no?

So anyway, obviously texture and shine have been exciting to me, as of late.  With this "bespoke sweatshirt," it all started when I was in New York in October.  In my downtime, I was shopping around for fabric for two scarves I promised my girlfriend I’d make for her.  As I was wandering around Elegant Fabrics, lacksidasically running my hand across some womenswear fabrics, this really plain-looking, black knit caught my eye.  It actually caught my attention because of the simplicity of it amongst its peers in the high-end section where you weren’t allowed to cut swatches.

I took a closer look at it and it was just a black basic jersey knit, but the texture and feel of it was so perfectly unusual.  Strange… but in the best kind of way.  The look of it reminded me of wet blacktop.  

It had a really crunchy, springy hand on one side, while the other was the exact same knit, but in a soft, comfortable cotton.  I really liked it but restrained myself a bit because it was a $50/yd Italian fabric.

I ended up leaving for a few hours but I just couldn’t stop obsessing over it.  Whenever I really like something, clothing, music, ideas, etc, I tend to get obsessed.  I remember a long time ago when I bought my first pair of $150+ jeans, I wore them literally nonstop for days (yes, I slept in them too).  Whenever I discover a new song I really like, it’s not uncommon for me to exclusively listen to it on repeat for days.

Anyway, after milling about the Garment District for a bit, I relented, went back and had them cut me two yards.

I walked down towards FIT to meet up with my former Menswear classmates, Wonki and Mackenzie, whom I hadn’t seen in about a year.  Wonki and I split a $5 Footlong from Subway for old time's sake, while Mackenzie gave me some feedback on a collection I was working on to put in my portfolio.  Here's the end result of that, by the way:  

I was only able to stay for about 30 minutes because I was supposed to meet with one of Olivier’s assistants from Theysken’s Theory, Chris, who kept a watchful eye on me last year when I was an intern…  He ended up having to push it back a little later that night so I killed time in the park near Gansevoort by listening my iPod and mulling over what to do with this strange, Italian fabric. 

Anyway, I eventually ended up having a drink at The Standard with him.  We kind of bonded a bit over really innovative fabric treatments we've come across or made recently.

He told me about this feather-light embroidered fabric a place in the city was developing for a special order wedding dress they were working on.  After that, he gave me some really helpful artistic and career advice about interning abroad…  It was a very inspiring night for me.  

When I got back to Cincinnati the next day, I hadn’t really a clue what I wanted to do with this fabric yet, just that I wanted to make SOMETHING out of it.  A month after playing with it at the tailor shop trying to see how it behaved, I decided I wanted to make an oversized sweatshirt out of it…  I had in mind as a starting point this neoprene sweatshirt Nicola Ghesquiere did for Balenciaga FW12, albeit womenswear. 

I wanted to reinterpret it for a guy.  The nylon in the fabric certainly would provide the same spring that neoprene would which would aid in keeping the bulky silhouette.  This was about what I had in mind for shape though:

I decided to keep the design really simple and let the fabric be the showcase…  However, I wanted to incorporate a detail I designed for a muslin a few months ago that had a leather panel under sleeve. 

When I made the pattern for the sweatshirt, I moved the under sleeve back so that it wasn’t visible from the front and a little more discrete. 

At first, I sewed the leather panel with a black lambskin…  However, since the hide was rather thin, it didn’t have enough body to stand up to the nylon double knit when I basted everything together and kind of collapsed.   So I tried using a cowhide that was roughly the same weight as the knit, it came out nicely.

Once the fabrication and shape of the garment was in place, I was able to really get into the nitty-gritty details.  Normally, simply surging the raw edges of a sweater  would be perfectly acceptable.  But when I tried it on after stitching the front and back pieces together, the raw edges of the nylon felt as scratchy as a burlap sack.

“Is there any way I can get out of piping these 16 seam edges?” I thought.  “Nope…”  So I went about cutting bias strips from the Bemberg lining we use around the shop…

After addressing the raw edges, controlling the bulk of the fabric became a major theme of the construction.  Basically, I had to avoid having three layers of the fabric or leather, which were both an 1/8” thick, at any seam.  So that being the case, all the seams needed to be pressed open and topstitched down.

That pretty much took care of things until I got to the cuffs, hem and collar where I got to flex my creativity/problem-solving muscles a bit.  From most of the sweaters and sweatshirts I’ve seen, the cuffs and hem are actually ribbing of the same yarns as the rest of the sweater.  Since that option didn’t exist for this fabric, I decided to think of ways that I could replicate it.

Months ago, Mike was telling me about how his father used to make one-piece back jackets that fit the body perfectly through a process of stretching and shrinking the wool in key spots.  

Applying the same principles to the nylon, I went about stretching the fabric and pressing it under tension to set it in place.  The “ribbing” being sewn to the lining and the heat actually melting it into its stretched shape (like how you can melt a permanent crease in synthetic blend pants) should help prevent it from relaxing back into its original state.

Another key detail was that the neck, cuffs and hem were only ribbing on the outside.  On the side facing the body, I used the same lining that I used to pipe the inside seams with.  This cut the bulk significantly in these areas and made the garment sooo much more comfortable against the chest, neck and wrists.

How funny it is that so much thought and work can go into something so simple looking…  This sweatshirt is a bit like a mullet, business in the front, party in the back.

After I finished, Mike did a debrief with me on everything about it from construction to the fit...  There are some definite issues that would need to be addressed if I were to do a second sample of this that would include sloping the shoulders way more and making angle of the hem less severe.

The construction on the other hand came out fantastically.  I knew the biggest challenge going in was to prevent the seams from getting too bulky.  Adding the lining to the underside of the ribbing pieces was a creative, not to mention luxurious, design decision that enhanced the look and feel of the garment.  I think so much of what makes good menswear is in details... discreet, little touches that sometimes only the person wearing it notices and experiences.

The idea to stretching the knit to make ribbing came out exactly how I envisioned as well.  I had to fight with the fabric to get it to behave how I wanted but ultimately I got it to submit to my will ;)

When the fabric was all stretched out in the middle and the ends were still unstretched, I couldn't help thinking that it would be such a clever way to do a peplum bottom with no seam at the hip for a woman.

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