Growing too quickly

On Monday January 6th, the scales confirmed I’d had an exceedingly good Christmas.

Half a stone above fighting weight but oh, so worth it. For two glorious weeks, the Michelsberg log fire had crackled along to the bubble of my gastric juices.

Every single calorie had been savoured with relish. The sweet, aromatic taste of amber single malt, dripping from my tongue like honey.

Now it’s back to miso soup for lunch, and judging by the first fittings on two new suits for myself this week, not a moment too soon.

Just before ‘breaking up’ for the festive liver bashing, I’d stood shoulder to shoulder with my cutter Rod, as he produced the paper patterns for my latest creations.

These were then placed on the cloth with the utmost care and chalked round ready to be cut out.

As usual, I was left pink cheeked and spell-bound at the level of skill involved in the process. Attention to detail is incredible and everything is considered, even down to making sure the pleats on the trousers fall between two stripes, and not on top of one.

In days gone by, the cutter would produce a customer’s paper pattern and then this would be handed down to his assistant, or, “Striker.”

His job would be to lay it out on the cloth, make (add) allowances for seams and the inlays (extra cloth), cut it out and finally hand over the bits and bobs to the coat-maker, who would sew it all together to form the first ‘baste’ or fitting.

Introducing Rod’s Striker for a day – me.

Cutting round a chalk line with a pair of heavy shears isn’t easy. I somehow managed to do it without incident and a week later the first fitting was ready.

First of all, the two sides of the coat (or ‘fronts’) were wrapped around me until just snug, and then secured in place with a pin. The amount of material that crosses over each other is known as the ‘over-rap’ and this is indicated by a chalk mark, as can be seen in the fitting below.

If it’s perfect, the distance from the chalk mark to the front edge will be one and a quarter inches. Mine was only a quarter of an inch, so back to those ‘inlays’ I mentioned earlier.

The Savile Row Bespoke Association dictates that for a garment to be truly bespoke, it must have a set of “inlays to allow adjustment to the main body seams.”

This is basically extra cloth that can be let out if a customer has had more than his fair share of chip butties.

In my case I would need the coat to be let out half an inch on each side seam. Ever the optimist, I decided to leave it and try and get off the excess timber before my forward fitting in three weeks time.

Whilst it is more common to pin away excess cloth at a first fitting, we do have decent inlays in place allowing for shoddy measuring (who me? never!) or too many pies.

In the first fitting of a coat, there is extra material down the centre back seam (3/4′), side seams (3/4′), shoulders (1/2′), fronts(3/4′) and sleeves (3/4′).

Some of these (such as the inlays in the shoulders) are for issues to do with ‘balance.’ The others are basically a safety net in case you’ve put on a couple of inches since being measured.

Most of the inlays are cut off during the fitting process, but the good news is that the inlays on the side seams remain in the finished garment.

This means that for those gentlemen such as myself who are happy to age graciously, there is always a little room in a bespoke suit for expansion 😉

I’m chuffed to report that despite the thin gruel for lunch, my first month back has been great. Whilst the papers have been making positive noises about the economy for months, the vibe I’m now getting from my customers (in recruitment, property, finance, professional services) is incredibly positive :-)

So here’s to 2014. Balls to austerity, remember those inlays and bring on the long lunch at Sous Le Nez and San Carlo. Good health!