How a Suit Should Fit: Pattern Making 101

September 9th, 2015

As we pour over the final details of our online tailoring collection and prepare for the launch of AOS Bespoke in October, it’s a perfect time to discuss the foundations of pattern-making.

Every garment in fashion, high-end or low-end, begins with a pattern. A pattern is a series of geometric shapes drawn to exact scale (on paper if you’re old school, but mostly on CAD spoftware now) that acts as both a “stencil set” to trace onto a chosen fabric as well as a set of “official tailoring instructions” that describes in detail how the garment should be manufactured.

To give you a more in depth idea of what a pattern looks like, here’s a look at the one I’m working on for the bespoke linen suit that I’m in the process of hand-making myself.

My jacket pattern has a traditional 7 pieces (some very shapely jackets have 8, since a split side-body offers an additional seam to curve). The key here is that the patterns are properly adjusted for the client (in this case, myself) with special concern to posture, head placement, shoulder slope and the balance of the client’s girth (front/back). It’s also crucially important that the adjustments for the client are accounted for across all of the pattern pieces. Making even the slightest change to the shape/dimensions of one of the pieces requires that you adjust the other pieces accordingly. There are countless rules, exceptions, and opinions when it comes to proper pattern-making. This is why certain shops have a “house cut” and why takes a lifetime of experience to become a master tailor – and, consequently, why most good tailors are of retirement age.

Because the bespoke pattern-making process is so complex, and the human form has so much unique intricacy, it is much more accurate for a tailor to perform a cloth fitting rather than than simply relying on a measuring tape. Measurements won’t tell you how a cloth will sit on the shoulders, or the neck, or the the lower back even. This is why, with AOS Bespoke, each of our clients will begin with a custom-made fitting garment to asses their unique body shape… More on our process, and “fitting” versus “measuring”, later. Let’s stick to the basics of pattern-making.

The Complete Jacket Pattern

Front Panel

The front panel forms the basis of the jacket and tells us a lot about it’s styling. It includes the chest dart placement (which shapes the jacket by adding suppression from the chest to the waist), the pocket placements, the button stance, the width and shape of the lapels, the fullness of the chest, the height of the armhole, the length of the jacket, the slope of the shoulders, etc. Making a slight change to this pattern piece will make a noticeable difference to the look and feel of the jacket, especially since every adjustment is doubled (the two front panel pieces are cut at the same time from double-layered fabric for absolute symmetry…this is “cutting 101”)

Front facing 

The facing must match the shape of the front, as it forms the inside of the front panels and the lapels (since they roll outward). On a quality jacket it also covers the chest canvas which is hand-set to the backside of the front panel and sits in-between the two layers.

Back Panel

The back panel includes crucial information about the fit of the jacket such as the size of the neckhole (which should be cut to the clients neck size), the height of the collar (relative to the length of the clients neck), the shoulder slopes (which must match those on the front panels), the back of the armholes, the vent placements, etc. It’s also a piece where a lot of shape can be added to the garment, as the long center back seam and the side-panel-seams can all be curved inward to add suppression when sewn together.

Side Body

The side body sits below the bottom of the armhole and is the connection between the front panels and back panels. It’s the obliques of the jacket, if you will. It’s possible to make a jacket without a side body (by making the front and back panels large enough to sew together), but the additional seams of the side body allow for much better shaping.

Collar

The collar is a foundational piece of the jacket. In order to achieve a proper fit, it should fit cleanly on the client’s neck, with no gapping, or rolling. The length of the collar piece also determines the gorge line (or height of the lapel notches – which, of course, must be accounted for on the front panels and facings). This pattern piece is typically cut from fabric (topside) and melton felt (underside), although some old-school bespoke tailors also hand-set a layer of canvas in-between them.

Top Sleeve

This is the large, exterior piece of the sleeve. The shape, size and curvature should coincide with the client’s natural standing position. On a good suit the top sleeve also contains additional fabric at the cuff which is used to create working sleeve buttonholes.

Under Sleeve

This is the underside of the sleeve, which faces the side of the jacket. This piece is sewn to the top to create the sleeve before it is set into the armhole of the jacket – which consists of the front panel, back panel, and side body.

I hope this was informative to some. The best part about our new Bespoke line, other than our Articles now being shoppable, is that it offers ample opportunity for us to create more in-depth articles revolving around tailoring, menswear, and quality manufacturing in America.

For those who’ve been asking, I have an official preview of the collection coming up soon! It’s going to be an exciting three weeks…

Yours in style,

Dan Trepanier

Shop Custom Menswear Made in America

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