Today’s installment of “The Making of a Coat” introduces that most maligned and misunderstood of a tailor’s tools: the sewing machine. The relative merits of hand vs. machine sewing is regularly debated among tailors and menswear aficionados, with the general consensus predictably favoring the well-wielded needle, drawing each stitch according to its own logic. Looking past the obvious romantic appeal of such craftsmanship in our artisanally-obsessed times, hand sewing is indeed essential to the supple look and feel of fine tailored clothing, particularly on those curved seams which most closely trace the body and draw the eye.
A handsewn seam is not, however, categorically superior. Machined seams have their own virtues -- not only with regard to economy of production, but also quality of product. Rory Duffy’s technique of making the inverted pleat patch pockets I’ve requested on my coat illustrates both sides of a key tenet of his bespoke philosophy: to sew by hand whenever there is the slightest structural or aesthetic benefit in so doing, but to otherwise use a machine for what it does best -- and better than hand sewing: strong uniform seams. In this instance, my pockets are bagged out by machine, affording them the strength they’ll need to accommodate my bad habit of overstuffing them (hence the inverted pleat). Machine stitching joins the cloth and the silesia pocketing flatly, however, leaving the latter slightly visible along the outer edge of the pocket. To conceal it, Duffy then bastes around the circumference, gently rolling the cloth over the silesia with his fingertips as he goes. Thus prepared, the pocket will eventually be applied to the coat by hand with visible stab stitches, lending it a delicate handsewn appearance belying a rugged internal construction.
Duffy has observed that making pockets is his least favorite part of the bespoke process; they are clearly laborious, relatively unglamorous, and traditionally consigned on Savile Row to dedicated pocketmakers. For our purposes, however, they provide a good example of how quality tailoring is ultimately guided less by rigid principle than flexible practicality.