Episode #4 of this series introduced three elements of a coat’s internal structure: canvas, haircloth, and domette. In today’s installment, Rory Duffy demonstrates how he assembles these materials with basting stitches that lock in a fourth essential element of structure: fullness. A properly made chestpiece reflects the convex shape of the chest it covers; the first step in achieving this is to slightly ripple the haircloth as it is basted to the flat canvas beneath it. This fullness will be more precisely distributed later with pad stitches before being shrunk away with the iron, leaving a gently convex shape. A third layer of bias-cut cotton domette serves to smooth and soften the feel of the chestpiece while insulating the coarse fibers of the haircloth.
NYC tailor Leonard Logsdail has observed for Put This On that the internal structure one finds in many RTW coats isn’t actually doing much. Manufacturers know that their increasingly knowledgeable consumers are demanding canvassed coats as a benchmark of quality, but they also know how easily many of those consumers are satisfied by well-marketed half-measures. A manufactured chestpiece made with the same materials and superficial construction as Duffy’s but without his expertly added fullness will create structure, but not shape. Knowing how to build in that fullness -- and how much, and where -- is one of those coatmaking skills that, as Duffy observes, only comes with training and experience.
So far in this series we’ve been looking at basic steps of coatmaking common to any true bespoke process. They may rarely all be undertaken these days by a single individual, and perhaps not to Duffy’s standard, but they are traditional methods to which no tailor would lay personal claim. With the chestpiece construction, however, Duffy is beginning to build in stylistic elements which will help distinguish my coat as his work. The straight horizontal lay of his haircloth, and the fact that it extends all the way to the armhole, will help to push out a strong, deep chest. This stands in contrast with, say, Anderson & Sheppard, who lay in their haircloth on the bias and cut it back from the armhole, encouraging the chest to collapse and break into soft vertical folds. The actual difference between a clean and a draped chest tends to be somewhat exaggerated, and in any case is not one of quality, but personal style; I myself tend to prefer the latter, but I believe that each tailor does his best work in accordance with his own taste, and I look forward to seeing what Duffy’s approach does for me.