If Clothes Make the Man, Who Makes the Clothes?

Late last fall, when we realized that Dallas winters are indeed cold enough for a full-on coat, I convinced D. to go shopping for winterwear. We found a fantastic, versatile, and handsome black pea coat that in warmer months he left in his unlocked car. Which was later broken into at the same time that a neighbor discovered guns, laptops, and electronic equipment gone. But since he hadn’t been wearing it, he only noticed that some minor items were missing, and didn’t realize the coat had been in there until after making a statement to the police.

Eventually the meth addict next door was found with the stolen guns and computers. Apparently, the coat was mentioned on the police report and viewed by the owner of the serious property, but since it wasn’t on record as belonging to anyone, the coat was transferred to evidence and is now gone for good.

It is discontinued and not to be found anywhere online. So I have been commissioned to make a replacement.

D. is a T-shirt and jeans guy, so I hadn’t expected there to be much of anything I could make him that wouldn’t just soak in its own sentimental value in the back of his closet. Between that and my interest in getting more into menswear, I decided to go all out.

I started with sitting down at Joann’s and trying to find a pattern in the unisex, I mean menswear, sections in the pattern books. The seventeen different scrubs patterns seem like a step in the wrong direction from T-shirt and jeans.

Burda has a limited selection of pretty good stuff.

However, this was the only coat pattern that jumped out at me, and it wasn’t in stock. It’s shapeless and has that internal drawstring belt that only a mother could love or want to use. (I mean that literally, and the phrase “It’s colder than it feels” springs to mind.) Actually, this is a man who is being forced to wear his mom’s jacket because he thought he was too cool to bring his own on the family vacation. Now if he doesn’t wear his mom’s extra coat she always keeps in the trunk next to the emergency blanket, flares, and two spare tires, he’s going to hear about it for every minute of their walk through the Potholders-of-the-World Outdoor Exhibit. Does that smile look real to you? Noo-ooo. He is embarrassed. And possibly constipated.

So this one’s okay, and I figured maybe I could find some pictures of real men’s jackets online then modify it to look less unappealing. But both of the nearby Joann’s were out of stock, so I started searching the interwebs for other menswear patterns.

After several hours, I came across this article an and thought I had found it at last:


I was so excited to see images of men wearing clothes that looked natural instead of like a gay man’s first fashion foray out of the closet before he remembers he’s supposed to try to look good instead of just different

I started to suspect something was up when I couldn’t find any references for sources even as I continued reading. My first fear was that he had found these things and then planned to keep the info to himself. Still, I thought it was hope that there was something out there somewhere, even if this guy turned out to be a jerk.

Alas, no, he’s not a jerk, he’s just yet another victim of the dearth of menswear patterns. I even considered sending away for revolutionary war period coat costumes and modifying out the epaulets and so forth.

Anyway, I did find an awesome sewing blog written by a man, which is always exciting to come across.

I kept thinking about getting ahold of some of the clothes that have been coming out of Korea over the past few years. They have really mastered a style that is deceptively simple at first glance, but has a lot of subtle complexity. And at last I found my menswear patterns.

YesAsia! carries quite a few sewing books. No pictures of the inside, though; I did separate searches on each promising-looking book and found images of the insides on etsy and amazon, then ordered the lot of them together through YesAsia!

I got the pants, jackets, and shirts of one series, and a coat collection from another designer. A lot of these actually look like clothes a man would actually wear. A few of the pants are a little reminiscent of Hammer Time, but it looks like that’s just the fabric choice.

They’re not in English, but they have a lot of illustrations. Not for beginners, but then again, menswear in general isn’t.

Janome Sewing Machine: a rant and a ramble and some other stuff

In case the last picture in my previous post looked almost like an ad for the sewing machine in the background, it is not. In fact, the only reason I am using that machine is because the one I call Jurgis was knocked out of alignment after a fall of about a foot and a half and I haven’t gotten around to taking him to the doctor. The machine I call The Princess needs a new light bulb, and, in keeping with her name, she requires a certain kind of light bulb not to be found ANYWHERE. Plus, she’s been used to sew over a thousand strips of sticky-back velcro and while I cleaned the glue residue out well enough to keep her going through the marathon, I haven’t yet gone back and done a thorough job of it. Which is probably the reason she’s  periodically snapping thread.

(Warning, this entry is long and rambling. I have added pictures of my cat to keep the visual-oriented readers going.)

So in the meantime, I’m using the Janome convertible embroidery machine. I used to work for a Janome/ BabyLock dealer, and I used to work at Hancock Fabrics, which sells Janomes and at least once a year, has Janome staff come and demonstrate their machines, including the embroidery machines. That’s why I know what I’m talking about when I say do not buy a Janome embroidery machine.

The main problem is that, while Janome was the first to bring embroidery into homes, it seems to be riding on that, rather than keeping up with the market. They are one of the hardest to line up if you have to move the fabric in the hoop to have more than one embroidery on one piece of fabric. Even the demonstrator only showed us how to do that using a random-patterned, overlapping, repeating-rose fabric where the exact placement of the next rose wasn’t important.

They also have relatively small hoops–BabyLock’s were the biggest the last time I checked in.

As far as sewing machines go, Janome is fabulous. Usually. First a rant before I extoll the virtues of nearly every other Janome but this individual.

Most of its problems probably have to do with a flaw or damage in the computer. It randomly gets stuck on reverse. There is no way to tell in advance whether it is going to start sewing backward or forward when I push the pedal. This is potentially serious in fabrics that don’t heal well from needle punches or in places where it is hard to rip out stitches. It’s also time-consuming and frustrating. It’s like not knowing when you start your car whether it’s going to randomly reverse or go forward. There is no reason for any machine to do this. Pleeease tell me this is a computer error and not a design element.

When the bobbin gets down to about a two-thirds empty, it starts warning me that I need to change it. This means that when I push the pedal, the machine will, instead of sewing, beep several times and cover the screen with a warning sign. While this makes sense if I am starting a large piece of embroidery that will be ruined if it runs out of bobbin thread in the middle, it makes no sense when I’m sewing. Perhaps a different setting for sewing vs. embroidering? I can nearly sew a whole garment with the thread left on the “empty” bobbin it keeps warning me to remove.

Not only do I have to then push the okay button and wait a few seconds for it to contemplate my disagreeableness, but when it’s feeling really concerned about leaving me to my own ruinous devices, it will only sew about 6 or 7 stitches very slowly then stop, at which point I have to pump the foot pedal to get it going again. While it is in this mood, I usually can’t push reverse in mid-stitch, as it will just keep sewing forward; I have to come to a complete stop to reverse, stop, then sew forward. Sometimes it’s reluctant to even do that, and will attempt to completely ignore the reverse button.

Periodically the touchscreen will stop identifying touch, and I have to power off the machine in order to change stitches.

A lot of electronic machines have this annoying thing they do where when you take your foot off the pedal in the universal gesture for “stop,” they keep going 1 or 1.5 stitches. This is annoying. However, this machine keeps going 2-3 stitches. There is no such thing as precision sewing with this machine, and there is a lot of stitch-ripping.

I hate this individual machine almost enough to throw it out the window. I am going to assume all this stuff is a defect rather than any of it at all being a design flaw. So, as a machine in general, having a Janome embroidery machine as a sewing machine is approximately as nice as having any embroidery machine as a sewing machine. There are a huge assortment of built-in stitches that look like embroidery but are done while it is in sewing mode, including one font of writing.

In comparison to BabyLock, however, these features are really puny. The size of BabyLock embroidery sewing stitches is impressive; they also have three fonts you can sew with.

The Janome and BabyLock dealer I used to work for liked being able to sell the lower-end Janomes so we could have a broader client base than the expensive BabyLocks would allow, but didn’t want to have to be dishonest enough to push the embroidery machines. When Janome said we had to sell their machines at every price point, we stopped carrying them. That’s right, a dealer refused to sell them because he didn’t want to be responsible for that. The one embroidery Janome we sold was to someone who came in already convinced that that’s what she wanted.

On the other hand, as machines, they are fabulous. It is the same company as New Home and Kenmore, so if you see any of those names, there’s no difference besides branding. Every machine I use besides my BabyLock serger is marked with one of those three names. They are high-quality machines that are usually found at very reasonable prices. They often go on sale, and signing up for fliers at your local chain fabric store that carries them can help keep them within almost any budget.

One thing for a buyer to look for is a 4-step vs. a 1-step buttonhole. New sewers, as well as experienced sewers who assume that this is such old and obvious technology that it ought to come standard, should verify the buttonhole feature when buying. The lowest-end machines will generally have a 4-step. This stinks. I have seen a difference of $60 and up between machines that have only this difference. This stinks, too.

Most people will use a buttonhole at some point. I say that it is definitely worth it. However, in a tight budget, you might assess your planned garments and determine how often one would be needed. Some people love snaps. Then there’s always velcro. And zippers.

Not counting those horrible, horrible little toy sewing machines, which get as low as $20ish to $50, and are good for nothing but shot put, Janome is great at any price point. The sewing class held at Hancock Fabrics daily during the summer, and several times a week during the school year got heavy use from several children, and the class machine was the lowest end Janome (it sold for around $70 at that time; I don’t think it gets that low even on sale anymore, though). They held up well enough to seem nearly new over a year later.

There is a difference between buying a machine in a fabric store or from a dealer–they are much higher quality and have stronger engines when purchased from a dealer. They also tend to have better warranties, and better educated salespeople who can help you determine what features you need and who can show you how to use it. Getting quality sewing machine help at a fabric store is a lottery, and the odds are getting worse all the time. At one point, I went into Joann’s to buy a snack while I was waiting around at the laundromat in the same shopping center, got stuck in line behind a woman who had purchased a machine there a few days earlier and who was having trouble threading it. The cashier couldn’t figure out how to load a front-loading bobbin or tell her how to thread the machine, so I showed her how to do it and got her set up with the right needles and thread. Even if they hadn’t been understaffed, there wasn’t anyone there at the time who could have helped her with something so basic. Potential future sewer potentially lost.

Anyway, the difference in motors is a big enough reason to buy from a dealer. I got a 2033 from Hancock’s and was oh so impressed with it, got the job later at the dealer, and not only couldn’t really talk about the machine with them, as the model numbering is different, but saw what I was actually missing with my regular-price $400 machine (got it at cost at Christmas, so I didn’t cry too much).

For a non-connoisseur, the difference may not be important enough for what may be a significantly greater cost and/or hassle. The one place to NEVER buy a machine, however, is Wal-Mart. Even if you see a brand name there that you recognize, they are no more what they seem than a zombie is still your loved one. The teflon gears may be made from lower-grade plastic, etc. They have contracts even with reputable companies to make their products sub-par to keep the cost down. And probably so you’ll have to keep coming back and buying new ones. Once I learned this, it explained the string of useless vacuums I threw money into until I finally got so sick of it I went to the opposite extreme and bought a Dyson.

Janome/ Kenmore skillfully makes every other type of sewing-related machine except embroidery machines. I have one of their sergers and have been very happy with it. It has extremely regular stitches, relative ease in threading, and allows the user a lot of control and options. I also have a cover-stitcher by Janome, and while it’s a tetchy machine, that’s the nature of cover-stitchers, and I don’t think it’s particularly Janome’s fault. It takes some wrestling, but just when I’m about to give up on it, the tension starts working right, and it now has for the last several projects. It skips stitches, especially over seams, but I suspect the only fix for this is buying the industrial version. I have used this machine decoratively as well as functionally, and have repeatedly impressed clients with it, and, I believe, even gotten a job because I said I had one. It’s a great addition to any pro’s sewing machine family, and it’s the only effective way to topstitch on stretchy fabrics.

A note to all those who think they want to buy a Singer based on name recognition and a long history of value: sure, go ahead and buy those old all-metal machines. They are well-made buy people who care, and I have heard that some of the best of them are used by high-end bridal shops for topstitching, as they make beautiful stitches. They are eternally fixable, and the ones with metal gears are pretty much immortal; changing out old wiring can keep them going indefinitely without even having to replace any parts.

Singer has since gone under and now sells the name out yearly. Getting a new Singer is pretty much like playing Go Fish.

The one machine I will hands down, flat out, demand that no one buy is a White serger. I have no idea about their sewing machines, but their sergers are so bad, I suspect anything by that company of being guilty by association. If you wind up with a White serger, you should probably use it as a doorstop. Or as extremely expensive electric scissors. (Actually, that sounds facetious, but I mean it; using an unthreaded, needle-less serger as an electric scissors is an effective way to get a straight cut edge. The last time I accidentally looked at a White serger, it seemed to have an impressively effective blade. There’s that, at least.) They will not keep good tension and the stitches will come out looking like it was threaded by a meth addict or like you let children play with your knobs the entire time you were sewing. Without exception everyone I have met who has a White who has asked me why they have problems with it has been unable to accept my statements that it is a bad serger, and has decided that the real reason for the terrible quality of the finished products must be their own incompetence.

Anyway, Janome quality good, BabyLock better. Janome prices great, BabyLock a little higher. I don’t know much about other brands, as these are the ones I’ve used. My mom had a Husqvarna Viking thing that was around the house when I was a kid. I liked all the features the cams had, and I still remember the doll clothes embroidered with rows of hearts or ducks. A few years of no use caused a cam to get stuck in it (luckily, the basic utility stitches, so it was still a usable machine, but not near so fancy) and even the professional she took it to couldn’t get it out.

Whelp, that’s it. I rambled off into the night. Just trying to cover some of the stuff I tell people I know when they ask for buying advice. I’m not a broad expert, but I’ve been using machines for years, and I’ve had multiple jobs selling and/or fixing them, so there you go.


Last spring, a gentleman finally threw away his favorite (and discontinued) pants, as they were beyond repair. His very excellent wife, unbeknownst to him, retrieved them and handed them over to me to copy. Several months pass in which he has no expectation of seeing his pants again.

The Project: copy the old pants, make new ones, and incorporate the first pair into the replacement


The fabric was a sort of peachskin, which is a fairly broad description for fabrics which, although I am sitting here literally fingertaps away from finding out for sure, I am going to assume is made from brushing one side to make it soft. I’ve been on a search before for a heavier-weight peachskin fabric and come up empty-handed, despite visiting the fabric warehouse district, Joann’s, Hancock’s, and getting samples online. Luckily, Joann’s just so happened to have a current line of peachskin fabrics that were close enough. I picked the black fabric as it felt slightly closer to the original than the other colors.

Step one: make a pattern. There are ways to do this without dismantling the original, but as that is not always as easy and accurate, and as these pants are trash anyway, I went ahead and ripped out several of the seams.

Paper pattern:

While copying the lower legs, I remembered that the client had said the originals were actually a little short. Since this was a simple pattern piece, I just cut it in half horizontally, measured an inch space between them and weighted the piece on the fabric.

I remembered at the last minute to take a picture of the original before completely cutting it up:

On the left, you can kind of see the seam from where the butt-reinforcer stops short. It only comes about halfway up the back of the pants, and the final tear was just above it. I decided to expand the reinforcement to cover the entire back up to the waistband.

Improvised on the back pockets, using the reinforcing piece as the facing:

Stitch over the chalk rectangle, cut a slit and fold the fabric through to create a finished edge around the inside of the rectangle.

I cut off the original blue back pockets, satin-stiched them into place on the new pants. The right leg has the reinforced back top-stiched into place (I decided to go with red), while the left one has not been finished off yet:

In summary:

1. Make a pattern

2. Sew on the back pockets

3. ????

4. Pants!


I used as much of the original pants as possible. One of the blue buttons was missing, so I dug through my yellow-button drawer and found one that matched the yellow fabric. I found a tempting red one as well, but the shade made the red top-stitching seem more pink.

I added some hand-stitching with embroidery thread around the edges of the back pockets as the machine top-stitching came out looking yo-mama homemade instead of handmade.

This is the top half of some removable-bottom pants that could be transformed into shorts. At this point in the process, it was like climbing down the other side of Mt. Everest. Still a challenge, but not nearly as exciting as the first part. Kinda ready to pitch a tent and hang out for a bit. Admire the view, dwell on the challenges overcome.

Birthday deadline coming up soon :: storm coming in over the horizon.

Have to head back down, ignore temptations to dawdle.

I kept the original fly-pieces. Yes, the label “dysfunctional” was there originally. I put the back-of-waist label in, and made one of my own to go with it. Partly because I’m cool like that, and partly because it bridged a gap and made it possible for me to use a waistband instead having to measure out a facing on the inside and geometrically allow for the back darts.

As the original design included other decorative labels, I decided to stamp my brand onto some of the old yellow fabric to cover up a hole in a pocket. I could NOT get the N right, so I decided to stop wrestling with the tiny N stamp and make it look like a design element.

I’m not a big fan of sewing pants, which is the cause and the effect of almost never making them. While, apparently, everyone else figures out welt zippers and then freaks out about invisible zippers, I’ve taken the opposite path. I can just about do invisible zippers with my eyes closed, but welt zipper style and jeans fly?? I’ve always viewed them with that “step one, step two, then a miracle occurs, zipper!” attitude. Plus, I’m going to have to reset my perceptions for pants in general, and menswear in particular, in regard to work vs. reward. I can pretty quickly add a flounce of some kind to a skirt–they can look complicated and eye-catching without spending much time. However, the elements that go into menswear and pants are time-consuming, require more exacting placement, and aren’t generally admired so much as expected.

While working on these pants, I decided to take the opportunity to think about my attitude about potential projects. Before starting, I was really reluctant, I thought they would be harder than they turned out to be, and was put off by the expected tediousness of all the small and subtle elements. I contemplated a future of only accepting projects that were fabulously exciting from the outset.

The encouragement to add a lot of color and get creative really helped get me going. Through the rest of the process, I thought a lot about how much he would appreciate the gesture from his loving wife resulting in his pants’ resurrection.

As I’ve dabbled in menswear and discovered how hard it is to find ways to change them and add design elements without turning them into girl clothes, I enjoyed figuring out creative touches to these pants that wouldn’t make the color choice scream 80’s.

I checked in with the client after her husband’s birthday party. My initial plan, as there was a bit of uncertainty about the proper length, was to leave them extra long and unfinished. Then I realized it’s no fun to unwrap your favorite pants and have to wait to have them tailored. So I went ahead and finished them at the length we suspected.

Turns out they were perfect–exactly the right length. Dude put them on immediately, wore them the next day as well, absolutely loved them. So gratifying.


Those who are not involved in professionally decorating for the holidays may think starting plans and some production at the beginning of September to be too early for Christmas. It’s actually a little late, but we’ve got the staff that can pull it off.

Until the unveiling, however, it is confidential. So here is a context-less taste: