How to make men’s ties

As I mentioned before, I visited my ex-step-mother last weekend and ended up picking through some clothes she was discarding. Amid the pile were some ties my dad never wears anymore –which is what reminded me of my experiments in making men’s ties –the first tie was one he wore with his Army uniform. I love to examine sewn products made for the military. Nearly always, the design and construction are exemplary. This item was no exception.

Maybe you’ll notice my dad likes cats. They were never allowed in the house so I guess pets and cuddles took place in the driveway (note to the fellas: it’s hard to belie authority with cat hair sticking to your face so watch that). Anyway, it’s the button holes on the tie that I liked. In the photo below and in keeping with the military’s need for documentation, the carrier includes instruction for use.

You put the tie on, feed the underside through the carrier and then attach the underside to a shirt button and presto, no more recalcitrant flapping ties. That just would not do.

As with any product, there’s varying ways to get the job done. If you search on the web, you’ll find all manner of advice. Some belittle tie padding, making for rousing debate, favoring a seven-fold tie but I’d avoid the nuances unless you decide to get into custom tie making for a discriminating clientèle. Personally, I favor the padding but then, I’m acclimatized to it. If it really matters to you, the so-called Windsor Knot purportedly used by the Duke of Windsor was not a uniquely tied knot at all. Rather, the Duke of Windsor used a regular knot but favoring a softer, looser wear, had his ties made with extra padding. I was pleased to note wiki mentions this too.

Still, the websites are useful, there’s not much to it -with one exception related to padding below- the real trick being cutting them out. For background, there’s David Hober‘s site although I don’t like how he sews the lining and Ben’s instruction on making a seven fold tie (meaning, no padding). If you need one, Ben also sells patterns for six and seven fold ties but these are just as easily made.

Mine were all made via reverse engineering. It’s simple enough. Go to the thrift store to find ones of the width and length you like. I do have some additional tips in tie selection though. Buy ties that have a lip of shell showing fully on the underside like this (note far right corner of the tie unfolded):

but not like this (making note of the far left corner of the unfolded tie):

The reason is, the tie with the full lip to the corner is generally a better made tie. It serves no purpose to copy a lesser quality product. From there, you turn it inside out, undo the stitching and voilà, instant pattern.

Note I said to “turn it inside out” and then undo the stitching. I want to show you something. None of the websites show how to make ties the way I decided was the way it is most likely to be done in a production environment. Now, this way is not lower quality! I’d argue it’s actually better because it affords consistency.

Here is a tie turned inside out.

Do you see how uniform the stitches above are? Well, maybe you can’t in the photo but I measured. The stitches are exactly uniform in length and spacing. Here’s another example:

Now, in real life, if tie manufacturers sewed the ties shut from the outside, wouldn’t you imagine that being eyeballed, there’d be some variations? If anything, sewing from the outside like this (from David‘s site):

would mean that one would have to have fully and evenly penetrated the depth of the padding and have brought the needle back out again -with exact and precise spacing and stitch length- all without having piercing the front side of the tie. I just don’t see that as being very likely in a production environment. Besides, it’s harder to do like this. The silk slips all around when you’re trying to wrap the fabric over the padding. I did do it like this on my first tie and I hated it. While there is no doubt that ties and padding are joined by hand -even in production- I think it’s done before the tie is turned right side out, not after. That’s not the only reason I have such a sacrilegious idea. It’s also easier. Yepper, easier. By a lot.

The way I think it’s done (and the way I made mine) is I made a guide (below) in the shape of the padding (half, there’s a reason for that I could explain if I could figure out how to pdf from my CAD program). I punched holes down the length of it, evenly spaced, and used a marker to transfer the marks to the padding itself. Once the lining is sewn to the tips, you lay the tie, folded in half (right sides together) on top of the padding and stitch along the guide marks, catching the raw edges of the fabric and the padding. Then you turn it right side out (turning is also easier than you’d think). The whole process is much easier, faster, consistent and more uniform. The end product has that dash of professional patina as compared to my first tie made the way the tutorials say to do it. It’s being handled a lot less. Some things get a rumpled look from being handled too much. So maybe I’m a klutz? Klutz proof is good.

My advice being no exception -not being a tie expert- there’s always a mix of good and bad information. For example, in this explanation of tipping, Ben says that the edges of the tie ends must be rolled “to prevent the silk from unraveling.” The matter is, bias silk doesn’t ravel -except when it comes to ties? Think of silk threads as miniature hard logs. They’ll just roll off of each other. Cutting on bias means threads are not on grain where the logs are exposed to a cut edge so they can roll off. I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that one reason people make bias cut dresses is because they then don’t have to use french seams as they would for garments cut on grain (which costs less?) plus they get brownie points for drape.

There’s maybe two other tricky things about tie making that the two web tutorials don’t mention (clearly); both pertain to attaching the facing to the tips. The first is, it helps to sew a miter at the very center tips (the “v” of the tie ends) before you attach the linings to them.

Second, after you’ve sewn the lining to the very bottom ends, you want to roll the shell side over onto the under side 1/4″ before you sew the lining to the sides of the tie ends. This is what forms the lip that I mentioned above (under thrift store tie selection). This roll of the seam is shown to the left in the photo below.

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  1. LisaB says:

    Thanks for the post! I’m saving it for the next time I get around to making ties. I really appreciate your sharing this with us.

    The buttonholes on your father’s tie are a new idea to me. Interesting.

  2. Tracy Holzman says:

    I had the opportunity to speak to the owner of Cosair Neckwear ties last week. One of the largest of the U.S. tie manufacturers. I was surprised to learn that the factory was a casualty of Katrina! All of the special folding machinery was under water for two weeks and ruined along with all the fabric. Nothing was saved. The owner Glenn is a resource and was very nice to me, and still does production ties in Thailand. His name and phone number are on the website I was saddened to learn of another victim of the Katrina disaster.

  3. Cathy says:

    Be careful about posting a copyrighted image. Maybe David gave you permission but reading your post here it sounds like you are slamming his technique. I would think he’d get a little miffed at that.

  4. Kathleen says:

    Be careful about posting a copyrighted image. Maybe David gave you permission but reading your post here it sounds like you are slamming his technique. I would think he’d get a little miffed at that.

    I appreciate your concern.

    The law is clear on the matter. One is permitted *limited* use of copyrighted material for the purposes of “critical review”, provided they’ve cited the source. Were this not the case, entire books could never have been written either disagreeing with previously published material nor expanding upon it.

    As a practical matter, the balance is positive. His page rank will increase, he’ll get more traffic and hopefully more customers who want quality hand-made ties.

  5. Karen Minturn Brown says:

    Note that Kathleen is saying that in a “production” environment, a tie would not likely be sewn from the outside. The website noted is talking about a custom tie. Different animals.

  6. Deanna says:

    I tried the inside out method this week, and that is dandy. I cut the sa’s 1/2 the width of the tie, minus 1/8″. Then I lined up the edge of the padding layer with the edge of the face fabric and hand stitched up the middle. You just have to stop short of the tip lining so that you can tuck the padding inside when it is turned right side out. Here’s the link to photos.
    Thanks for the tip Kathleen!

  7. modnik says:

    As a man that wears a tie, I have to say there is nothing worse than a bubbly tie that doesn’t lay flat and roll properly. A man that wears a tie that is pressed flat tells the world he doesn’t know how to properly dress. Tie making is difficult and some production techniques can have mixed results. It takes lots of practice and I never recommend shortcuts. It’s a shame to put all that work into a tie and then have it unwearable. Understanding bias is paramount.

  8. Amanda says:

    Guides! I love it. Wish I had the intelligence to think up this kind of stuff before. I will def try this with my ties. I was convinced there was a better technique out there for stitching the back closed!

  9. Daniel says:

    Thank you for sharing so much great information here. What a treasure! For some reason none of the pictures are showing in this blog posting! Is there perhaps a link to another site where the pics may be available? Would you ever give a custom class in tie sewing? I live in Santa Fe so I am not too far away!

    • Kathleen says:

      Hi Daniel. We migrated to a new server over the weekend and are still working out a few of the kinks. Thanks for bringing this to my attention; I’d forgotten that I had a lot of older images being stored on another url.

      Do you think there’d be demand for a class in tie sewing? I have a nifty way of turning them, for sure so I’d be game.

  10. Daniel says:

    Oh good! I’ll wait patiently for your server migration to finish and then check back to see pics!

    I would definitely be interested! A friend is trying to revive a now defunct old family craft here in Santa Fe of ties hand crafted from hand woven fabrics. She has found se examples of ties from the 30s and is making prototypes. I email her a link to your article so hopefully she would be interested too!

    Bow ties and 7 fold ties look fun too. Do you think that it would be overly ambitious to cover regular ties and the above in one program?

    I would also be interested in a private class if you can’t drum anyone else up! Not sure if you do that!?!

    • Kathleen says:

      Is your friend employed at a winery outside of Santa Fe? If so, we’ve met. Tell her that we still need tie wadding! :)

      Yes I provide consulting and training. See the products and services page for more info.

      • Daniel says:

        Thanks I’ll check out services page! And yes she does! I’ll see her Sunday… I may be buying a loom from her. Small world! Glad you two have met!

  11. Daniel says:

    I checked out your products and services page! Wow is all I can say- you have so much to offer! I wold love to participate in a group class on tie making if you decide to have one. Since I am not a commercial designer I don’t think a private class can be justified as I would just be making ties for myself and friends! So please consider offering a tie making class! I would definitely participate!

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