Nameless Tutorial #9

If you’re just now joining us, you won’t understand this entry. This entry is my latest entry -of a continual argument- that I’m having with my readers so if you don’t agree with me, join the club. To catch up, you’ll have to review the Nameless Tutorial series, most particularly entries 7 and 8 -the other links in this series can be found at the close of this article -which you can use to correct this problem. Be sure to read the comments as well.

Whenever I bring up the topic of work arounds, people get the idea that I don’t like hand stitching. I love hand stitching that adds value. Most of the hand stitching we see in garments amounts to work arounds. I don’t like work arounds when the obvious solution is to design the pattern in such a way that you don’t need hand stitching. If you do hand stitching, it is something that should stand on it’s own. It shouldn’t be a short cut you use because you couldn’t figure out how to do it by machine. Hand stitching should create value. If you’ve hand stitched the facings to the zipper, this doesn’t mean your product is better than one which is rendered professionally. Also, I don’t like it when people justify construction (performance related) hand stitching because I think hand stitching should be decorative. Hands should only be used for those things that machines can’t do. Now that is value.

Now I want to show you a beautiful piece of work; the entire front portion of the inside lining (that rests closest to the facing) is all hand embroidered in silk thread. The person who made this coat didn’t do a work around for the facing and lining juncture. Below is a photo of that part of the garment:

Now consider how the person who did all of the hand stitching above -creating a tremendous amount of value- would feel about the caliber of work by the person who did this:

Considering the comparative value of the two, I think the person who did the first sample would be dismayed if anyone thought the second sample was some kind of superior technique just because it had some hand stitches. Not all hand stitches are created equal. Whoever made the first sample went to the bother of sewing the juncture correctly and saved their handwork for something that mattered -the embroidery. So you tell me, which maker had the greatest integrity?

Here are some more photos of the inside lining of this coat (all cashmere, made in the 50’s in Hong Kong)

Now, regarding the competing “hand sewing theory” of that juncture; I think the defense of that boils down to two things, tradition and failure to be mindful. Tailors are bound to a long tradition full of idiosyncratic practices (when compared to technological innovations in fusing for example). While some of the methods are sound, that doesn’t mean that all of their practices are. It reminds me of that story of three generations of women who always sliced off an end of a roast before cooking it. Three generations of women did it because the matriarch did it. When the matriarch was asked why she did it, she explained that the roast never fit in the pan but the daughters -who had no such pan-size problem- followed the practice mindlessly and traditionally. In my opinion, if that hand sewing method of the juncture were sound, it’d be as neat and clean as mine, if not more so but it’s not. I simply cannot find a rational justification for it. Well, other than the fact that you’re in a business that relies on the mysticism of “tradition” to justify what you’re charging for tailoring. I don’t think it’s overblown to pay for a well fitting suit. I do think it’s overblown if you charge more because you had to hand sew a work around. You shouldn’t expect customers to pay more for something when the maker’s practices haven’t improved and evolved. Which has more integrity? There is nothing wrong with hand sewing! It just needs to have the integrity to stand on its own.

On a related note, one of my critics stated (regarding the new method of sewing this juncture entirely by machine):

You know–i love fast, simple solutions to stuff but fabric makes a big difference in what kind of construction works. Kathleen’s would work best with lighter weight fabrics–I’ve got a RTW jacket to prove that–but would be clunky with heavier and loosely wovens.

To which I’d respond that -as someone who’s made coats for most of my professional career- I’d disagree that it’d be “clunky” with heavier wovens (all pieces should be fused anyway, eliminating the concern over loose wovens). You can only look at fabric in relation to itself. If anything, the loft of the bulk of heavier goods would make it easier to conceal than with lightweight goods. It is much more difficult to remove impressions and the perception of layers in lightweight goods so if the effect is not discernible in lightweight goods, it’s not apparent in heavier goods either. Now, I have no problem with criticism but before anybody else jumps in to tell me how wrong I am, I’d suggest they actually try this method before they tell me that it won’t work. The links to doing it yourself are here, here, here and here.

The posts of contention are here and here.

In closing, I’m not trying to be argumentative. I’m trying to get all of us at a certain point where I can begin to discuss a concept called Standard Work. As my usual visitors all know, I often say that the concepts known as “whatever works best for you” or “it’s a matter of opinion” are mostly false. Nobody likes it when I say that but still, there are standard work methods that do work best. Really. And until I can get people to understand that there is a concept known as standard work -also known as best practices– I’m not going to be able to get you to learn why you should adopt them and then, once having done so, improve even those to develop yet other standard work practices. One concept feeds into the other. That is the meaning of incremental improvement which is the heart of the success in producing quality goods. First we have to agree on a standard practice. Once we’re on the same page, then we improve it. But if we’re never on the same page, we’ll never be able to improve anything. We’ll still be mired in endless bickering over the first way to do it and that is just silly and an abject waste of time.

Name this tutorial
Nameless tutorial #2
Nameless tutorial #3
Nameless tutorial #4
Nameless #5 (back vent)
Nameless #6 -Troubleshooting
Nameless Tutorial #7
Nameless Tutorial #8
Nameless Tutorial #9

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  1. Josh says:

    Not to be a suck up but it’s clear to me your way is right. I can’t believe this is even an issue. I can clearly see in the photos which one is best. I haven’t tried doing it myself but will get around to it. By the way, what a fabulous peice of artwork that hand embroidered coat is!

  2. Joe Ely says:

    Kathleen, as usual, you are right on the money about Standard Work. This is a wonderful example of it! Taichi Ohno (father of Lean) said “There is no improvement without standardization.” And, until one comes to the point of agreeing with that, it is close to impossible to get large-scale agreement with the criticality of Standard Work.

    Well stated…now I have a lot to do today to get to said standard work!

  3. Jess Latham says:

    If you want to see lots of gorgeous clothes with things done by hand that add quality see the Feb issue of Vogue and The Handmade’s Tale spread.

  4. Maija says:

    I’ve been following this tutorial with great interest. This morning as I was getting ready for work, I noticed that the lining of my jacket (from a “big box” chain’s private label) is finished just as all of Kathleen’s “good” examples are. If nothing else, this shows that the recommended method is reproducible for any price point, from a $30 jacket to the costly vintage example above. On the other hand, I doubt that the time-consuming handwork required for the workaround examples would make economic sense for big box price points. I think that’s one good indication of this method’s validity as “Standard Work”.

  5. deerskin says:

    Of course as the nay-saying voice quoted above, whenever i see these photos i really want to be able to feel the bulk and look inside to check the seaming out etc.
    But answers to questions will just have to satisfy me.
    1) is the edge of the facing bound with the satin? or is that a piped edge or . . . ?
    2) which way did the seam allowance of the facing and lining seam get pressed–lining side or facing side.

    This is a wonderful coat–loved to see what the outside looks like.

    Also, just for the record, i have never thought that you/Kathleen don’t/doesn’t like hand stitching. For me, your/her position about hand-vs-machine appropriateness has always been clear.

    So like i mentioned before, i will do a sample of a heavier fabric with Kathleen’s technique and report back. With photos. I promise by the weekend–unless i get sick.

    And i don’t even want to get into the handsewing vs machine sewing appropriateness for construction as in if you can do it by machine, why do it by hand? That might get ugly. If anyone needs more info, since you have a hint above, you can read my comments on earlier parts of this tutorial–i think they are still there. Or here it is in a nutshell.
    Hand sewing-like
    Machine sewing-like
    Bulky bumps-no like . . . i.e. construction that results in bulky bumps, whether by hand sewing, machine sewing, barge cement, staples etc.

  6. Eric H says:

    I guess I don’t even understand why this is controversial. If you have to pull it off the machine and interrupt the flow of work to pull out a needle to finish as in the 2nd photo above, it needlessly adds cost. It also needlessly slows down the laborer, who is presumably being paid piece rate. And as someone who has bought coats, (A) I would not have known it was hand-stitched, nor (B) understood the jacket in the 2nd photo to be superior in any way because of the hand-stitching. So it’s an less profitable, inferior product that reduces stitcher productivity and income – that’s lose-lose-lose.

    On the other hand, though it’s nothing I would ever buy, I clearly see the value added in the hand-stitched Chinese jacket.

    There’s something here that I think people frequently have a difficult time understanding. On the one hand, you have people who always believe that cost is everything and you should always buy the cheapest product. On the other, you have people that believe that quality is everything and you should always buy the best product. If everyone were in the former camp, the VW air-cooled Beetle would only have the Yugo as competition, and if everyone were in the latter camp, the few people who could afford them would drive Mercedes and Ferraris. Clearly, something else is in play. People tend to buy the best value, by which I mean the ratio between features and price.

    There is a tension: customers want the most features within their budget but producers want to keep their costs low but their selling price high which means they have a tension between reducing or adding features. They can’t add features willy-nilly because what one person regards as a valuable feature, another regards as valueless. They have to add features that people are willing to pay for. To me, the hand stitching in the 2nd photo is valueless, and I would guess 99% of all men who buy these coats would agree. The hand-stitching in the beautiful coat is clearly an added value, and for people who recognize and desire it, they gladly pay more for it. Since few can do that kind of work, the person doing it makes more. That’s win-win-win. But it’s also win-win-win when you make a good quality product with superior, low-cost processes.

    As I usually summarize it, “cheap” and “low cost” do not have identical meanings.

    Regarding deerskin’s comments, I concede that she has a potential point, but I suspect that the data will not prove it out.

  7. Bob says:

    It is interesting that a man or woman in Hong Kong did this nice work in the 50s, and current sewing books are still showing us how to do the lining-facing-hem juncture in a variety of sloppy ways, and the apparel industry is turning out similar work today. I wonder why. Great looking coat. Thanks. Bob

  8. deerskin says:

    Call me stupid, but would one person really make the whole coat, including the embroidery? In the costume industry embroidery and other surface design is a specialized skill and would be done separately from the construction. The pattern of the garment would be marked out and the embroidery pattern marked out on the fabric and then sent to the embroiderers (or fabric painters or etc.) inhouse or contracted. Once that’s done then the markings gets check for accuracy–(stuff usually shrinks when it’s painted) then constructed.
    Of course there are times when surface design is done after construction but that’s, for the most part, only at the Metropolitan Opera, because they don’t have a dedicated fabric painter but use someone who also paints sets–at least that’s the way it used to be.

    I also ask because the embroidery looks like tambour work, which has to be done on a frame.

  9. Does it matter whether the same person did the lining embroidery? I thought the point was, is the hand-stitchg valuable, regardless of who did it, or when it was done.

    Also re: China (but kinda OT), I find it really really fascinating that the Chinese invented mass-production long before Britain. Chinese potters have been using mass production techniques like division of labor for millennia. One interesting innovation was the design of cups that could be stacked more easily in a kiln, so they could get more pottery out of their investment in the fuel & time required to fire them. This almost seems lean…:)

  10. deerskin says:


    I asked about who does the embroidery because i am interested in the whole process of manufacturing. So yes, it does matter to me. I would think since this site is about garment manufacture that it might be useful info for others–sort of the rule i have about questions in my classes–is it just personal or will others benefit from the info?
    Obviously, or maybe not, i know how things happen in a commercial costume shop, but for garment manufacturing–in best practices, lean kind of way–i am sort of clueless. So . . . call me stupid. But i don’t think my question was.

  11. LauraLo says:

    I’m wondering if any of the people expressing various doubts above have actually tried Kathleen’s method of bagging a jacket. Because I did. Actually, as soon as I saw the photos in the nameless tutorial series, I wanted to try it – I mean, come on, like which of the photos would you like your garment to look?? Since I first try it, I never made another coat without using Kathleen’s bagging method. What attracted me to this method (besides the clean look in the photo, besides my admiration for Kathleen) was that it is a simple and logical solution! It is so easy and it gives you such great results.
    The reason I’m writing this comment (other than expressing my gratitude to Kathleen for sharing her knowledge) is that I’ve just tried this method coupled with drafting my own facings and linings, as Kathleen describes it in her book. Guess what? She’s right, you don’t need that hem pleat! Not at all, not if you draft your lining as she describes (which is another example of clear and logical solution). You can go at my blog and read this post –
    See in this – – picture where the trench is on a hanger, how the lining “blouses” at the hem? This shows you there is more than enough ease in the lining to accommodate the posture and movement of your body, but not as much as to form that obnoxious pleat. I always hated that pleat, it was such a pain to iron, I never knew exactly how much I should fold when ironing it and when wearing, the pleat unfolded a bit, showing a well-pressed crease at the hem of my jacket.
    Believe me, I’ll never make another coat, jacket whatever, using another method. I’m a home sewer and indeed us home sewers are so easily convinced by commercial patternmakers to make up for their mistakes in patterndrafting by handsewing or using various shortcuts. I’m willing to invest my (limited) time and energy in handsewing, but only if it gives added value to my garment. Why should I finish by handsewing a lining which is inserted by machine? It would make more sense to insert the entire lining by hand or to make the entire garment by hand, right? At least it would be consistent.
    So, Kathleen, thank you. You certainly made me very-very happy with this tutorial and your book. If you ever publish another one (book), here’s somebody who will buy it instantly.

  12. Meghan says:

    I love this post! I worked for a tailor who was old and European and firmly entrenched in his old ways of doing things. Even to my relatively untrained eye the way he did some things was not the smart way. His response to my suggestions was always ‘ this is how you do it, because this is how I learned’. I hope that tailoring catches up with the times as the current generation of old guys pass it on to young people who will think critically about what they have been taught.

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