Reverse engineering standard work pt.1

I’m working on a project the likes of which I usually don’t do; there’s not much money in it. Why? Because it’s not something I do much of and much of the work amounts to standard things a pattern maker who does this sort of work would already know to do. The standard work to which I refer are two things (maybe three) on men’s tailored shirts. These being the construction of the collar stand and collar, the sleeve placket and (maybe) the center front. There seems to be several variations on how to do that front button stand. Additionally, I’ve come up with two other methods of constructing that front button stand that are not standard work but could be useful to enthusiast sewers in terms of accuracy, degree of simplicity and guaranteed results.

Anyway, since I don’t do shirts much, I have to revisit the construction of the sleeve placket and the collar stand. Since that amounts to standard work, I can’t charge for the time spent on figuring it out -officially quantifying it for a manufacturer. Now, if I did know shirts inside and out, I could get paid for the time spent in communicating the standard work but I can’t charge for the time spent in sorting it out. That’s the reason why pattern makers don’t want to do work they don’t have a lot of experience with. It’s not that they can’t do it or figure it out, it’s that because they’re not intimately familiar with it -knowing it like the back of their hands- they’re not actually getting paid for everything they put into it. Now, when you’re starting out as a pattern maker, this could be seen as an investment with potentiality for the future so you write it off as professional tuition. I still don’t think it’s ethical to charge a client for figuring out common standard work. Me, I was just up for a challenge. I’ve made plenty of shirts with a successful rate of professional looking completion but I’ve never made patterns for shirts “professionally”.

So, in this exercise -in the event you’d like to learn how to reverse engineer standard work- here are some steps you could take. My first example is the sleeve placket. Before I can get to the sleeve placket, I have to undo the cuff. The first step in undoing the cuff is to remove the button. If you have a scalpel (recommended, I love them, they’re leagues above seam rippers), then you’d undo the button hole. The third step is to undo all of the top stitching on the cuff. In other words, you undo all of the seams in the reverse order. Now technically, if we do this right, to construct the work, we’d reverse all the steps we did in deconstruction. But for now, let’s stick with taking the thing apart.

Before I forget, DH asked me if anything I was doing amounted to unethical activity. Allow me to reassure you that this is not. This construction is standard work which by definition, belongs to anybody who cares to figure it out. However, if you do something like this, please get it right. I am eternally irritated by nitwits who can’t analyze this correctly and then go off and spout that their results reflect the official way that the apparel industry does these things. I swear, the only experts more irritating than those who co-opt “couture” to describe their skills, are those co-opting “industrial sewing”. I say we hang the ones who do both.

Now, there are additional issues associated with this particular kind of standard work. Because operations like these are done so frequently, many of these processes are automated. Automated means that we have specialized folders (machine attachments) or equipment that only do one particular operation. Now, if you’re trying to reverse engineer an automated process and you don’t have the needed equipment, don’t panic. These issues can often be resolved in the small shop with the use of folding jigs. If you remember the paper jig I showed you how to make in the welt pocket tutorial series, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s amazing how useful a small paper tool can be. It can make all the difference in the world and really increase your completion time. In summary, the standard work for an automated process can be different from the standard work of a manual procedure. At this point, I’m not sure where this project lies. I’m hoping we can make a jig to get the automated looking result because those always look the cleanest. If not, well, we’ll figure out the standard work of the manual procedure.

Anyway, tomorrow I’ll be putting up part two. I have photographed the deconstruction of the sleeve cuff and placket in 17 steps. Following that posting, I’ll be doing the reconstruction in reverse order. Then, if I haven’t bored you utterly, we’ll see about those collars and button stands. I’ve never liked sewing the collar stands on men’s tailored shirts so if you avoid them, you’re not the only one :)

Entries in the reverse engineering standard work series (how to copy industrial sewing methods)
Shirt making tips
Standard Work (sounds boring, read it anyway)
Reverse engineering standard work pt.1
Reverse engineering standard work pt.2
Reverse engineering standard work pt.3
Reverse engineering standard work pt.4
Reverse engineering standard work pt.5
Reverse engineering standard work pt.6
Reverse engineering standard work pt.7
Reverse engineering standard work pt.8
Reverse engineering standard work pt.9

Spin off of Reverse engineering standard work pt.5:
A failed experiment
A failed experiment pt.2
A failed experiment pt.3
Reverse engineering standard work pt.5.1

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  1. Jess Latham says:

    I actually made the welt jig from thin brass sheeting for the center part. I’m thinking of somehow eliminating the paper that wraps around the center part by placing it on a wood block and having the center attached by some method I haven’t figured out yet. Does the paper have to wrap around with the fabric or could the fabric alone be wrapped and ironed?

  2. Sarah Fosdick says:

    I spent several days in a custom shirtmaker’s shop a few years ago watching and learning how the shirts are cut and put together. It was a great experience and everyone I met was enthusiastic to have me there. I totally recommend visiting a shirtmaker if you get a chance. It seemed that they were happy to have someone appreciate their craft, and I learned a lot. After studying there I am happy to say I went home and made a shirt for myself, which was part of a fashion school project. My biggest problem in creating the crisp look of a good custom shirt was fusing the collar and cuffs. The shirtmaker had a machine that heated the fusing and the self fabric to just the right temp for just the right time to get a really crisp look, which I just couldn’t replicate at home.

    As far as the sleeve placket, they didn’t have an automated machine for that, they just cut the piece and folded them on as they went. They are topstitched in place and the operators know the standard seam allowance so they know where to fold them. Ditto for the collar stand.

  3. mc says:

    This is very informative, thanks. I’m going to email this entry, and probably a million others, to myself for future reference. On to part II…

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