Bow Ties on the High Seas

taylor tailor

Before I talk about bow ties, you should go check out the Reyna Lay Designs Podcast. Not only is it a great show where Reyna interviews sewers/sewists, indie pattern designers, and other creative people, but she is all about inspiring and empowering people, which is really cool in my book. Oh, and I…um…I happen to be the guest this week! So, if you are into podcasts, and even if you aren’t, go check it out on iTunes or on Reyna’s website.

Now, on to bow ties. Earlier this year my wife was invited to go on a cruise to Alaska, and since I’m a nice guy she took me along :) Some people love cruising, others hate it, but put me on a floating hotel en route to some of the most amazing scenery on the planet, and you can guarantee I’ll have a good time. This particular cruise had a couple of formal normal nights, and rather than go all out with a tuxedo rental, I was inspired to make some bow ties for the trip that could easily be worn with my existing wardrobe.

ruby princess deck

(This was taken at 10:30 at night. Alaska has crazy light in the spring and summer.)

I didn’t used to like bow ties, as they can sometimes feel a little “clown-ish” or “costumey,” and they leave the front of the shirt feeling a bit exposed when worn with a jacket. Recently though, I’ve changed my mind and I’ve actually grown to really like them. I think for me the key is to keep the bow tie understated and somewhat casual. Even though I made them for “formal” night on the ship, the dress ran the spectrum from tuxedos to jeans, and I was happy to fall somewhere in the middle.

blue bow tie

Sorry about the weird chin shot. As with any sewing project, fabric choice is important depending on the look and feel you want to achieve. For a more casual look, I chose fabrics without any sheen that have some texture. This helped with a softer, relaxed, less stuffy look. I also avoided prints, which could certainly work, but for the sake of versatility I went with mostly solid or very minimal print design.

ship sewing machine

One day I was wandering around and exploring the ship and managed to stumble upon a behind the scenes tour of the main theater. I was so excited to find a sewing machine in the costume department! Nobody else was even remotely interested in the sewing machine, and I got a few strange looks as I checked out the motor and took some pictures. Apparently there are so many different shows that the crew needs to alter costumes right on the ship.

ship balcony

A little wrinkled, a little crooked, maybe a little tired, but having a great time anyway.

juneau alaska

This photo was taken in the Port of Juneau, AK. Our cruise stopped in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria B.C. We also made our way into the Tracy Arm Fjord. The views, the wildlife, and the port cities were all spectacular. Even if you aren’t all that into cruising, the Alaska cruise experience is really special and something to consider, as most of these ports can only be reached by plane or sea (or some way out of the way driving).

grey bow tie

More chin. Bow ties are actually really easy to make once you figure out the right size. I’d say that learning to tie one is probably harder than learning to make one, but there’s YouTube and lots of websites to assist with learning the tying part. These bow ties are simply two layers of fabric sewn right sides together with a piece of sew-in interfacing sandwiched in the middle. Turning the tie right side out is an exercise to test your patience, but slow and steady gets the job done.

sunset at sea

Headed home. Sunset at sea off the back of the ship. Back to work on my jacket and backpack patterns.

Paris, Barcelona, and a New Shoulder Bag

Eiffel Tower

This last April my wife and I took a trip to Paris and Barcelona, something for which we have been planning and saving for a long time. In preparation for our trip, I wanted to make a bag that was water resistant. We heard that Paris can be rainy in the Spring, and we needed a way to protect a camera, and a place to stash all of the essentials for long days spent exploring. I also wanted a bag that was made with travel in mind. For me that means some outside pockets that are easy to access, and that inside the bag, there are enough pockets and sleeves to keep things organized.

Cordura messenger bag, front

For the outer shell and lining, I used 1000 denier Cordura nylon. It has a canvas-like weave on the front, and a urethane coating on the back side that helps keep water out. This stuff is extremely durable and is resistant to tearing and abrasion. Various versions and weights of this fabric have been used for outdoor and military gear for years. This is the first time I’ve used all synthetic materials. Normally I’m all about natural fibers (and still am), but I wanted to try something new. Plus, the fabric was a nice birthday gift from my mom, so why not!

Top of Eiffel Tower

The new bag made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower! We were actually the very first people to the top of the tower that morning and had the whole upper level to ourselves for a little while. I was lucky to snag a couple of tickets in advance that had a time slot on them, which allowed us to skip the lines. I highly recommend this way of visiting the tower. You have to commit to a time slot 90 days in advance, and be willing to stay up really late or get up really early if you don’t live near Paris, as the tickets are limited and go on sale at 8:00 am Paris time. But it was well worth getting to skip the two-hour plus lines that quickly formed. Buy them directly from the Eiffel Tower website and not a tour company that charges a premium.

Paris street

This was the street we stayed on in Paris, and it was pretty much everything I imagined it would be. Narrow, with lots of shops and interesting places to eat.

Paris, shoulder bag

Me, awkwardly posing against a wall outside an amazing place that served chocolat chaud. This wasn’t like any hot chocolate I’ve ever had. It was really thick and tasted like a melted chocolate bar. The whipped cream was so thick it was practically butter. By the way, if it looks like I was wearing the same thing in every picture, I pretty much was. We were gone 13 days and I like to pack light. That means one pair of jeans. These jeans.

Louvre sunset

Paris, the city of love and lights.

Eiffel Tower at night

Between a “real camera” and my iPhone, I think I have a gazillion photos of the Eiffel Tower. Day time, night time, it begs to be photographed.

Cordura messenger bag, side

Back to the bag. Even though there is an over-the-top closure like a traditional messenger bag, I also wanted a zipper top to keep things from sliding out, and for a little extra security. Since the top of the bag is built in as extra height added to the side panels and end pieces, I needed a way to hold down the triangle flaps created by forming the “gusseted” top. On each end of the bag where the main zipper stops, I sewed in some really strong magnets to hold these flaps down. I could have stitched the flaps down, but wanted the option of lifting them up to make packing easier.

The magnets I used are actually too strong, and were very difficult to sew. They stuck to the bed of my machine and the feed dogs would not advance the fabric. I would probably change this aspect of the design for future bags.

Quite often people form the gusset and sew these triangle flaps with the bag inside out. As a result, the flaps are hidden on the inside. Leaving them on the outside, however, allowed me to make the zipper two to three inches longer. This creates a bigger opening facilitating packing and finding objects inside the bag.

Fabric shopping, Montmartre

No visit to Paris would be complete without a trip to the fabric shops in Montmartre. There were quite a few shops clustered in this area with lots of fun fabrics. I wish I had had extra space in my suitcase to bring some home. Thanks to Milène at Micoton for all of her great fabric and site seeing suggestions in Paris.

Paris, Montmartre

There were seemingly an infinite number of streets, alleys, hills, shops, and cafes to explore. More than enough for a lifetime of visits. I truly can’t wait to go back. After five days in Paris, we packed our bags and caught the high speed train to Barcelona.

Cordura messenger bag, back

While the bag is primarily meant to be worn as a shoulder bag, because we were frequently climbing up in to trains and down into metro stations, and often had to carry our suitcases as well, I wanted the option to wear the bag like a backpack so it wouldn’t flop around if my hands were full. The back panel is made with a 1/4″ layer of closed cell foam sandwiched between the lining and exterior for structure and comfort. I also made two shoulder straps and sewed some extra webbing loops on the back/bottom corners of the bag. I can quickly attach a second strap with carabiners and wear it as a back pack if I want to.

Barcelona, La Rambla

On to Barcelona. This is the famous La Rambla street, which was always packed with people. I was happy for my zipper top bag as this street is well known for its pickpockets. Luckily we had no issues at all in terms of safety or security. Both cities, Paris and Barcelona seem very safe, even at night.

Barcelona, shoulder bag

I used seat belt webbing for the shoulder strap, which was new to me. It was actually very easy to work with, and is quite comfortable to wear. This photo was taken outside the Montjuic Castle in Barcelona, which overlooked a huge port and shipping area.

Barcelona at night

The Magic Fountain of Montjuic. This fountain lights up and does a lights, music, water show in the evenings. It was pretty spectacular, but I also like this view of the city with the fountains off.

Barcelona at night

Directly behind the fountain show was this building, The National Art Museum of Catalonia. It also lights up during the fountain show. I love the guy with his arms raised to the sky, and the silhouettes of all the people gathered on the steps.

Barcelona street

Similar to Paris, the old part of Barcelona was full of shops and tiny narrow streets to explore.

Cordura messenger bag, front

The inside of the bag has four zipper pockets in varying sizes. One that fits 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheets of paper or a magazine, one that fits passports, and two others for a first aid kit, snacks, and flashlight. The open pockets on the ends are designed to hold a water bottle or umbrella.

Cordura messenger bag, open

One thing I learned with this project is to try and use a light colored fabric for linings in the future. In low light, finding small things down in the corners of the bag can be a little difficult since I am basically staring down into a black hole. Maybe a lighter colored lining would help with this.

Barcelona, Sagrada Familia

Some of the architecture in Barcelona is indescribable. Gaudi’s famous masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia. It is unlike any basilica I’ve ever seen. Construction began in 1882 and is still going strong. It won’t be finished until 2026.

Barcelona, Casa Mila

Gaudi’s Casa Mila, or La Pedrera.

Barcelona, shoulder bag

Overall, I am happy with the way this shoulder bag turned out. It was the perfect companion (other than my wife of course!) for running around the streets of Paris and Barcelona for two weeks. We were in and out of planes, trains, and a few automobiles, and I was really able to test the design out. There aren’t too many things I would change.

The dimensions are a little on the big side, but I looked at the size as sort of a compromise. It might be a little big as an ideal day bag, but the extra size allowed me to get away with only having a small carry-on size suitcase for the whole two weeks away from home. So in that sense, it had two purposes – just small enough that it can be carried around all day, but big enough to pack things that didn’t fit in my suitcase.

Barcelona Park Guell

Gaudi’s Park Guell. If I could travel for a living, I would. Can’t wait to get out on the next adventure!

Hanging Dopp Kit

Since a few people have asked about the status of my backpack pattern, I thought I would give a quick update. The process of getting the pattern ready and formatted is taking far longer than I expected. If I had known this from the beginning, I would have waited to make the announcement that I was releasing it. The good news is that I am making progress. The pattern itself and the instructions are finished, I am simply waiting on graphics and illustrations. Since I’m not a graphic artist or illustrator, I have to wait my turn to have these services completed.

I greatly appreciate the continued interest in the pattern. Trust me, I want to get it out as soon as I possibly can. Once I have an official release date, I will be posting about it. My goal is to offer a pdf. version (hopefully in more than one format so it can be printed at home or on a large format printer), and I also hope to offer a physical paper version as well.

On to other things…

cordura diy dopp kit

For over a year, my wife and I have been planning and saving for a trip to Europe, specifically Paris and Barcelona. We happen to be leaving this week, and I couldn’t be more excited! Due to the threat of a French air traffic controller strike (which they have now called off), we are also getting to see a little bit of London on a long layover before taking the train to France.

One of the things I needed for this trip and any travel in general is some kind of bag to hold all of my toiletries (toothpaste, contact solution, shampoo, etc.). Previously I carried everything in gallon sized plastic bags, which was less than ideal. The plastic bags would tear, sometimes they wouldn’t close, and they made organizing impossible.

Since I had some extra Cordura fabric and a free Saturday, I drew up a plan, made a quick pattern, and put this thing together. It was actually a little more complicated than that, but I’m happy with the result. The pockets are sized so that I can easily pull out my quart sized bag of liquids when going through security at an airport.

cordura diy dopp kit

Depending on my packing situation, the dopp kit can fold in half and snap shut, or it can unsnap and lay flat. Lots of toiletry type bags are big chunky brick-like bags. These are fine if you have a large suitcase, but trying to pack in a way that leaves a large enough place for that shape of bag can be challenging. This kit can lay across a suitcase if necessary to make packing easier.

cordura diy dopp kit

The back side has shallow sleeve pockets to hold flat things like bandages. Oh, and that nifty clip you see on the left side of the picture not only allows the kit to hang from a towel bar or loop around another object, but it also doubles as bottle opener! You know, for hotel beer. The company that makes that clip makes some other cool hardware that I have used on another bag (post to follow when I get home from my trip).

cordura diy dopp kit

As I mentioned above, I used 1000 denier Cordura nylon fabric, which is easy to clean and dries out quickly if it gets wet. I’m looking forward to testing this dopp kit out on the road!

TaylorTailor Around the Internet

I want to give a quick thanks to two amazing blogs that mentioned TaylorTailor in the last few weeks. Derek from Put This On got in touch to do a piece about learning to make your own clothes. If you are interested, there is a two part interview he did with Arno and me. You can check out part 1 here, and part 2 here.

put_this_on_logoI’ve written about my love for Put This On in the past, and have to say that it is one of my favorite blogs. Their focus is mostly on menswear, helping guys with things like fit, what to wear in certain situations, and helpful tips about upcoming clothing sales. To put it simply, Put This On is “a web series about dressing like a grownup.”

Best Sewing Blogs 2015

For what I think is the second year in a row (I might be wrong about that) Madalynne has asked her readers to vote on the “best sewing blogs” in 22 categories. TaylorTailor was voted as one of the best guy sewing blogs! I’m not sure if I deserve that recognition, but I was thrilled to be mentioned amongst some truly incredible and inspirational bloggers this year. You can see the full list here.

MadalynnMadalynne focuses on sewing, tutorials, design, and pattern making. She is also a talented photographer. I’m sure most people who read TaylorTailor are well aware of Madalynne, but if not, I would recommend checking her site out.

Jacket Project Update

mens jacket pattern

Progress on my jacket project is slow but steady. I finally have all of the pieces drafted. When you take all of the pockets into account, there are a gazillion little pattern pieces for different sized welts, pocket linings, and bits of interfacing for reinforcement. Plus, the lining basically needs a separate pattern to allow for ease and attachment seam allowance.

muslin jacket adjustments

My procedure so far has been to draft a pattern using the method I talked about here. Once I had the front, back, side panel, and two piece sleeve finished, I made a muslin shell without any pockets or details (shown above) to see if the pattern was even close to fitting. The fit was far from perfect, but it was a good place to start. I tend to mark all over my muslins in pen, which makes transferring the adjustments to my paper pattern much easier. While I want a high arm hole, the initial pattern had the arm hole placed too high. The shoulder point also needed to be moved, and the upper arm area needed some additional ease.

muslin jacket pieces

I adjusted my pattern accordingly and started a second muslin. This time around I cut out the entire jacket, lining, and all of the pockets to do a proper test fit and make sure all of the pocket pieces work together. I also want to do a practice run through the lining construction, as this will be my first time dealing with a lining (in clothing at least).

There are lots of firsts for me with this project. The single welt chest pocket is something I’ve never made until this muslin. It will take some practice to get the corners and edges straight and crisp, but overall, this type of pocket didn’t seam that much more difficult than the welt pockets I’ve made for chinos.

muslin jacket front

I love that this project is really challenging me to learn new techniques and construction methods. This is by far the most complicated garment I’ve ever made.

Fixing Mistakes: Denim

selvedge denim front close up

Have you ever convinced yourself that something you made is great, when in reality the final product has so many flaws that you never wear or use it? After spending countless hours on a project, and who knows how much money on fabric and notions, sometimes I have trouble admitting that my amazing new piece of clothing…well, isn’t so amazing after all.

That’s the case with this pair of jeans that I made a couple of years ago. After only wearing them two or three times, I finally pulled them out of the closet and decided that I either need to fix the mistakes or use the material for scraps.

The original waistband (not pictured above) had lots of top-stitching mistakes as well as some unsightly areas where the ends of the waistband meet the fly at center front. Minor issues in terms of functionality perhaps, but the flaws bugged me enough that I hesitated to wear the jeans. As I type this, I’m starting to wonder if the flaws were what bugged me, or if the fact that I was too lazy to fix them the first time around was what really bothered me. In other words, I failed to meet my own expectations.

So, I got my seam ripper out and took the old waistband and belt loops off. From here I cut a new waistband, belt loops, and leather patch, and put everything back together. Other than a little bit of extra bulk where the button hole and button are placed, this time around I can truly say I’m happy with the results.

selvedge denim jeans

In addition to the waistband problems, I disliked the way these jeans fit through the leg. This denim is really stiff. It’s a 13.5 oz rigid selvedge denim from Cone Mills. One of the things I’ve learned from working with this denim is that once it breaks in, it stretches out a little and gets really soft. As a result, too much ease through the leg makes for slightly baggy looking jeans once the denim softens.

selvedge denim back folded

I got my seam ripper out again, opened the hem, carefully cut through three rows of stitching that held the flat-felled inseam together, and then cut open the side seams. I slimmed the leg slightly on the inseam to remove some of the excess ease, and then put the legs back together. Because I used selvedge denim and wanted to preserve the clean edge of the fabric, all of the leg shape had to be on the inseam to keep the side seams perfectly straight.

I know selvedge denim has been the rage for a while now, and I’m completely guilty of jumping on that bandwagon, but from a pattern drafting perspective, a straight side seam really isn’t the most flattering fit for some body types, including my own. Very few people’s legs are completely straight, so cutting pants with a straight side seam creates a leg that seems unbalanced. These are men’s jeans, not tailored suit trousers, so I’m not too worried about it, but I definitely notice this more when the denim is new and stiff.

selvedge denim fit pic

Finding a balance between absolute perfection and “good enough” that I’m happy with the final garment is always difficult for me. I tend to over analyze mistakes and get bogged down with the curse of perfectionism. Every time I start a project though, I have this voice in the back of my head that says “if you are going to do something, do it right, or don’t do it at all.”

That brings me to my roll top backpack pattern delay. I want to make sure this first pattern lives up to my own standards, and while I anticipated having it completed and released by now, I am going to take some more time to get the directions right, printing format right, and make sure all of the details are in order. There are so many details, things I never considered when drafting patterns for myself.

My take-away from both of these processes (fixing jeans and releasing my first pattern) is to not settle for anything other than my absolute best work. Especially in the case of my backpack pattern. If people are going to be spending their hard earned money on it, I want the final product to be worthwhile.

Backpack Pattern Preview

rolltop backpack sketchI’m so excited to share this “sketch” of my first pattern that I plan to release later this fall! There might be a few slight changes from what is pictured as I am still testing and tweaking the design. I took what I learned from my first three backpacks  (waxed canvas, rolltop v.1, rolltop v.2) and tried to incorporate the best elements of each into this pattern.

There is lots of debate elsewhere online about pdf vs. traditional print patterns, but I’m curious to hear from anyone who might be interested in this pattern if they have a preference. There are pros and cons to both. While there is the immediate satisfaction and instant delivery from a pdf download, they can be a pain to print and assemble at home. On the flip side though, the cost to print and package physical copies of the pattern can be high, which makes the price of the pattern more expensive for y’all.

I also worry a little bit about pdf copies of the pattern being so easy to distribute online. Not that any of you would give the pattern away of course :), but once a pdf hits the internet, there really is no way to stop people from giving it away for free. I would love your thoughts on this issue as well.

With the exception of all-purpose thread, I plan to stock all of the supplies you would need to actually make the backpack. Initially I will offer a simple canvas fabric option, as well as all of the hardware, zippers, and webbing necessary to make the pack. Obviously people can source their own supplies, but I thought I would offer the basics through my shop. Does this sound like something in which you would be interested?

As soon as the pattern is released (I don’t have an official date yet) I will be doing a comprehensive, multi-step sew-along for the backpack.

If this release goes well, my goal over time is to develop a whole line of bag and pack patterns, from zipper top backpacks, to messenger style bags, as well as duffel and smaller toiletry bags.

Your thoughts on the above would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Suit Jacket/Blazer Pattern Revisited

Men's jacket pattern draft

Three years ago I started drafting a jacket pattern and got distracted. At the time, I needed shirts and pants more than a jacket so I put the project on hold. Rather than revive that old project, I decided to start completely from scratch and use a drafting system to create a new jacket, or “lounge coat” pattern.

There are several drafting systems available at the Cutter and Tailor forum. On a side note, I have to give a huge thanks to all who make that forum possible. It has been amazingly helpful for this project, and I am indebted to all of the members who help to maintain the forum as a valuable resource.

The drafting system I chose to work with is called Rundschau, and it is based off of four basic measurements, chest, waist, seat girth, and body height. These four measurements are then plugged into a bunch of calculations, and this set of measurements and calculated numbers form the basis of the pattern draft.

As Jeffery mentions on his blog, there is some debate as to whether this is a good way to draft or not, but I was so fascinated that such systems exist, I had to try one to see how it works. Somehow the system is based off of various body proportions, which is why the entire draft can be created from four measurements. It sort of seems like magic, and to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how this is going to turn out since I haven’t tested the fit in fabric yet.

The keys to being able to complete the draft are a good tailor’s square and a lot of patience. In some ways a fearless approach is necessary to learn things like this. After reading through the forums a bit, I got some blank paper out and decided to give it a try. It might not fit, and might not be the way a professional tailor would do things, but for me this is a starting point towards creating my first jacket.


Part of the reason that I haven’t kept the blog updated this summer is that I’m currently developing my first backpack pattern that I hope to offer for sale later this fall. I’m so excited I can barely stand it! There is still lots of work to do, and obviously I will be talking more about the pattern in the future. Stay tuned for more details.

Canvas Shoulder Bag

Canvas Shoulder Bag, front

After experimenting with backpacks last summer (Roll top 1, Roll top 2), I got hooked on bag design. My roll top packs have been good travel companions, but occasionally there are times when I need something a little smaller with easy access zipper pockets. Filson makes some of the best shoulder bags on the planet, and naturally I looked to them for inspiration. If I didn’t enjoy making my own gear, I would be saving my money for a Filson briefcase style bag instead.

Canvas Shoulder Bag, pocket

I used 18oz canvas, heavy duty Riri zippers, cotton webbing and seam tape throughout. The front exterior pocket has places for pens, keys, and other small items. Within the main compartment is a sleeve for an iPad, phone pocket, and two slightly deeper billow style pockets for larger objects.

Canvas Shoulder Bag, side

On the backside is a flat, snap closure pocket for a newspaper, magazine, boarding pass, etc. The shoulder strap is adjustable and removable if I want to carry it more like a briefcase. The bottoms of bags and packs usually show signs of wear first, so I decided to brush the bottom panel (not shown) with a thick layer of latex for durability.

Canvas Shoulder Bag, back

Anyone who follows me on Instagram has seen pictures of this project in progress. Here is a little collage of iPhone photos that start with the initial drawing, move to the pattern making process, then pattern testing and construction, and lastly the final bag.


From here I think I am moving on from bags and packs for a little while and back to clothing. I know I’ve talked about making a men’s jacket/blazer several times, and even started work on it a long time ago. It’s time to actually do it. So, that’s my plan. I’m currently looking for a jacket drafting system that I can use to create the pattern. Once I find one, it will probably take me most of the summer (and beyond) to get the fit right and properly learn how to put a jacket together.

Menswear & Project Inspiration

There are numerous online sources that I turn to on a regular basis for insight into fit and style, menswear news, and inspiration for future projects. I thought I would share some of them here for anyone who might be interested in this sort of thing. I’m not getting paid to list these websites. I simply enjoy what they have to offer and thought that some of you might as well.

None of them are directly related to sewing, pattern drafting, or craft in general, and most are geared towards men. Although, if you are a lady who wants your guy to dress better, perhaps you might find something worthwhile.

Put This On – “A Web Series About Dressing Like a Grownup.” I am a long time fan of PTO and think this is a great place to start for any guy who is looking to, well…dress like a grown up.

Valet – “Consider us your concierge to a well-styled life.” An online men’s magazine of sorts.

This Fits – “A resource for men about dressing well.” Great information on fit, style, and various menswear sales.

Kempt – “World of men’s style, fashion, grooming.” Another online magazine/blog covering numerous topics.

I also have to mention Alton Brown, who I have been following for years. He is famous for his role in the food world with numerous shows on the Food Network, books, tours, etc. Alton has a relatively new podcast, and while the focus is on food, he has a lot of interesting guests and covers a wide range of topics that so far have included art, guitars, life on the road, and most relevant here, his interest in men’s style/fashion.

For those who are more interested in menswear, check out the episode that Alton did with Sid Mashburn where they talk about full canvas vs. fused jackets, the merits of the Navy blazer, importance of fit, and searching for that perfect vintage Rolex.

Where do you draw inspiration for your projects and blogs in general?