Cotton: in the “Wild”

All of the clothing I have made so far, as well as the canvas backpack I recently finished, is made out of 100% cotton fabric. Other than wool and linen, cotton is pretty much the standard for all non-athletic menswear, and yet I found myself wondering, how many people (including myself) give any thought to where cotton actually comes from.

The raw materials that go into those neatly stacked bolts of fabric in a fabric store, or the perfectly folded shirts in a retail clothing shop have undergone so much change and processing that they barely resemble their original form. We can’t exactly wear raw cotton fibers, so this processing is necessary, but how many times have you thought of that spread collar, oxford cloth, button-down shirt as a something that started out as a plant?

I decided that I want to know more about where the shirt on my back comes from, or at least learn a little about the plant from which my clothing is derived. So, this past summer I did a little gardening experiment and grew some cotton on my porch.

It’s hard to believe that so much of our clothing starts out as these little seeds.

cotton seeds

Little baby cotton plants.

cotton plant seedling

When the cotton plant blooms, it has these gorgeous, delicate, yellow flowers that only stick around for a day or two. They quickly turn a light purple color and fall off. From here the cotton bolls start to form.

cotton plant flower

After a week or two, the bolls begin to open up and you can see the cotton fibers inside.

cotton boll opening

Once the cotton bolls fully opened and dried out, I removed them from the plant.

cotton bolls

There is an old cotton mill about 100 yards from where I live, but unfortunately it is no longer in use. I would love to go see the next step in the fabric production process, where cotton bolls like these ones are turned into something that resembles the fabric we have come to love and depend on.

cotton bolls

Waxed Canvas Backpack

 

Waxed Canvas backpack, front

When I first started thinking about making a back pack, I knew I wanted to use canvas, and I knew I wanted a simple “traditional” design. My goal was to create something that could hold a couple days worth of clothing for a weekend getaway, or be used as an airplane carry-on. Serious hiking, climbing, or long heavy hauling were not factors I considered when designing and constructing this pack. For inspiration, I looked to both the Archival Rucksack and Makr Farm Ruck Sack, which both seem to be nicely designed and well made.

The pack features a double layer of canvas throughout the body and flap for durability and some structure. Ideally, I would have preferred to use one layer of really heavy canvas, but as I mentioned in the post about the canvas I dyed for this pack, I found the canvas on sale and couldn’t pass it up. At the time it was the heaviest canvas available in the store, and while I saved a little money, I should have just bought the right fabric to begin with. All things considered though, I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out.

Waxed Canvas backpack, back

All of the blue webbing is polypropylene, and while it isn’t my preferred material, it was easy to work with. Cotton webbing would have been a nice option, but was difficult to find in small quantities. I also thought about using leather for the shoulder straps and flap closure, and on a future pack I may do so. Working with leather, however, requires a lot of practice, special tools, and skills that I haven’t even begin to learn.

For both the shoulder straps and flap closure I used a simple double D-ring setup for adjustments. This works great for the shoulder straps because I don’t need to change the length of those very often, but the D-rings make getting into the main compartment a little difficult. On my next pack, I will probably use different hardware such as a lobster claw, or some type of snap hook to close the top flap.

Waxed Canvas backpack, open

The main compartment closes with a drawstring woven through grommets, which were surprisingly easy to install. I decided to lightly wax the outside layer of canvas with Otter Wax to give some texture, a weathered look, and most importantly, resistance to water. I should probably apply a heavier coat for more protection, but this is something I can do at a later date. I chose Otter Wax because it is a natural product, is environmentally friendly, and is relatively easy to apply.  The two outer pockets have slots for pens/pencils, and close with a jeans style button. There are also several pockets on the inside for thin, low profile items.

Waxed Canvas backpack, wax

Materials and hardware:

(materials are approximate measurements and are usually more than enough)

  • 2 yards heavy canvas
  • 16 ft. 1″ webbing
  • 12 ft. 2″ webbing
  • 8 D-Rings
  • 4 metal slides
  • 2 jeans style buttons,
  • 16 size #1 grommets
  • 2 yards 1/4″ rope for draw string
  • Heavy topstitching thread
  • 5 yards 1″ bias tape, or twill tape to finish inside and top opening seams
  • Fabric dye and wax, optional

 

New Taylor Tailor Design!

After two and a half years of using a free WordPress theme, I’ve finally got myself a brand new custom design for the blog! My first theme wasn’t necessarily bad considering it was free, but my wife and I actually own and run a web and graphic design business. I was long overdue for a, um… “tailored” design. We’ve been so busy the last couple of years (a good thing of course) that we rarely have time to work on personal projects.

While I was off adjusting my shirt pattern this past weekend, my wife surprised me by designing a new theme for Taylor Tailor. Isn’t she awesome? The logo is based off of the vintage Taylor Tailor sign I picked up off of eBay a while back. I now have a wider area for my images, and overall a nice clean, simple look. I couldn’t be happier with it.

In addition to learning how to make my own clothes, I’ve also started learning how to make my own beer! With the new design I’ll be adding a section about my brewing adventures, so don’t be surprised if you see a beer post here and there thrown in amongst the denim, shirts, and other sewing projects.

Now that my content area is wider, I have to re-edit the images I had planned for the backpack I made with the canvas I posted about a few weeks ago. As soon as I re-size the images I’ll get the backpack posted.

 

Canvas Dying

I bought a couple of yards of canvas on sale knowing that I wanted to make a canvas backpack at some point. When it actually came time to make the backpack (post coming soon), I realized that the natural canvas color would quickly get really dirty. I’ll just dye it I thought, it’s easy right?

The process is actually pretty easy. The hard part is getting the right color. This was my first time dying anything, and while it was fun, I’ll probably look a little harder for the exact color of fabric I want next time, rather than trying to dye fabric to a certain color. I used a simple, inexpensive dye that you can find at most hobby/craft stores.

*Please note, this post is not meant as an endorsement for Rit dye. It just happened to be the easiest product to find in my area.*

Raw Canvas with fabric dye

I started with a grey powder dye. If the first dying session had resulted in the color shown on the box, I would have been pretty happy with the outcome.

Canvas dying in sink

Unfortunately, the result was a very cool light grey, borderline lavender color. Not exactly what I had in mind for a backpack. I followed the instructions, used two packages of dye, washed the fabric before I started, etc. Maybe my water wasn’t hot enough? Maybe my sink was too small? I’m not sure what went wrong, but I’ll blame my lack of experience rather than the dye.

Canvas dying results

So…I switched to liquid dye, picked out a “nice” taupe color and repeated the process.

Dyed canvas, with new dye color

My lavender canvas turned into the color shown below, which is actually fairly close to the color on the bottle, and not a bad choice for a backpack. If I do decide to embark on a dying adventure again, I think I’ll try to seek out a non-conventional, more organic approach and use something like coffee or tea to give plain cotton some color. This will do for now.

Final canvas dye color

I hope to have the backpack I made with this canvas up soon.

Spring/Summer Natural Denim

This is pretty much a repeat of my last post except in a different color. I used the same pattern but made this pair of jeans out of a lighter weight, natural cream colored denim. Up close this denim basically looks like painting canvas, sprinkled with little brown and black bits that I assume are left over from the cotton plant. Hopefully this 11.5oz fabric will stay cooler on those hot, humid summer days.

100% cotton, 11.5oz, Natural, Red Line, Cone Mills selvedge denim
“Slim” fit, straight leg
Single needle stitching
Button fly
Brass rivets and buttons
Handmade by me from my own pattern

hanging cream colored natural selvedge denim

 

cream colored natural selvedge denim button fly

 

cream colored natural selvedge denim front

 

cream colored natural selvedge denim folded

 

cream colored natural selvedge denim back pockets

 

cream colored natural selvedge denim cuffs

Men’s Selvedge Denim Jeans

So I got a little distracted from my jacket project. I’ve had this remnant piece of denim from the Supply Shop that’s been taunting me to turn it into a pair of jeans, and I finally gave in. I’m putting the jacket on hold for a little while to make some other things from my fabric stash, but I did end up finding a nice piece of cotton and some lining for the jacket when I get around to finishing the pattern.

100% cotton, 13.5oz, Red Line, Cone Mills selvedge denim
“Slim” fit, straight leg
Single needle stitching
Button Fly
Copper rivets and buttons
Handmade by me from my own pattern

hanging selvedge denim jeans

 

folded selvedge denim jeans

 

selvedge denim jeans front with button fly

 

selvedge denim jeans back, yoke and pockets

 

selvedge denim cuff roll

Jacket Pattern Update

Progress on my jacket project is extremely slow but steady. I’ve managed to throw together another hunk of muslin to quickly test out the basic shell of my men’s jacket pattern. At this point I’m just making sure the collar/lapel pattern pieces actually work together. I’m not concerned about how the collar notches look or how the lapels roll/lay on this test garment. This was my first attempt at making a notched lapel and found it somewhat difficult. I haven’t consulted my tailoring books yet (I should have), but I’d love to hear about any good online resources for notched lapel construction.

From here I need to add some shape to the side seams and center back seam, decide what I want to do for darts, and start the lining pattern.

men's jacket pattern test in muslin

I made a quick list of projects that I hope to complete in 2012. My main focus here is building a wardrobe from scratch so I’m sticking to the basics: shirts, pants, and a jacket.

  • This jacket is a priority, but I may end up making some of these other things below first.
  • Another pair of selvedge denim indigo jeans. My last pair is still doing great, (they are only a year old) but I want to have a fresh crisp pair in the closet
  • A pair of natural selvedge denim (light canvas color) jeans for spring/summer
  • Chinos
    -Light gray
    -Dark gray
    -Khaki
  • At least 2 heavier weight winter shirts
  • At least 2 light weight spring/summer shirts

It seems like a fairly short list for an entire year, but this is more than I completed in 2011. Who knows, maybe I’ll pick up the pace and get even more done!

Vintage Taylor Tailor Sign

So if your name happens to be Taylor, and you happen to have an interest in learning how to design and “tailor” your own clothes, and you happen to have a blog called TaylorTailor, AND you happen to like vintage signs…

Front

Taylor Tailor vintage sign

Back

Taylor Tailor vintage sign
A couple of weeks ago an awesome reader sent me an e-mail about an auction for this sign. As you might expect, I just had to have it. Too perfect to pass up. The sign is from the early 1900’s, and while I can’t find much information about its origin, I believe it was from a company called J.L. Taylor & Co., which was a custom-made clothier in New York and Chicago. If anyone knows more about this company, I would love to know.

I’m going to proudly hang this up in my sewing studio this week…and then get back to work on my jacket pattern!

Negative Space

A whole month has gone by since the last update on my jacket patten, but I promise I really am working on it. A couple in-progress pictures are below. Currently I am working on the lapel roll line and collar. In addition to having less time to work on the pattern lately, the added complexity of jackets makes the drafting process more time consuming than the other patterns I have made.

Mens jacket pattern in progress

Mens jacket pattern front, in progress

In my research on jacket drafting I came across this video, which talks about the process a cutter/tailor goes through in precisely recording every detail of the human body, and how he/she then translates that information onto a paper pattern that can be altered and modified over time. As Nina in the video says, these patterns tell stories. They aren’t just bits of paper. Sometimes good stories can take a while to develop.

Negative Space from FUMF on Vimeo.

Men’s Jacket Sloper

This is the first of what I hope to be a whole series of posts on each step I go through to make a jacket, from drafting the initial pattern to the finished garment. I finally completed a working version of a men’s jacket sloper, which is what I consider the first step. This is a simple pattern with a front, back, and sleeve to establish the general shape of a jacket. None of the details that you would expect to find on a finished pattern such as pockets, side panels, lapels, collar, lining, etc., are on this version.

Mens jacket sloper patten

I tested the pattern in muslin and the fit is pretty good for a first attempt. Depending on what I end up doing with the lining, I might need to add some ease and drop the armhole a little bit to allow for any added insulating layers. Initially I was going to keep this a really simple, single layer, lightweight jacket, but with the temperatures dropping this fall, I’m tempted to try and make something that will keep me warm in colder weather.

Mens jacket sloper test fit muslin

As soon as I get this sloper tweaked to perfection, I’ll start adding all of the details that make it a real jacket pattern.