My tailoring holiday with Brita Hirsch – part 1

While in the UK on holidays I spent 3 days tailoring with Brita Hirsch; learning how to draft a jacket from scratchioni. Yes, thats right from a clean piece of paper and pencil to pretty pattern pieces. I’ll try to be succinct, but forgive me if I ramble a little, this experience was awesome and I enjoyed myself so much – huge thanks to Brita x

I may have found the National School of Tailoring in Dublin via a blog, to be honest I can’t recall. But when I saw the ladies tailoring masterclass I was desperate to attend. Except 3 weekends in Dublin = serious difficulties considering I live in Sydney! Also the dates didn’t correspond with my availability, so I contacted  Brita directly via her website.
Brita and I emailed a few times to co-ordinate our plans, then we were good to go.
I happened to book the most terrific little cottage via Airbnb in Lower Withington 20 min from Macclesfield, such a treat to hole up in my own little cottage on a working farm surrounded by chickens, sheep, dogs and lots of pheasants. Pheasants are no better on roads than our wallabies, they just stand there heads cocked, looking this way and that, oblivious to the car aimed straight at them. Its like a game of chicken, or pheasant as I will now call it!

Drafting

Brita uses the Müller und Sohn drafting system, books available here, though it seems only 2 are available in english – how’s your german? This system of drafting patterns appears to be quite popular with the tailoring community, there’s plenty of chat on the subject in the Cutter and Tailor forums about it. Starcross-sewing has done a great review of the system – definitely worth a read if you’d like to wander down the rabbit hole! A recent picture below is from the Starcross blog, Brita’s book was an original edition I think? 
The draft was relatively straight forward though the measurement of ‘nape to waist’ didn’t seem to work for me, we ‘fixed’ that for future drafts. An interesting measurement though, don’t you think? Its exactly as it sounds, back of the neck at the nape around the neck to waist below apex. I’d guess that accounts for thicker necks, larger cup sizes and longer/shorter waists as a double check against other measurements. Dear Brita kept track of the whole process on a spreadsheet so I now have an english step by step reference with added hints for my next try. I have promised to have another go myself when I get home, before I forget, ummm, maybe its too late it all seems a blur!

Fabric

Lunchtime on the 1st day we went fabric shopping – wee heeeee! I actually hadn’t realised we’d be making a jacket, given that other patternmaking classes I’ve done generally take at least 3 days to get a workable pattern. The local Macclesfield purveyor – A. Shufflebotham and Son (not joking) are a Macclesfield institution for drapery fabrics. I bought this Donegal tweed herringbone for my jacket. Its kind of beige-y, grey-y, mauve-y, basically I was sitting on the fence with this fabric. Different colours speak depending on the viewing angle. I’ll show both angles below.

No toile

Okay, so we had finished the draft and cut out the pattern without seam allowances, they would be added directly on the fabric, THEN WE CUT THE FABRIC. No kidding, just like that. No toile after toile after bleeding toile, straight from paper to wool. My last self drafted jacket block was still being recut after 3 toiles, so I could be forgiven for thinking that I have the weirdest body in the world. I assumed Quasimodo was easier to fit!

So why was this process so much easier and seemingly more accurate? Firstly, Brita is a Master tailor and apprenticed as a tailor in a reputable German tailoring house where she was tasked with making suits for the late Luciano Pavarotti – now there’s a challenging fit! Perhaps its the approximately 30 years of tailoring experience, but there is no doubt that Brita knows her way around a well fitting jacket, her experience is evident. She believes that the pattern is only the starting point and contributes around 50% to the overall fit, the remaining 50% being steaming, pressing and 1st & 2nd fit adjustments.

Secondly, perhaps its her preferred drafting system. Müller und Sohn definitely allow a greater than ideal amount of space in the upper chest but perhaps this is a reflection of the corsetry preferences of the time; the chesticles being pushed sky high and all! The Natalie Bray drafting instructions I previously used depended on an excellent bodice block as a starting point, perhaps my block was sub optimal to start with. However, all that said, I still believe this draft seems easier to alter. I also prefer the shoulder princess line, to my eye its less ‘uniform’ like, less ageing on a full chest.

Canvassing

Then came the canvassing. Hours and hours of painstaking work moulding that canvas with steam and heat to fit my bosom (and we still haven’t proven the pattern fits – eeek!). First, the canvas was soaked in a bath and then tossed in the dryer for max. shrinking. The wool was also preshrunk by spraying with water and ironing – lots! Brita weilds her super dooper heavy iron like an Olympic shot-putter and just look at her photo – she’s not exactly weight lifting material! I’d never realised how much shaping goes into the canvas before now. I’ve padstitched lapels and collars before, but the moulding achieved with steam and heat was just astonishing to watch. In some places there were  3 layers of various types of canvassing. Brita’s ham is like an entire leg of a large boar. So unlike my little ‘picnic’ ham that scoots all over the place when I’m using it.

First canvas, princess seam grafted with fusible interfacing which is less bulky than stitches in this area.
First canvas, princess seam grafted with fusible interfacing which is less bulky than stitches in this area.
Upper chest canvas attached to front canvas
Upper chest canvas attached to front canvas

Next up, setting sleeves, attaching the canvassing, oh and Neopolitan sleeve preferences!

PS I’m currently travelling in the West Australian desert where internet availability is scattered.

9 Comments

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  1. This is brilliant, Leslie. Thanks so much for sharing. It makes me feel a little bit frightened to even attempt to make a jacket, but you have to start somewhere. I will be eagerly waiting for your next installment. Also, I think your tweed was a good choice. 🙂

    • Hi S, I think there are so many ways to do the job. But just improving a little each step is key I think. Certainly a shaped jacket is a bigger challenge. Good to know it’s possible though, gave me hope!

  2. You achieved a wonderful shape in the upper bodice. Well done.

  3. Fascinating. I await the next instalment.

  4. You certainly seem to have picked an expert in Brita! And in such lovely surroundings. All that care and work that goes into a garment like this takes it onto a completely different level. Funny to see how her ham is so much more professional and larger than ours.
    Look forward to reading the next part………

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