New clothes, first attempt

Reviews, Household

220604 New clothes, first attempt

I've found my perfect tailor!

New clothes, first attempt



What to wear?!

For the last 15 years or so, I've experimented with DIY clothing.  Hiro and I made my shirts and boxers from recycled taiko t-shirts, and my shorts from heavy, hemp canvas, patterned on my favorite-fitting pair from childhood.  We achieved "functional nirvana", with clothes that perfectly suited my everyday needs, refined to be supremely comfortable.  They worked for taiko and for bike riding, and carried all my necessary things in custom pockets.  Until recently, they were all I wore.

That steadfast dedication to function, however, came with a price.  The clothes were perfectly useful, but they still looked like shorts and t-shirts.  I was often underdressed.  People mistakenly thought I was being dismissive of the event I was attending.  I accepted the challenge, trying to win over people with engaged conversation.  It felt like a noble effort.  In the age of fast fashion, Photoshop, and TikTok filters, I think we should be practicing that adage of "not judging a book by its cover".  And while I might have been underdressed for the social event, I would also pass homeless people on my way there, and in those situations I appreciated that my clothes didn't scream "wealth". 

Of all of my anti-establishment ideals, however, it's what I wear that ruffles the most feathers.  People can excuse my veganism because they can order what they want.  They can comfortably keep their own beliefs when they disagree.  But they can't help but see what I wear when they look at me.  Fashion is public.

So while I still believe that sustainability and function supercede the aesthetics of my clothes, I concede that how I look is consequential.  And so, having now achieved functional nirvana, in this next phase of exploration, I want to also consider the aesthetics of what I wear.  I want the look of my clothes to suggest my reverence for them, and to say "I'm really glad to be here!"

Toward these ends, I've teamed up with master tailor, David Pew, of Sew Generously in Seattle WA, to design a pair of pants and a shirt that can replace my everyday wear and accommodate my taiko playing.  The first articles from our collaboration have arrived.  Here is how they've turned out!


Shirt details - Fabulous!  Minor potential improvements.

The shirt is a linen dress-shirt with removable cuffs and collar.  It's as form-fitting as we could manage while allowing arm movement.  Nine front buttons (not counting the doubled collar button) provide strength.  (General info on buttons.)  The bottom hem is finished with a graceful curve, allowing the shirt to be worn untucked.  David provided three, interchangeable collars in three styles, and three cuff sets.

  • design/fit
    The shirt feels amazing... my first properly fitting, woven-material shirt!  The collar and cuffs are surprisingly comfortable.  I keep them fully buttoned all day.  A particular order of buttoning speeds removal (shown in photos below).  Turned up, the collar is perfect for protecting my neck from the sun while biking.  It's even better than the tenugui wrap solution I've been using for years.  (It turns out standard men's shirts had solved the problem a century ago.)  The cuffs also quickly turn up with two rolls for quick tasks like dish-washing, and three rolls keep the sleeves above the elbow for long periods.  I leave the sleeve placket buttons un-buttoned.  Both layers of cuff fabric can be unbuttoned in a single motion, so unbuttoning the removable cuffs is no more complicated than non-removable.

    Room for improvement: 1) When my arms are extended for biking and raised during taiko, the fabric at the seam around my upper back is very taught.  It's not so tight as to restrict these movements, but perhaps an extra 5mm of sleeve length might reduce this tension without dramatically changing the otherwise nice fit.  2) I need a solution for protecting my hands from the sun.  This was previously provided by the thumb-hole-sleeves in my shirts.  The current plan is to make thumb-hole gloves that stay with my bike.  3) I also need to find a way to carry a handkerchief (the tenugui used to double as a rag for drying my hands and emergencies.)  4) I'd love the shirt to better hug my lower back when I'm standing and my arms are relaxed, though I recognize this preference is at odds with wanting to be able to freely lift my arms.  5) The shirt creases significantly near the bottom.  (Of course it does... it's linen!)  Would chain weight in the hem reduce this?  My initial experiments with clips and washers suggest it might be difficult to get sufficient weight to make a difference.
  • material
    Type: 100% Irish linen, 9.8oz (280g), Shofield and Smith LI-03???  The shirt required approximately 3 yards of fabric.
    Feel: delightfully stiff after washing and soft after wearing.  The low-stretch, woven fabric feels like it handles the stresses of movement well.  It is perfect for LA temperatures.  When biking and the air is a bit too cool, the tight weave blocks wind and keeps a comfortable layer of warm air inside the shirt.  On hot days, the fabric quickly wicks sweat and feels breezy.  Practicing taiko at home, I find wearing the shirt is even more comfortable than being bare-chested, because where my arms touch my torso they immediatly begin to sweat.  I appreciate the long sleeves even on hot days as they keep the sun off my arms, but as I see others changing to short sleeves around me, I can't be sure whether it's my superior shirt fabric, or simply that my body is used to it.
    Durability: expected to be high.  No signs of wear after approximately two dozen wearings and five washings.
    Environmental impact: expected to be very low.  I would like more info on the details of the fabric source and production process.  Until then, I am trusting in the reputation of the seller (Shofield and Smith) to not be exploiting laborers or cutting environmental corners.  Generally, flax (linen's fiber) is very environmentally friendly, not requiring fertilizers or pesticides.  I chose a natural color to avoid bleaches and dyes.
  • construction
    The handwork on this shirt is absolutely wonderful!  The seams are "flat felled" and feel indestructable.  The buttons are sturdy and their stalks are just the right lengths for their various positions on the shirt.  I wear the shirt for work and it seems to easily withstand the stresses.
  • washing / care
    I'm machine washing with light colors on "delicate" cycle, cold water, med. spin, using Sustain LA liquid detergent.  I hang dry the shirt over a rail to minimize hanger indentations.  No deodorant buildup yet, but I'll try a hydrogen-peroxide removal method if needed.
    I'd like to press the collar, cuffs, and bottom hem, but my initial attempts didn't make much of a difference.  David suggested a mister to dampen the cloth, an iron at medium/wool setting, and a clapper.  While I think most tailors use wood clappers, David employs a vintage, non-functioning, 8-lb iron to apply pressure immediately after pressing and soak up the heat to lock in crispness.


Pant details - great start, fixes required.

  • design/fit
    These convertible pants/shorts are meant to be rugged for everyday use, but made from a formal fabric allowing them to sneak into the opera.  The shorts are convertible to pants with pant leg extensions that attach with zippers.  (The first version had metal zippers for the pant leg extensions but they were too heavy, so David ordered custom-length, plastic zippers.)  David based the shape on a pair of shorts Hiro's mother had made for me, updating the pockets and strengthening the construction.  They are somewhat splayed ("A" shaped), to accommodate spreading my legs when playing taiko, but not any more than necessary, with the hopes of avoiding excessive folds in the fabric when I stand straight.  The current shape is very comfortable in taiko and a tiny bit frumpy when standing, so future versions might err on the side of less splay (and perhaps a higher crotch?).
    I'm uncertain about the pants configuration, both in terms of usefulness and aesthetics.  In terms of function, the extra weight makes the pants hang a bit too low for this waist size and bending my knee to cross my leg, for example, now requires a quick tug to free the fabric.  When worn as shorts, the knee can easily slip out from under the fabric.  In pants-mode, the wool fabric starts to feel noticeably warm, though as I write this is it is 79 degrees F in the room and I'm not at all uncomfortable.  Aesthetically, the bulging connection between the shorts and pant leg extensions makes the extensions feel particularly tacked on.  I plan to wear the full pants more to see if the parts can wear in together and seem more cohesive.  I also don't mind how the shorts look with dress shoes and short socks, and my legs are only cold in truly frigid weather, so I might have little reason to use the pant leg extensions.
  • I like an inflexible waistband and this one is satisfyingly rigid with stiffening tape (petersham?) sandwiched between the wool and an inner layer of canvas.  The four-part closure (internal button, bar and hook closure, zipper, external button) easily resists the weight and stresses on the garment.  The waist was too big when the clothes arrived and David very apologetically offered to adjust them, but I used the opportunity to refresh my button sewing skills and did it myself.
    The shorts hold all of my daily tools, in frogsmouth pockets in the front, patch pockets in the rear, and ten, additional, purpose-made pockets.  More on this below. 
  • material
    Type: 100% wool, Bateman Ogden VV34.  It is 17-18oz, herringbone tweed.  The shorts required approximately 2 yards of fabric.
    Feel: The wool is a tiny bit scratchy but it doesn't bother me at all.  Surprisingly, I don't feel too hot in them, even biking in summer.  Levi Nelson at Sew Generously used a microscope to show Minh and I how the fabric's threads are composed of multi-color fibers, giving it a complex color.  A "Yorkshire water finish" imparts minerals in the fabric that make it slightly soft to the touch and that leave the fingers ever-so-slightly slippery after touching.  This effect is subtle but appears to have remained after the shorts' first wash.  More important to me, the Yorkshire water finish avoids dangerous chemicals used by many lower-end wools.
    A canvas twill lines the pockets and is very comfortable to the touch.
    Durability: expected to be good.  After maybe three hours of bike riding, I don't see any noticeable wear on the bottom.  The color of the knees seems to have whitened slightly compared to unused/unwashed fabric and is most noticeable when I attach the pant leg extensions.  I'm hoping to get perhaps 3~400 uses (about 2 years) out of the shorts before they need patching and other repairs.  David included discontinued wool swatches for me to use as patches.  So thoughtful!
    Environmental impact: expected to be low.  I would appreciate knowing more about the manufacturer and their process.  Whether wool is ethically acceptible for me depends on how the sheep are treated.  If they are treated well, I consider wool to be one of the most sustainable fibers.  There are horror stories, however, of sheep being abused and I absolutely do not want to support those practices.  I'm trusting in the reputation of the seller (Bateman Ogden) to not be using exploitative ranchers, and the fact that these fabrics are not competing on price.  I chose a dark color fabric despite the dye required because I've learned my bike saddle (and dropped food) stain light-colored shorts.
  • construction
    The sewing is immaculate.  Pocket corners seem thoroughly reinforced.  However, the lining of the left rear pocket has pulled away from the seam on the inside (during washing?).  I'm returning the shorts to Sew Generously for repair.
  • pockets
    There are 11 items I need in everyday life that I easily forget and thus want stashed in my shorts: cellphone, keys, earplugs, ID, credit cards, cash, pens, reusable chopsticks, and proof of vaccination.  These shorts successfully carry these things without feeling clunky, restricting my movement, or looking like cargo pants.

    front frogsmouth pockets: These are working well.  I keep my ID, credit cards here.  The bottom of the pockets are relatively flat, also allowing bachi to be held vertically when I'm standing.  They contain coin pockets that hold earplugs, keys, and my flip-phone, and those other items slightly restrict access.  I'm able to these front pockets comfortably despite those items but coinpockets with any larger items would interfere.
    earplugs pocket: This pocket is working well and it's such a treat to never forget earplugs at a concert.
    keys pocket: I need to re-think this pocket.  I've stopped carrying a car fob and the smaller keys require fishing from the bottom of this pocket.  A few well-placed stiches should be able to corral them conveniently.
    cellphone pocket: This is perfect.  I can quickly press on the bottom of the pocket to eject the phone vertically but otherwise the phone stays put.

    pens pockets: These are working very well.  A future version might do a better job of aligning the tops of the pens for aesthetics.
    card pocket: We added this so I could have notes for emcee when performing.  In everyday life, it's holding my cash and vaccination card and it's working well.
    chopsticks pocket: These shorts are the first time I've had a chopsticks pocket.  Minh and I have the Snow Peak reusable chopsticks and the large size is a bit too tall to stay put in the current pocket.  They fall out when I'm lying on the floor with my knees in the air.  I think this can be solved by carrying the shorter size chopsticks and adding a few stitches to limit the opening of the pocket.

    back patch pockets: These are working well to carry a mask and a napkin.  They are also comfortable for resting my hands behind my back.
    bachi pockets: So far these are working but I haven't had to test them in a high-stakes performance environment yet.
  • washing and care
    Unfortunately, hand washing in cold water (a few inches in the tub with detergent) seems to have caused the pocket linings to shrink.  The result is loose fabric on the rear pockets, bachi pockets, and inside the front pockets.  David tells me the canvas lining fabric is pre-washed but perhaps was not entirely pre-shrunk.  They haven't had this issue before because all his other customers are dry-cleaning their suits.  David is taking the pants back to repair.
    In the future, I'll also wash the pant leg extensions alongside the shorts, even if they aren't dirty, so that the fabric ages similarly.


Next steps

I'm sending the shorts back for repair and am hoping to get them by September 10, when I'll use the outfit in performance.  David will return the shorts with printed patterns for the shirt and shorts so that I'll be able to make more myself.  Eventually, I'm hoping to have two pairs of shorts and 5~7 shirts.  I'll start by trying to create another shirt based on David's pattern, in the same material.  I'll have a lot to learn as I try to mimic Sew Generously's quality!