Carol Alayne

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Archive for January, 2009

“Shoddy Fashion!”

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

ThumbMy first tailoring lessons with my mother, who was herself an accomplished ‘stitcher’,  included trips to the local department store to look at the fashions of the day and in particular the way they were put together.  By way of education my Mom used to encourage me to ‘test’ the garments on the hangers, so I would tweak the zips and buttons, and tug at the hems and seams to test their strength (Do this with caution!).

I soon came to realise that properly hand-crafted garments had a durability and finish that was seldom to be found amongst the flimsier fashion items, and could be equally as chic as some of the finest designs.  It also gave me an insight into the fact that fashion has both an inside and an outside story, and it was seldom the case that the quality of the inside finish would match that of the outside.  I even remember reciting the mantra ‘make a garment as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside’.

In the Independent and Mirror newspapers earlier this week reports showed that complaints to the Goverment’s consumer helpline, Consumer Direct, about ‘shoddy fashion’  had surged by 22% from last year; the fastest in any of its top top 10 complaints categories.  Complaints ranged from sequined dresses littering the floor to zips and buttons on bridal dresses falling apart on the wedding day.

The marked fall in prices (as much as 25%) has no doubt had something to do with this. The big problem with reducing prices is that once you have reached the break-even point there is nowhere else to go.  There has to be an accomodation in the production costs somewhere and it would seem to lie in the making process,  and once quality has been sacrificed it is difficult to recapture.  I wonder if anyone out there has carried out a comparative pricing of the sum total of monies spent on high street fashion against the layout for a bespoke item throughout its lifetime?  It would make for interesting study.

ThumbMeanwhile, fashion continues to excite and inspire on many fronts, however, the built in obsolescence inherent in many high street purchases has created a throw-away culture which, particularly during these pressing financial times, has to be considered profligate as we watch our land fill sites overflow.

Photo: thanks to juliar at

Briefing for Bespoke: Care

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Trouser pressThe life of a garment is determined by the wearer, and the more delicate (and expensive) the cloth the more care is required.  With most ‘off-the-peg’ garments cleaning instructions are included, however with bespoke and made-to-measure suits it is rare to find this information.  Make sure that you ask your tailor about the best way to care for your garment and bear in mind that if a number of fabrics have been used the most delicate will determine the care process.  More elaborate couture pieces that may have crystal or sequined accents will need specialist care which is best left to the experts.

Brushing: This will not only remove surface soiling but reinvigorate the fabric itself by recombining its fibres and encouraging air to pass through.  Brushing is often best done whilst you are wearing the garment.  There are also a range of proprietory  rollers with which you can remove lint, although some brushes also combine a lint removal pad.   In an emergency you can wrap your hand in sticky tape (sticky side out) and gently brush the affected area.

Pressing/ironing: Fabrics exposed to temperatures above those recommended on the care guidance instructions will change in character, so man-made or thermoplastic fibres have to be ironed at lower temperatures than non man-made fibres.  The use of steam will also lower their temperature tolerance.  Beware of applying too much hand pressure or steam, and use a linen press cloth to diffuse the heat.  Remember too that steam alone, without making contact with the garment, may suffice. With non-bespoke wear it is often the case that garments will be fused so use only a dry iron  in order not to release the bond of the adhesives.

Storage: Leave space between the garments and don’t pack them too tightly together, this gives them the opportunity to breath and freshen up.  And never store garments that are soiled.

Moths: We made mention of one particular defence agains moths in a previous post but this dealt more with eradicating the mature insect. It is in fact the lavae of the insect that cause the damage, so when you see them in flight the damage may already have been done.  One of the easiest ways to discourage them is to maintain good care practice, so for instance soiled wool or wool blends should be cleaned before storing.  You will find also that some drycleaners can apply a mothproof finish if garments are to be put in storage.  Wardrobes or closets should be sprayed periodically with repellent as an additional precaution, and if you use moth balls or crystals make sure that they don’t come into contact with the fabric as they may leave a residue.

Travel: Remove your jacket when seated and either lay it flat, or better still use a hanger.  Don’t be tempted to rely on the hanging loop on the collar.

Rotating: Try to give your suit time to recover and change your garment each day.  Even just two days in succession can be too much particularly for delicate fabrics.

If you carry out this regular process of maintainance you will find that the life of your garments will be extended considerably.   In fact, the other day I worked on a dinner jacket that was older than me, but let’s close the post there shall we?!

Photo: thanks to John Corby Ltd

Briefing for Bespoke: Performance

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

ThumbFollowing on from our Briefing for Bespoke: Fabric post I felt that it would be useful to highlight some of the things you should take into account when selecting a fabric. These will determine whether or not it is fit for purpose, giving consistent performance throughout a garment’s intended lifetime.

There are three sets of factors to think about:

  • the inherent properties of the fabric
  • comfort
  • wear and tear


The properties of a fabric fall into seven different categories.

Cover is the first, and it relates to how well, or little, a fabric embraces a figure  for either concealment or warmth.  The more crimp in a fibre the better its covering properties, and as crimped fibres tend to cover more area, in the manufacturing process less raw product can be used which makes for a lighter weight fabric with less bulk.  The next category is colour fastness.  Quite a critical issue as over a period of time hue and intensity can fade as a result of exposure to sunlight or overly rigorous cleaning processes.

The outward surface of a fabric is known as the face and this is determined by the fibre length, fibre crimp, yarn structure, method of manufacture and finishing.  All of these influence whether or not the final result will be crisp and well defined, or something much softer.  Feltability is the way in which wool fibres matt together and it gives woolen fabrics body , firmness and stability.  The down side for felted fabrics is that they need extra care in their maintenance.

Different fabrics react to heat in different ways and this can produce alarming results particularly during the pressing process.  Heat sensitivity is something you should bear in mind particularly with man-made fabrics.  Interestingly, one of the ways in which we tell the difference between man-made and natural fabrics is to burn a small sample with a match and the resulting smell will give you an immediate indication of its composition.  With modern manufacturing processes man-made fabrics can mimic their natural counterparts so accurately that this test is not so out of place as it might first seem.

Luster refers to  the amount of light that reflects from the strands of the yarn and this can be affected by the length of the fibre, its cross-section, crimp and structure.  Fibres can be combined to give a hard gloss, soft luster, or dull matte appearance. The finish on a fabric can also affect the luster.

The last category is a fabric’s drape or stiffness.  This determines the degree of flow you require in a garment and whether or not you want to create something more structured or relaxed.


Comfort concerns not only to the physical contact a fabric makes with the body, the feel, but also to the stretch which allows the wearer go move freely.  Two additional factors which are rarely considered are how a fabric reacts to moisture, and its electrical conductivity.

Their are three ways for assessing how a fabric might react to moisture. Porosity, absorbency and wicking.

Porosity relates to the ability for air or moisture  to pass through a fabric and  is determined by the tightnessEverest of the weave.  Ventile,  a fabric originally developed for RAF pilots in WWII to improve their chance of survival when forced to ‘ditch’ in Arctic seas during convoy duty, was also used by Sir Edmond Hillary’s Everest expedition.  Its construction was such that when the fabric becomes damp the fibres swell and tighten up preventing moisture penetration.

Absorbency is governed more by the  chemical and physical structures of the fibres and governs affecting how a fabric deals with matters such as perspiration, water repellency, colour fastness, shrinkage, spotting and static build-up.  Wicking is the way in which a fibre transfers moisture along its surface.  This has particular applications in sportwear by taking moisture away from the body to the outside of the garment where it more easily evaporates.

With electrical conductivity, although this can be influenced by the context in which the garment is worn, one of most uncomfortable experiences for the wearer is to find that their diaphonous gown has suddenly become figure hugging, and they they are both the recipient and giver of electrical shocks.  (If this is the case and you don’t have an anti-static shift to hand, rush for the body lotion and apply it to your undergarments!)

Wear and Tear

Finally, wear and tear.  This is caused largely by abrasion or over-stretching. As a rule of thumb the stiffer  the fabric the less able it is to withstand rubbing or chaffing.  Snagging is also a form of abrasion where individual yarns are caught and  pulled from the main body of the fabric.  The ability for a garment to return to its original shape as its elasticity diminshies also limits its life.  This can be caused by general use, or by the effect of chemicals or overheating during the cleaning process which can also affect both colour and composition.

For the next post we shall look forward to a brighter note with some tips for taking better care of your wardrobe

Photo: thanks to ChorLeoni & Everest News

Briefing for Bespoke: Fabric

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

ThumbWhen we take the decision to add a new tailored piece to our wardrobe, I wonder how many  people  consider the properties of the textile selected.  It seems to be more the case that we are driven by colour, pattern and style and neglect the nature of the chosen material and how it might perform.  This, along with the next set of posts, will be devoted to the properties, care and maintenance of  some of the main fabrics, and an exploration into  the fibres and weaves that determine their characteristics. We have been helped in this by Nicholas Guilbaud at Holland and Sherry, specialists in the high quality traditional fabrics used in bespoke tailoring.

First some basics.

Other than its initial impact, there are four main factors to consider when selecting a length of material.  The fibre, the nature of the fabric and its weave, the finish, and the mixture.

The fibre is the smallest perceivable element of a textile that is visible to the naked eye, and there are four main fibre shapes each with a unique cross-section.

  • Flat-oval as found in types of cotton.
  • Oval to round with overlapping scales such as medulla wool where its honeycomb-like core has minute air spaces
  • Triangular with rounded edges as in silks or nylon
  • Circular and uniform in diameter – fibres such as nylon, dacron or rayon.

ThumbThe chemical composition of a fibre is determined by by either its natural or man-made origins. Natural fibres are either animal (wool, alpaca, camel, cashmere, mohair, vicuna, angora, silk), or vegetable (cotton, flax, linen, famie).  The image to the left shows wild silk fibres in magnification. Man-made fibres can be either cellulose based (viscose, rayon, cupramonium rayon, acetate) or non-cellulose ( Nylon, polyester, acrylic, olefin, spandex).  Fibres are spun into continuous threads called yarns which, according to the amount of twist, will influence its feel, absorbency, elasticity, lustre and strength.  Although there are are other factors that come into play, at base level the fibre from which a garment is made determines the way in which it should be cared for, hence the washing instructions on the label in mass produced clothes.

The next step up is to turn the yarns into fabric. There are two ways of doing this; weaving or knitting.  Most tailoring uses woven fabrics.  The weaving process relies on two simple elements, the warp and the weft; two sets of yarns running perpendicular to each other.  It It is the way in which these are combined, along with the tension within the yarn, that create all of the materials you see in a cloth merchants, from jaquards to tweeds.  When yarns are dyed individually, it is the weaving of them that give us tartans, stripes or plaids.  ‘Shot’ fabrics include a yarn that gives them an irridescence.

Here are examples of  three simple weaves: plain cotton, twill and satin.

Cotton plain weave

Cotton twill weaveCotton satin weave

There  are a number of different finishes used in the final preparation of the raw fabric.  The most obvious is the application of dye, although  as mentioned earlier the yarn can be dyed as a separate part of the process.  Colour is probably the most influential factor for a customer, and garment  manufacturers try to leave the process of dyeing as close to the final shipment of the fabric as possible.  Except for specially commissioned fabric runs, the pipeline between the fibre manufacture to the consumer can be as long as two years which can make it a highly speculative operation when placed alongside the dictats of the fashion industry.

So far we have looked at single content fabrics; silks, cottons, wools etc.  The final influencing factor however is the combination of fibres that might be used in a fabric, known also as mixture.  So for example, lining fabrics I have been working with recently  are a combination of viscose (95%) and lycra (5%).  This combines the robust, anti-static qualities of viscose with the stretch of lycra.

This should give you a basic outline of the basic elements of fabric design.  In the next post we will look at what you should expect from a fabric, how it performs.

Photo: thanks to Holland and Sherry, Olympusmicro and David Greenhalgh


Recognised as a pioneer of bespoke tailoring for women, Carol Alayne has over 25 years experience of creating striking garments for arts, sports and media personalities and business wear for professionals and executives.



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