Carol Alayne

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Archive for the ‘Caring for clothes’ Category

Is tailoring eco-friendly?

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

One of the things I find most satisfying about tailoring is the opportunity to create practical but aesthetic garments. The perfect combination of usefulness and artistry! And of course these days we all benefit from hi-tech scientific developments both in the processing of fabrics and in the development of new materials.

These thoughts occurred to me as I came across a whole flurry of articles linking fashion and sustainable development: ‘green’ fashion, fashion and the environment, ‘organic’ fashion even. But wait a minute, I thought… (more…)

The credit crunch: Best value…made-to-measure or bespoke

Friday, March 17th, 2017

It seems from recent press that ‘buying quality’ is the advice when preparing your wardrobe in times of financial uncertainty.  So how does this apply with your tailored garments.

In ‘Looking the Business‘ (Times Online) the suggestion is that made-to-measure is a better option to bespoke.   It may be helpful to expand a little on what lies behind each of these terms.

The process of made-to-measure involves in effect the use of a pre-set template to which a limited number of measures can be applied to make for a closer fit to a client’s figure.  Generally there will  be a limited choice available for stylistic changes such as the type of pocket or number of buttons.   Once details are finalised they are sent to a factory for the suit to be made up.  The client will have probably one more fitting where limited adjustments can be made.  The end result is something that will give a generally acceptable fit but without authentic refinement to the figure of the client.

By way of contrast, bespoke gives control to the client throughout the whole process.  There are literally no limitations to the adjustments that can be made with regard to materials, fit or style.  Also, because of the way in which the garment is made, over a period of time it will ‘mature’ and settle on the figure for which it is designed.  The fusing of materials (literally gluing together) that us used in the made-to-measure process limits this process.

Longevity also has a part to play.  We all understand only too well how our body shape changes over time.  With a made-to-measure suit it is difficult to accommodate these changes because of the way in which the garment has been constructed (see comments re fusing above).  If I were to tell you that recently I made some modifications to a suit that was made before I was born, it gives you some idea as to how bespoke stands the test of time.

So for these financially challenging days lets do a ‘back of an envelope’ calculation on the respective values of each.  The average cost of a £500 made-to-measure suit with a lifespan of about 5 years (worn once a week) works out at around £2 per week.  A bespoke suit at around £2,500, with a lifespan of 30 years, and with the same frequency of use works out at £1.60 per week.  And that is for a suit that fits.

You think that 30 years is excessive?  A number of my clients are having their grandfather’s suits re-modelled.  Go figure!

Restore, refurbish, restyle, resurrect, remodel… and the A-word!

Friday, July 10th, 2009

I need your comments!  My request is prompted by a client who approached me to carry out some ‘alterations’ to a much beloved wardrobe which, because of the passage of time, required some adjustments.

Alterations, the dreaded ‘A-word’, for me has more to do with taking up trouser hems or moving buttons.  This is a million miles away from the extensive re-cutting and restyling that is needed when refashioning a garment.  In many ways it is more related to the conservation skills required for preserving great works of art and other articles of value.  I remember talking with a luthier about the intricacy of the work that goes into repairing violins, preserving the original materials, and in more intense cases, searching for slivers of wood to match the age, grain and texture of the original. So, which of the ‘R-words’ is most appropriate?

For one part of my career I worked alongside the costumiers at the Royal Opera House.  The ability to reshape and reform garments at the drop of a hat because of last minute production changes was an essential part of their skill.

Rather than a chore, I see this work as an opportunity to learn, and I am very much of the opinion that training in these skills should be integral to any tailoring programme. It takes in all of the elements crucial to the art of bespoke; cutting, balance, sculpture, proportion and finish. Recently I have been fortunate to welcome on board a new apprentice and so this restyling project has proved to be a real bonus.

I should add one caveat however, modern garment construction does not always allow the provision for such extensive reshaping as I have mentioned in earlier posts.

But over to you…

Instead of the ‘A-word’, what would be your preference?

Figuring it out: Hacking jackets, Mars bars and shotguns

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Hacking JacketA respondent to a recent post asked the question;  is buying a bespoke garment considered  a good return on  investment considering the initial spend?  Putting aside for the moment matters such as fit, design and satisfaction of requirements, I thought it provided an interesting challenge.  So I decided to investigate something from my own experience; my favourite ‘hacking jacket‘.

I made this garment twenty years ago, just after I came to London.  The fabric is a 100% worsted wool special edition tartan that I picked up at Holland & Sherry in Mayfair.  I wanted a key piece for my wardrobe that would be flexible enough to wear with tailored trousers, or jeans and trainers; for more formal or informal gatherings.  I use it throughout the autumn, winter and spring, and probably a minimum of once each week.  Erring on the low side this has given it around 600 outings in its lifetime (20 years) and it still has a long way to go!    The reasons for the length of its lifespan lie with the fact that the nature of its construction means it can be altered, the quality of the fabric makes it durable but still elegant, and it can resist the trauma of visits to high street dry cleaners without falling apart.

The original cost would have been in the region of £750.00 which  means that so far it has cost £37.50 per annum, and of course this is diminishing.  How does this rate with what you would expect to pay in the high street?

Prices, as you might imagine, have changed since the late 80’s.  So I contrasted this with two of my passions; Mars bars and shotguns.  Pretty extreme!

In 1989 the price of a Mars bar was 26 pence, and a standard 12 bore Holland & HollandRoyal ” Model shotgun £21,100.  When I went to the local newsagent today, a Mars bar cost me 65 pence.  I didn’t have sufficient loose change in my pocket to pick up a shotgun; they now retail at £55,250.

So putting all this together I would suggest that the current price of a hacking jacket, from around £1500, is pretty much in line with the current pricing structures, and a good return on investment.

Not only that… but you get what you want!

P.S.  I just had an evening with one of my closest colleagues on the ‘Row’.  John Reed (see ‘Folding a Jacket‘) reminded me about the fact that we are all different, and the beauty of bespoke is that it respects and responds to our differences.

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

Moth Alert!

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Clothes mothLast year there were a number of newspaper articles about plagues of moths that was insinuating themselves into our drawers and wardrobes.  At the end of 2008 I have to report that our ‘moth man’  is as active as ever.  I was particularly distressed to find that one of my favourite cashmere scarves now resembled one of those string vests so popular in the 60’s.  And it is not only clothes they attack.

A violinist friend of mine went to his violin case after a few days break to find that the horse hair on his violin bows now resembled a collection of spun sugar.  Moth balls are now de rigeur alongside his other equipment.

Apparently moths often set up a colony in your wool carpet and will migrate from this to your clothes.  There are a number of different treatments one can get, from impregnated cedar balls to the old fashioned napthelene moth balls, the smell of which used to hover in the air around one’s gramdparents.

One of the most effective treatments I have come across is something called a Demi-Diamond.  It has a chemical, harmless to humans and pets, which gives off female moth pheremones which prove to be devastatingly irrisistable to the male.  He ends up by coming to a sticky end on the adhesive pad to which is attached the small phial of attractant.  After that the females pine away.  One of my clients was alarmed to find that when she used them in her wardrobe, instead of the couple of moths she thought she had, a whole squadron had landed in the trap after only a couple of days.

Folding a Jacket

Monday, November 24th, 2008

There are a number of significant differences between the techniques needed to tailor a garment for a women and those for a man. That is not to say however that they are completely different entities.  There are indeed many areas of crossover and this is one such example.

John Reed, who demonstrates this ingenious and original method of folding a jacket, entered the trade some 65 years ago and was a City & Guilds medallion winner.  He is also one of the many personalities that helps define the character of the Savile Row community.

Original footage: Thanks to Naoki Kawamoto Design

Invisible Menders: Paramedics for suits

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

First AidSome time ago I paid a fortune for some brightly coloured Holland and Sherry tartan cloth and made myself a hacking jacket. I loved it to bits and all was fine until I was attacked by a barbed wire fence when out on one of my client’s shoots. One of those awful triangular tears was the result, in full view half-way up the sleeve.

The cloth was discontinued and the only way to put this right was to try to cover it with a patch or call in the ‘emergency services’.

Invisible mending is a highly-skilled, time-consuming service that patches, re-weaves and disguises what would seem to be irreparable damage to cloth. This can include cigarette burns, tears, moth holes, cuts, and perhaps the most catastrophic of all accidents, the slip of a scissor-hand on a finished garment. Every job has to be treated individually, and even seemingly impossible tasks can have miraculous results. The precise method, perfected over generations, involves taking threads from concealed parts of a garment, a ‘hem’ or ‘cuff’ say, and reweaving them over tears. One of the benefits of a bespoke garment is that they have generous inlays from where the replacement threads can be retrieved. Incidentally, there is a similar procedure for leather which involves a clever gluing technique to return the skin to its former glory.

There are two places I know of where one can get this service. One is based in the Midlands but is a closely guarded secret of the trade. The other caters more for non-trade customers and is based in Thayer Street, Marylebone, London. The British Invisible Mending Service is a family concern and has been established in Marylebone for over 70 years and although I have not had occasion to use their services it is well worth taking a tour of their website which has all manner of useful information about the process of taking your garment into ‘intensive care’.

A repair can take a number of days and comes at a premium because of the special skills required, but to this day I marvel that I can’t find the tear in my coat.

Photo: Thanks to Tendring District Council


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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