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kotmj

The suiting thread

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On a mannequin...

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The same shirt and jacket on the customer. He had the suit made so he would have at least one good suit when he starts his MBA at the MIT Sloane School of Management in about two weeks time.

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Three guys working in the shop today. Two part timers, one full timer. I learned recently one of the part timers has 11 A's in his SPM. On top of these three working in the shop, there are two coatmakers sewing from home exclusively for me, one coatmaker in a workshop who does the fused jackets, one trousermaker, and a shirtmaker. Also, two part time dispatch boys.

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Man. The first four months of this year has been crazy. Actually, it has always been crazy; it's just crazier now. Very roughly speaking, on average, JT grows revenues 30% y-o-y. What this means is, at any point in time, JT is operating under unfamiliar conditions because it has never had to produce so much before. Right now the conditions seem bizarre to me. THAT many people want suits?

The new full time hire (the one with EPF and Socso) has spent a week in the shop. Apart from some mild attitudinal suboptimalities, she's great. I got her to sew a few buttonholes: they're great! Even the first buttonhole of her life was great. I plan to get her to recruit and train a home-based finisher. I don't really forsee anybody employed in the shop doing finishing because we're really a pattern-making org. We hire and train the people who do the sewing; we don't do it ourselves. 

She's familiar with operating a sewing machine. She did a relatively complex alteration yesterday---turned out well. 

I may get her to sew me trousers. Then, we hire and train a new trousermaker, someone who hitherto had never sewn anything resembling trousers. The problem with hiring "experienced" people is, they refuse to learn a new way of making the garment. A better way. I have no use for such people.

I learn her father is a candy capitalist who employs dozens of workers to produce candy. Her elder brother helps in the family business.

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Sometime early last year, or maybe earlier, I told a coatmaker I'm firing him. Then I fired him. He has two problems, one of which led to a third problem. His two problems:

a) The inability to mount sleeves successfully. He was terrible at it. He was OK if I allowed him to draft the sleeve crown-armscye, but at JT that area is done the JT way, not the coatmaker's way. He had no clue how to mount sleeves drafted by me. His way of drafting it was also not something I could accept. He would CHANGE my sleeves so he could mount them. I told him if he does that one more time I will fire him. He did it again. So I fired him.

b) Lack of talent at buttonholes.

His lack of talent at buttonholes led to his feigning not to understand what I want, though I made very clear what I want. You cannot feign anything with me.

He executes other portions of the jacket very well. He is also a fast worker, unlike some of the semi-retirees who work for me.

I'm thinking of re-engaging him. He makes the bodice of the jacket. He makes the sleeves, but does not attach them to the bodice. No buttonholes. He sends the parts to me and I have another coatmaker mount the sleeves and a finisher do the buttonholes. Obviously he gets paid less per jacket.

This way, I gain more capacity.

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So there you have it: the answer to the permanency of the so-called ironwork. Ironwork (also known as "Dressur" in German and presumably French), for those new to the term, is the local stretching or shrinking of the cloth done with the iron. It is a technique to further enhance both the ergonomics and the appearance of the garment. There is at least one contemporary German author of a tailoring textbook working in France who insists that ironwork is permanent. I just don't know what is wrong with him. If it were, there would be no puckering on a jacket.

Ironwork is relatively long lived if you live in certain parts of the world with low relative humidity. It lasts maybe 0.5 days if you live here.

There is a trend towards ever less ironwork in garments. There are even some methods called "dressurlos", or ironwork-free. This is driven mostly by the thinness and the compactness of cloths today which discourage ironwork.

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I saw some images on IG of a very different kind of pick stitching done by the Italians. Traditionally, pick stitching is meant to be ultra discreet---preferably invisible. Its function was to keep the edges of garments thin and defined.

However, when executed by warm bodies, the pick stitch manifests itself as dotted puckerings.

I gave these some thought and experimented briefly myself and now know there are three variables to the pick stitch: thickness of thread, rapidity of execution, and spacing.

I realised the Italians were using thick silk buttonhole twist, they were doing it on ultra low tension (therefore very slowly) and the spacing was tight. If you do it fast, you put too much force on the thread, causing it to sink into the cloth, which creates a pucker. You have to gently pull the needle through and not let the thread sink into the cloth from excessive tension.

Yesterday, I got my assistant to do the pick stitching on a jacket as an experiment. You see her doing it in the picture above. Instead of dotted puckerings, you get little pearls of silk with no puckering. Exactly like some of the Italians.

However, it takes a whole day and a lot of expensive silk thread.

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Unfortunately, this sort of pick stitching is not something I can currently do on production jackets. It's like one of those techniques on a dish that a chef can do in his experimental kitchen, but which he cannot roll out across his global chain of fine dining restaurants because the people he hires to staff those restaurants are not like him.

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A pretty significant annoyance when dealing with the young, Chinese-system educated people who work for me is how they never seem to understand what I'm saying. "Do a sparse zigzag," I would say. They'd have no clue what I mean. I would then have to explain to them the meaning of "sparse".  Every other sentence I utter, there are one or more words whose meaning I have to make clear.

I could also say "low density zigzag", but then I'd have to explain what density means. There is no way around it. I have to keep explaining myself.

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Having a worker in the shop is great. So useful. Even if I have to keep explaining myself. I'm wondering if I should hire a second one. Eventually, jacket baste making will be on-site (in the shop). Then, jacket making will be on-site.

I learn her father owns the company that manufactures Lot 10, a chewable fruit-flavoured gums widely distributed at Watson's and Guardian etc. Big capitalist.

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6 hours ago, kotmj said:

A pretty significant annoyance when dealing with the young, Chinese-system educated people who work for me is how they never seem to understand what I'm saying. "Do a sparse zigzag," I would say. They'd have no clue what I mean. I would then have to explain to them the meaning of "sparse".  Every other sentence I utter, there are one or more words whose meaning I have to make clear.

I could also say "low density zigzag", but then I'd have to explain what density means. There is no way around it. I have to keep explaining myself.

Perhaps there is relevance still for pidgin English in our modern society today

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My assistant's first canvas. I sometimes make the canvas in the shop instead of letting the coatmaker handle it because there are special requirements to the canvas. It may have to have a certain shape, it may have to be stiffer, or it may have to be lighter, etc.

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The first time sleeves were prepared within the four walls of JT Global Campus. We make several jackets a week, but both bastes and finished goods were always prepared off-site. It's the first time we're making a jacket baste on-site.

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Not only that, we even mounted the sleeves on-site. As you can see. First time ever.

Maybe I'll get to fire all the off-site coatmakers and train on-site ones.

(We've almost always been in-house for fully canvassed jackets, in that the coatmakers sew exclusively for JT even though they do it from home. By on-site, I mean not only in-house but within the confines of the studio, errr, ahem, campus.)

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Some of you may know I have something I call a handsewing station. It comprises a desk, a chair, a lamp, and a chest of drawers which stores the threads and sewing implements.

I cannot tolerate LED lights, so the lamp has a tungsten bulb in it. My apprentice, who has been spending a lot of time at the handsewing station, tells me the lamp is not ideal. It's hot, she says. This got me thinking about how an ideal lamp would be. The sort of lighting requirement there is not very dissimilar to what watchmakers would need. So I looked at how watchmakers light their benches.

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I looked at photos of watchmakers at many maisons. They all use the same sort of lamp, but of varying brands. Above is the Patek service center in NY.

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Here an almost identical lamp at Glashuette Original.

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Glashuette Original's training center.

So... I just ordered two such lamps. They should arrive soon. They accept florescent tubes. I avoided the LED ones.

 

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You are right! They do! Nobody seems to notice it except me.

Back in the days of CRT monitors, I would get a headache looking at the screen. Then, eventually, I found out you can increase the frequency from the default 60 Hz to I think 80 Hz. I'm fine with 80 Hz.

Florescent lights give me headaches. When I was apprenticing with the sifu, I ended every workday with a throbbing headache from the tubes he uses.

When I was a student, I had a florescent lamp that I loved to death because it was flicker-free. I still have that lamp today, though I no longer use it. 

It has everything to do with the ballast. These watchmakers lamps are marketed as coming with  flicker-free ballasts. Some of the tubes are even "full spectrum daylight", though obviously it should not be taken literally as florescents still have intensity spikes at certain wavelengths.

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I also hear the rather unsubtle hiss that comes from TV sets. This hiss is separate from the sound of whatever program is running, and is also independent of the TV's volume.

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18 hours ago, kotmj said:

I also hear the rather unsubtle hiss that comes from TV sets. This hiss is separate from the sound of whatever program is running, and is also independent of the TV's volume.

I hear something like this as well, more prominently on CRTs. It's like a high frequency 'teeeeeeet' (for lack of better explanation).

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Yes, teeeet. Some (most?) people do not hear it. They would let the TV run on a low volume because they somehow need the background noise, but to me the teeeeet is louder than the tv volume and quite annoying.

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For every category of product, certain models from the past stand out as representing the high watermark of quality. In the arena of sewing machines, the Singer 201 class was the machine to beat. It had close to a 30-year production run, and was the most expensive domestic sewing machine in Singer's catalogue. It cost something like 6 months of a normal person's wages at the time. It made Rolex watches look cheap.

The bulk of 201's were made in Kilbowie, Scotland, which at one time employed 14,000 people. This model came from the tail end of production, so maybe from the early 60's, when they moved the production of this model to Penrith, Australia. Kilbowie-made 201's were labelled 201K; Penrith-made ones were labelled 201P.

The 201 is famous for three things. It was super expensive, it was the quietest, and the stitch consistency was the best. Like anything really premium, the way the 201 was designed and made exuded an unmistakable quality. This quality that speaks to humans is necessary for the 201 because it is a domestic sewing machine---it was supposed to appeal to families a.k.a. retail consumers. Singer made a lot of industrial sewing machines, too, but those were rugged rather than exquisite because they were bought for use in factories often running at 3 shifts per day, i.e. 24 hours. Operating a Singer 201 is like using a Leica M3.

I saw this for sale on FB. Drove to Rawang to get it from an army camp. The soldier said it belonged to his mother in Johor, and he had taken it from her because he had started doing leatherwork. But he found the machine underpowered for sewing thick leather, hence he is selling it to buy a more powerful machine. His mother will never sew anymore, he said, due to declining eyesight. I paid him RM650.

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I'm beginning to realise whatever my apprentice does, she does it 4 times slower than me. It's been 1.5 hours since she started her workday, and all this while she has been pressing one (1) jacket. She's still pressing it.

I would have been done in 15 minutes.

Of course, this is only her fourth week of employment and the third or fourth jacket she's had to press.

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I need to introduce the concept of time rationing with her. In other words, I prescribe a time period in which a task is to be done, and she has to ration her time accordingly. So re-pressing a jacket might be given 20 minutes, and she has to do her best within that time period.

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