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The suiting thread


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A picture the Mayang boy sent me.

With it, he is asking for approval to cut the cloth. Before any cloth is cut, my approval is required.

But I am at home in Bukit Tinggi while he is in the shop in PJ. So he sends a picture for approval.

Cloth is a Loro Piana silk-wool. Pattern was drafted by me last night.

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Some good news. WK agrees to the standard JT compensation (list price). The sifu told me he shall be coming to my shop with WK to have a look. This means an additional coatmaker for JT, who moreover will be working on premise. WK is a young man who has been making fully canvassed jackets for the past 10 years. I think he's 28 years old.

I contacted the Malay boy, asking him if he'd like to come work for me again. He said he just started a job somewhere, but is available for part-timing on Sundays. I said I'm offering him list price + 30% if he actually comes.

A Malay girl applied for a job. I asked if she has graduated from her fashion design course. She said no. She has not even completed her internship yet. I asked her if she'd like to work part time at JT. She was enthusiastic.

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It occurred to me I might want to take up fishing. On my off day, I would go into the jungle to a stream. Set up a little fire with primitive methods, boil water in a kettle, brew a coffee. If I catch anything, BBQ it there and eat it with bread. If it rains, pitch a tent. When it gets dark, go home. Have my dogs around me.

I haven't any clue how one goes about catching fish. Which makes it even more interesting. Nor do I know anything about starting a fire with primitive methods. I have never pitched a tent. 

A completely new field of endeavor.

I do, however, have the knives. I might talk about my knives in a video. I have interesting knives.

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I think at the level of a standard Shozaburo, no real upgrade is possible. I have used more shears than I own, and the standard carbon steel Shozaburo is right at the top. The factor that impairs the function of shears is poor sharpening. Most people are very poor at sharpening blades. Professional sharpeners have IQ80, so can't sharpen anything. They destroy blades.

What I'm saying is that your ability to sharpen blades is a bigger factor than the brand/model of shears.

In other news, the sifu, WK, WK's elder brother and father came to visit the shop today. I explained we moved to the present unit after the first MCO in order to reduce our overheads to the minimum. I just didn't see demand coming back anytime soon, I said. They were very interested in how my jackets are constructed, and my process. Who does what. 

It appears to me WK is almost definitely going to resign from his current job and come work for me.

In further news, the last two months have been absolutely incredible. Demand is incredible, our fitting cycles are shorter than anytime in our history, the internal friction in our processes is lower than ever, our ability to arrive at the right fit quicker than ever. Mistakes have been few. If we keep improving like this, we will be leaving the others in the dust soon.

I ask myself how we got this good. What was the reason?

It may have to do with eliminating suboptimal people. As I allowed attrition to happen due to the pandemic, I am left with ONE coatmaker. My best coatmaker. I allowed supporting staff to leave, leaving me to have to make and edit every single pattern myself. The best person for the job. I've had on-premise finishing for several years already, and that function is being done very well by the Mayang boy. He has taken on a new function: baste-making. This really shortened our fitting cycles. The Mayang boy, though not intelligent, is several multiples more productive than previous direct employees. I am surprised.

But, Jeremy, haven't you been making bastes on-premise for years already? Yes, I did. But it took my former employees FOUR DAYS to make ONE jacket baste. It was ridiculous. Now it takes us 4 hours.

I asked the sifu about WK's output. He tried to avoid answering. I thought of the worst case scenario. "A jacket a week?" I asked. The sifu didn't want to confirm it too definitely, but he half-nodded.

So now I know WK belongs to the category of low-productivity people. Just like my previous direct employees.

That may not matter much. WK's true value to me is not as a coatmaker. I want him to train new coatmakers.

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Tried fishing this morning. I finally now see the items behind the analogy hook, line and sinker. And bait, in the form of a small bag of earthworms (RM4.50).

It was very unsuccessful. The worms would work their way OUT of the hook. I observe that the worms really do not want to be impaled by a hook. I found myself hesitant to impale an obviously living being that was doing everything to escape impalation.

I threw the remaining earthworms onto the damp banks of the stream. Be free.

I shall try with pieces of raw chicken next time.

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The knife I brought with me was this handmade puukko. The puukko is a sheathed knife made in the Finnish tradition. 

Except the maker is Ukrainian. The knife above is the exact one he sent me. D2 steel, marblewood handle, titanium bolster.

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Just now, after work, I drove to Klang to commission a parang. Some of you may be aware I bought a parang right after the most recent lockdown. 5160 steel hand-forged and differentially heat treated in a well-known Bidor factory, with finishing and acacia wood handle by a home parang maker, also in Bidor. Yet, I felt underprepared for the impending zombie apocalypse. Imagine hundreds of them coming at you. In such a situation, the name of the game is number of decapitations per unit of time. You have to chop through lots of zombies, very quickly. But this would dullen the blade. I needed a better parang.

(Until that day comes, I have used that parang to fell bamboo to harvest the leaves for my mother to make Chinese rice dumplings with and cleared a dense thicket of lalang at the back of my house.)

So today, I visited a knifemaker and submitted my commission. The blade shall be in the chandong shape, 12" long and only 3.5mm thick. It will be in what is known as a supersteel. Supersteels are recently developed steels which have characteristics which surpass tool steels of old. Often by several multiples. Crucible in the US developed a number of supersteels. As did Boehler-Uddenholm in Europe. After scrutinising data sheets by Boehler, I opted for their M390. The M390 steel has great wear resistance coupled with great toughness and very good corrosion resistance.

One of the peculiarities of these supersteels is that a cryogenic treatment makes them even better in every way. By leaving them in liquid nitrogen for 13 hours or more, the steel transforms into a super-supersteel.

I was skeptical that a backyard knifemaker would have the equipment to handle liquid nitrogen. Even in the US, knifemakers would call a dip in dry ice "cryo treatment". I asked Salleh (the knifemaker) what he means by cryo treatment. He said he sends his blades to Tomiko or to Boehler for cryo treatment. He sounded entirely believable.

I asked for a convex grind.

For the handle, I requested for a specific shape. This comes from my observation that many parang handles were designed by IQ80 individuals. They never seemed to have actually chopped with one, and if they did, seemed not to have learnt from the experience. Common IQ80 phenomena.

The material for the handle is a resin and dye impregnated maple burl. The resin completely stabilizes the wood, making it inert to water and oils. The dyes give the wood its amazing colouration.

He says it might be done within a month. He didn't seem that confident saying it. No deposit is required.

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The Agong with a jacket that has a short front balance. It's as if the fronts of the jacket are being pulled upwards. It's relatively subtle--it's off by maybe 3/4".

Can you see it?

The jacket fronts have insufficient length to drape properly. This has nothing to do with the length of the jacket, but is about the length of the front relative to the back.

It's an extremely common problem in Malaysian tailoring.

There is also a neckpoint issue, which interesting enough has nothing to do with the fit of the collar. The fitter compensated for it via the shoulder slope. This is the wrong approach. It causes the fronts to be off-plumb.

But you can tell that the jacket looks very presentable overall, despite these issues.

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I had the chance to talk to two cloth distributors. To one of them day before yesterday, and one today.

The first one is based in SG, but serves a couple of regions in SE Asia for some of the biggest cloth brands. They are a major player. I asked him how demand is for Malaysia. "We are selling some. It's moving somewhat."

I found the reply at odds with what I have been experiencing.

Today, a cloth distributor in Johor called me up about an issue I had. I should have gotten back to him sooner, but forgot. After discussing the issue, I asked him how demand is. He said pretty much the same thing like the Singaporean distributor; that they've been moving some product and that there is some life in the market. In a flash of pure genius, it occurred to me to ask him if demand was back to pre-pandemic levels. His reaction was immediate and visceral. "No. Not at all."

For both these cloth distributors, the market is in a recession. I expected so much. I expected depressed demand even after the lifting of movement restrictions.

But this is still at odds with my experience since re-opening in September. Because the last two months, JT has had record revenues. Never before in our history have we sold so much.

I am trying to find out why.

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I received a price inquiry for a 3-piece seersucker suit. I only have seersucker in H&S, so quoted him the price for a fully canvassed suit in H&S Oceania. Here is his reply:

Afternoon Jeremy, I’m looking for seersucker, specifically because of the ASEAN hot weather. A full canvassed suit is not what I’m looking for. Unstructured, or at most a very very light inner lining. What would be the costs, in this case?


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