The Pitfalls of Online Custom Suits - Construction (Part 3 of 4)

After taking measurements, the next decision you’ll be presented with is how the suit will be put together. This includes two principle decisions:

  • hand or machine sewn

  • fused or canvassed construction.


Hand vs. Machine made

The difference between hand and machine sewn is fairly straightforward: a tailor will either use a needle and thread or an industrial sewing machine to make your suit. As you may imagine, sewing by hand not only takes significantly longer than by machine, but also requires greater skill. As a result, a fully handsewn suit usually costs around four times more than one made by machine. The advantage to hand sewing by hand REDZuNDANT? is that it gives the tailor more control over stitch placement and allows the fabric to be shaped more naturally than a sewing machine allows.

There is usually a third option between hand and machine made: enter the semi-handmade suit. This option uses a sewing machine for the majority of the stitching while HAND SEWING areas like the lapels and shoulders, which benefit the most from being shaped by hand.

Since your first suit will probably not turn out exactly as you expect (see previous post on measurements for more detail), there is little reason to pay the premium for OMITa hand sewing. Instead, you should use machine construction until you end up with your ideal fit. Even then, because of the diminishing returns FOR to a fully handsewn suit, you will get the most bang for your buck by having your garment semi-handmade.


Fused or Canvassed

“Fused” and “Canvassed” refers to the construction method used to attached the layer of canvas (also referred to as haircloth or hymo) that is sewn between the inner and outer layers of the front of a suit. The purpose is to give structure to the lapels and smooth out any wrinkles that might otherwise occur.

In fused construction, the canvas is “fused” to the suit fabric using heat activated glue. It works the exact same way as the iron-on patches you may have used to fix a pair of jeans--the glue is infused in the patch. The heat of the iron softens the glue and bonds to the denim.

This construction method is fast and efficient--it’s much easier to iron a large area of fabric than it is to sew it together--but over time the bond between the fabric and canvas can weaken, resulting in bubbles in the fabric. Aside from the aesthetic pitfall, glueing canvas to fabric can cause the suit front to become too rigid and drape in an unnatural way.

The other method, canvassed construction, sews the canvas layer to the suit fabric. It is more labor intensive, adjusting the size of the stitches and the tension of the thread adjusts the stiffness of lapel in a number of areas. For example, the roll line--where the lapel fold begins--is started using short stitches using very high tension. This creates a hard fold, which is gradually softened outwards from the roll line, which results in a gradual slope outwards, resulting in a more natural look.

Unlike fused construction, there is no risk of bubbling fabric with a canvassed suit. Additionally, because the canvas layer is attached via thread this allows for some movement between the layers of fabric. This makes the suit front softer and allows for better drape than a fused layer.

Just like hand vs. machine sewn, most suit makers offer a hybrid option:  half canvassing. This method uses canvassed construction on the suit front from the beginning of the lapel and above, and fused construction beneath the bottom of lapel. Normally there is a significant price difference between fused and half canvas construction--most of the work that goes into canvassing is in the lapels--and only an incremental price increase for a fully canvassed suit. Due to the significant advantages canvassed construction offers--from better drape to greater durability--it is best to have your suit at least half-canvassed.

When it comes to the construction of your first custom suit, your goal should be to balance price and quality. While prices can vary widely from suit maker to suit maker, the sweet spot is generally a machine made suit using half canvas construction. The suit will hold up well over time, but since your suit probably won’t be perfect off the bat, it’s best to save more upfront so you can invest later on once you’ve nailed your perfect fit.