Thursday, 27 September 2012

Saville Row tailoring behind the scenes

Yesterday I had the delightful experience of seeing behind the scenes at No.1 Saville Row home of Gieves and Hawkes. I was astonished at how many people work in the cellars below the shops on the Row and how much handwork is involved. This is the view down the long room where most of the work is done, there are hardly any sewing machines virtually everything is done by hand, laying out, cutting, stitching and that takes a lot of people, all specialists in their own trade.

And this is one of the specialist trouser makers. I did not note his name but he has worked there for many many years just doing trousers, doing them quickly and doing them well.

They all deny that there is a hierarchy but  everything that follows is dependent on the work of the cutter. The cutter is responsible for the design of the bespoke garments. Bespoke for those that don't know means you have a unique pattern made specifically to fit you. This is different from "made to measure" where an existing pattern is tweaked and sized up or down to get as close as possible to a fit. There is also a lot if difference in how it is made with made to measure being made in the same factories with the same machines as off the peg suits. Bespoke is hand made all the way. In the background is head cutter Davide Taub who's blog gives an insight into the more interesting cuts and designs.

Having measured the client and discussed their requirements a pattern is made and the fabric is cut. 

Much of this was familiar to me as I spent a year in the 1980s working on a cutting table of a lingerie firm in Liecester.

 About 10 years ago the actual act of making on Saville Row looked under threat. High rates and rents meant that if left to market forces all the workshop space would be converted to sales space trading on the Saville Row name, but how long would that name maintain it's value if the bespoke business moved out? The Saville Row Bespoke association have done much to avert that potential decline and amongst their initiatives has been setting up a pre apprenticeship scheme at Newham college. This is one of the Newham College students on her first day on the Row watching and learning.
One day maybe I would love a Saville Row suit but at present they are out of my price range. For those interested in the differences between various suit options and what you get for your money I enjoy Thomas Mahon's blog, he even gives advice on how to get a decent suit for £200

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Making vellum (calfskin) and parchment (sheepskin)

post by Patricia Lovett, HCA Vice Chair

Vellum and parchment making has been going on for thousands of years. It is a writing surface that lasts - the earliest vellum books in existence are 3rd century AD. 

William Cowley in Buckinghamshire is now the only parchmenters in the UK and they continue to use traditional methods to treat the skin. They supply the world in quality skins.

Goat, sheep and calf skins are selected at abbatoirs for quality and, once at the parchmenters, are first soaked in a lime solution to expand the hair follicles and treat the skins.

Skins soaked in vats of lime solution

Once ready, the skins are the placed over a beamer and a special knife called a scudder is used to remove the hair.

Removing the hair using a scudder

Skins are washed and treated again and then stretched out on wooden frames. There is skill at every level but here a slight slip  and the whole skin could be ruined. Tension in the skin is adjusted continually while a razor sharp lunar knife is used to scrape the skin. This creates an even thickness as well as ensuring the grain is all in the same direction. 

Master parchmenter Lee Mapley scraping the skin with a lunar knife

Skins are then allowed to dry still on their frames. This obviously takes less time in summer than winter. 

Skins drying on wooden frames

When  completely  dry the skins are cut from their frames, rolled and stored ready for use.

Storing skins

Writing, painting and gilding on vellum is unlike using any other material, and is wonderful!

© Patricia Lovett 2012

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Wartime Farm

Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn and HCA Patron Alex Langlands are back – this time it’s Wartime Farm. Following on from Edwardian Farm and Victorian Farm, in this series the trio are turning back the clock to World War II to run Manor Farm in Hampshire for a year. The first episode was broadcast last Thursday, 8pm, BBC2 (available on i-player until the end of October) - with another seven episodes to keep us Farm addicts happy!

The new series focuses on how Britain fed itself during World War II. At the outbreak of war in 1939, Britain imported 70% of its food. Shipping was a key target and Britain had to look at how to provide for itself. 

Heritage craft has already made an appearance in the first episode. Blacksmithing as a craft was in decline in the 1930s but came back into demand during the War, especially as blacksmiths were able to 'make do and mend', making new tools out of rusty metal as scrap metal was going to the war effort.

In Episode 1, blacksmith Simon Summers showed Peter how to make a mole plough for draining land. When war broke out 4 million acres of land needed draining before it could be ploughed and converted to farmland. A mole plough consists of a narrow blade which, when dragged through the ground, leaves a deep channel which acts as a drain. 

Simon and Peter search the hedgerows to find suitable metal to make a mole plough from. This piece of iron will form the bullet-shaped 'blade'.
Transforming the rusty axle into a mole plough.
The mole begins to take shape.
The finished mole.
Peter and Alex with the finished mole plough.
Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, the mole plough wasn't quite heavy enough or strong enough to break through the soil, and eventually Alex, Peter and Ruth (driving the tractor) had to plough the field without draining it.

Hopefully we'll get a chance to see some more crafts over the series. Take a look at the HCA website to read a message from Alex about crafts during the war, and some of the things he's had a go at over the series. Don't forget to watch tomorrow night!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

filming for BBC Paul Martin's "Handmade Revolution"

We have been working with the producers of this new BBC series since February and are quite excited about how it is looking.
Today Paul Martin and crew came to film in my workshop for an episode which will air in October. He made a bowl and I carved the spoon, by the end of the day he was tired but happy and he did a great job.
 I started planning the day before with daughter JoJo turning a bowl so I could check out how long it would take, how the wood was working and sharpen up my tools.

Today the National Trust were flying a helicopter up and down the valley airlifting sacks of stone onto the moor for footpath work. I know on camera you are supposed to do soundbites but we had 1 1/2 minutes quiet whilst they were loading down the hill then 2 minutes noise then 3 minutes quiet whilst they were up the hill and 2 minutes noise again all day.

 crew setting up.
 Paul launching in with huge enthusiasm
Close attention of camera and sound men.
 outside nearly done.
 hollowing the inside
 nearly there
 finished bowls
 Paul is genuinely passionate about traditional crafts and has agreed to be patron of the Heritage Crafts Association.