MANSWAP #4 Making a tailored jacket for Gus

posted in: SWAP, WIP (work in progress) | 25

The two jackets

You may remember that I started with the idea of making a 1940s vintage jacket for my son Gus. I toiled it twice and made a number of alterations. On the third iteration, discouraged by the amount of work I was having to do, I listened the wise words of my esteemed followers and commentators. I ditched the old pattern and bought a new one – Vogue 8988. I would like to make this up in grey wool, and beige linen – a winter and summer version.

This pattern is labelled “Plus Difficile” if you speak French or prefer metric. Or really don’t want to admit that this means making it up will not be a breeze. Tres difficile.

Anyway I did the first fitting, having added extra length. I am not sure why I did this. I didn’t have Gus here very often, so I looked at the measurements I had taken. Anyway, long story short it was long. Tres long. I can’t even bring myself to show you photographs.

But I pinned it up and started fitting the bodice (leaving off the sleeves and collar). And do you know what? All the issues I had with the 1940s pattern reappeared here. So much for men’s bodies changing over the decades! My son is awkward to fit, whatever the period. His parsnip shape means that an average jacket is tight across the chest, and won’t close across the CF, but is baggy across the waist and hips, especially in the back of the jacket. To fit Gus properly we need to take width in from across the back of the jacket especially in the (sway back) waist area, and add it to the front of the jacket to accommodate the broad chest.

I made the following adjustments:

  • shorten by 5cms
  • add additional width (2.5cms) across the front chest
  • take in at CB and side seam by about 1cm each, tapering slightly for the waist

I altered the pattern and recut the shell. I am now on Toile No 4. Or “Toilet” as Kim’s autocorrect calls it!  And here is a close up of the problem area.

Vogue 8988
Close up neck area, Vogue 8988

Now apart from just being too small (still) the issue of the traps re-appears. You can see how the neckline is lifted away by the thickness of Gus’s traps.

I had the realisation that Gus is the archetypal “97-pound weakling” who has done a fair amount of gym work. Inherently he is a skinny lad, but his upper torso strength is considerable. He can even lift me up bodily above his head (that shuts me up!). You can see in the old cartoon ads that I grew up with that Charles Atlas has the same big traps. I wonder where he bought his jackets! Come to think of it he always seems to appear without a shirt – maybe he couldn’t find one to fit.

Charles Atlas
Charles Atlas Advert

When he tried the toile on Gus and I both noticed, that apart from just being too small across the upper chest we have the neck-and-traps issue. I was at a loss. Gus gave me some advice.

“Just post the pictures and one of your sewing friends will tell you what to do”.

Well, it’s not a bad idea. Here are some more.

The other, related issue seems to be that it is too small.

Gus’s chest is most definately 38″. The toile does sort of fit  across the actual chest line, so in that sense this pattern is the “right” size. But I think i need to cut the jacket in a size 40 chest to get sufficient width across the shoulders which are bigger than an average 38″ man. I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me previously.

Unfortunately because I had already cut the pattern down to 38″ I had to buy the pattern again. I know. I am an idiot. But £12 is a good price for learning such an important lesson. When working with someone else’s body don’t assume anything. Trace off the pattern, then play with it. That way you can make further adjustments. Actually I realised that I would always rather make something smaller, than adding width to a pattern. Also that getting a good fit across the shoulders and upper body is the most important place for me, and therefore it is likely to be the most important place to fit on someone else. If the upper chest and shoulders fit well then the other alterations are easier, I think.

So I now have to make up the 40″ chest toile and have a look at that. The solution to the shoulder shape maybe to leave this seam open, just marking the stitch line, and then to fit it on the body. Along with Gus I request any good ideas please!

Sweater #2

In other SWAP news Gus has decided on a different, but rather similar, pattern (to the one he chose previously) for his jumper. This is a 1960s pattern rather than a 1940s one, and maybe the styling is a bit more Steve McQueen. I got the pattern on Clitheroe market for 20p. It’s an amazing pattern. The jumper comes in about 12 sizes and you can have set in or raglan sleeves. My goodness you could do two for everyone in the family, and in so many different colours. The pattern is designed for a synthetic yarn but I swatched some lovely dark green cashmere from Colourmart and Gus really liked it.  I will make a start on the jumper after Christmas. I am still hopeful that I may be able to do one pair of trousers before Christmas (a second SWAP early bird), but if not I can always start on the jersey.



25 Responses

  1. Demented Fairy

    I love your posts, and feel your pain lol
    OK first suggestion- shoulder pads. That first pic made me think ‘good grief those are very sloping shoulders’ and even allowing for the Cardassian neck [Deep Space Nine], I don’t think Gus is that slopey!
    Men’s jackets always have shoulder pads don’t they? I thought the general aim of men’s tailoring is to give the illusion of an ‘ideal’ body, and all the work goes on inside with chest pieces and canvas and pads. By raising the shoulder point a bit, the slope of the neck should be disguised.
    When I was working out, I had a similar case of Cardassian neck, which is not so appealing on a woman! However, I don’t wear tailored clothes, so never had the problem of fitting round it…
    The sweater yarn is gorgeous, just my cup of tea.

    • fabrickated

      Yes I agree I need pads in the shoulders but actually the jacket was a bit too tight in the armhole to put them in at this stage. Thanks for your lovely feedback E. You do make me laugh!

  2. Anne

    I’ve been doing tailoring in class this term. A ladies’ jacket, not gents. I’m certainly no expert so no words of great wisdom here, I’m afraid. However, I assume a couple of points are shared by both.
    Always fit with the shoulder pads you will be using.The shoulder pads can be different sizes if need be to even the shoulders.
    Like fitting a full bust, it is important to get shoulders and upper chest and adjust. As DF said, other padding etc may be required.
    It’s easier to make smaller than bigger
    I had problems fitting Anthony’s waistcoat for the wedding due to his chest shape – he has problems with RTW too of course. He spent many years in fencing training and competition. I gather that affects his thighs, too. I was going to make cargo shorts for him but got the word no for that reason, among others.
    I cut the tissue for the jacket I was making for myself as fit guidelines and cut lines were printed on it. I may also have to buy a new copy of the pattern. Oh, well! On the other hand, it’s so messy now that a better option is probably just to trace a clean copy of the modified tissue.

  3. Tonia

    Tip! I find greaseproof baking parchment (white paper) is great for tracing, and it’s inexpensive. You can transfer your pattern to parchment paper leaving your original pattern pristine, and cut free. Think it as making a toile pattern.

  4. Kerry

    I do so admire your perseverance with Project Gus’s Jacket but it’s clear you are determined to see it through! It seems that you have learned so much through the process of trying to fit Gus’s body shape; I say bravo! What you say makes sense – cut the pattern to the size of the largest body parts, then reduce/alter where necessary. Does Gus have a jacket that he likes to wear that you can measure to compare with the pattern as well as his body shape?

    For Gus’s jumper, do you plan to do set-in or raglan sleeves? I’m thinking that raglan sleeves may look better on Gus’s broad shoulders, but I could be wrong. Also I’m personally not a big fan of set-in sleeves on a hand-knit jumper, so I may just be biased. I think you are doing such an amazing job with Gus’s wardrobe.

  5. Cherry

    Yes, absolutely shoulder pads! And proper men’s ones, from a tailor supply store. Then I would use the toile you show, rather than starting yet again. Pin the shoulder pads on to Gus ( a close fit tee shirt I mean). Mark the desired shoulder seam on them. Undo the shoulder seams on your toile and put it back on him, Place the chest area correctly, pin that to his shirt too.
    Noe smooth up to the shoulders and see where the shoulder seam needs to be marked. You may have to add a bit of fabric to make it work. Pin and mark your shoulder line over the line on the shoulder pad.
    Then assess the fit at the neck, it’s looking a little loose right now. Pin in a scrap of fabric and remark the neckline, which should be snug, just room for a shirt collar. If you do change the neckline, measure its length and compare it to the original, you will have to alter the collar patterns by the same amount.
    Next assess the shoulder point, I think that is pretty good, but the shoulder pad may change things.
    Once you have a good shoulder fit, you can decide how much to taper the body. I wouldn’t doo very much, the eye has an expectation of how a jacket should look.
    Sorry if this reads like a textbook, I have been along this path with my own son!
    And yes, I also love your yarn choice.

  6. Stephanie

    Well, I can’t be helpful or funny, so I will just say, “Go Kate!” I really don’t think it looks bad at all, and Cherry’s suggestion of opening out the shoulders etc. seems to make sense (as does yours of going up a size). And the knitting pattern and yarn are perfect, so again, “Go Kate!” I’m going to be struggling with women’s tailoring in January so I am loving these posts.

  7. Peggy

    Dear Kate,
    I admire your determination and know that you are going to produce a beautiful jacket for Gus (as well as several other remarkable garments.). I agree with Cherry that you should start with shoulder pads on Gus, and with open shoulder seams and fit that area using the toile you have. I believe you will be adding height at the shoulder point which will allow the jacket to settle down to Gus’ shoulder at the neck and will increase the amscye circumference resulting in a less tight armhole. You may also be adding a bit of width at the shoulder point. These alterations may slightly change where the chest, waist, etc. currently sit on him, which is why I believe you always start at the shoulder with fitting. The back of the jacket, as it appears in your side view photo, looks great. I think you are well on your way to a wonderful jacket, and the actual changes will be minimal in the total scheme of things.
    Love the yarn for the jumper!

  8. Mary Collins

    If it were me, I would go up a size, add in the shoulder pad (not a huge one) and then fit down from there. Have a look at some obliging male’s sport coat. There is quite a bit of structure through the shoulder chest area – way more than in a woman’s jacket. Also, have him try on the toile with what he plans or wear under it (sweater and shirt?). Good luck!

  9. karen

    Kate, the advice I always use, is buy a pattern to fit the neck, shoulders and upper chest (above the bust), then grade up or down for bust, waist and hips. I think that is sound advice for men or women. Looking at Gus’s toile, the pattern is too small in the neck especially. It comes up much too high on his neck and distorts the lay of the shoulders. A slope shoulder adj may be required to accomodate his muscular neck.
    Also, is is easier to identify problems if he is wearing a shirt that fits him extremely well. It will quickly highlight areas that need to be addressed, because the proportions will look odd. (i.e. too much shirt exposure or not enough).
    The third thing I would do, is go through the internet, and find someone with tailoring experience for men and ask. If they are blogging, they will probably be willing to answer a plea for help.
    Good luck!

    • Stephanie

      Karen has an interesting point. To be honest, even though I know you can do this on your own, I was wondering about going to see a men’s tailor and asking for an opinion or even help with the toile. I know that sounds like cheating but I think it would be excellent to learn from someone who fits men for a living.

  10. Elizabeth

    I have been following this project with great interest, although I have nothing to offer because I have not yet made my husband a jacket, a task I consider the holy grail of sewing. I have made plenty of shirts for my husband (over 50!) And pants. As far as I know, no one on the internet has detailed a project of this kind, although there are plenty of great finished ones out there. I look forward to seeing your work before I start on my own.

  11. Mary Funt

    This version is definitely a better fit than the previous ones but I see what you mean about the remaining fit issues. Other comments are right on point. You definitely need to add a chest canvas and shoulder pads before going further. Unless Gus plans to wear the jacket over a tee, have him wear a dress shirt. Fitting him over the tee and without the jacket understructure is like fitting a formal gown over a sports bra.
    I would be careful about simply going up a size. You want to get a good fit at the neck and work downwards and out from there. Commercial clothing patterns are sized proportionally and if you aren’t dealing with a figure that conforms to the standard shape won’t work. The tailoring forums I use note that Gus’s shape is among the most difficult to fit.
    I found some expert advice on fitting the strong shoulder blade:
    “Strong blades: Can show on skinny as well as muscular persons. In either case it’s very challenging to adjust the pattern, since there is some hollow area between the blades and at the rear armholes, while you also need extra length over the blades. In extreme cases (and when the cloth doesn’t allow ironwork) a dart in the back shoulder seam is the best option.”
    Another source says:
    “Abb. 265 and 266: This is how you alter the back for strong blades: Cut across the upper back and from the shoulder down to that cut, open evenly to add the necessary length (balance) for the blades, then close it at the armholes and centre back. For a fuller and a very full chest (normal posture) you can apply to the front an alteration similar to the one you do to the back for full back and blades. Make a cut along the front dart to it’s top, and from there 1 cut each towards the front and side. For a just bit fuller chest you only open the chest dart, there will be a gap above the dart, which will add length and fullness across the upper chest.

    This information is from Cutter and Tailor (, a wonderful website for advanced and professional tailoring advice. Look under the tab “The Advanced Apprentices Forum.” You can also post photos and get fitting advice. You might need to register first but the suggestions will be from pros. If you choose to try this approach, make up another toile just like this one but in an inexpensive wool. Add the shoulder pads and a chest canvas if you can and have Gus model it over a well fitting dress shirt. That way the advice will tend to focus on the fitting issues.

    Good luck! I’m sure you will find the answers.

  12. Vancouver Barbara

    In the first photo, it appears that Gus’s shoulders are forward by an inch or maybe even more and the shoulder seams are rolling back making that gap at back neck. I’d suggest a shoulder adjustment. And yes, of course, shoulder pads. But really, doesn’t Gus have an ideal form? Broad shoulders, narrow waist and hips.
    By the end of this you will be an expert.

  13. Kim

    Do you have the Winnifred Aldrich book for menswear Kate? Given how difficult fitting the commercial patterns have been maybe it would be easier to create the pattern to his own block.
    Full marks for commitment.
    (Comment read carefully for snafus!)

  14. Peggy

    I apologize. On closer inspection, I see that you do have a shoulder pad inserted while fitting Gus. Mary Funt’s advice seems spot on. I agree wih other writers that fitting over a dress shirt would be wise. Good luck. I am looking forward to following your progress.

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