Tag Archives: Menswear


[In the fall, Jonathan Vatner, Hue staff writer,  took an introductory menswear sewing class. He has been blogging about his experiences on Hue, Too.]

The class before Thanksgiving, Professor Blackman got out the ham and showed us how to put “marrow” in our shirts, then passed around lemon bars. But I still left hungry.

A ham is a pillow with the shape and solidity of a pig thigh, useful for ironing curved seams, like the ones in the shoulder. Just drape the shirt over the ham and iron a few inches at a time.


Professor Blackman's vintage ham

Merrowing (not marrowing, as I laterdiscovered) is a hassle-free stitch of three interwoven threads done on a specialized machine. It finishes off raw edges so that they don’t fray, and it can be a useful shortcut instead of laboriously felling a seam (which involves turning under the raw edge and stitching two rows).

The lemon bars were actual lemon bars, brought in by Professor Blackman, a talented and generous baker. Scrumptious.


[In the fall, Jonathan Vatner, Hue staff writer,  took an introductory menswear sewing class. He has been blogging about his experiences on Hue, Too.]

The class has just two graded assignments, a full shirt at the end of the term and a dickey halfway through. A dickey, in case you don’t know, is basically the sleeveless crop top version of a dress shirt, once common in schoolboys and working stiffs but now worn only as a sight gag.

My dickey, unfortunately, was far from perfect. The stitches were basically straight, but I couldn’t get the collar band to line up with the shirtfront placket, nor did the collar band match the yoke. Think about it this way: The collar is how a two-dimensional shirt becomes three-dimensional. Round peg, square hole.

When it came time to turn them in, we draped them on mannequins and lined them up on the side of the classroom. During class, Professor Blackman surreptitiously graded them. At the end of class, he gathered us to the front of the room. Seven of the 15 dickeys were positioned behind him; the other eight (including mine) remained to the side.

“Really good start, guys,” he said. “I’m very pleased. Everyone handed in a dickey, and guess what? They look like dickeys. This is the first class where no one has failed. You should be very, very pleased.”

The dickeys behind him, it turned out, were those that had received an A or A-. One by one, he called up the students who had created them, and shook their hands.

I rescued mine from the side of the room. He had written all over it, noting flaws that seemed all the more egregious when arrows pointed them out. My heart sank. Just what I needed was a D in sewing. But when I turned over my grade, it was a B. Could have been worse.

Couture, eh?

Professor Blackman's comments on my dickey


[In the fall, Jonathan Vatner, Hue staff writer,  took an introductory menswear sewing class. He has been blogging about his experiences on Hue, Too.]

Here’s the difference between my comfort in the trimmings store (where you buy buttons) and in the fabric store: none at all.

The button section of the trimmings store I went to looked like a bank vault full of safe deposit boxes, with each drawer full of one (or two) kinds of buttons. There was definitely an order to these boxes, one which I was utterly incapable of discerning.

To understand buttons you need to know that they are sized by the unit of “ligne,” a French word pronounced in a totally un-French way: “line.” The ligne system has something to do with the diameter of the button, but it’s not an exact correlation. Men’s dress shirts generally come with size 14L or 16L buttons. (Before we go any further, decondition yourself from seeing an “L” and thinking “large.”)

Some buttons, especially those on blazers, have a built-in shank, a solid bit that separates the button from the garment, allowing for that droopy look that everybody treasures.

Some buttons have rimmed edges; those are better for dress shirts. In the store I went to, I found something to the tune of zero buttons with rimmed edges.

Some buttons have four holes for the thread; others have just two. I figured that two-hole buttons were no-nos for my class. Which is probably the reason that, whenever I found a button I liked, it had two holes.

The Wall of Buttons

Picking buttons ain't easy.

I placed my five buttons on the check-out counter and said hi. The clerk, an exhausted, rumpled middle-aged man, turned to his left, shouted, “one dollar” to the person next to him, deposited the buttons into a small ziplock bag and, without meeting my glance, reached out his hand for the money.


[In the fall, Jonathan Vatner, Hue staff writer,  took an introductory menswear sewing class. He has been blogging about his experiences on Hue, Too.]

I was doing my homework, sewing sleeve plackets—the reinforced strip on the forearm that connects to the opening on the cuff—and I found myself stuck. My notes read: “Lay down ply so it touches the TOP at the corner. Grab and hold that corner. You’ll create a straight line from that. Eyeball it, then IRON.”

Which ply? The top of what? And what was I eyeballing?

I asked Carol, the Degree-Seeker who seemed to live in the Menswear labs, but she couldn’t remember. “Why don’t you ask the undergraduates? They know it really well.”

I was terrified of the undergraduates. They were way more talented and ambitious than I. And they seemed so comfortable in their skin, a far cry from Jonathan “Gollum” Vatner, shuffling around his undergraduate alma mater.

The full-timers

Students hard at work

All that evening, they had been gossiping about the students in their program: One saw someone sleeping in her Patternmaking class. Another wanted to know what was up with the smelly guy, apparently identifiable to all without a name. Then they all wondered aloud who wasn’t gay in their program.

“Bill says he’s not gay,” said one undergrad. (I’ve changed all the names, all you Nosey Parkers out there.)

“He just doesn’t know he’s gay,” said another. “He’s only like eighteen.”

“Roger’s not gay.”

“No, I’m totally gay,” said Roger, on the other side of the room, though I couldn’t tell if he was joking.

During a lull in the conversation, I gathered the courage to ask them about my placket.

“Don’t ask me,” said one. “ I hate those things.”

But another showed me. He made it look easy.


[In the fall, Jonathan Vatner, Hue staff writer,  took an introductory menswear sewing class. He has been blogging about his experiences on Hue, Too.]

Why do people take Menswear 142? Everyone has a different reason, and though this is a beginning sewing class, not everyone is a beginner.

1. The Cruisers already work in the fashion industry and just want to pick up a few pointers. If I am missing a step in my notes or have messed up and am too embarrassed to admit it to Professor Blackman, I ask a Cruiser. Stella* is a Cruiser. She already designs for a menswear company and thought it was time to polish her sewing skills. She never betrays anxiety, even during the most delicate operations, such as sewing a collar for an earthworm. I never look at

Stella’s work, which is no doubt perfect and probably includes decorative stitches in the shape of cowboys and dragons.

One of the undergrads, a fixture in the Menswear rooms

2. Next are the Degree-Seekers. Some of these, such as Eitan, are full-time FIT students who work (or sleep) during the day and prefer to take their classes at night. Others—Carol, for example—are in semi-retirement and have decided to make a business of sewing. Though their stitches might not line up in week one, they take Professor Blackman seriously when he says to practice for “up to 14 hours a week.” I have never been in the sewing rooms and not seen Carol. She’s taking Menswear classes just to get better at women’s wear. It’s like taking French to get better at Spanish. The presence of the Degree-Seekers nullifies any possibility of getting an “A for effort.”

3. The final group is the Curious. These people thought, “Rad! I can save money by making my own dress shirts!” The stitches of the Curious are wobbly, their notes riddled with gaps.

Don’t ask which group I fall into.

*Names changed to protect the journalist from enraged subjects.