All Bespoke suits are cut from a hand-drafted pattern. Here are the main three main drafting methods used by the very top-end, Savile Row tailors:
1. Pattern Manipulation.
This is the most common system used. A pre-existing basic block pattern (40, 42 Reg, 44 etc.) is used as a template, a starting point to create an improved, individual bespoke pattern. This will obviously match your dimensions, but most importantly, it will have the correct figuration details, such as how you stand, erect or stooping etc.
Don’t confuse this with a factory made-to-measure- all you’re getting there is the most basic of adjustments- chest, waist and length etc, to gain an ‘adequate’, standardised fit. But the suit will be designed based on a mannequin’s measurements, not your own.
With Bespoke Pattern Manipulation, an experienced Savile Row cutter will tweak with all the points of the pre-existing pattern to produce a new, individual template that’s true to your figure. Though not my preferred method, in all fairness this is a good system when used by experienced hands. The main benefit is that the cutter is starting out with a well-tried and tested pattern that he’s familiar with. Also, sparing him from any nasty surprises he may encounter, it saves him the time of drafting from scratch.
2. Drafting Formula.
Using your individual measurements, a pattern is drafted by scratch using the most exacting of standards. It’s very clinical and scientific. Everything is measured with a ruler to the greatest degree of precision possible, much like an engineering drawing, using a drafting square and a scale formula. It’s extremely complicated, and everything must be checked and double-checked. There are slightly different methods you can use, but they all involve a lot of measuring and calculation. When you are taught this for the first time, you feel as if you’re studying nuclear physics, rather than pattern drafting.
Again, in the experienced hands of a good Savile Row cutter, this will work fine. Every tailor lives and breathes his preferred system; it just depends on how he’s been taught. But either of these two aforementioned systems are good ones.
3. “Rock Of Eye”.
This is the system I specialise in. This is where the second system, the above Drafting Formula is calculated mentally in my head, however I just cut the pattern freehand, using only my tape measure and chalk to guide me. This method is used for the jacket only- to draught trousers without a square and stick would be folly.
This method does sound slightly vague, because it is. However as Mr. Hallbery told me, on my first encounter in the Anderson & Sheppard cutting room, “Show me a right angle on a man and I’ll let you use that square”.
This statement utterly terrified me, as we all prefer to have figures and defined points to work with. These had been obtained by a scientific method, so they had to be right, Right?
Wrong. Because what I found out “the expensive way” was that there were times when I had drafted a pattern, checked and double-checked it, and although the measurements were exact, something still looked wrong.
I was blinded by science, not creativity.
This is something everyone in this or any other business has experienced- a gut feeling that you wanted to listen to, but logic wrongly forced you to ignore. Then sadly you’d proceed down this path, and as soon as you saw the results at the suit’s first fitting, you knew your gut was right all along, and you have to kick yourself.
Often when creative matters are involved, “practice makes imperfect”.
Although this “Rock of Eye” system is based on a scientific method, it’s not constrained by it. As Mr. Hallbery told me, if the pattern doesn’t look right, how will it sew right? Then ultimately how will the suit look right?
This feeling, or I suppose you could call it ‘experience’, this is why I find “Rock of Eye” so wonderful to use. I know how a pattern works; if I don’t like how a pattern looks, I change it. Simple.