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Made To: Work, Part 3. Scenes from a Tokyo Tailor Shop

"The Goat Coat": Part 3.

Tailoring comes on Tuesday this week. What a lucky bit of alliteration. 

I decided to keep an open mind on my forced change of schedule. Perhaps a mid-week scenery difference might break things up nicely despite the more crowded train and frantic commute.

"Summertime heat" and a new more stressful travel schedule for the master is offering a version of him I've never seen before. He has a cold.

"It was cold in Nagano".

Neither of us feel very well, so we make a cup of tea, and dig in to work.

Despite the pockets being the actual star of the show, today, we manufactured the parts of the goat coat that feel the most iconic, and did things that are considered very “tailor-y”.  

In short, I did the lapel pad stitching.

I made a rookie mistake here, that isn’t actually a mistake, but actually a good thing if I had the eyesight of a 20 year old. I used thread that was too close to the colour of the canvas so I couldn’t see where I’d actually sewn anything. I had to pay close attention to the back of the lapel in order to get the lines of stitching close enough together, and made in an orderly fashion. I ended up with a nice roll. This is a pretty difficult thing to screw up as long as you hold it the right way and put in enough stitching.   

As my entire tailoring "career" has been wholly undertaken in Japanese, I automatically see rows and rows of "ha" (ハ), but I'm not sure who is laughing.

Pad stitching complete, I next spent some time slowly stitching on cuff buttons before I line the sleeves next week. It’s interesting to me that some people do this as the very last step in coat making. When I worked with an Italian trained tailor it was done even after the last press while the jacket hung on the stand. Perhaps if I had been doing this longer, I’d have an opinion about the “correct way”.

Alas, I do not.

I carry on working under the assumption that every method and order of operations has value and do things how I am instructed. The sleeve buttons are on, lined up like lovely little soldiers ready to hold a cuff in tact.   

Pleased enough with the result, I beckon Hirokawa like a tag team wrestler, and asked him to show me for the 5729th time how to measure out a lapel, and tape it. 

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do this part alone. It feels so… consequential.   

He measured, I measured, He taped, I taped. He did one side, I did the other. 

Measuring and taping complete, I took both parts and stitched down the tape. This is one of my favourite parts of coat making.

I have no idea what this tape or this step in coat making is called in English. Sometimes it’s iron on, sometimes it’s not. It helps reinforce the shape of the lapel and also keeps the canvas from eating through the suiting as the edge of that cloth can be quite sharp. 

I often feel the secret insides of garments like this are more beautiful than the finished coat. Unfortunately it's not very practical to leave them hanging out. 

When this was finished, it was time for facing. This is probably the most exciting part of jacket making, and different tailors have different ways of doing this bit. If you are Italian you probably do it by hand. It seems the Japanese way of doing things is by machine. Once again, I am not sure I have a preference, but I’m sure lots of people do. Tailoring seems to have lots of passionate people with strong opinions. I don’t mind that. I just listen to people’s reasoning, and do what I’m told.  

I basted the facing into place with the grain lined up nicely.  I love the basting method we use for this part, as each stitch hugs the lapel tape. It offers the same satisfaction of fitting together dove tail joins, or parallel parking.

I machined as taught and then went to work shaping the seam allowance. And whip stitching it snugly where it belonged. The nice thing about working with these heavier cloths is that as long as one’s work is relatively precise, the fluff hides any imperfections, and rounds things out nicely.  

This round of whip stitching is my other favorite part of lapel shaping, as it feels mostly like I am strapping all things into place, so everything fits together as it should.

After all the bits of cloth carpentry have been whittled down, secured and tidied up, I put my pointer finger in the tip of the lapel, and flip it over to see what a beautiful thing I’ve accidentally turned out.   

Et voila. 

The focal point of this coat has been born.

 I welcome it with a smile and then realise that once again I've blinked and a whole day has passed.  it's 4:45 pm.

As it’s Tuesday, I need to hurry home. There is dinner to be made, and a house to be tidied.   

For the millionth time, I ask cheekily if I’ve forgotten anything and he smiles and gives me exactly what I need.  


He reminds me we’ll see each other again on saturday when I visit the new atelier in Ueda.   

I’m off to Nagano then.   

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