Anatomy of a Jacket: Plain and Sturdy Fijian Tailoring

Some time ago, I got my hands on Advance 2997- a WW2 era pattern.  I love patterns from this time because they tend to use fabric in a very scroogy way, and the severely utilitarian lines delight my inner Puritan.  This pattern features in a “Make Do and Mend” type leaflet I found online called “You’ve Got the Goods on Him,” which I have assembled for you into an easy to print pdf file.  It’s pretty good.

The cool thing about re-working an existing jacket is I can re-use most of the original tailoring- front edges and lapels, the pockets, etc.  I have to be careful with my cutting, but it’s almost like an “instant jacket.”  At least it is in my head.  I’m thinking about the social conditions such a leaflet sprang from- women holding down the homefront, men gone.

The reasoning goes something like this: “It’s ok to cut up his suit jacket- you need one anyway for your new job and by the time he gets back he won’t mind.  Here’s a handy leaflet to tell you how- and since you’re such a busy woman it’s a bonus you don’t have to do much of your own tailoring.   Just reuse the existing pockets, lapels and collar!”  I can almost hear it.

Here I am modeling the $5 Fijian Suit.  It’s- uhm- not my size, though curiously, the pants seem to fit quite decently.  It’s a very tough cotton-poly twill, navy with a white pinstripe.  It’s quality enough that I’d wear it once I’m finished (if the experiment turns out well!) but on the other hand it cost $5 and it’s not like it’s made of yak fur and angel’s eyelashes so if it’s a bust I won’t beat myself up about it.

The weather changed here to “cool” and while I have a neato cotton-cord 1940’s Army style jacket that will easily stand up to another “winter” in Brisbane, I have long wanted a “blazer” type jacket, preferably pinstriped.  Viola!

Here’s a few snaps I took during the autopsy- nothing outre, just a plainly well-tailored jacket.


    • Yeah- taking this one apart got my tailoring motor running! I’m so glad the weather changed here so I can make a jacket or two…

  1. I love these posts. Ironically, this kind of thinking is more relevant now than it has been in a while. I see so many lovely suits going to waste in op shops, so maybe I can do this, too? Can you please come up with something to do with old ties? There are so many lovely ties in op shops. So far, I have resisted buying them, but I may not be able to hold out much longer.

    • I think so, too. I do like reusing old things from a philosophical perspective, but I have to admit it makes it cheaper and therefore easier for me to indulge my sewing habit by re-using older textiles.. The seams in this one were a little dusty, so I’m going to need to figure out how to wash them I think.. Might mist them with water and run it through a cool dryer to knock out the dust…

      Old ties? I like to use them for piping, I’ve seen them made into skirts but that’s not really my style so I don’t… There’s not a lot of fabric there, but sometimes a little POP of gorgeous color is just the thing to take a project from meh to AWESOME if you know what I mean..

      I’ll be going through the instructions in the leaflet step by step and filling in the blanks so to speak.. But this is a “back burner” type project that I’ll get to over the course of the next few weeks rather than screaming through it like I do so many other projects… ;)

  2. Fascinating—I love seeing the guts of a tailored jacket (so mny nifty, subtle things!)

    So, will you be, ah, reducing some of that chest padding? ;)

    • hehehehe. I think chest padding reduction will be quite necessary… The next step is to carefully reduce each piece of jacket to something I can actually use…

  3. So interesting to see how the jacket was (incredibly well) constructed. Oh dear about your seam ripper….I think it´s one of the most used tools in my sewing kit! I have the book “Make Do and Mend” which is a collection of the WW2 Pamphlets…makes very interesting reading with guidelines about what was and was not allowed in tailoring!

    • I tend to go through them pretty quickly… They get blunt and rusty in this weather, and I’m always ripping something… Yes, I love reading those old pamphlets!

  4. I have a ‘make do and mend’ book ( a re-print) that has instructions on how to alter mens tailoring to make ladies jackets, skirts and childrens clothes, I do wonder how many home sewers would have been up to the task? X

    • I suspect many of them would have been up to the task… I understand it wasn’t as simple as “Hmmm… I need a new blazer, time to pop down to the store and see what they have this season.” And the sewing patterns and instructions and books I’ve read from the 30’s show a rather sophisticated home sewing base, so I’m sure plenty of women would be up to this sort of thing… Especially if they *really* wanted/needed a new jacket or suit…

      • After chatting to my mum today, I found out my grandma refused to do anything to my grandads clothes when he was away as (being superstitious) it meant he would not return. She was ok at sewing but was an amazing knitter. If she got stuck she would ask a friend/neighbour/family member for advice. X

  5. What fun! What a really well made jacket to be reworking… and what a great pattern to be using – loooove the 40s. The link to the pdf file doesn’t seem to be working though – would love a copy of that leaflet:)
    I remade a jacket 2 winters ago – not a tailored jacket, it was a really ugly mao style(less) thing made from the most gorgeous totally embroidered fabric that my sis got me from Afghanistan or somewhere like that… must check with her. Anyway I found a pattern in an ancient La Mia Boutique for a cropped jacket with lapel and collar and managed to re-engineer it, line it, etc – with much assistance from my old sewing books – the cheek, I hadn’t sewn since the wedding dress and the failed marriage 15 years ago, and there I was making a jacket…. nothing like the one you are going to make but still! It turned out fab and that pushed me to start sewing again:)

    • I sent you the pdf, and I’ll look at the link. Dang.

      OoooOooh, sounds like it was a lovely re-make! I bet the fabric was just incredible. Do you wear it still? Do you have some pretty photos? :)

      • Got it, and thanks so very much! Yes, I do – it’s dressy as it is black with bright embroidery – will send you a pic as I still ahve not figured out how to use flickr and other sites:(…
        My mother was born in 1924 and had much older sisters one of whom was the family dressmaker – anut Bi was amazing, some of the techniques she used are straight from Shaeffer’s couture techniques. She told me that before and during WWII they remade loads of the men in the family’s clothes – they didn’t need them as they lived in uniform. She found zigzag a luxury:)… She still used to handfinish edges though on special things as she preferred the look… One technique I find strange in my 30s and 40s patterns is the way they lap a yoke or a bodice onto a skirt instead of sewing them together – I’ve tried it but don’t like the look of that edgestitched seam….

  6. I love looking at the insides of men’s tailoring, and your blog for that matter. You are always up to awesome things!

    What pattern did you make your neato 40s cord jacket from? It’s amazing! Can’t believe I’ve not seen it before.

    • Aw thanks! I’m blushing.

      The cord jacket is made from Advance 2960 (I can’t believe it’s not written in that post! How naughty of me…) which I heavily altered. I also made an unlined hemp-silk satin backed crepe version for sun cover this summer. I love it. There’s links in that post to several pattern work type posts… And I made a masculine corduroy version for my husband that he loves. So I got a lot of use from that pattern! I love love love 1940’s Advance patterns.

  7. That was what I hated most about doing alterations for a high-end dress shop: taking well-made garments apart. A well-made garment is sewn to NOT come to pieces! That said, I consider a seam ripper to be a “wear part” in that they do heavy duty and must be often replaced. Have yet to figure out a way to sharpen one … although even the dull ones will poke a hole in human flesh if you aren’t careful.

    • Yes, dull seam rippers are dangerous! Just like dull knives. I don’t know if they’re recyclable, but there should be some way to reuse them… But yes, I replace mine constantly. I hate having to fight with my tools.

  8. I did this for my final when I was in school. The project was to turn a piece of clothing into an entirely different piece of clothing for less than $5. I bought a suite and turned it into a jumpsuit. I still have it too. I love how this came with a leaflet (and I also than you for sharing it)

    • Ooooh! Sounds like fun. :) The leaflet is something I found somewhere else, then found a pattern, then the suit… I *wish* it came in a nice little kit…


  9. Love what you’re doing here, really interesting project. And I love that your pattern recommends using ‘his’ suit – I wonder if any arguments ensued when wives started hacking up their husband’s suits to clothe themselves?

    • Well, probably not since the men were off fighting for their country… I guess once they got back home, they wouldn’t have cared because the suit would have been out of fashion by then anyway… (Not that men’s fashion changes much, but there is a distinct shift between pre-WW2 and post war suits.)

  10. your link is working again, thanks for sharing it, I love a bit of geeky light reading :-)
    so interesting to see this come apart like that, and how cool to see the sleeve shaped to the original wearers body quirks like that!

    • Hehehe. Geeky light reading indeed.

      Yeah, I have a picture of the wearer in my mind now. I hope he doesn’t mind me tearing his suit up…

  11. Thanks for sharing the pdf with us! I’ll be looking forward to your posts on this project, as tailoring and coats are things that scare me. Also, where can I find some of this yak fur and angel eyelash fabric? ;)

    • Well, I get my yak fur and angel eyelash boucle from a local weaver. She also works with rainbows and cobwebs, but the price is pretty steep. ;)

  12. Fascinating. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a poly-cotton suit before (and I’m definitely looking forward to that one made from angel eyelashes ;-) ). Based on all the unique alterations, do you think it was made for a particular individual?

    Man, now I want to go find myself a cool suit to pull apart and make something you of! You are inspiring me, and driving me crazy because I don’t have the time!

    • It was definitely made specifically for one person, definitely. There’s too much obvious thought and care put into every piece of this suit, it’s actually a pretty nice little piece and well made.

      I know! I wish I had more time to work on this!

  13. Now, I’m curious Steph. A while ago you asked me for my email address, which I sent to you, but then I’ve not heard a word since. Why did you want my email address?

  14. Ooh, I remember when you wrote about this suit… this looks like a fun ongoing project. I love deconstructing stuff!

    And is that a koala claw in your header… I hope that went well! (Or maybe you wrote about it and I missed the post?)

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