A love of cloth and a passion for construction paved the way for a career in bespoke tailoring for Thom Sweeney’s head cutter.
Bespoke tailoring can’t be rushed, although we do work to very strict deadlines. We usually have around 12 weeks to complete a garment, although some pieces are required sooner in special cases. We measure clients then cut and re-cut patterns from fittings. We usually fit the garment three times as standard and in the consultation process we also cover cloth and cut.
The first fitting takes place within the first four weeks, followed by another fitting four to six weeks later and then a third two weeks after that. The relationship between a client and his tailor is the most important area. If the two don’t understand each other the suit will not be right from the start.
We have a bespoke team of 12 including apprentices at various levels, tailors and cutters. The job starts with me or one of the cutters making the pattern. Once cut, the pattern is struck out on the cloth and cut out. The garment is then passed to one of our coat makers to prepare for a fitting or to be finished. Throughout this process it is fitted, recut and refitted to achieve the best fit and finish.
We currently have nine apprentices in cutting and coat making, six in their first year and three split between their second and third years. The coat making apprentices work on the jackets and waistcoats only, not the whole suits, while the cutting apprentices work with all patterns for the garments we create. While we are all tailors people specialise, so coat makers focus on making jackets and we also have trouser makers and waistcoat makers in the team, along with the cutter who cuts all the garments for the suit. For me working with the apprentices is the most rewarding part of my job. I love to pass on my knowledge and watch their confidence grow.
There are quite a lot of cloths to choose from, but my favourite has to be flannel. It’s always a treat to work with. Some of my favourite suits are ones I’ve made from flannel, especially flannels from Fox Brothers in Somerset. Not only is flannel comfortable to wear and soft to the touch, it also keeps you warm and is easy to maintain.
I cut a lot of two-button, single-breasted jackets. I don’t dislike them but my favourite pieces to cut are overcoats, from pea coats to Chesterfields. I recently cut the pattern for a beautiful camel-coloured cashmere single-breasted coat, with lots of extra details such as an adjustable belt to box pleats.
I got into the trade by knocking on doors one cold November in 2010. I had spent that summer at Central Saint Martins studying a summer course in menswear design, while studying art and design back in Somerset. I found myself returning to Savile Row and over the next two months started looking for an apprenticeship. I took a jacket along with me that I’d made in my bedroom using my mum’s iron and my Nan’s friend’s sewing machine. I had always been interested in the construction and pattern making side of fashion.
The workshop at Thom Sweeney
I knocked on Maurice Sedwell’s door on Savile Row, then I called, then I emailed. The head cutter asked me to come to London the following week for an interview, which was the most nerve-wracking day of my life. I didn’t get much chance to convince him, it was more whether he liked me and thought I could be trained. He took me on as an apprentice, which consisted of two years of strict lessons, perfection chasing and many seven-day weeks learning the broad range of skills required.
Thom Sweeney attracted me because of the brand’s individual attitude towards bespoke tailoring. The cut is more contemporary, with simple changes to the length and construction of the jacket. Thom Sweeney makes slightly softer garments, somewhere between English and Italian tailors. The trousers are narrower and a little shorter meaning the whole silhouette is very clean and a touch more modern.
We’ve recently invested heavily in our workshop, which has been completely refitted and redesigned. We cleared the space and fitted new boards – tables for tailors and cutters to work on. The new layout and space opened positions for up for eight to 10 new apprentices. Alongside this we have forged a new relationship with the tailoring course at Newham College in east London, which encourages its students to do work experience with a tailor.
I still feel I have a long way to go and much to learn, but patience is key. I’ve always allowed myself to be taught, to absorb as much information as I can and to put it into practice. Nothing will ever be perfect, but you have to try.
I’m not a very impulsive person so having to think of another career strikes the fear of god into me, but I do have great admiration for sculptors and architects, so either of those roles would be good.
September 2008-June 2010 BTEC Diploma, Art and Design (specialising in fashion), Yeovil College, Somerset
July 2010-August 2010 Menswear Design (summer course), Central St Martins, London
September 2014-present Head cutter, Thom Sweeney Bespoke Tailors, London
December 2012-September 2014 Under cutter, Thom Sweeney Bespoke Tailors, London
December 2010-December 2012 Apprentice tailor and cutter, Maurice Sedwell Bespoke Tailors, Saville Row