Under the Skin: What, Why and Quality

 

I seem to get a lot of questions regarding the “cost” of my jackets.  I have noticed a rather disturbing trend regarding the use of the  term “vintage” and worse, the use of the designs from the past.  I rarely focus on the negative regarding the emerging new brands that are either heritage brands, or heritage based brands but of late these brands have been appearing in somewhat of a “frenzy”.  Every week there seems to be a new clothing brand, or an old clothing brand, producing a replica vintage product.  It would almost appear that as long as a garment contains some tweed, oilskin or horsehide it is now “authentic”.

Last week a leather jacket company called me looking for horsehide leather.  They were quite frustrated that they could not purchase horsehide leather from Horween for 3 dollars a square foot.  This was a very very old original California leather jacket maker  and as I am an amicable fellow I offered up my expertise on available horsehide and design in the hopes that there would be a small exchange of history in trade.  I was rushed off the phone, the company in question taking my information and assurance that there is not a “cheap” supply of vintage horsehide, and has since ignored my requests for a historical inquiry.

Last week I also saw some very interesting knockoff 1960s hippy jackets that were near perfect replicas of some original jackets…the problem being that the sewing techniques and leather were not of the same quality and character of the originals.  Ok, here is my point.  I am sure there are cheaper ways to simulate “authenticity” and certainly anybody can put a D pocket on a jacket and call it vintage design.  The real art of making a perfect jacket is in spending the time and money to go back to the best of the best of handmade materials, cutting and techniques of manufacture.  These are not always easily discernible on the surface.  There is no shortcut or cheap way to imitate this kind of “authenticity”.  Often the slightest improvement in technique and materials can increase the labour and cost of a great jacket exponentially.  But isn’t that what one should strive for in an ‘authentic” jacket?  I will not knock others efforts, and I am sure that many will not see the value in my search for the best of the best.  But I think it is important to acknowledge the quest and be honest in the authenticity of what your selling not just what you are branding.  The best way to be sure is to ask questions, and from my perspective share the quest and the process. Every person deserves one good thing, inform yourself, ask questions, and spend your money with brands you can trust to be true to your own values.


Making a Heron A-1: Sewing the Body, Sleeves and Collar

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Once a jacket has been cut and all the pieces checked for quality, the assemblage of the body can commence.  Typically the seam allowance for a leather jacket is 3/8ths; this helps save on very expensive leather wastage.   Our jackets are sewn with two types of thread.  The inner seams are synthetic for strength and the top stitching is done in cotton thread for both beauty and authenticity.  As a jacket wears the cotton thread tends to protect the leather from wear and tear.  The strain on the stitch holes can lead to a sawing effect with nylon thread so rather than experience that kind of wear over time the more authentic cotton thread which was used in the 1930s and 1940s is preferred.  Thread gauge and stitch counts are maintained to the original jackets of the 1930s. We had to overcome many technical difficulties in order to use cotton.  The main one being that the sewing has to be slowed down in order to not constantly break the thread as the needle penetrates the very tough beautiful horsehides.

Closeup of Capeskin seams on a Heron jacket

Closeup of Capeskin seams on a Heron jacket

When sewing, the body is sewn first separate from the sleeves and the collar.  Any external hard wear and straps like the nickel d-rings are attached to the body of the jacket.  Inner seams are sewn, first maintaining the seam allowance and then the top stitching is applied to finish the seam.  We keep our top stitching accurate to the widths of the original jackets.  In order to maintain flat seams and smooth stitching, seams need to be tamped or hammered as the sewing progresses.  As well anywhere where there are multiple folds and seams that are joined, the seam allowance needs to be cut away and often edges get skived down.  Skiving is a process of shaving down the leather in order to minimize the thickness.  As typical in the shoe industry, jackets made with real horsehide leather would be too thick on seams where leather can be folded over up to 8 times.  8 times of 1.1 mm leather makes for an almost 1 cm thick seam to top stitch over.  High quality sewing leads to very nice flat seams on these joins. This takes time and the sewing techniques of very skilled craftspeople.

Whenever pieces of the body are joined together, we finish each seam with a knot.  Few manufacturers would take the extra time to do

this.  By hand knotting the seam the likelihood of ever coming unstitched is minimized and creates an extra strong seam!