Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Perfect Shirt

I've made four different shirts for myself over the past 18 months now, each using a different design (and incorporating a number of mistakes). Now I'm working on the "perfect shirt" for me (see Figure at right). There may appear to be nothing particularly outstanding about the design shown, but it incorporates a number of features that are important. First of all, it is wide - the design is made to fit my girth, not my waist. Secondly, it uses a dress shirt style hem at the bottom - this ensures there is lots of fabric below the belt so that when the shirt is tucked in, it stays tucked in! The top of the curves at the hem at the bottom are low enough that they also stay out of sight, even when the fabric pulls up (such as when I do stretching exercises). Third, the neck line is much lower than for most commercially-made men's shirts - it is closer to a boat neck in overall form. This allows me to button the shirt up to the top without putting any pressure on the neck - I hate how regular shirts are too tight around the neck, even when they are "loose". I like wearing a shirt I can button up to the top (without a tie - I don't wear ties!) without feeling like I am being strangled! Fourth, the fabric extends several centimeters past the Centre Front line, so that when the shirt it buttoned up, there is no possibility of the shirt gapping open between buttons and showing skin underneath.

The upper part of the shirt may or may not be modified into a yoke - I have tried both, and I generally prefer the non-yoked versions of shirts over the yoked versions. I tend to make my shirts without a pocket, also - I've taken to put the things I usually put into my shirt pocket into my back pants pocket instead - I like the uncluttered look of a shirt without its pocket. I've also found that most ready-to-wear shorts have too long a shoulder and I have shortened the shoulder seam (and moved it towards the front slightly for my particular case).

I have experimented with several collars for shirts, including a mandarin style collar and standup collars - I prefer the latter. I've also experimented with wide cuffs (which I like), and wide sleeve openings (which I don't like as much).

I like the sleeve to be fairly wide at the sleeve cap - I narrowed the sleeve on one of my shirts and found the results to be uncomfortable.

I found that offsetting the buttons slightly from where the collar fastens gives a slightly asymmetrical feel to the shirt front which I like, very different from ready-to-wear shirts. This is particularly effective when using high quality fabrics like hammered silk, where the quality of the fabric highlights the design features of the shirt that make it different from a standard shirt.

I'm not sure whether my "perfect shirt" is right for everyone, but for me, after a considerable amount of experimentation, I think I have found a "look" that suits me and that I like, while still remaining dressy and chic.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Mathematics of Sewing!

I have been thinking about the mathematics of sewing for some time. It seems to me that one could develop a really interesting little memoir on the subject. Here's a mini table of contents for such a text :

  1. Introduction
  2. Metric spaces - from 1D to 2D
  3. Metric spaces - from 2D to 3D
  4. Fabric, manifolds and topology
  5. Tilings and prints
  6. Draping, gravity and constrained dynamic systems
  7. Conclusion

I'm sure I haven't exhausted the possible topics, either. Here's a few notes about each of these topics.

Metric spaces - from 1D to 2D : The practice of drafting a sloper or block (or pattern) is one familiar to engineers and users of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software - it consists of using interconnected lines of pre-determined length to lay out a set of two-dimensional shapes. In addition, the process of weaving threads to form two-dimensional sheets is another example of extruding one dimensional objects (threads under simplification) to form two dimension objects (sheets). The process of manipulating patterns (or fabric, for that matter) by cutting and then reattaching cut pieces at different locations exploits particular sets of the metric properties of 2D spaces. The relationship between the metric and its properties on the one hand, and the manipulation of sewing patterns on the other, could be rendered explicit.

Metric spaces - from 2D to 3D : The process of stitching fabric together in complex ways to form 3D objects constitutes a second class of transformations that could be explored.

Fabric, manifolds and topology : During the process of taking pieces of fabric that have been cut and sewing them to form 3D objects, topological properties of the sheets are also exploited. Indeed, whether sheets, tubes (thread) or 3D objects (garments), we are dealing with entities that are mathematically described as 'manifolds'. The topology of the objects concerned affects the fabrication process - for example, turning a jacket inside out is a manifestation of certain topoological properties of the garment.

Tilings and Prints : The procedure by which one generates a print pattern through repetitions of a motif is a form of tiling, for which there is a very interesting mathematics derived of both very old and very new ideas. Hence exploring tilings presents an interesting area of study, inlcuding repetitive tilings but also non repetitive tilings such as Penrose tilings.

Draping, gravity and constrained dynamic systems : Once garments are design, printed and constructed, they are worn. How they are worn depends upon the behavior of dynamic systems under gravity, especially in the presence of particular classes of constraints (e.g. adjacency or connectivity constraints).

A full exposition of these different aspects would make fascinating reading!