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Sunday, January 22, 2017

James Macauslan - Also Known As The Cutter At Budd - On Shirts, Shirt Fabrics And More

This week we heard back from James Macauslan who is the cutter at renowned shirt maker Budd Shirtmakers. Over the years some of our customers have been Budd devotees and on that basis alone I wished to know more about this business and who better to ask than the cutter who knows every inch of his customer's torso and how to sculpt an impeccable shirt.

James, in the past shirting fabrics companies didn’t seem to offer so many blends but now I see cashmere/cotton, silk/cotton, linen/cotton, wool/cotton and a host of polymer based fibres which can be used in making shirting cotton. In your opinion are there any blends or single fibre fabrics that you prefer to work with and what do you prefer to wear on your back?

Once you have tried luxury fibres nothing ever compares. So I would never wear a poly-cotton, not only because there is no comparison in comfort but also because natural fibres are designed by mother nature to do a job - be it keep you warm or cool you down - and they always let your skin breath. If you spend all your time wrapped it blends with plastic you are suffocating your self and your skin will not thank you.

Although you can get so many different weaves of cotton, my personal favourite shirting is a cotton in a zephyr weave with a 170s thread count called Zephyr Soyella. It comes from a Swiss mill we use and it is so light and soft it feels as if you are not wearing anything at all.

As for blends, I love to wear cotton and cashmere in the winter and linen in the summer. They both have a very slight natural spring to them so they do not restrict the movement in the way a cotton can if the shirt is too tight. So on top of being soft to wear they also react to give you extra comfort. Any cloth that has been well woven is a dream to cut as the sheers will glide through them like butter, but personally the thicker the cloth the less it moves which makes my job easier. Something like silk and linen tends to slide around under the blades so you have to take your time to get them right.

When you set about making patterns for customers I noticed you use a knife of sorts. I have seen on cutting tables band saws, rotary blades, scissors and knives in the past but none quite like yours. Can you tell me about some of the tools a cutter deploys in the cutting room and how you go about your daily business when a new customers comes through?

The tailoring trade in London is incredibly old and passed down through generations rather than taught on mass. As a result the tools are passed from master to apprentice. The tools you have seen me using have been passed down to me from Mr Butcher who has been in the trade for 50 years and adopted them from his master. So the knives and shears I use are possibly as old as the trade itself.

We use lead weights, some of which where moulded from tobacco boxes made by tailors of old. One of mine is a lead weight for scales of old with the George the 5th stamp on it. Mr Butcher says he didn't work here long!

Our knives are used to cut the delicate parts such as collars cuffs and yokes. We cut them on a soft wood butchers block. And our knives need to be extra sharp and delicate enough to cut with precision. We struggle to find anyone that makes knives to do this so we have to spend most of our time bringing the points back on old knives. Being bespoke shirtmaker each shirt has to be exact. So there is no point in cutting big lays (more than 5 shirts at once.) which more factory makers will do using a band saw or rotary blade, this is great for getting volume done at once and making more money but not good for the precision of bespoke.

For every new customer the first thing I will get them to do is select the cloths, for our first order we need them to select at least 4. Then there is the process of taking approximately 12 measurements from the customer, including their stance and configuration into account. Once this is done we run through how they would like the shirt to fit. (Most people are under the false impression that a garment fits well if it is skintight but this is not true. A well cut garment will hang off the shoulders with the balance sitting clean (not pull or ripple anywhere) however the degree at which the shirt hugs the skin is a personal preference. The collar and cuff details and any other style details they would like are also taken into account.

The next stage would be to cut the pattern and the sample shirt, which is one of the 4 ordered. Once made, we will have a fitting see what alterations need to be made to get the fit just right. They are often minor tweaks that are needed and if so we are limited as to how many alterations we can do to a shirt, so it may be required to remake the sample to be sure the shirt is perfect.

Once we have achieved perfection I will cut the remaining shirts based on the now perfected pattern. This process is more involved than a conventional retail experience but it makes life easier for the consumer in the long run because if they change shape it is easy for us to alter the pattern and continue making shirts that fit to perfection. We look to gain life long customers rather than singular sales.

A lead weight stamped with the insignia of King George V, part of the tools handed down from master to apprentice. Weights are used to hold down cloth whilst cutting to ensure the cloth doesn't move. 

In the past I have loved wearing luxury cottons with thread counts as high as 200/2 ply but I have found that they crush after each use. In your opinion, what sort of a fabric weight should men look for in daily business shirts to get durable wear out of them?

I was once told that the wealthiest or most powerful people in the world look awful because they have no need to impress anyone. In a meeting you dress to fill the client with confidence. However if you are the one being impressed what need is there for you to dress to impress?

Comfort is your main priority. Such high quality cloth does crease but is unbelievably comfortable. I also think there is a certain charm to no one knowing your shirt is better than theirs and sitting in your own cloud of comfort. Having said that a lot of clients do get upset at the idea of shirts creasing and the best happy medium of a silk-like shirt with better durability is a 170s poplin weave. This is one of our best sellers and we all in the cutting room swear by it.

A bespoke customer pattern which will be used to mark the pattern of the of the shirt on the cloth.

Of all the weaves I have worn, very fine twills and Oxfords seem to be my favourite. What are the weaves you most like to wear yourself?

It depends on the occasion, an Oxford shirt is more casual and a twill herringbone or royal oxford are much more dressy. I tend to stick to poplin myself and will only really go for a fine twill or subtle herringbone. The cloth merchants are always playing with the weaves so every so often I see something which makes me contradict myself.

Many of the men I see on Instagram who are dressing to the nines seem to often overdo the shirt and tie combination. My understanding is you can have a busy shirt but then you need a solid tie or vice versa – but to do both is a faux pas. Can you tell our readers what are some helpful tips in matching a tie to a shirt?

You are right, a pattern on a pattern is very aggressive but to say it is a faux pas is dictatorious. Foremost, I personally believe that no one should tell other people how to dress. What we wear is our way to writing our own autobiography, and if we do not express our individuality then we are telling people we have nothing to say, no life or culture to us. A loud colour or pattern on a loud pattern is a contrast and it says you are the sort of person that doesn't colour inside the lines. If you think it is right then it is, and people telling you not to wear it are telling you how to live your life.

However, to contradict myself. Amenability is key to social standing. If you are in a meeting full of sombre people it is best to dress in a calm and inoffensive way. A navy tie on a navy suit with a crisp white shirt may be dull to some but there is so much you can play with in the sense of weaves shades and fibres that the small elements of your personality can still be portrayed.

Of course your question refers to what you have seen on Instagram where the beauty of subtlety does not come across. Lens technology has not go there for phones just yet. So as a social forum the strong contrast look is the best way to stand out and get noticed but walking down the street it might make people question your ability as a stylist.

I personally feel the best way to sand out without looking like a child's scribble is to follow tones. Be it earthy tones with a green/brown/burgundy or a conservative tone grey/blue/black. Also it is best to think about your hair skin and eye colour. Colour can play amazing tricks on the eye. To bring out a tone that matches your eye colour will make your eyes pop and people wont be able to break contact with your eyes.

There are endless tricks like this with styling I could go on forever but maybe it is best to leave on this: remember to express yourself and maybe not try so hard.

The best way to wear something is as if you are not wearing it... Said someone once.

Times have changed rapidly and in Sydney you find very few men wear cufflinks to work. Are French cuffs still popular in England or are they also on the demise?

England will always be more formal than most of the rest of the world. Cufflinks do still play a big part in our dress code although in decline with the advent of new technologies in the work force. We do far less customer facing duties as more machines do it for us, so perhaps cufflinks are less desirable as is the need to dress to impress. That and notwithstanding that men find them difficult to put on. I think it is a shame. Women get to wear all these necklaces and rings so this is our one chance to wear something shiny and precious but people just don't want to make the effort.

The world of shoes has seen a resurgence of interest in English shoe makers. Do you have a preference for one brand or maker over another and can you tell us who that is and what sorts of shoes you like to wear both during the week and on the weekends?

Oh gosh. There are so many! First and foremost one of my friends works for Fosters. I simply love their shoes and quite often get slippers made from them. Being on my feet all day I am in demand for comfortable smart shoes and dress slippers fill the void perfectly. I am currently in a fave of having slippers made in matching cloth to my suits, A four piece suit. A company called Joseph Cheeney used to be based opposite us in the arcade before moving to a bigger premises on Jermyn Street. I used to spend a lot of time looking out of  my window into theirs. I ended up buying quite a lot of Cheeney shoes! They are beautiful, and there are many others but those two come to mind first.

Being tall and thin I don't like to wear shoes that have too much of a pointed toe to them. Other than that I will wear anything. Chelsea boots (more in the winter.) brogues or monk shoes. You name it I will most likely love it.

James says he currently has an interest in trying to match the fabric of his shoe to his favourite suits. He recommends Foster & Son shoes amongst other English makers. 

If you could have any tailor in England make you a suit, who would you use and, also, what shirt would you make yourself to go with it?

Same as above, there are so many and they are all very good friends. Oddly enough during my years of study and apprenticeship I learnt a lot about making suits by working with tailors, so the suit pattern I use to make my own suits on has had the expert eye of almost every Savile Row tailor glance over it.

Kathryn Sargent is currently making one for me, A navy three piece. And when I get it I will cut a blue and red stripe shirt with a white tab collar and white cuffs. I would love my friend Nina Pendlington who works for Gieves and Hawks to make one. She is a deeply creative person and I'm sure the suit would be beautiful, smart, mental and fun, so the shirt would have to match. Stephen Hitchcock is also a great tailor,  his look is more of a relaxed soft shoulder look and he believes more than most in the craft of tailoring and putting the work into a finished suit.

Dario Carnera is an amazing cutter with possibly the best eye for the fine details of fit. Patrick Murphy is a fantastic man who like Stephen and Dario are descendants of tailors and have the craft in their blood.

This is very prevalent when you meet Patrick because he does not look you in the face but rather studies your shoulders. His eyes dart back and forth across them as you talk to him, and I get the feeling he has been doing this since he was a child. I like to think he would cut something more modern for me, so a houndstooth shirt maybe for more of a weekend suit look. I can go on like this forever and I can't favour one over the other because it would be unfair to all of my friends.

James MacAuslan
Shirt Cutter
Budd Shirtmaker's 

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