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On Construction-First Design





Clothing design is generally an appearance-first process. By this I mean that the classical fashion drawing style that I was taught in college usually emphasises proportion, colour, and a sense of how the garment will move when worn. Often these drawings are of composed outfits on a body, organised as a seasonal collection, and in a business these might be passed on to junior designers, pattern cutters, or garment technicians to work out how the clothes will be made, and how the fastenings (fronts), openings (collars), and details (pockets) will work. At college we would start out with these loose drawings and often just improvise the details when it came time to make something at a sewing machine. It’s interesting to consider how fashion drawing by a designer, as a process to reach an end garment, relates to and has influenced or been influenced by fashion illustration, historically made to record finished garments in catwalk shows or seasonal exhibitions by grand fashion houses for publication. In that sense the garment itself is only a halfway point between two drawings.

If this method starts with appearance and works through to construction, another way of designing, which I prefer and which I think gives Tender a lot of its character, is to start with the construction and work through to appearance. In this way of thinking, the look of a garment is almost irrelevant to the design process, and may not be entirely clear until the clothing is sewn, dyed, or even worn for a few years.

The first Tender jacket, type 900, had a yoke seam across the front chest, echoing standard American jeans jackets (cut that way, I imagine, to minimise fabric wastage by reducing pattern pieces as much as possible to interlocking rectangles, and helpfully also referencing the thoughtfulness and durability of double-yoked tailored dress shirts). However I wanted to avoid the back shoulder seam, and extra panel pieces, so the 900 yoke was grown on to the back panel, spreading out over the shoulders and catching the fronts at the chest only, leaving behind the fabric thriftiness (made up elsewhere!) but adding smooth unseamed shoulders and a clean back. As it is folded at an angle to form to the slope of the body, the shoulder itself is effectively bias-cut, meaning that over time it stretches out, dropping the armhole slightly, and softening to become particularly comfortable.

I have followed this initial shoulder design across various garments (notably the 901 Pleat Pocket Jeans Jacket, where the front yoke seam also captures the front pleats to form its pockets), but perhaps the most conceptually satisfying expression of the idea is the type 444 and 448 Long Sleeve and type 445 Short Sleeve Boomerang Shirt. Here, each half of the shirt is cut as a single crooked piece, centred on the shoulder where a seam would be, throwing the fronts and backs into bias and providing the Welsh Striped versions with their eye-catching appearance. Here the main feature of the shirt (diagonal stripes) is unavoidably caused by a problem-solving construction decision (remove the shoulder seam).

The type 962 Cook’s Coat started life, and got its name, from looking at the double breasted white kitchen uniform jacket, but turned into an exercise in facing structure. A single breasted jacket can just have a simple hemmed front edge, but a double breasted wrap requires a wider doubled section or it feels lopsided. Normally a facing should be on the inside of a garment, but if it’s set to the outside then with a couple of strategically placed rivets it can quickly become a generous hand-warmer pocket.

Double breasted jackets, unlike single breasted ones, are fundamentally reversible, so with added patch pockets on the reverse (the traditional outside of the garment), this becomes a coat that can be worn with either set of pockets outside, and the counterpart as inner pockets. The rivet backs from each side show the construction, and the facing topstitch, normally an entirely functional aspect, becomes the centre of the design.

Other garments take their forms from their materials, sometimes unexpectedly. The type 743 Wool Pattern Pullover and its now-sold out cardigan equivalent were intended to be traditional pieces of Scottish knitwear, made from the rope dyed indigo cotton yarn used to weave Tender denim. To see how the fit would look with this new yarn I asked my knitter to use a standard wool knitting pattern. Apart from turning the knitting needles, and the knitter’s hands, blue, the garment came off the knitting machine as normal, but when it was rinsed the garment twisted dramatically, like a pair of Unborn jeans after a few washes. The yarn is spun for weaving, with a high twist that pulls a soft knitted garment away from true to a remarkable extent. The only problem was that the neck hole was no longer centred, so we decided to knit the garment without a neck hole wash it, then cut the neck hole at the new centre, link on a collar and rinse the garment a second time to bring everything together. This way the body and sleeves retain their excessive twist but the garment is still wearable.



My favourite feature of this pullover is the asymmetric saddle shoulder seams, dropping down on the right and flying up over the left shoulder. It’s fairly subtle, not noticeable from a distance, but is the kind of feature which to me sums up a construction- or materials-first design approach.








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This piece was originally written for the Tender Stores newsletter. If you would like to sign up for our occasional mailing list please click here.