The Cutting of Canvasses
version edited 25/6/2011
Most published texts fall short on detail when it comes to the important subject of making up canvasses. Because tailoring and cutting cannot be truly separated from one another, cutters sometimes almost begrudgingly add a little appendage at the end of their writing and fleetingly add that the canvas is one of the biggest determinants of how a coat looks. What they rarely admit is that it is to a coat what the engine is to a car. It is precisely here that the skills of cutter and tailor become so intimately intertwined as to become truly inseparable.
The cut of the canvas needs to achieve a number of things:
1. Hollowness or concavity at the shoulder to allow extra length for the shoulder bone
2. Produce roundness or convexity at the chest
3. Enhance waist suppression
4. Minimise the number of cuts that weaken the canvas
5. Avoid having cuts show from the outside of the shell, especially on modern lightweight cloths
6. Not disturb the fit/balance of the coat
The way the shape of the canvas can be achieved includes the insertion of cuts as well as by ironwork. Chest canvas responds poorly to the iron, whereas body canvas is easier to shape this way. Opinions on the right way to cut the canvas vary, and a wide range of opinions are all given full voice in this thread. Many of the opinions expressed here are in flagrant contradiction to one another. Readers are urged to experiment and to come to their own conclusions.
The classic Rundschau canvas (from Rundschau March 1973):
The canvas pattern is based on the coat pattern. The width of the shoulder is divided into three. The first cut to produce the hollowing of the shoulder is placed 1/3 of the way in. All other measures shown are in centimetres.
The shoulder support and chest piece are basted in ensuring that the extra length at the front of armscye is preserved. A cut is held open at the neck on the chest piece. Another cut is made lower down in the chest to produce chest effect.
To see how the current version of this canvas plan differs from this please purchase the current HAKA book from the Mueller & Sons website.
Earlier Rundschau plans for cutting canvas from Lehrbuch der Zuschneidekunst, XI Ed (1930s):
These older cuts are NOT recommended for use today, but are the forerunners of modern plans that remain usable. These early plans are remarkable not only for the extreme size of the cuts, but also for the proliferation of sheer number of cuts placed in the canvas. These cuts are also very close together - something that should be avoided on modern canvasses. There are also interesting variations on modern conventional cuts. For example cuts 1 and 2 on Abb 194-195 tend to introduce such crookedness into the cut that the front of armscye has to be given an extra stretch to compensate for this. This will throw even further length to the area of the shoulder bone. This is to say that the degree of shaping in these canvas plans is also quite extreme by modern standards.
Despite these concerns, variations of these plans are still considered usable by many modern tailors. For example, the modern Rundschau plan is just a derivative of Canvas Pattern I (top diagram). The only difference is that the 1930s version is designed so as to throw up extra length at the front of neck as it is closed, something that adds a lot of extra hollowing of the shoulder. When a canvas plan throws length like this to the neck care should be taken to keep the neck short here on the coat to avoid the collar lifting off the neck. Of further interest is the way that the canvas is extended much further around the base of armscye than is usual today, where the fashion today is more for lightness and softness.
Classical German canvas plans tend to be quite complex in terms of both the size and number of cuts introduced. Many will find them too interventionist and object that the cuts are too big, and risk showing from the outside of the coat. Others will object that the size and number of cuts weakens the canvas, especially given the fact that modern canvasses are woven much lighter than in the past.
Readers are invited to experiment and make up their own minds. Trial canvasses should always be made up prior to installation. The extension of the canvas further around the base of armscye helps to conceal fairly large cuts underneath the arm, but such cuts should still be covered with strips of fusible to avoid them showing from the right side of the coat. When introducing these types of cuts into modern canvas care needs to be taken to keep the cuts as far apart as practical (at least 5 cm and preferably 7 cm apart) in order to retain as much spring in the canvas as practical. The length and number of cuts should also be limited.
The next discussion comes from a circa 1950-60s Rundschau article that was previously posted by Schneidergott, and shows the modern descendants of the above variations. The modern canvas plan recommended by Rundschau since around the 1970s is Canvas Number II. Canvas Number IV was recommended by ASZ authors in the 1960s, and a similar plan was favoured by Czujewiecz around this period. A canvas plan with a cut-on shoulder section (often the shoulder section is cut on the bias), is still favoured by some famous Parisian houses. Canvas Number III was recommended by Rundschau in the early 1970s as the optimal plan for a concave shoulder.
The authors of the article say that the fashionable lounge coat of the period had a closer cut with waist suppression and a straighter, modestly hollowed out shoulder. They recommend that the canvas follow and accentuate the shape of the currently fashionable cut of the lounge. This is something that remains true today.
Canvas Number I
The canvas has a large dart at the waist 3.5cm wide. There is also a second waist dart half way between the main waist dart and the front edge. The length is 8-9cm and 3/4cm wide. No darts are required along the top of the front edge of the panel down to the waistline for a normal figure. There is another dart around the cut over the pocket.
There is a 1.5cm hollowing in the shoulder, to give the shoulder joint extra room, and is necessary to achieve a modern line.
The author suggests that as it is too time consuming to cut a canvas pattern for every coat, for chest sizes 100-110-120cm stock patterns can be cut, although the height of the pocket may need adjustment for individual figures.
Canvas Number II
The chest form depends on the size and position of the darts, and these must be adjusted to the individual figure. Wide darts create excessive fullness in one spot. Narrower and pointed darts spread fullness more evenly. By having multiple darts rather than one large one the fullness is also more evenly distributed.
The type of canvas material is also important. A soft woollen canvas may do almost nothing unless the location and form of the darts is carefully considered.
The lower darts have been reduced in size to allow room for the large upper chest dart:
Canvas Numbers III
Here there is a separately cut-on shoulder piece.
Canvas Number IV
The dart extending down from the shoulder must be given width for the following style of canvas cut, which has its devotees:
Here is an example of a Bunka canvas (from 2010) that is similar to Canvas Number IV but note how it has been modernised by making it much smaller:
From the Bunka men's coatmaking book (2010) available only in Japanese.
Philip Dellafera - The Tailor and Cutter
Tailor and Cutter canvasses provide a dramatic contrast to Rundschau cuts.
The comes from circa 1950 with Philip Dellafera at The Tailor & Cutter. His canvas cut on the straight is quite classical and similar to that adopted by many modern tailors all over the world. Many will argue that the Dellafera canvas plan is the most uncomplicated and middle of the road of all the cuts shown in this thread. However, many modern tailors will add a layer of shoulder support either of linen or wool body or chest canvas (usually on the bias, cross grain of chest canvas pointing to the shoulder point). These days, it is uncommon to see the shoulder support extend around to the armscye. Edges of chest canvas are usually also bound with bias strips of silesia or lining to stop the horse hair protruding out and scratching the wearer.
Just prior to moving on to the subject of canvas construction, Dellafera states that the front of scye, the neck, and shoulder seam should be stretched "in order to get a good fitting shoulder". Dellafera elaborates further:
The reason for this stretching is to produce a hollow shoulder, and also to provide room for the shoulder bone, which usually protrudes above the shoulder.
Dellafera makes clear that the canvas should be shaped to mirror the concavity around the shoulder produced after stretching in this area. This is what he recommends:
The solid lines indicate the cuts in the canvas. The dot-and-dash lines indicate cuts made in the chest haircloth. When the cuts made in the canvas and chest piece are "opened out", it produces a concavity (hollowness) in that area of the shoulder. The cuts in the canvas and haircloth are made 1 inch apart to avoid overlapping. He states that:
The reason for this is because when they are opened out they will leave a layer of canvas and horsehair at all parts [my emphasis]
Care should always be taken to avoid cuts in the different layers of cloth, body canvas and chest canvas from overlapping. Otherwise, you will get areas of excess thickness and stiffness building up. This is also true around the edges of layers of canvas. One layer should be trimmed so that the edge is a little bit further in from the layer below it to avoid thick ridges from forming.
Dellafera is one of the few that reminds us of the fact that the shape in the canvas mirrors that infused into the coat as it is worked up with the iron:
...the cuts must be opened out at scye and shoulder in order to produce the same effect as the stretched foreparts
This is the final canvas once installed:
Note the hollowing at the front of armscye and front of shoulder and neck area.
Although he does not mention this, a good working plan is to pad stitch the chest leaving the front of armscye unpaddded like this:
The front of armscye is then stretched, which will cause the cut at the armscye to open up. Once the stretching is completed, the front of armscye can the be pad stitched to preserve the shape infused by the iron. The armscye cut (to be opened up) that Dellafera shows is actually unnecessary on the body canvas, and can just be placed into the chest canvas. The reason is because it is possible to replace the cut here with ironwork. Chest canvas does not respond well to the iron, whereas body canvas does. A cut is really only necessary at the armscye of the body canvas if a larger amount of stretching to square the shoulder and to produce extra length for the shoulder bone is desired.
In general, the same method of ironwork should be applied to the canvas as that applied to the coat.
A.A. Whife - The Tailor and Cutter
The writer who is the strongest advocate of cutting canvas on the bias to largely eliminate canvas cuts is Archibald Whife. In his 1962 revision of Dellafera's The Art of Garment Making, Whife writes extensive commentary on the subject:
In the 1949 MTOC Whife explains more clearly that the reason for cutting on the bias was to eliminate as many cuts as possible in order to avoid weakening the canvas. When there is bias at the shoulder, this allows extra length to be introduced here for the collar bone by stretching at the shoulder to produce a hollow. That is to say, cutting canvas on the bias is a method of replacing cuts in the canvas with ironwork.
However, not all tailors agree that cutting canvas on the bias is a good idea. Obviously, Whife and Dellafera disagreed on this issue. One of the objections is that the canvas will fail to provide sufficient support or stretch and loses its shape. Others will argue that having modern canvas on the bias makes it easier to iron out any bubbles that form - modern cloths will show even the slightest unevenness in a canvas.
A panelled canvas:
Notice the figure on the right shows the grain of the canvas (Abb. 1412). Part of the canvas is cut on the straight grain and another on the bias. For more information on cutting the panelled canvas see this thread. The problem with this is that on modern cloths there is the danger that the cuts will be visible through to the right side of the coat. The application of a strip of fusible will help to prevent large cuts in a canvas showing from the outside of the coat.
Die Zuschneidekunst from the 1930s shows a panelled canvas with a wedge shaped chest piece plus an extension towards the base of armscye:
They also show an option with the chest haircloth on the outside of the canvas:
A rationale is not given for this.
Poulin explains the need for roundness at the chest in addition to hollowness at the shoulder:
Remember that while the canvas must be convex or round over the breast, it must be made concave in the hollow of the shoulder seam. Hollowness of the shoulder section is obtained by cutting down through the centre of the shoulder from its top to a depth of about 4 in., and inserting a wedge or V. This wedge, which is cut out of haircloth, is placed between the canvas and haircloth and is sewn to open the shoulder cut 1 in. wide. Its function is to provide room for the large shoulder bone.
Poulin gussets open the "puff" at the shoulder to produce the desired concavity there:
... while the canvas must be convex or round over the breast, it must be made concave in the hollow of the shoulder seam.
Unlike Dellafera, Poulin does add darts to produce both the convexity of shoulder as well as the concavity of the chest:
Notice the cuts at 4 and 11 o'clock. These are closed, rather than being opened up, to produce the convex roundedness of the chest.
Poulin also says that if the neck seam dart at the gorge (B) has a dart then the canvas must have an equivalent dart in the same place. However, on coats missing the neck seam/gorge dart, an armscye dart should be place into the canvas at the letter C, evidently to add convexity to the chest:
Like Poulin, Cabrera also gussets open the shoulder cut with a strip of canvas:
His method of cutting a fish shaped front dart that is not cut through to the edge of the canvas should be avoided as this produces too much distortion.
Cabrera then makes two cuts on the chest piece at the shoulder to either side of the one in the canvas and holds them open with French collar canvas:
Cabrera cuts his chest haircloth with a rounded base, extending partway towards the armscye. There is a waist dart corresponding to the one on the coat. There are cuts held open at the shoulder and a closed chest dart at the front of the haircloth to give the chest roundedness:
Here is another way of doing it, this time from Croonborg in his Blue Book, 1905:
Of interest here, is the horizontal dart at letter A that in conjunction with the dart at C, which is preferable to the fish shaped front dart shown by Cabrera, as it helps to reduce distortion.
Croonborg cuts his chest piece with a puff gusseted open by another piece of canvas at letter E (in place of an armscye dart held open like Dellafera) and the armscye is shown stretched:
This comes from Regal's (1930s) and clearly indicates that the plan of a canvas cut on the full bias:
This brings us to the issue of cutting the canvas on the straight grain vs. cutting on the bias vs. cutting on the cross grain. Unfortunately most texts, such as Poulin and Regal's, just say to cut both canvas and chest piece on the bias but leave it at that without explaining it any further.
One text (quoted in Doyle - source unclear), interestingly, says that when cut on the straight grain (section A), the canvas gives a more severe, firm finish to the front. By contrast, a canvas cut on the cross grain (section B) results in a "more flexible and softer finish, often used in sports jackets and in women's canvases", but that it will require a strip of linen cut on the straight grain to be placed along the front edge to support buttons and holes.
Large darts can disturb the balance of a coat. For a discussion on the impact of darts on balance see this thread.
Putting Together the Chest and Body Canvas
This is a translation from an article previous posted elsewhere by Schneidergott. I assume they are from circa 1960-70s editions of Rundschau. In particular note the technique of cutting along the weft of the chest canvas. The cut is then allowed to cross over to form a dart. This avoids cutting a wedge shapes segment out of the chest canvas. The advantage of this is that it places the cut directly along the weft where the horse hairs run, and avoids cutting the horse horse, as would occurs if the cuts were on the straight or bias.
The cuts are first closed with fusible tape before being sewn over:
The following shows the shoulder support above, and below it the chest piece:
Observe how the arrowed lines shows the maximal spring of the hair in the cloth [along the weft/crossgrain]. You can see that they run in the opposite direction for the intermediate layer and the chest piece so as to give the area around the armscye extra support. The intermediate layer also covers over the cuts made in the chest piece at neck seam and armscye.
The outside of the canvas:
The fullness of chest sits somewhat forward of the canvas.
The next picture shows the canvas from the inside:
The cut in the neck seam is shown. It is covered over by the intermediate layer, the spring of which is placed so as to optimally hold it closed.
Notice too that the cuts in the chest piece are made to run exactly along the woof. This is so that you don't cut through as many of the horse hairs running in the woof, as this will weaken the chest canvas.
Here is yet another instalment from Schneidergott's collection of Rundschau journal articles. This appears to be a 1960s article when the fashion for omitting cuts from the shoulder was widespread in the German literature. Notice the way they advise against an excessive number of cuts in the canvas and they have given up the older practice of cuts inserted around the shoulder to hollow it out, preferring the softer look that this results in. Note too how in this article the chest piece has been cut so it is oriented with the straight grain sitting vertically as it lies on the canvas. Compare this with methods in which the chest piece is cut so as to sit on the bias once placed on the canvas.
The canvas helps to maintain the shape and form of the coat. On modern styled coats the canvas should be soft and supple rather than being like a coat of armour. This makes it important that the canvas cloth match that of the coat in its weight and strength. The canvas should be worked up to follow the shape of the wearer's figure as well as the dart placements on the coat.
An excessive number of cuts in the canvas should be avoided. Good canvassing is springy and every cut in it passing through either warp or weft will weaken it. A single 2.5-3.5 cm wide dart in the waist should therefore suffice. It should extend 1 cm higher than the front dart on the coat:
The dart is sewn together using a piece of lining cut on the bias - preferably thin sleeve lining to allow the dart edges to be cleanly opposed. The dart is then secured using a normal sewing machine or a zig zag stitch machine. It is then pressed flat using a pleater (wooden block).
The canvas front dart should be a little wider than that of the coat panel. The dart on the chest piece which lies inside of the canvas must be sufficiently long so as to give ample fullness of chest to enhance the shape of the whole canvas. This work can be done either using a tailor's ham or on a flat table, as shown in the following picture:
After the centre dart on the chest piece has been sewn up there should be extra length at the front and back of the seam. Additional cuts are then placed along the weft from front and back to provide extra fullness of chest:
The canvas is then placed again on the table supported from behind by a pleater so as to allow the fullness of chest to basted into place:
A second line of basting is placed along the length of the armscye.
The canvas is then turned the other way and laid down with the cuts in the chest piece lying as shown:
The chest piece is then basted again lengthwise onto the canvas.
The chest piece can now be pad stitched either by hand or machine. In either case it must be clean and free of bubbles.
For that the canvas must be padded from the outer edge with stitches that are not too fine, allowing canvas and chest piece to be rolled in the fingers. With delicate materials a fine yarn must be used.
In the last picture the completed canvas is shown after it has been worked up with iron to give its final form with a fullness in the chest but flat at front and back:
The former practice of infusing hollowness into the shoulder with cuts or darts has gone out of favour, as in modern men's tailor a softer, more lightly flowing shoulder is now favoured over a more upholstered look.
For a discussion on installing canvas see this thread.