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Sunday, February 10, 2013

It's Easy For You To Say.... The Pocket Square Dilemma

Some of you out there who know a thing or two about pocket squares will know that it is difficult to put a good one together. You may hear referrals to 'dye and discharge' by companies such as Drakes Of London or you may have seen the ultimate woven pocket square from Hermes which features a lovely little H in the jacquard, or it could be that you have heard of the painstaking time it takes to hand-roll the edges of a pocket square; whatever it is you have heard, it is true!

When I went around the silk mills in Como last year one company was offering to do my pocket squares digitally printed with a machine rolled hem stitch. I saw one of the companies that was mass producing pocket squares, a reputable Savile Row tailor to be more precise, and I turned my nose up at it. I was after the holy grail. The holy grail, in my humble opinion, is Charvet. Of all the production and design houses in the world, only one knew how to make a really great pocket square and that was the old shirt maker from the Place Vendome. The reason they had got it right was simple. They had the right silk twill weight, they had dyed the fabric beautifully and then they had printed the dots in such an authentic deeply rich ink that it sank through to both sides so that you had no 'ghosting effect'. 

(NB: Digitally printed pocket squares can be great for photos and complicated imagery on pocket squares and have really enabled designers to go all out on the offerings, however, the problem remains the ghosting effect of the underside because the ink does not bleed through)

The truth is, if you want to make a great pocket square, there are about 5 elements you really need to get right. They are:

1. The right kind of base cloth - usually a 12-16 mommes silk twill but this can alter depending on what you would like to achieve. One of my favourite pocket squares is a YSL white habotai with black edges.
2. The right kind of dye for the fabric. 
3. The right kind of screen printer / screens / inks / dye and discharge method that is available to you.
4. The right kind of hands to finish the edges.
5. The right kind of price so that you can still sell your piggies when they get to market.

Many in the industry that I work with think I am completely insane. I have relentlessly been searching for five years now to come close to Charvet (the benchmark). I should also say here that Turnbull & Asser, Drakes, and Hermes have lovely pocket squares. Every time I came close to completing what I wanted I was set back by the Italians who gave me a price for 100 metres of silk as a minimum order (roughly 400 pocket squares in the same pattern print but split between 3 colour ways). These people did not understand that if I owned an orange one with polka dots, the next guy wanted pink paisley to set himself apart. Pocket squares, for the aficionados, are like a good vintage car. You need to have something that nobody else has in order for it to really be admired. Nobody, so it seemed, was willing to print on anything less than that in order to do screen printing. The world, as I was told, was moving to digital, and I oughtn't get stuck in analogue at a time like this.

In truth, digital is remarkable. It has changed the world of fashion immensely. Now a kid can design clothes in a vector graphics programme like Illustrator, press send on his email and somewhere on the other side of the world his clothes will be cut and his fabrics will be printed right down to the fine detail. And, I for one benefit from this too. BUT, the problem then becomes, especially in the world of pocket squares where both sides of the silk count - what about the 'ghosting'? On a pair of shorts you don't care, but on a pocket square it is enough to make you cancel your order in the shopping cart.

Add now to this conundrum the problem with hand roll-stitching. It is the most magnificent way you can finish a pocket square. Although some say that the new machines are pretty accurate and much faster, there is, sorry to say this, something very idiosyncratic about each of the 'top' design houses and how they hand-finish their pocket squares. 

For us, it was a chance encounter in Bali last year that finally put me in touch with someone who could do the work. When we priced it in Sydney, the cost of having a seamstress hand roll stitch a pocket square in terms of time made the cost of production over $36.00. Even in Italy, the home of hand-stitching, I once said to one of my contacts 'can you finish these with a hand-roll stitch' and he just laughed and replied 'nobody will do it these days other than nuns in a convent or people from the South'.

For this reason we were forced to use our contact in Bali. BUT, tonight I made one big advance. Finally, after my stitching and quilting courses and having a chunk of time to myself, I sat down and finished a pocket square from start to finish. It was a little ratty in some areas, but I got there. Now that I have it almost down pat, I am going to try and work out how to get the time down so I can bring some of our production back into Australia.

And, it gives me a good chance to use up all those great left over pieces of Carlo Riva shirting cloth I had around which will make the ultimate pocket squares. 

So, here is my Saturday night below. A roll stitched pocket square with a piece of silk I had lying around. The first of many I hope.


Making a pocket square at home with a roll stitch. Not as difficult as it first seems. All you need is a needle and a thread and nothing better to do. 

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