Machine Vs Hand Canvas Debate

A fused sample in the Austin Reed window

A fused sample in the Austin Reed window

Following my article, Fused Vs Floating, here’s something about the machine/hand canvas debate.

With bespoke Savile Row, all suits are canvassed by hand- a chap sitting there, needle and thread in hand, sewing away. However with the ready-to-wear market, there are different manufacturers out there who fit a floating canvas by hand and/or machine.

Obviously then, for ready-to-wear, many of you want to know which you should go for. Machine or hand? Which is better?

Frankly, the end result result from both hand or machine will be much the same, in regard to appearance and function. But there are other things to consider.

OK, I’m sure you’ve gathered by now I want everyone to wear hand-made. I don’t care if it’s from me, from Savile Row, the guy in Chinatown or the big department store in Chicago, I’m partial and I’m biased. If enough people buy hand-made, that way we’re going to keep the craft going. And when I’m seventy, this will all help me enjoy the free drinks from the admiring/confused apprentices of the trade. Well, why not? When I was an apprentice, I spent a fortune on the old buggers.

But seriously, I’ve previously listed what’s available out there in my article How to Pick a Bespoke Tailor. Regardless of your budget, whether we’re talking about canvasses or buttonholes, I’d personally go for the coat that’s had the most human involvement. Even if the only difference is £10 in the cost, because it’s got the buttons sewn on by hand, that’s what makes the difference. It was made by a person. There’s a story behind it. It has an energy to it no machine can ever recreate. And this holds true whether you’re spending £2000, or £20.

By choosing to buy the most humanly-touched products we can afford, or at least striving to do so, we’ll not just benefit the craftsmen out there. It will give you the impassioned knowledge that someone, somewhere, has added a little of their character into your suit. No machine can imitate this. It’s what makes the coat, Bespoke or otherwise, truly unique and frankly, that’s what keeps the customers coming back. Yes, the fact that their coat has a human story behind it makes it seem more special to them.

Strangely, this little dash of humanity is often what gives a suit that je ne sais quoi, that “I don’t know why, but I just prefer this one”. I think you know what I’m talking about.

But if you’ve got to decide if the little extra’s worth it, think of me, old and thirsty in the Windmill pub. Or if you’re an animal lover, what about these poor mice in the Tailor of Gloucester…?

Some readers have kindly pointed out that some dry cleaners can do a lot of damage to canvassed coats. This is true, but again it depends on the the individual cleaners, how they finish with pressing etc. And also the quality of the garment.

Earlier today I spoke to Mrs Payne of Sketchleys in Mayfair, she’s been in the business for over twenty years. They now use a new cleaning solution called “Green Earth” which she told me is the most gentlest cleaner they’ve used to date. As she rightly pointed out, you should have no problems with hand-canvassed coats.

Whenever there is a problem with machine-canvassed, it’s usually down to the fact that the canvas hasn’t been shrunk properley before manufacture. Obviously this is what can cause the puckering as the canvas shrinks. So ask before you buy.

Dry cleaners are very important in Bespoke. Like tailors, they’re not all the same. Make sure you pick a good one. Might be best to get your tailor to recommned you one.

If you want another angle on the fused/canvas, have a look at my old boss’s site Redmayne. He makes some very good points.

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About Thomas Mahon

Thomas Mahon is one of the most experienced tailors on Savile Row with a list of clients including royalty, celebrities and business icons. Tom has almost thirty years experience of hand tailoring in Savile Row including five years at Savile Row’s most famous and respected tailor, Anderson & Sheppard. His clients experience the traditions and expertise of the finest bespoke tailoring available today using a soft and unstructured style typical of Anderson & Sheppard. His workshop is based at Warwick Hall in Cumbria and also meets clients at his office in London, Tom also makes regular trips to visit his growing international client base in Europe, the USA and further afield. When not creating beautiful bespoke suits, travelling to see clients or sharing his sartorial advice with his internet followers, Tom enjoys teaching sailing and is the boats officer for the Sea Cadet Corps near his Cumbria home. For the full story visit
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