Exploring the ins and outs of canvassed tailoring – and why the received wisdom on fusing may be out of date.
No matter whether your tailored jacket is cut from wool, linen, silk, cashmere, vicuna, cotton or (perish the thought) polyester, inside it will almost certainly contain a canvas layer, clinging to the outer cloth. This structural interlining can be fused in place or floating. The latter is far preferable. And yet, despite what purists say, fused garments cannot be dismissed out of hand. Here, we explain why. Let’s start from the basics. The name canvas, much like the music of Snoop Dogg, is derived from cannabis — the Latin word for hemp, which was once the primary material used to make this rough cloth. Today, the canvas found in tailored apparel is usually a blend of two or more fibres including flax, wool, cotton, hessian and horsehair. As Bernhard Roetzel explains in his men’s style classic, Gentleman: A Timeless Fashion, “Canvas is used in traditional tailoring to give shape to a suit jacket,” serving as a pliable ‘skeleton’ between the outer cloth and the garment’s lining. “A custom tailor will sew it in by hand, but in industrial manufacturing it is stuck in with adhesives.” This process is known as fusing, where the outer cloth and canvas are glued together. “Canvas that has been fused in stops the material of a garment falling loosely, reduces the breathability of the suit, and is less durable,” Roetzel counsels.
Meanwhile, in a garment that has been tailored with greater care, a ‘floating’ canvas is delicately affixed to the cloth with an intricate series of stitches. A painstakingly hand-sewn, floating canvas will lend a handsome natural roll to the lapels, it will breathe, and will in fact benefit from the heat of your body, increasingly conforming to your shape the more your wear the item. In his seminal sartorial text, Elegance: A Guide to Quality in Menswear, G. Bruce Boyer writes, “Fused suits can easily be detected because they have a decidedly stiff feel, not unlike cardboard, in those areas (the chest, lapels, pockets, and collar) where the material is joined. Stiffness is not, however, the major drawback of the fused suit. The real problem is that after some wear, and cleaning, and time — often less than a year — the glue begins to dry out and the layers of the fabric start to ‘bubble’, pulling apart in spots. This deterioration creates a stunning visual effect not unlike blistered paint on an old barn wall. And nothing can be done to prevent, correct, or reverse this process. You are stuck with it, and it will only get worse as time goes by, whether you wear the suit or not.” According to Boyer, “There are two kinds of crazy people: those who think they’re Napoleon, and those who think they can buy a good suit cheap. Every purchase should be a long-term commitment.” In Elegance, he writes that purchasing a cheap fused suit is a false economy. “Fused construction is, as you might expect, much cheaper for the manufacturer but much more expensive for the customer in the long run. A $200 fused suit that lasts a year is just twice as expensive as an $800 hand-stitched one that lasts eight years — even without considering fit or appearance or comfort. Unless you think looking like old paint is great fun, avoid the fused suit.”
Do note that The Rake’s office copy of Elegance is a 1985 first edition, so you’ll need to multiply those figures by four or five to get contemporary ready-to-wear pricing. Substantially more for authentic bespoke. This, says Christopher Modoo, creative consultant at Wensum Tailoring and cofounder of men’s outfitter Kit Blake, “should always be made in the traditional manner,” with a floating canvas construction “where all layers are connected by hand. This method gives the maximum control to the tailor to create the best fit.” He notes that nowadays, ready-made suits can be constructed to comparable standards of handcraftsmanship as bespoke tailoring — although, Modoo says, “I have always felt it was a shame to put so much effort into making a stock size.” Modoo expresses the somewhat heretical opinion that while the idea of canvas interlining inserted utilising a combination of machinery, heat and glue is “not as romantic as the thought of a crossed-legged tailor” meticulously hand-sewing it in place, quality ‘semi-traditional’ industrial construction involving a certain amount of machine stitching and a lick of judiciously applied adhesive can yield impressive results. With padding and the right pattern, “You can even create that all-important lapel roll,” he says.
Two decades into the 21st century, the received wisdom that a fused suit will inevitably be flat, lifeless and prone to blistering after dry-cleaning is no longer necessarily accurate, Modoo says. “So-called ‘bubbling’ on suits is a combination of poor dry-cleaning and inferior fusing,” he reckons. “The technical name is delamination — this is caused by moisture and heat causing the layers to come apart. To prevent this, conscientious menswear workshops will religiously check the heat and atmosphere by the fusing press.” In further sacrilege, Modoo remarks, “Fusing can be an art and done well, can even improve the drape of lighter cloths. In fact, the comment I hear most often from bespoke tailors about quality factory-made suits is how ‘clean’ they look.” The trick to maintaining that smoothness is keeping laundering to a minimum and avoiding cheap, corner-cutting dry cleaners, Modoo suggests. “They wreak havoc on hand-canvassed garments, too.” So it follows that perhaps flat out refusal of fusing is foolish. Nevertheless, in an ideal world, you’d be able to wave a hand at your wardrobe and cackle, like a dandyish Pennywise the Dancing Clown, “They ALL float!”