OPER, handmade silk tie is a very subtle slice of beauty, and if you want to look your absolute smartest, it’s an essential part of the outfit. But while it undoubtedly looks better than its cheaper, synthetic cousin, you might be hard pushed to say quite why. Good leather simply takes polish better. The flattery of a bespoke suit is down to asymmetrical cutting. But the qualities of a fine silk tie are harder to pin down.
Let’s try, though.
For a start, there’s one piece of handwork that’s essential to a good tie. Without it, the blades will always hang limp, inert, a mere imitation of life. This animating skill is called the slip stitch.
A tie is made by cutting the front and back blades, neck, tipping and keeper from a square of silk. Most do this with a powered tool or a knife, in a stack of squares up to 20 deep. The important thing is that the tiemaker cuts on the bias, so diagonally across the silk. This stops the tie from twisting when it is worn – a common fault of lesser made ties.
The front, neck and back blades are then sewn together, and the tips added, using a sewing machine. The lining of the tie, made of wool or a cotton mix, is placed down the centre and the edges of the silk are folded over it. The fold is held in place by a small, iron weight.
ROOM TO MOVE
Then comes the life-giving act. The tie maker sews a couple of loops at the back of the front blade and begins to snake up the folded seam. The stitches are long, and loose, leaving room for the silk to move as it is worn – again, something you can’t get with a cheaper, machine-made tie.
When she finishes, at the other end of the tie, the tiemaker creates a little loop of excess thread before knotting off. This excess means that the tie can pull along its length – when you tug it out of a shirt collar, for example – and not yank the silk. When the tie is hung up at the end of the day, its natural weight can pull the tie back into shape and recreate that excess.
Many other things make a tie great: fine woven jacquards, traditional English die and discharge, original Madder printing. But every good tie needs a slip stitch.
Simon Crompton is the author of the men’s style website www.permanentstyle.com.
HOW TO: LOOK AFTER YOUR TIES
Don’t ever fold a tie. If you’re travelling, carefully roll it and stick it in a shoe or a specialist tie case.
Like a good suit, ties should be hung to retain their shape – a cheap tie hanger is a good investment.
Apart from knitted ties, which should be kept rolled, since hanging them stretches them.
Be careful when you’re eating, because cleaning a silk tie is very difficult. Dry cleaning is a no-no, since chemicals and pressing will spoil its soft, three-dimensional richness.
If you do have a stain, apply a bit of water. A good tiemaker will be able to unstitch a favoured customer’s tie, clean the silk and then re-slip it.
Use steam from a kettle or handheld steamer to get rid of any wrinkles.