Friday, August 30, 2013

Hoi An: City of Sewing Machines

Hoi An, Vietnam, is not a large town.  Roughly 30,000 people.  However, it has 600 tailors.  There were a lot of sewing machines; some ornate, some just industrial.
It’s hard to walk around town much without getting invited into a multitude of tailors’ shops. We knew Hoi An was known for it’s tailoring, and Lana had a couple of pieces that she loved, but knew weren’t going to make it much further before they wore out after being worn and washed every five or six days.
Lana had a couple of pieces of clothing made, at two different tailors.  It was pretty hot in Hoi An, and we’d walked about 30 minutes into town, so we were quite warm when we arrived.  We knew it was part of the sales pitch when they brought us chilled water bottled and frozen towelettes, but we’re not above being wooed.  The perimeter of the store was lined with shelves of fabrics.
Once Lana decided on the fabric she wanted, she was measured extensively, and questioned closely about exactly what she wanted.  Then we set up a time to come back for a trial fitting, to see if any adjustments were required.
She had a skirt, a pair of pants, and three shirts made.  It took three fittings to get the shirt and pants below just right, but the others were right the first time.
She really liked how they all came out, though the pants were a little more fitted and fancy then she had in mind for use on the trip.  She sent them home later, to save them for nicer occasions.  The two shirts above were patterned off of a shirt Lana had bought in Uruguay, and loved, but could tell it would not last forever.
The guy in the photo above was my tailor for the shirts. Every time we saw him he was wearing those pajamas and chain smoking. But everything he made for Lana turned out perfect on the first fitting. The pieces were admittedly loose fitting, but the seams were sturdy and the shirts lasted through the rest of the trip, including the five day period in Madagascar when we lost our luggage and Lana had to wash one of the shirts out each night and wear it the following day.
All in all it was a fun experience, and the tailors we went to were superb. We may have paid a bit more for the pieces, but it wasn’t terribly expensive (maybe $80 total for five custom made pieces) and knowing that these were clothes that had to wash and wear and travel long distances it made sense to spend a bit more. There were certainly cheaper places in town (with 600 tailors you get every price thrown at you) but we did some research before we set out and had some names to go by.  Everyone wants to make a suit for you, because of course that’s the most expensive piece. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend having a suit made, but I was very impressed with the construction of the pair of linen capris I had made. Even when the pieces needed to be altered, the alterations were quickly done, and hey were definitely interested in getting it right and making the customer happy.  I had heard stories about clothes being poorly made and falling apart in a couple of weeks, but that certainly wasn’t my experience. And all the clothes have a generous seam allowance which means they can be taken in or *ahem* let out depending on the amount of gelato one might have eaten over the last few months.
David managed to evade the many, many attempts to entice him into getting a shirt or pair of shorts made, but this resistance was mostly due to the shops not having anything in the way of technical fabrics to tempt him.