The Craftsman

How shirtmaker James MacAuslan mastered his craft

Craftsmanship is different these days. It's no longer about just making things with your hands but about committing yourself to your field of work with a passion, and working to improve your craft – whatever that may be

James MacAuslan is Budd Shirtmakersfirst apprentice cutter in over half a century. Working from its Piccadilly Arcade shop, he crafts bespoke, made-to-measure and ready-to-wear shirts for some of London’s most discerning customers – some of whom have rather strange requests. We sat down with MacAuslan to find out how he’s sharpened his skills over the years, and how he’s preserving the craft of shirtmaking one expertly cut collar at a time.

Switch it up

I did a foundation degree in art and design at London College of Fashion. I hated the pretence of it, so, after that year, I left to do a vocational course at Newham College, which led to me working on and off at Huntsman on Savile Row. Unfortunately, they couldn’t offer me a full-time job, but they had just acquired Budd and asked if I’d like to work there instead. Eight years later, I’m still here.

Learn from the best

I’ve been really lucky as there aren’t many shirtmakers out there, but I’ve been able to learn from two masters with two different schoolings here at Budd: John Butcher and Darren Tiernan. I’m able to put those two approaches together and come up with my own way of doing it.

Evolution theory

Perfecting my craft is about self-exploration, trying things out, and seeing what works on customers; seeing what isn’t right and how to fix it.

Cut loose

The first thing I made when I was about 16 or 17 was a blue velvet waistcoat that came down to my calves. I make a lot of my own clothes at home. I’ve never been one to stick exclusively to patterns. I always like to tweak and play with things.

Not on point

Alexander McQueen once did a ballet and, to go see it, I made myself a suit to wear. McQueen himself was there so my dad stopped to talk to him and I could see him looking me up and down in this God-awful suit. I tried to throw it away recently, but my husband wouldn’t let me.

Inspiration strikes

The pyjama shirts we’re making at the moment originated with a customer in New York who wanted a beach shirt with piping on it. It’s fun to change the little details that make that shirt feel like something someone would wear out.

What the customer wants

The beauty of bespoke is that I get requests that are a little more off-the-wall. One customer wanted a version of a long linen nightshirt to walk his dog around his garden in, with big patch pockets for treats. We also have an artist customer who wants things like ‘fuck you’, ‘bitch’ and ‘motherfucker’ embroidered onto his shirts – that’s always an interesting ask for our monogrammer!

Shirts with a sixth sense

A large part of the craft of being a shirtmaker is people skills. You’ve got to try to gauge what the customer wants from their shirt. I could make a person a shirt that fits really well, but if it’s not their idea of what they really wanted, then they’re not going to like it. All of that is about talking to people, and that also helps them relax, which means they stand in a less rigid way when I’m measuring them, meaning the shirt will feel more comfortable for them, too.

Budd Shirtmakers, 3 Piccadilly Arcade, St James’s, SW1Y 6NH,