Book Review: Sew What! Skirts

by Erin on June 28, 2007

sewwhatskirts

I'm being asked a lot now about how to learn to sew, and since my method, although ideal (get my mom to teach you) is somewhat impractical to recreate, I've been looking at gateway-drug, I mean introductory, sewing books.

Sew What! Skirts looked good from the get-go, and I wasn't disappointed.

It's not just that several of the skirts offer pockets (albeit simple patch ones), or that the idea is to learn fitting techniques that you can apply across multiple (patternless) skirts, or that rickrack features prominently. It's that I think that the authors (Francesca Denhartog & Carole Ann Camp) have figured out what motivates beginning sewists: it's the fabric, stupid.

Fabric is what draws folks in. It's the promise of taking that gorgeous yardage and draping it around oneself (or one's home) that leads people down the path towards the $7000 Bernina. And in every home-ec horror story I've ever heard, the indignity of having to make something useless has been compounded by the useless thing having to be done in boring, hideous, cheap fabric.

The fabrics shown in this book are, frankly, awesome. Beautiful patterns, lovely weaves; not a scratchy double-knit in the lot. The skirts are wearable, the instructions clear.

This is a very good book for beginners, in that it explains *everything*. The instructions stop just short of including "Inhale. Exhale." They also, bless them, allow for the possibility that you might screw up, and screw up badly. They advise you to leave extra seam allowances so that you can fix your mistakes, for example, and tell you to start with cotton, as it's easier.

Lately I've been feeling a bit guilty about some of my sewing cheerleading — I'm worried that I'm making it sound too easy, and that I've forgotten how hard it was for me to learn some techniques — things I could do backwards in a hailstorm now, but which occasioned many lonely hours with a seam ripper before. Part of that frustration was me being an impatient teenager, sure, but part also is just doing and doing and doing until you can feel when you have something right. This book has a little of the same cheerleading problem, but since it's at such a basic level, and advocating a do-your-own-thing, "it's not a flaw, it's an interesting design decision" attitude, I feel as if it's warranted. The only change I would have made would be to emphasize more the need for practice.

Sewing, I've come to realize, is a lot more like athletics than I'd like to admit. Despite having been, at one time or another, a cross-country runner (slowly), a college soccer player (ineptly, and inept in Div III at that), and a discus and shotput thrower (not very far, and not for very long), and despite my obsession with roller-skating, I think of myself as profoundly unathletic. So the realization that sewing, like other muscle-memory activities, is something that you just can't read a book on and be note-perfect at, was one that was slow to come to me. But, just as you don't have to train for a marathon to enjoy running for exercise (shudder), you don't have to practice couture techniques to make a perfectly lovely skirt. All you have to do is practice, period. Those practice runs are still exercise, even if they aren't marathons, and those practice garments are still wearable — and if you are patient and follow the instructions in this book, they'll be better than wearable.

So: this is a good book, especially for beginning sewers. Fabric is good. Experimentation is good. You (too) can be good. Take it to heart, and take your heart to the sewing machine.

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