Two Books: Sundressing and Boundless Style

A couple new sewing books (okay, one new, and one’s been out for a while) have made it across my desk (okay, cutting table) and they’re both interesting.

The first, Sundressing, by Melissa Mora, is a book of (you guessed it) sundress patterns. I was pleased to see this one because it has a very large size range: 0 to 22 for women (bust 31″ to 45″) and girls (2T to 12). Most of the pattern books I see, unless they’re specifically for plus-sizes, top out at about a US size 16.

sundressing

Sundressing features 21 different styles, photographed on a diverse range of people (the photography is really nice; it’s not just skinny white women in nearly empty rooms). But it’s the methodology that really sets Sundressing apart: instead of traceable patterns for each style, there’s one basic bodice, and Mora provides detailed instructions for altering the bodice for each style.

Needless to say, this is a LOT of work (I quailed just looking at some of the instructions) but if you are looking to get into serious pattern-altering, this seems like a gentle way to start. (Many of the resources I see for taking a basic bodice block and altering it for different design elements look a lot like this ‘how to draw a horse‘ joke.)

I’m not sure if I will sew anything out of this book (leafing through it made me realize my deep commitment to sleeves), but I did for a moment wish I had the kind of life where this dress made sense:

I was far more tempted by the dresses in Boundless Style, by Kristiann Boos (of Victory Patterns), even though the size range is smaller. It also has nice photography where the dress style lines are very clear, although the list of places where I choose to wear very high heels never includes “a lifeguard station” or “leaning on a rustic fence rail” or “a birch grove” (but maybe that’s just me).

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The theme of Boundless Style is one dear to my heart: swapping bodice and skirt matchups to make the Frankendress of your dreams. The ‘Catrina’ bodice is probably my favorite:

The patterns aren’t paper in Boundless Style, but come on a CD embedded in the back cover, which is a plus for some (print them over and over!) and a minus for others. (I know I *have* an external CD/DVD drive for my laptop, but it usually takes fifteen minutes of trying to remember where my past self thought my present self would look first before I find it. Past Erin is not a good predictor of future Erin’s thinking.) And sadly, although the skirts are very nice (including two six-gore options) there are no pockets included or instructions on how to add them. (I wish that the Nicola dress from the Victory line had been included: it’s been on my wish list for a while!)

If you’re looking for a few new ideas or inspiration to help you stretch your sewing wings a bit, I think either of these books would be worth a look!

Book Review: Sunday Sews by Theresa Gonzalez

SundaySewsCover

The lovely people at Chronicle Books sent me a copy of Sunday Sews, by Theresa Gonzalez recently, and it’s a beautiful book. I would love to live in the perpetual Sunday of this book, where everything is suffused in a kind of mid-morning sunlight and you still have hours and hours left to get through all your weekend errands and projects before Game of Thrones comes on. In this particular world of Sundays, you spent all day Saturday clearing the decks for a Sunday of sewing by cleaning and flower arranging and bathing adorable impish small children (with maybe some baking thrown in) and exiling the menfolk to a corral somewhere on the rear of the property. (Don’t worry, they’re happy there. Poor dears, they don’t really appreciate Sewing Sundays, and you can’t really trust them around sharp objects.)

The projects in Sunday Sews are nicely thought out: they’re very simple, of course, but there’s enough leeway for creativity (I hate simple-projects books that are nothing more than ‘hey, make this pillowcase and then glue some rick-rack on it!’) In particular, there’s a boxy tee that has separate sleeve and hem bands that would be perfect for bias treatment or contrasting fabric:

Sunday-Sews-PicnicTee

There are also four different dresses, of which my favorite was the Weekend Wrap Dress (despite its lack of pockets—two of the other dress projects include pockets, though, very respectable).

Sunday-Sews-wrapdress

Unfortunately, though, the sizing in this book runs small—the “Large” is about a US size 12-14. There’s also not a lot of shaping in general; the garments are fairly boxy. Not a problem for the willowy models in the book, but …  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So if you’re on the slimmer, taller side of the spectrum and are looking for some thoughtful, simple projects with a fair amount of scope for creativity, this would be a great book for you. (It’s certainly very pleasant to look at!)

Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book (and fabric!) giveaway

Gertie has a new book! It’s called Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Bookand it’s pretty wow.

cover of Gertie's Ultimate Dress Book

I really liked that this book is self-contained: I think you could basically hand this book to someone who knows little or nothing about sewing and they should be to get through it fairly well. And it has good instructions for my most-used alteration (expanding the waist, sigh)!

The dresses are really, really, really cute—mostly in that new-retro style that Gertie rocks so well. If you have ever watched a dumb 1950s movie allllll the way through just to see the clothes, this is a book for you. The dresses lean a bit towards the “party dress!” vibe, but there are definitely ways to tone them down a bit for work or just a random Saturday.

My favorite dress is probably the “Plaid Secretary”:

plaid secretary dress

Gertie gives tons of instruction on how to prepare, cut, and match plaids, so if you’ve never sewn with plaid before, this would be a good way to start!

Here’s another view of that collar:

And thanks to Gertie’s publisher, I have a copy (and some fabric from Gertie’s line for JoAnn’s!) to give away!

If you don’t win the Gertie fabric, FabricMart has some very Gertiesque fabrics right now that would be perfect for some of the dresses in this book … check out this pin-up-girl print, this flamingo print, and these pique lighthouses!

I was trying to think of some heroic task you’d have to do to qualify to win but even trying to think of a task made me tired, so just … leave a comment? (Make sure your comment profile has a linked email address so I can contact you if you are the lucky winner!)

I’ve turned off comments because we have a lucky winner! Thanks for entering, Yael, I’ll be sending you an email about how to get your winnings!

(If you’re looking for a review of Gertie Sews Vintage Casual, you can find it here.)

Gertie’s book is on a blog tour—you can find the other stops here:

March 8 Brewer Sewing
March 9 Madalynne.com
March 14 By Gum By Golly
March 18 Lish Dorset

 

Cheap Chic: 40th Anniversary Edition

Cheap Chic, the fashion classic, has been reprinted in a special 40th anniversary edition, with a foreword by Tim Gunn.

Cheap Chic, original edition cover

I don’t remember where I first read this book; it must have been in the 1980s, and I’m pretty sure it was a public library copy, the cover reinforced with whatever the library grade of Con-Tact paper is.

By that time I was already dressing much like the authors of the book, or as much like them as a high-school student in North Carolina could dress, so I read the entire thing as an exercise in confirmation bias. Of course I had olive drab army pants (several pair, including one I’d chopped off into shorts). I had multi-button wool sailors’ pants (too warm for the climate), men’s white t-shirts and oxfords, penny loafers, and (a significant find) a pair of incredibly beat-up (and uncomfortable) pair of boy’s cowboy boots, bought at a thrift store in Hickory, NC. I’d swiped my dad’s Levi’s jean jacket AND his Eisenhower jacket. I had good leather bags and belts (bought as seconds at the Coach outlet in town). I was certainly cheap; this book told me I was chic.

Re-reading Cheap Chic is half nostalgia, half discomfort. It’s difficult to read this now without noticing what I didn’t notice back in the eighties: the constant underscoring of the idea that the base requirement for chic is a “lean body” (and the assumption that everyone reading the book could easily fit into boy’s-size clothing and would be comfortable going braless in leotards). The regular and slightly thoughtless appropriation of clothing from different cultures and classes (“ethnic” and “worker’s” clothing), including the advice that you should “Tune into Soul Train when you’re running low on ideas!” And of course, so much fur!

The best reason to re-read Cheap Chic is for the interviews with designers, including Betsey Johnson, Rudi Gernreich, and (best of all) Diana Vreeland:

It’s hard to read Cheap Chic without thinking about the assumptions behind what made things cheap or chic: things were cheap because they were either made cheaply (by people you didn’t think much about otherwise), were the surplus of the militarization of the twentieth century, or because you had the resources to invest up-front in something well-made and expensive that would last a long time (Saint Laurent boots are mentioned often). Things were chic because they made you look young, cosmopolitan, well-traveled, thin, and rich.

I’d recommend reading Cheap Chic just to experience this discomfort, and to try to bring it forward into our lives now. What assumptions are we making today that will make our grandchildren cringe?

Book Review: Modern DIY Upholstery

moderndyiupholstery

When I saw that this book was available for review I stuck my hand straight up and said, “Me, please” and it just came a few days ago.

I have NOT yet re-upholstered anything according to these instructions, but I can tell it’s only a matter of time, because reupholstery projects involve three things I really enjoy: thrifting/yard-saling, choosing fabric, and hammers.

I’ve only really ever upholstered a couple things in my life: a few chair seats (thank you, staple gun!) and a couple of futon covers (after the first of which I said NEVER AGAIN in a loud voice, but obviously I wasn’t listening to myself as I went on and did another one). *Note: do not try to sew futon covers in an un-air-conditioned room in the Chicago summer.

But this book has really set me on fire to go prowling for an ottoman or two, or maybe even a settee. The pictures are lovely, the instructions seem clear upon reading (haven’t done any yet, of course …) and there are even time-lapse videos! Here’s one with the author recovering a wicker laundry hamper. 

I’ve probably bought half a dozen vintage upholstery books in the last ten years or so (including this one):

but none of them have really gotten me to actually DO any upholstery. I think this book will be different.

The Bookpile

Do you have a bookpile? I have a bookpile. I assume everyone has a bookpile, unless they have been cursed by an evil wizard and are unable to read again until they finish some impossible task, like spinning straw into gold. (Aside: do you all know the word tsundoku, which in Japanese — supposedly — means buying books and not reading them, or letting them pile up unread?)

ANYWAY. I’ve been sent a lot of books, and haven’t had a lot of time. So I’m going to do a whirlwind tour of the bookpile! Hold on to your hats!

First up: BurdaStyle Modern Sewing – Wardrobe Essentials

burdastyle wardrobe essentials cover

There are only two dresses in this book, and there are really only dresses in my wardrobe, so the whole “wardrobe essentials” bit here isn’t very compelling for me, but one of the dresses is the Burda cap-sleeve number that I’ve been wanting to make for ages, so that’s a plus.

If you’ve every wanted to sew Burda patterns but were worried about the paucity of instructions, this book is for you. Just about every step is illustrated, and clearly, too. This looks like a great book for intermediate sewists or people who want to stretch a little bit … the patterns aren’t ‘easy’ but the illustrations mean you won’t go too far wrong.

Who knows when I’ll make that dress, but I’ll probably keep this book around!

 Stitch, Wear, Play is subtitled “20 charming patterns for boys & girls” and, well, it does what it says on the cover. If I were a hip and doting grandmother I would be making all these adorable tiny things in those really expensive Japanese cottons (but I’d only need a yard, so …). If you have suddenly acquired up to four winsome tykes and a rambling charming house and tons of free time (not sure how that goes with the tykes, but  ¯_(ツ)_/¯) this is definitely the book for you! If you don’t have (or have and don’t sew for) kids this is totally worth picking up and flipping through for some nice design ideas, especially about yokes.

 

Gertie Sews Vintage Casual is also a little light on the dresses (although there are several) but they’re really CUTE dresses. There’s also a whole section on patternmaking that I found easy to follow, with exactly the kind of changes I like to make: adding pockets, changing lengths, adding gathers or darts or pleats, and waistband changes.

I’ll be coming back to this book eventually, because there are some nice patterns for knits, too.

Another great thing about this book—models in a variety of sizes!

BiblioCraft is super-nerdy, and I love it. Not sure if I will make any of the projects, but the conceit is fantastic — basically there is TONS of craft inspiration in any library, and these projects are not just how-tos for the project, but how-tos for how to research for more projects!

 

 

 

If you like math and/or quilting, you will like Quilt Lab.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Swimwear would be a fantastic book for costume designers, and is pretty fabulous eye-candy for everyone else. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever wanted to wear the top part of an 1880s “swimming costume” as a regular old day dress …) I don’t swim often enough to want to put the effort in to making my own bathing suits, but I will probably hold on to this, just in case. (I also learned that men’s trunks were fastened with side-ties as late as the 1950s, which seems … unreliable.)

 

 

Learn to Sew with Lauren is a beginner book, and I think that it is hard for someone who has been sewing a while to really judge the quality of instructions in beginners’ books, because we don’t remember what it’s like to have no context. That said, this one looked especially easy to me, but not so easy that the projects were boring or unrewarding. The capstone dress project is something you could imagine seeing on ModCloth, for instance, and the skirt has pockets.

Also, the patterns are full-size — no photocopying or tracing up needed.
Makery is worth it just for the measuring tape brooch (page 38).

 

 

I’m sure there are other books lurking in the bookpile … they’ll have to be dormant a little longer.

Book Review: Super Stitches Sewing

super stitches sewing book cover

When you’ve been sewing for as long as I have (30 years!), it can be hard to discover the gaps in your own knowledge. You have your own routes to the places you need to go, and time doesn’t always (or even usually) permit the kind of aimless wandering that leads you to new discoveries.

So when I was offered a review copy of Super Stitches Sewing (subtitled: A complete guide to machine-sewing and hand-stitching techniques), my thought was that it would be a great entry-level book to suggest to people just getting into sewing.

I wasn’t really wrong … I was just thinking too small. Super Stitches Sewing is a great book for people just getting into sewing, but it also revealed to me a huge blind spot of my own: turns out, I have been ignoring about 70% of what my sewing machine is capable of.

When I first started sewing, I used a machine that had a straight stitch and a zig-zag, and a buttonhole stitch that could charitably be described as “cantankerous”. My second machine was at about the same level of sophistication (albeit with a buttonhole stitch that could be described as “temperamental”). My third machine was a 1950s throwback (with cams that, while cool, I never really bothered to learn to use). So when I moved up to a brand-new machine that added a blind hem stitch to my repertoire, I patted myself on the back for joining the modern age. “Whoo-hoo, now we’re cooking with gas!” I believe I said.

As it turns, out there is SO much more I could be doing with the stitches on my machine (even leaving aside the alphabet-embroidery stuff that I’ve used exactly once). Machine darning! Sewing on buttons by machine! Shell stitching for scalloped piping! And pages and pages of stitches that might just be the key to me finally starting to sew with knits.

And I haven’t even mentioned the hand-sewing section yet … which even includes pad-stitching instructions for those of you interested in classic tailoring techniques.

So: in short, Super Stitches Sewing is a great book, highly recommended. Even if you’re a machine maestro, the simple instructions and clear illustrations make this worth keeping on hand as reference.