Sewing & Style Book Reviews

Last week I renewed my library card.  It had expired 2 years ago, and I just hadn’t gotten around to getting it renewed.  And now that I did, I’m thinking to myself, “you knucklehead, why didn’t you do this a lot sooner?”  Yes, I missed my library.

So I checked out some books on sewing and fashion.  There is one missing from this stack, I realized after I’d edited the photo.  It’s a book on wearing scarves.  I often wear them and happened to see a book about them on the library shelf.  Well that book will make it into a different review.  For now, let me deal with the ones in this stack, from bottom to top.

Singer Sewing Specialty Fabrics.  This one is from the wonderful Singer sewing series.  I have about half that series in hardback – a bonanza find at a thrift store.  They are like gold to me.  If I ever have a sewing technique question, one of these books will address it.  Maybe not as thoroughly as I’d like, but I’d get at least a decent overview.  This volume on specialty fabrics gives you some really good hints and tips to work with silkies, knits, and heavyweights.  I would definitely go out of my way to add this one to my collection.  The techniques are taught in a step-by-step method with accompanying step-out pictures.  My only caveat:  the garments shown in some of the volumes in this set are rather dated; but you aren’t reading this book for fashion advice, so it’s easy to ignore.  I’ll be giving this one back to the library grudgingly.

Fabric Savvy.  I was surprised by both what this book did include, and what it didn’t.  I doubt I’ll be using African Mud Cloth in any of the garments I sew for myself.  However, that section was pretty interesting.  Yes, there IS mud on the cloth, apparently.  I liked that this book dealt with pre-washing advice as well as pressing advice; not something that is often dealt with and certainly not in pattern packages!  It also gives needle recommendations, stitch width and length, etc.  A handy reference if you don’t mind how limited in scope the book is.  I had hoped for more advice on now-common fabrics, like Rayon blends and stretch blends.    That being said, there’s an updated version of this book, and I’ve requested it by inter-library loan.  The description says it gives newer advice for newer fabrics.  This particular volume goes back to the library without a backward glance.

Perfect Plus.  This is a cute book, let me say that first and foremost.  Some things I like about it:  the author takes detailed photos of herself in the outfits she proposes that you sew.  And to help you along, she has included all the pattern pieces!  She gives you a little questionnaire to help you decide how many of the four garments (pants, top, skirt, jacket) you will need to fit your lifestyle.  She gives fabric recommendations, talks about color coordination, and if you still don’t get it, she shows pages and pages of actual outfits in color-coordinated sets.  Now, how freaking cool is that?  I was falling in love with the book until I read one little statement:  yes, the patterns go from sizes 14 to 24;  but they are proportioned for a 5′ 2″ woman.  Uh-oh; I’m 6 inches taller than that!  I was actually pretty saddened because I wanted to make the outfits in this book.  However – she gives me good advice on basic coordinated outfits, and because the lines are simple and clean, I already have patterns that would be similar to hers.  So this book gets renewed and I’m not going to probably look for it on Amazon.  My daughter and daughter-in-law are both under 5’5″, so I will probably show it to them, but the clothes are aimed more at women in their 30’s and up who want a simple, non-flashy, non-trendy, classic wardrobe.  They might not want it now, but when their kids start coming along, they will want clothes that can be spit up on by babies, thrown in the washer and dryer, forgotten about for a week, and come out with no wrinkles to iron.  (Good Lord… okay, that’s the kind of wardrobe I want for myself !!)

The New Secrets of Style.  I am going to be a little bit harsh about this book.  It is filled with pictures of actresses, tv personalities, movie stars, prominent figures, and the like.  Filled.  Literally.  Page after page.  It’s more like a having a coffee table book of collected InStyle Magazines.  Okay, so why all the harangue?  I admit to looking for magazines like InStyle when I have to sit and wait at the doctor’s office.  But my motivation is purely voyeuristic; I don’t actually want to relate to the human beings depicted in it’s pages, let alone dress like them.  I couldn’t care less what the Red Carpet Crowd wears.  It’s totally impractical for my life.  So why did I pick up this book?  Well, two reasons:  first, I did not look through it when I took it off the shelf.  That was my mistake, because it would never have come home with me if I had.  But also, I really thought the title, “Secrets Of Style”, was on creating your own personal sense of style.  Admittedly it does touch on the principles of finding your own style and creating a wardrobe around it, but the advice is so shallow and weak it barely gives a nod in that direction.  Alright, enough diatribe.  This book goes back to the library post-haste.

Does This Make Me Look Fat?  I think Leah Feldon should rewrite this book so that angels sing whenever the cover is opened.  Little Disney butterflies should flutter out.  Birds should come out of it and help you get dressed every morning.  Yeah, it’s that good.  The biggest reason this book is going to become a permanent part of my collection is because the author takes the time to tell you WHY.  Why certain clothing works for you and why it doesn’t.  The title should be, “WHY Does This Make Me Look Fat?”  As I read this book, it was like the heavens opened up and I finally understood why some of my outfits looked great on me, and others not so good, even though they were in my colors.  This book is painstakingly written, and there are NO photographs.  The best you’re gonna get is black and white line drawings.  There are no color-coordinated swatches, no examples of some cutie-pie modeling what the author is talking about.  What you will get is down and dirty, make-me-look-slimmer advice.  Pages and pages of advice, for everything from clothes to accessories to hair.  I do have a couple of minor caveats, and they are very minor:  first, the author is very opinionated, stating her advice as “rules”.  She does say that you can feel free to break them, but you should do so knowing exactly WHY you are breaking them.  She also believes that the Classic Style is the best style.  I tend to disagree with that, because there are certainly people who will look better in a Sporty Style or a Romantic Style.  However, most women work, and the working world usually dictates that the Classic Style is the style recommended at work, enforced more or less depending where you work.  So I can ignore her little soapbox on the Classic approach, because in general terms she does have a point.  The second caveat I have is that the author LOVES black.  Black, black, black, black, black.  “Hell, I’m an Autumn!” I say in dismay.  “I can’t wear black!”  Alas, that is simply NOT true.  I have this one knee-length jacket that is black with a dark purple collar and cuffs.  That thing makes me look HOT.  Seriously hot!  It’s my favorite power piece and I love how I feel when I’m wearing it.  So if I’m an Autumn and black is not okay on me, why does this jacket work?  It’s got two reasons:  one, the color closest to my face is a grape purple color, which does look good on me.  If the collar were black, it would drain my face of color.  But since the collar is purple, it works.  And two, the cut of the jacket fits me like a glove, skimming over my curves without being snug.  So for those reasons I can wear black, with very careful moderation and attention paid to HOW the black is worn and where it is worn.  The author’s focus on black is really a focus on monochromatic dressing.  Black just happens to be her favorite monochrome.  Now I can’t just go out there and start sewing all black tops and pants and jackets.  I’d look like I was constantly in mourning and it would age me ten years.  But I can do a dark cocoa brown, or olive green, or deep dusty plum.  Put me in a monochromatic top and pants that were one of those colors, and I’d rock ’em.   It would look like I’d lost ten pounds.  And that would have Leah nodding her head in agreement.  Careful accessorizing makes the monochrome pop (scarves, pins, belts, jewelry, etc.) so you don’t get bored wearing just one color from collar to hem.  So as I know you can guess, this book is getting renewed.  I’m going to read through it a second time, a bit more slowly, and I guess the librarian is going to have to pry it out of my fingers to get it back.

  Trinny and Susannah are a hoot.  What You Wear Can Change Your Life is another book I do like.  They have a very no-nonsense approach that is presented in a humorous way, softening the blow when they give you the do’s and don’ts of their version of style.  I like their photos, using themselves openly and candidly as models.  My favorite section of the book is where they talk about Shapewear.  More on that in another post!  These two do tend to have a more trendy outlook on the outfits they chose, and so their books will have to be updated every now and again as those trends change.  But overall, their book is pretty good.  They do skim the surface of the WHY question and their before/after photo comparisons are well worth the look.  Will I buy it?  Actually – no.  It’s a cute book and I love the humor in it.  I did get something out of it.  But they really didn’t tell me much that I didn’t already know, besides the section on Shapewear.  I had read their book from cover to cover in one sitting, devouring it and reading hilarious sections to my husband (to his dismay, since he was also trying to read.  But hey, he was a captive audience).  If you have this one available in your library, I would recommend reading it.  And for you, it might be that sky-opening revelation complete with Disney characters.  It just wasn’t for me.  I’m debating whether or not to renew it and re-read it;  I’m leaning toward giving it a second chance.  But I don’t think I’ll cry when I have to turn it back in.




2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trina
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 19:39:07

    Hmm. I think that Sewing Specialty Fabrics is in my garage sale stash. I will have to check it out. Personally I usuallly sew cottons. I am not so much into special fabrics anymore. LOL


  2. Charlene
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 19:45:52

    Hi Trina!! Thanks for stopping by!
    I was just thinking about cottons today. Did you get the newest JoAnn’s flyer, with all the quilting cottons 50% off? That’s mighty mighty tempting, because there are some super cute patterns in the quilt fabrics. They’d make great button-down oxford style shirts for the fall.
    So what are you working on lately? Sewing or clay, or both?


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