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.




Before And After

I love seeing makeovers.  Don’t you?  I’ve had a bit of a makeover in my appearance lately, and the most recent change has been to get a new pair of glasses.  The change isn’t entirely cosmetic — I did know that I needed bifocals, and had just been putting it off.  But it got to the point where I couldn’t read without taking my glasses off. 

So here’s a couple of before and after pictures so that you can see the difference in my glasses.  You won’t see the line on the bifocals, as I got the progressive ones (and I love them).

The picture on the left was taken in 2009, not long after my husband gave me a haircut.  The photo on the right was taken today.  In the last year, I’ve made a number of changes: wearing makeup daily, coloring my hair auburn instead of strawberry blonde, and pulling it up into a french twist with sideswept bangs.

Edit, 2014: I think I was going too severe, as I look back. I needed to change my image, yes; but I also needed to not look so old. I learned that because I have a square face with a very prominent jawline, that I need hair fullness at the sides of my face, and my hairline longer than my jawline. I’ve since grown my hair out, decided to not fight the natural wave in my hair, and to return to my natural medium brown haircolor. I think it’s much more youthful than the french twist hairstyle, don’t you? 75940_10152631227200337_1714734485377162549_n

Color Me Beautiful

color-me-beautifulAn “Aha” Moment. Back in the early 1990’s, I found the first Color Me Beautiful book at a garage sale.   At the time, I’d never heard of Color Analysis.  The principle behind it is that the tones of your skin, eyes, and hair determine which colors of clothing will look better on you, and which ones make your skin look sallow, tired, or washed out.  The color schemes are collected into warm and cool undertones, to complement the undertones of a person’s skin.  Those undertones are further divided into “seasons”:  spring and autumn colors usually have a gold undertone and are warm;  while winter and summer colors usually have a blue undertone and are cool.   Examining eye, skin, and hair colors, along with draping fabric colors close to the face, helps one determine which shades of color look best on them.  There are consultants who can help people do this, but really just taking a friend and this book for a day trip to the mall can tell a person what they need to know.

What’s the big deal? In other words, why is this so important to me?  There are two reasons:  the first, is that I hate, hate, hate shopping for clothes and trying on 50 tops to find one that looks good on me.  It seems like a collossal waste of time.  Not that I don’t like shopping; I do.  But I don’t like the frustration of a whole store full of shirts and not one that looks right.  Of course the size and cut make a difference;  but the biggest difference is color.  If I could just go straight to colors I know look good on me, then it’s only a matter of getting the right size.  I’d spend literally half my time trying things on.  The second reason has to do with how I feel about myself.  If I know I look good, I’m more productive.  I’ve learned from experience that when I’m dressed well, makeup on, hair styled — I get twice as much done as when I wear sweats and a t-shirt (unless I’m cleaning the garage or painting a room).

So I made adjustments to my wardrobe after reading the book.  I discovered that autumn tones look best on me.  I bought my first orange shirt.  Orange?  Yeah, orange.  Pumpkin orange, to be exact.  I was skeptical at first, but when I tried that color on, it looked really good.  Needless to say, when I cleared my closet out of clothes that I never wore because they looked just…. wrong, I had lots of room leftover.  I would take my book to the thrift store and began filling my wardrobe back up.  (There’s an excellent wardrobe planning worksheet at the back of the book, and I highly recommend using it.)  Pretty soon, people were asking me if I’d lost weight.  They were telling me I looked really nice.  And the compliments became a regular thing.  It really does work, whaddya know.

After a few years I fell out of the habit of being conscious about the clothes I wore.  I’d changed part-time jobs, and was doing less in the ‘public’.  I got sloppy, basically.  Because my workplace was now in my home, I could stay in pajamas half the day and nobody would care.  But that slippage did work it’s way into my self-image.  I stopped getting my hair trimmed, or styling it;  I stopped wearing makeup; I didn’t really care what clothes I wore as long as they didn’t clash horribly.  It wasn’t that I was slovenly;  it was just that I was making minimal effort to look nice. I look back at family pictures, and I can see evidence that I believed “it doesn’t matter; who cares, anyway?”

But there are times it DOES matter.  Like meeting your husband’s new boss.  You want your appearance to reflect positively on him, right?  So the t-shirt and sweats isn’t a good choice for that kind of meeting.  And there I was, back at the store, trying on 50 tops and getting frustrated!  I was reminded of how it had been when I was using the colors from my autumn palette.  It made the shopping easier, and I got compliments.  Right.  Back to the CMB book I go.  I dug it out of my stack of books and reviewed it.  And once I looked in my closet, with that list of colors in hand…. egads.  This is wrong, and that is wrong, and no wonder I don’t get compliments on my appearance anymore!

CMB, as a company, has gone through a series of evolutions. They are no longer run by Carole Jackson, and they have become a MaryKay-style company, selling makeup through consultants.  While I think that’s fine, I also think it shortens the vision the company had in previous years, especially during it’s first decade.  After the huge success of the first book, Always In Style was written by Doris Pooser.  A couple of years later, Carole wrote the CMB Make Up Book.    Then came my personal favorite, CMB’s Looking Your Best.  This book is definitive, and I’ll explain why in a minute.  The newest book, by JoAnne Richmond was written in 2008, entitled, Reinvent Yourself with Color Me Beautiful.

CMB 1985

CMB 1987

CMB 1995

CMB 2008

While I think all of the books have something to contribute, I would have to say that the first Color Me Beautiful book and the Looking Your Best book are the two most worth having.  The first book gets your feet wet in learning about color, style, makeup, hair, etc.  It’s a primer, both where it comes to the seasonal palettes and where it comes to learning how to assess your appearance.  The other book takes those basics and expands them, turning the four original seasonal palettes into 12, making it much easier to pinpoint those colors that really pop on you. Let me illustrate:  Yellow is a color that works for me, but only in certain shades of yellow.  I’m a Warm Autumn, and I can’t wear a bright yellow; it drains my face of color.  But a soft Autumn, whose colors are closer to those of spring, can wear a buttermilk yellow and pull it off.  For me, if the yellow is muted, like a mustard yellow, or a golden yellow… wow.  Looks great (especially when paired with a muted purple, like I’m wearing today).

Warm Autumn

Purse Palette, side A

Purse Palette, side B

...I admit it, I cut pages out of one of the books.  (Meh; the book cost me all of $4.00, including shipping, from Amazon.  If I need to, I can buy another copy with the pages intact.)  The pages I cut out were trimmed to just the color blocks, and then slipped into a regular size sheet protector, that I then trimmed down to fit the height of the color blocks.  This gets folded in half and I carry it in my purse.  So anytime I stop at a thrift store, garage sale, boutique– I have the colors handy with me (and I didn’t spend $49.95 for the swatches that the CMB website sells!)

I’m going to be talking about this subject more in coming posts, but I thought you might like to see how I look today.  I have on a golden yellow turtleneck, a muted purple sweater, and a scarf that has both colors. (Never, ever underestimate the power of a scarf!)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on color analysis.  Won’t you drop a comment?  Just scroll back up to the top of this post and there’s a link for making comments there.

%d bloggers like this: