Sewing Book Review: The Maker’s Atelier – The Essential Collection

Feel free to click through – I make no money from it

Title: The Maker’s Atelier – The Essential Collection

Author: Frances Tobin

Publisher: Quadrille

ISBN: 9781849499040

Chapter List
Choosing and using fabrics
Measuring, making a toile and fitting a garment
Pattern One – the stretch pencil skirt
Pattern Two – the drape front top
Pattern Three – the cigarette pants
Pattern Four – the tie neck blouse
Pattern Five – the book bag
Pattern Six – the raw edge coat
Pattern Seven – the wrap skirt
Pattern Eight – the oversized t-shirt

Paperback or Hardbound? They say paperback, I say hybrid.

Retail Price: $35 list, $26.25 from Amazon

Does the book have clear illustrations or photographs? Yes. More on that later.

What do you like about this book? 
I like that the bookbinding allows you to open the book all the way without having to split the spine. The photography is lovely and the writing style is engaging. The author clearly loves the styles she presents. While they are simple, they will make up a capsule that will either form the basis of or add to your existing wardrobe.

Each pattern chapter includes a page called “Developing the [pattern name]” which gives insight into the history of the garment type, along with the author’s thoughts about how she envisions the fit. It’s a nice primer to give sewists guidance on mixing and matching.

Each pattern chapter also includes pictures of the garment being worn by different women, so you can see it on different figure types. It has suggestions on how to wear each garment to make the most of it. The photography is beautiful, and the photos are inspiring.

What could the book do better? Well, the styles are pretty basic. It’s a reflection of the author’s aesthetic, and they are good basics. Also, the section on fabrics is… basic. If you have already read a book on fabric (like Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide) you’ll know what I mean. Also, to me, the bag pattern seems like a throwaway

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate this book in the “must have” category? Probably a 6-7. It’s good, but it’s not a must have. The photography is lovely and can be inspiring. The patterns are basic.

TBH, I have not yet made the patterns. I have fabric to make some, so I’ll review those separately when I make them. In the meantime, it’s a good book, but it’s an add-on to a library.

Happy sewing!

Book Giveaway – Make Your Own Dress Patterns

May 19 Update: Folks, there seems to be some misinformation floating out there. The drawing will take place tomorrow, May 20th,at noon EDT.

I was cleaning off my bedside table this morning and realized I have two copies of one of the seminal (for me) and still one of the best (IMO) books on pattern making out there: Adele Margolis’ Make Your Own Dress Patterns, with over 1000 how-to illustrations.

IMG_4585Published in 1985, and the illustrations reflect that:

IMG_4621 IMG_5023 IMG_6084

this book still has some of the best information on pattern making and, by extension, modifications of existing patterns.

Here’s the drill on how to win. Just leave a comment in the comments section to enter. One entry per person. Feel free to say how smart/talented/classy/gorgeous/whatever you think I am for doing this. It won’t help, but it couldn’t hurt! 😉

The giveaway is open to everyone everywhere, but if you are outside of the US, you will have to pay for shipping (I’ll send it book rate or the cheapest possible way).

The winner will be chosen by random drawing. I’ll announce the winner at noon this Friday, May 20th. You can enter right up until then.

Have fun, good luck, and happy sewing!


Book Review: Fabric for Fashion – The Swatch Book

Though I state it in the Disclosure and Disclaimer page, I’ll say it here as well, because I’ve seen a bunch of book “reviews” lately that make me crazy.

  • I bought this book with my own money.
  • I bought it without anyone asking me to review it.
  • I am not part of any blog tour.
  • I’m reviewing it in the hopes that this will help folks decide if they want to get their own copy.

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about the book:

And if you click through, I don’t get any kind of kickback, so be my guest!

Bookish Details
The edition I am reviewing is the 2nd edition, with 125 swatches.
Authors: Clive Hallett and Amanda Johnston
Publisher: Laurence King
Publication Date: 2014
ISBN: 978-1-78067-233-5

What I Like About the Book: Swatches! The reason I bought this book was because of the swatches. Being able to see and touch a fabric makes the definitions come to life. Three of my absolute favorite books on fibers are the “All About…” series from Rain City Publishing. Each of those books come with swatch sets. They, along with Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Guide, are the books that first taught me so much about fabrics and fibers.

I like that the swatches are mostly white or neutral colors. It lets you concentrate on the weave without the distraction of a print or bright color.

I also like the writing style. It’s easily readable and accessible by anyone from novice to expert.

What I Don’t Like as Much About the Book: There are a few places where they don’t include swatches. The section on fabric construction, at the beginning of the book, talks about different weaves. Unfortunately, there aren’t swatches for some of the weaves described: basket weave, leno, pile and jacquard are just a few examples. For consistency’s sake, I would have liked to have seen swatches of each type of weave. Because it is a survey book, covering all types of fabrics, fibers and weaves in 88 pages, it doesn’t go into as much detail as the Rain City books. It also doesn’t give much practical information on use of the fabric, or details that would be useful to construction with fabrics. Both Rain City and Claire Shaeffer’s books go into much more depth on technical details that are useful to sewists.

The book also seems kind of betwixt and between. As I alluded to above, it’s similar to the Rain City Publishing books, so it’s good for home-sewists. But it tries to make a stab into more textbook-like detail, and only goes about halfway. I have a couple of college texts on fabrics and fibers. They are dense. They aren’t books that I would recommend to the average sewing enthusiasts. I was a little frustrated that this book started going into more depth, but came up short. It also seems like it can’t decide if it wants to cater to professionals. There’s some great technical information about fibers in here that most home sewists don’t need/care to know but professionals would. And the section on sourcing fabrics is disappointing: it’s not useful for home sewists or pros.

So, Is This Book a Must-Have? A qualified yes. If you don’t have access to the Rain City Books, most definitely. The swatches make all the difference. There are a few minor points that keep it from being a must-buy, but it’s certainly a very, very nice-to-have.

Happy sewing!

I Was Going to Write a Blog Post

But I decided against it.

Seriously. I was going to write a rather long, involved post reviewing several books that I have purchased lately, but I have been so turned off by all the OMG-This-Book-Is-So-Awesome-You-Have-To-Buy-It-Now!!!! reviews that have been popping up around the blogosphere, that I can’t even.

So I’m not going to, even though one of them *cough*Sewaholic*cough* is pretty good. I just can’t because I’m sick to death of blog tours. Is that imprudent of me? Maybe, but The Pressinatrix is tapping me on the shoulder telling me what to type and I have to whack her away like Edna Mode with one of her gate guards…

So my friends, I’m not going to review books right now. Maybe in a few months after all the hoopla has died down I’ll give you my (non-fangrrrrrl) opinions. But for now, let me give you the two books I keep open on my sewing table at almost all times, and if I were to tell you to go out and buy only two sewing books, these would be they:

Vogue Sewing

Mine is old, but the new versions are just as good.

I have a version from lalalalalala I’m not admitting when. Let’s just say it was a Christmas present from my parents when I still lived at home, but the current version is just as good. It’s pretty much my definitive sewing book for the home sewing enthusiast.

The second book is a textbook, which means it is priced like a textbook, which means it is expensive. But it is worth Every. Single. Dime.

Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers by Jules Cole and Sharon Czachor:

If you want to know how industry (and I’m not talking cheap fast fashion) puts clothing together, and gain a greater understanding of the construction process, this is the book I recommend.

These two books will take you from newbie sewist to well beyond intermediate. They are filled with good information well presented and they won’t rot your teeth. That was The Pressinatrix talking. Back, you beast!

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I advertise with Vogue Patterns, and Jules Cole is a friend of mine. But my ownership and admiration of both these books predate both those relationships (in the case of Vogue Patterns, by several decades and with Jules’ book by about 2 years).

If you want to learn to sew, or if you want to expand your skill, or even if you just want to remind yourself of how to do something well, these are the two books I would keep at hand at all times.

I have been sewing my last Wrapapalooza dress (the DVF!) and it’s almost done. Plus I was traveling lately and saw someone who is very dear to my blogging friends so I’ll post about all those shortly. Until then…

Happy sewing!

Tuesday Miscellany

Howdy, campers! It’s been quite the week around here. DS the eldest graduated high school with honors on Sunday…

Seems like only yesterday we were putting him on the kindergarten bus.
Seems like only yesterday we were putting him on the kindergarten bus.

Now that the graduation celebrations are all past us, I have the next project on the cutting table. StyleArc’s Heather dress.
Heather Fixins

The Fabrics I’ll use are Swirl! Stretch Cotton Sateen for the majority of the dress, and Gorgeous! Cotton Satin in Black for the waist accents. I’m working on a muslin of the bodice in my free time (HA!)

Finally, I saw the CUTEST thing!

OMG – how cute is this? Sew Zoey is a book series for middle-school girls. This is a must-give present for the young girls I know.

That’s about all for now. More soon.

Happy sewing!

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had a great holiday season. Much as I love the holidays, I’m always happy to put an end to them. This year was really nice, with one really not nice aspect to it. We had a relatively quiet and very pleasant Christmas, until my sister fell on some black ice and broke her leg in two places. That is NOT the way we were all hoping to end up Christmas. It kind of put a damper on the rest of the holidays. The good news is that she should make a full recovery (touch wood), though it will take a while.

Other than that, it was relatively uneventful. DH took us all up to New Hampshire for a day of skiing on my birthday. Then for New Years, our sons invited a bunch of friends over for a party. They chowed on junk food and Chinese food. They are great kids, and the place wasn’t too terribly trashed afterwards.

Today we took down the tree and I spent much of the day sewing. I’m making Paco Peralta’s Apron Skirt

Paco’s Patterns are beautifully drafted.

using the same blue and black double-faced wool that I used for my Marcy Tilton jacket. Because of the nature of this fabric, I’m having fun with seaming. More on that when I finish it, hopefully this week.

The other thing I’ve been doing a lot of this week is reading. I got several books for Christmas, and I’m about halfway through the first, Grace, a Memoir by Grace Coddington, the creative director at Vogue. If you’ve seen “The September Issue” or “In Vogue, the Editor’s Eye” you know what a fascinating mind she has, and a wicked sense of humor. This book is a great fun read, giving you a front row seat to the goings on in the fashion scene from the 60s to today. It’s illustrated with her fanciful sketches, and there are lots of photos, including some of her more memorable spreads in Vogue, both as a model and as a fashion editor.

The other book I received was My Favourite Dress, a series of essays by lots of different designers and other fashion luminaries, showcasing their favourite dress and recounting why they chose that particular frock. I’m going to dive into that as soon as I finish Grace.

So that’s it for the New Year. I’ll post as soon as I finish Paco’s skirt. I also just got a batch of new patterns from StyleArc that I’m dying to dive into. I guess that gives me a hobby.

Happy sewing!

Hopping on the Soapbox

Be prepared – it’s Ann-rant time. I have been talking with several sewing friends, and all have voiced similar frustration to mine. That is – where the hell are the good sewing books for us? We’re not beginners. We’re not all in our early 20s. We are fashionable. We like looking good. We enjoy challenging sewing projects. But there isn’t much on the market for us.

For example, I spent an afternoon last weekend at my local Barnes & Noble. Of course, I had to check out the sewing books section. What I found there was great for young, beginner level stitchers. For folks like me? Not so much. I don’t sew cute cotton dresses. I’m not interested in patterns and styles that border on twee. I’m not interested in looks that are so cerebral that they border on costume. I tire of the wall of sherbet colored books with titles done in cute fonts that look like hand stitches. Don’t get me wrong. There is clearly a market for these books. I’m just not part of it.

I like to think of myself as an aspirational stitcher. I know how to do all the basics. I can teach the basics, and I can teach a lot of the not-so-basics. What I want is to learn cool new techniques. I want to learn how to do some of the things that I’ve seen on the runways at Fashion Week – things that a real woman could wear. I want to work with difficult fabrics. I want to challenge myself. Pastel dresses? Nope, not for this girl woman.

I already own all the books written by Susan Khalje, Kenneth King, Claire Shaeffer and David Page Coffin. The problem is that they’ve all been around for a while. There isn’t anything new for intermediate to advanced stitchers in the retail market. I’ve taken to collecting college texts. They have more interesting techniques. Zoya Nudelman’s Couture and Julie Cole’s and Sharon Czachor’s Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers are good. Of course, they’re college textbooks, so they are not cheap.

I don’t have a solution, and I haven’t heard of any books coming on the market, but boy, I’d love it if some fabulous couture teacher would put together a book for someone like me. Maybe I’ll write my letter to Santa now, to give him some lead time.

Happy sewing!

Cool Tools and a Holiday Read

Happy Holidays! Whatever you may celebrate, I hope you are having a wonderful time. Being the selfish person that I am, I had to take a break from buying and making gifts for other people (horrors!) to  get something for myself. Merry Christmukka to me! I placed an order with Sew True for some much needed tools and supplies.

Hooks and bars, zipper stops and cloth weights

I was so psyched to see that they had Bar Eyes for hooks! They are almost impossible to find at the chain stores. You can only find loop eyes. Bars are much more useful, because not only can you use them with hooks, you can also use them to stay vents in skirts and jackets. I bought a dozen gross of the hooks and eyes. I should be all set for life now.

Beside those, I got a bunch of zipper stops for shortening zippers at the top or the bottom. Kenneth King turned me on to these, and they can be a godsend, especially when you are dealing with metal zips.

Finally, I got two cloth weights. My laminator, Igor at Quick Fuse, introduced me to them years ago when I was manufacturing bags, and I’ve been jonesing for some ever since. When I went on a tour of the costume department at the Boston Ballet last year, they were using them. They are 4 lb weights that keep your fabric from shifting. I can’t recommend them enough, especially if you’re dealing with long lengths of fabric.

I also got a book from Amazon that I hope to read when I’m on a mini-vacation (not going anywhere, alas, just celebrating another 29th birthday by staying home and sewing) next week. Patternmaking by Dennic Chunman Lo.

I first heard about it on Kathleen Fasanella’s site. I am not a designer, but I do like to try my hand occasionally at patternmaking, more to try to learn new things than any other reason. I’m smitten with this book, based on the 12 pages I’ve read and the other pages I’ve briefly scanned. It looks to have very useful information for someone like me. I’ll report back when I’ve read it.

ETA: Woo Hoo! Simplicity’s Website now Carries Burda Patterns!
In the New To Me department, I was just on Simplicity’s website (looking for patterns to match up with new fabrics I’m putting up) and they are now carrying Burda patterns. Hooray!!!! No more trying to find patterns on’s website. What a nice Christmas present!

Have a wonderful holiday everyone, and happy sewing!

Book Review: Famous Frocks

Title: Famous Frocks: Patterns and Instructions for Recreating Fabulous Iconic Dresses

Authors: Sara Alm & Hannah McDevitt, Illustrations by Kerrie Hess

Publisher: Chronicle Books

ISBN: 9780811877916

Chapter List
General Instructions
The Frocks
Terms, Techniques and Tools

The book includes 10 patterns, one for each frock.

Paperback or Hardbound? Hardbound

Retail Price: $29.95

Does the book have clear illustrations or photographs? Yes indeed. More on that later.

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate this book in the “must have” category? I’d give it a good solid 8, maybe even a 9.

What do you like about this book? Several things. This book encompasses designs from the 1930s to the 1980s. The iconic dresses represent: Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, Twiggy, Diana Ross, Farrah Fawcett, Stevie Nicks and Madonna, so there is something here for most people. I’ll forgo the Marilyn, Twiggy, Stevie and Madonna, but I will definitely give Rita, Jackie, Farrah and Diana a go. It comes with 10 patterns for the dresses. The patterns come in sizes XS (bust 31″) to L (bust 37″). They are printed on paper that is akin to BurdaStyle magazine paper. Heavier than tissue, but lighter than, say, StyleArc paper. The patterns range from beginner level to one advanced level pattern. Most are in the beginner-to-intermediate range.

I like the layout of the book. Beginning stitchers can easily access the basic instructions before delving into the details of each dress. Those of us who have been sewing a while can jump right in with whichever dress style we choose. Each dress style has a brief introduction to the iconic look made famous by the wearer. There are two interpretations of the dress: the “icon” and the more modern “variation”. The pages following the introduction to the dress show technical drawings and a fashion illustration of each version, followed by cutting layouts and sewing instructions. The instructions and illustrations are quite clear and well-thought-out. The next chapter is a glossary/useful tool list. Finally comes a list of sewing resources. It’s easy to read and a very useful resource.

Anything you don’t like? Well I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the resource list is incomplete. 🙂 For instance, where were Gorgeous Fabrics and Fashion Sewing Supply?

Another minor point is that the patterns don’t aim to recreate the iconic dresses line for line. They are more like interpretations of the dresses. Close, modernized interpretations.

So, is this book worth the money?
Yes! I bought this as an advance order. I got it pretty early, perhaps even before it was officially released. I think it’s a great addition to just about any sewing library. I will make some of the patterns at some point, and I’ll review them then. In the meantime, if you are looking for a book to add to your library, or to your Christmas list, I’d definitely recommend this one.

Happy sewing!