Friday, August 8, 2014

4 Sewing Books to Add to Your Sewing Library

This set of four books was chosen for it's range, appeal to all skill levels, and quality of illustration and visuals. These are also new enough to be valid with current sewing machines and most modern textiles. Learning to refer to a quality resource such as these will make any sewing project go more smoothly and with more professional results.

"Why a sewing book? Can't I just use the pattern instructions?" Pattern companies don't include detailed instructions with sewing patterns. While they may suggest a process for construction or what to do first, second and third, they assume the person sewing knows how to sew each technique mentioned. Having a sewing manual will give you step-by-step help when using a sewing pattern.

"Can't I just go online and find the answer there?" Online resources vary from professional educators sharing online with their students, to first time users offering flawed and incomplete advice. Books have editors who make sure that the content is correct. This will save you from wading through the inaccurate technical advice online, and provide a consistent method of sewing.

If you learned to sew in the late 1960's, you no doubt may own one or both of these books. The Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (upper right) is probably the best book on techniques ever published, and while it continues to be edited and published today, it is the older editions, crammed with clearly detailed drawing that make it an all time favorite, first published in 1976. Those early editions include a good chapter on men's tailoring as well as all the basics, including pages on textiles. More recent versions leave out many techniques in favor of big colored photos and simple 'how to' projects. Both costumers and fashion students rely on this hefty book for it's endless coverage of nearly every technique imaginable.

Less comprehensive, The Vogue Sewing Book, (lower left)was designed for more advanced dress making projects, and was known for it's 'couture' techniques. The back end also covers men's tailoring, and the front sections are devoted to showing alterations, style tips and fabric glossary. The first edition was published in 1970.

These two sewing manuals are more recent publications. The Vogue/Butterick: Step-by-Step Guide to Sewing Techniques (left)was published in 1989, and carries on the tradition of step-by-step illustrations to guide the sewist through specific techniques. The drawing are large, clear and have simple descriptions. Unique to book organization, the processes are arranged alphabetically, rather than by method or topic. This publication has had several editions, sometimes with name changes, but it is worth seeking one out, even the oldest ones like this.

Singer: Sewing Step-by-Step (upper right) was an innovative publication in its day, due to the inclusion of many fine tuned photos, rather than drawings or diagrams, that illustrated the sewing techniques. Published in 1990, it was part of a huge project under the Singer name to produce a wide range of step-by-step books on a many sewing topics. You will often find other books from this series, and all are worth owning.

Content for this Step-by-Step tries to cover alot of territory, so it is not a deep study of sewing, more a good companion for the newer sewist. Topics such as: activewear, tailoring and heirloom sewing are included. For those new to sewing, the photos are a big help, and answer many questions that a drawing might not. A large portion of the book is dedicated to home decorating projects, a good move on their part because this was becoming the newest trend in home sewing. So if you are also seeking some tips for curtains, drapes, and bed coverings, this publication may be helpful.

While it's impossible to specify only four great sewing books, I will put these up as four of the best sewing books published since 1970. Why 1970? That was probably the 'Golden Era' of home sewing. Using domestic sewing machines that were available with zig-zag and could sew knits, it was possible to create nearly anything desired. These sewing books were introduced into classrooms, workshops and sat on nearly every living room bookcase, and all four have value today for current sewing projects.

Do I have other books that I like to use? Yes, of course. I find that the pre-1970 sewing texts have a charm and provide insight into techniques we don't use often today, but might if we knew more about them. I will share some of those in another post. As for new books, I have used some, especially those published by the major textbook companies that are worth owning as well, so I will share those later too.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

6 EASY TO SEW Shift Dresses

Finding a good easy to sew dress pattern for a new sewist can be frustrating. The styles can be bland and boring or the pattern design is really alot more complicated that it looks. Here are six dresses that can get someone new to sewing started with a dress that is cute, fashionable and fun to sew.

This blog post started with a letter asking me if I knew of a sewing pattern that might make up into a dress currently sold online. I took a look at the dress (by Jones New York) and saw that it is a perfect style for anyone to sew.

The basic silhouette is a loose fitting shift style (not fitted by darts or seam lines), and there are no set-in sleeves to worry about. The design has great 'blocking' with stripes used on the horizontal at the hem and shoulders, while they are vertical in the torso (how flattering!). I also like the idea of sewing a loose fitting shift dress as a first project because often the back zipper can be eliminated, making it a 'pull-over' style. The horizontal seam lines in the skirt and upper body will need to be added to some patterns.  Here are the best six sewing patterns to choose from.

The two dresses above stood out as being most like the original dress: Butterick 5211 and Vogue 1300. The Butterick dress is just about perfect for this project as it already shows a horizontal seam across the upper body, no back zipper, and short 'kimono' sleeves. Very similar, the Vogue dress has shorter 'sleeves'. The front cascade ruffle on this pattern can be eliminated by taping the two front pieces together to make a single front pattern piece. Both patterns will need to have the hem panel cut across the lower skirt.

A more curvacious figure will probably look better with bustline darts. These two patterns include those fitting darts. The pattern at the right, Vogue 8805 is ready to go, with both hem panel and upper body seams. The 'shoulder width' may be cut back to create a short sleeve if desired. McCalls 6465 on the left also has a hem panel. It differs in that set-in sleeves are used. The fit of a set-in sleeve is closer to the body and may appeal to someone who wants a more controlled fitting shift silhouette. Both have a seamless back and don't require a zipper.

These two dresses show vertical seam lines that will create a closer fitting dress that can be used for color blocking, but will not be suitable for stripes because of the several seams down the front.. Clearly they are for a more experienced sewist, Vogue 1390 and 8786. The style of 1390 still shows a strong horizontal banding at hem and shoulder, while it has vertical seam lines to create a better fit for more sizes. Vogue 8786 shows classic princess seam lines from a shoulder yoke that could be sewn in a contrast color with an added hemline panel. While this does have those additional princess seams, it is not a complex dress to sew.

So choose among these 6 shift dresses to find the style and degree of difficulty that you want. This could become your 'go to' dress pattern!

Here are two more blog posts you might be interested in that also talk about sewing dresses:

7 Best Sheath Dress Patterns with Vintage Style: Easy to Sew

9 Best Dress Patterns for Beginners: Easy to Sew

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Let's Talk About: Textiles and Fashion History

The history of fashion and textiles are interdependent. At at any given moment in time, apparel and fabrics available are tied to many factors such as: the economy, technical developments, design trends, labor issues and government policies. Having a good understanding of the history of textiles, from weaving methods to innovations, will give the fashion designer or vintage collector a better understanding of the relationship between fabric the the apparel worn at any time in history.

It may seem logical that the silhouette of a fashion trend is created through the selection of a specific textile weight, weave or knit, and fiber, but what is less known is that the availability of the essential fabric is equally important for a fad or trend to become widespread.

The study of twentieth century fashion often gives textile history and development only a brief glance. When dating a garment, knowledge of fibers and weaves is an important tool towards 'guessing' the decade or date of that fashion. All too often vintage collectors or sellers will state a garment's date in error due to the fact that the fiber or weave was not available as a fashion fabric during that era.

This can go even further: the dates for modern synthetic fibers are listed, but those dates give the patent or invention date, not the era when the mills were actually able to re-tool and create that fiber into fabric. Often the practical use of a fiber comes long after its invention. Wars, economic hardship, import duties and embargoes, and labor issues also affect the use of a specific textile as a fashion fabric.

To help unravel the history of modern textiles, has posted a terrific resource by Yancy S. Gilkerson on the story of textile manufacturing and development from 1887 through 1960. This is written in seven extensive chapters available online through their website. Current events, labor and manufacturing issues are included along with fashion industry influences. This story connects the apparel industry to textile manufacturing in a meaningful way, and is something everyone who works or plays with fashion history, costume or fashion design and wants to know more about it should put on their reading list.

HISTORY of TEXTILES from Textile chapter links

1887 - 1900: Textile Industry Meets the Demand of a Booming US Population

1900 - 1910: Mills Prolifereate and Profits Grow Until 1908 Panic

1910 - 1920: New Technology, Unions and World War I Leave a Mark on Textiles

1920 - 1930: The Roaring Twenties, Recession, Boom and Depression

1930 - 1940: The Country and the Industry Pull-out of the Depression

1940 - 1950: War Effort Brings Maximum Production and Post War Boom

1950 - 1960: The Quiet 50's: Most Revolutionary Decade

The title illustration shows examples of 20th century dress silhouettes that were dependent upon the type of textile available and popular during its era. From top left: Black 'shimmy dress' c. late 1980's or early 1990's (textile: spandex mesh), Calico print dress, c. late 1930's (textile: rayon), Tropical print sheath dress, c. late 1950's or early 1960's (textile: sateen weave cotton), black dress, c. early 1950's (textile: rayon chiffon), lavender dress, c. early 1980's (textile: polyester jersey knit), brown dress, c. 1970 (textile: polyester double knit)

This original article on fashion is part 10 of an education series on Fashion Design called "Let's Talk About:" that is original to Pintucks.

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