Book Review: The Collection by Gioia Diliberto

415%2BXDWLSfL. AA240  Book Review: The Collection by Gioia Dilibertofrom sarah the sewist

Taking a brief break from our regular programming here at Sewer-Sewist…

If you’re in need of a good read, but don’t want to break away from the sewing completely, take a look at The Collection by Gioia Diliberto. There aren’t a lot of books around that actually feature sewing as a plot device. (In fact, if you can think of any, particularly any that are actually good, let us know, and we’ll compile a list.) Not only is sewing central to the plot, it’s truly the catalyst for the story, with the first line in the book being, “Instead of dying, I learned to sew.” You gotta love that.

Anyway, this book tells the story of a seamstress in post-WWI Paris, who has joined the House of Chanel (as in Coco) just as fashion is becoming relevant again. While there are several fascinating subplots involving personal relationships, the outrageousness of Coco Chanel and the energy of Paris at the time, what I was most enthralled with was the story of the creation of a very special dress for “the collection.” This dress is just one of those projects, the ones that never end, if you know what I mean. Isabelle, the main character, even names the dress—Angeline. For whatever reason, probably because I sew myself, I just was rooting for this dress to work out. I won’t say much more about it, because if the saga of the dress, too, fascinates you, I don’t want to spoil it.

I thought this book would simply be a fun read, but it was honestly absolutely captivating. It’s more than the summer beach reading that I thought it would be. Because of the book jacket and some of the overly-embellished reviews, I had a vision that it would be something like Sex in the City post-WWI Chanel style. I was very wrong. This was not a fluffy read at all. Definitely it is a curl up next to the fire on a cold winter night type of novel.

It’s also worth mentioning that this book seems to be very historically accurate and well-researched. There’s a pretty comprehensive bibliography, that would probably be well worth a look if you’re interested in fashion history. I also think that with the holidays coming up this would be a thoughtful gift for someone who loves sewing or fashion.

Check your favorite local bookstore for The Collection, or virtually visit my favorite, Powell’s (this is my frame of reference for what a bookstore should be—we’re so spoiled here in Portland).

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