Book Review: French General Home Sewn

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Cover of Kaari Meng's French General Home Sewn, published by Chronicle.

Chronicle Books’ latest sewing offering, French General Home Sewn: 30 Projects for Every Room in the House, is a unique sewing project book from Kaari Meng, owner of the well-known store in L.A., French General (you can visit her blog here). (I figure it’s pretty well-known, since I’ve actually heard of it.) Part tour of the vintage French aesthetic, part sewing book, this is an appealing book for folks who are Francophiles or fabric collectors, in addition to those looking for unique designs for sewing useful and decorative home items.

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Every sewing book should include a pet bed.

This book was on my radar initially because I did judge a book by its cover. It looked so incredibly attractive, and visually very distinctive (I am slightly obsessed with design). In that area, Home Sewn did not disappoint. From the cover, which has an unusual fabric-y texture, to the hand-sketches of the project instructions, there is no doubt that this is a book inspired by the French aesthetic. Each project is even named in both French and English.

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Floral cocktail coasters made from 5-inch squares of fabric--a perfect project for using up remnants.

However, the sewing projects and innovative use of special fabrics are really what make Home Sewn stand out. Kaari Meng is a collector of vintage and antique French fabrics–and she has been doing so for years, “whether they are small scraps or large panels.” You may have noticed that I love Japanese fabrics, especially those designed by Etsuka Furyura. Sadly, they’re also quite expensive, and so it would be more cost-effective to purchase small quantities. This book is full of ideas for small pieces of fabrics, from the coasters pictured above, to small lavender-filled cushions. So, if you have an affinity for distinctive, and expensive, fabrics, there are a number of projects in Home Sewn that could fit your needs.

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My favorite project in Home Sewn--simple wall hangings and a shaped banner.

There are several projects that I haven’t seen in other sewing books, such as a shower curtain and a bath mat. While these are very basic projects, it’s the discussion of the usage of materials that really shines here. She recommends using natural hemp. Why? Because hemp fibers are naturally absorbent and fast-drying, which makes it ideal for bathroom projects. What a nice alternative to the plastic-y stuff that dominate mass-produced bathroom textiles.

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Quick-Dry Bath Mat: The striped ticking adds a bit of style to this simple project.

And that speaks further to my earlier point about Meng’s book–it’s definitely a book that’s written more with the fabric-lover in mind, rather than a more sewing focused work. While the projects are generally quite clever unique interpretations of really useful everyday items (the fact that the projects are focused on items that you actually need is a huge bonus in my mind), fabrics really take center stage in this book. Even when the projects utilize very simple, unprinted textiles.

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Scalloped tablecloth made with hemp fabric.

I was thrilled to see a different interpretation of “Party Banners” in this book—these are lined and, in the beautiful vintage French fabrics used in the book, could really be a wonderful decorative addition to a home office or guest room. (Full disclosure: I have party banners hanging in my home office.)

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Hooray for party banners!!!

There is an added bonus to Home Sewn if you’re mad for embroidery (I’m looking at both of you, AverageJaneCrafter and my mom). There are many intricate, vintage-looking embroidery patterns included with the patterns in Home Sewn. They’re meant to mimic the look of the embroidery on antique linens. There’s also a perfectly respectable step-by-step of basic embroidery stitches.

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Directions page.

A note on the book’s design and presentation: As much as I really love this book (I will probably make a number of the projects as I need housewares), this is another book in which I wish there’d been a bit more attention to the way in which the book is designed from the user’s perspective. Like so many craft books, the font is rather small and lightweight, which is difficult when you’re sewing. I generally glance down at the directions while I’m doing other sewing prep, and if the font were one point larger (which would make the book longer, and therefore more expensive, which isn’t a good thing either), it would be much easier to read. My other gripe is that, despite the absolutely stunning photography, some of the projects are hard to see completely in the photos, and it’s hard to get a sense of the scale and how some of the projects should look when finished. But would I trade the almost coffee-table book look of Home Sewn for boring pictures? Nope. Also, beginning sewers and sewists should be aware that there are not a large number of drawings accompanying the projects, although there are a few for each one. This doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, for straightforward projects like these, they’re just a bonus. However, if you’re used to the beginner-level books that have a lot of detailed illustration and instruction, be forewarned. Personally, I think you don’t need a lot of illustrations once you’ve got the basics of sewing down.

Despite those relatively minor criticisms, Home Sewn is really a winner of a sewing book. It is very, very different from anything else out there. It not only educated me about the French aesthetic, it got me thinking about new ways to utilize my favorite fabrics, about the benefits of collecting small pieces of really special textiles and about the beauty in elegant touches added to simple, everyday items.

If you’re a stationary fan, there is also lovely stationary that’s been developed as well. You can check it out here. Also, during the month of November, Kaari Meng is hosting a stash-busting contest with a really swell prize. You can get more details right here.

~Sarah

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: French General Home Sewn

  1. Thanks Sarah for such a wonderfully thorough review of our latest book, Home Sewn. I too think the type is just a wee bit small – hopefully, we will bump it up a notch or two in our upcoming craft books. I am so happy you found a new way to use some of your beautiful small scraps!
    Kaari

  2. Pingback: CraftyPod » Blog Archive » Review: Home Sewn

  3. I have bags of upholstery samples that I’ve been considering giving away. Perhaps some of the projects in the book would help me use them up (ummm, I have too many craft books, also…)

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