Winner! City Quilts Blog Tour

Screen shot 2010 08 30 at 5.25.39 PM Winner! City Quilts Blog Tour

Hi all! We got a little lax around here and completely spaced drawing a winner in the City Quilts blog tour. Better late than never, eh? Thanks to the wonders of, we picked a number and our winner is Susan Spiers, who said,

I live out in the country, quite opposite from city living! I always am inspired by the colors of nature, shades of greens in the bushes & trees and the bright colors of flowers!

Susan, we’ll be emailing you to get your shipping info for all the goodies you’re getting!

Thanks to everyone who participated in this and all the stops on the tour. If you haven’t read through the comments about when people drawn their inspiration, please do–they’re truly wonderful. And, of course, if you haven’t yet picked up a copy of Cherri’s wonderful book, City Quilts, please do. (It was recently #1 in its category, so, clearly, all the cool kids are buying it) It’s a must-have in any sewer, quilter or fabric lover’s library. And I’m not just saying that because Cherri (and her wonderful daughter Lizzy) is one of my favorite fabric-y friends.

~S & J

Join Us on the City Quilts Blog Tour

107222 Join Us on the City Quilts Blog TourWe are thrilled to be hosting a stop on our friend Cherri House‘ blog tour for her beautiful book, City Quilts, published by C & T under their new “Stash” imprint.

Each blog host will also feature a Q&A with City Quilts author, Cherri House. Here are the participating blogs and dates–there’s a great mix in here.

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Images from City Quilts (Image Courtesy C & T Publishing)

Cherri’s book is a wonderful for non-quilters (or seldom-quilters such as ourselves), because she pays so much attention to concepts such as color values and the way fabrics interact with each other. Furthermore, city-lovers will adore how Cherri translates the urban environment into cloth and stitches. We’ll be talking with Cherri about her book, men who quilt and stitch and the joys of running a business built around your passions.

We also have a sweet giveaway on this–and every–stop on the tour.  C & T is giving away a copy of the book on each stop and Robert Kaufman will be awarding the lucky winner a gorgeous stack of fat quarter solids (yum!). We’ll be adding something to this giveaway as well.

We’re looking forward to seeing you on the 20th–and make sure to visit all of the stops on the tour while you’re at it.

~S & J

Book Review: Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross

3470014422 6614f56f30 m Book Review: Weekend Sewing by Heather RossI have been pretty much over-the-moon excited about Heather RossWeekend Sewing book for a year–ever since I saw the proofs at an event at Bolt here in Portland when Heather was in town for Quilt Market. Well, it finally hit the shelves, and boy was it worth the wait!

I love that Weekend Sewing is a real sewing book. Not to dog on any of the fine sewing books out there, but many of them are definitely geared toward beginner sewers or are more on the quick craft project or learn-to-sew end of the sewing spectrum. Few are actually down and dirty sewing books. Weekend Sewing is. And that rocks. As a very experienced sewer, I am thrilled to see a more comprehensive sewing book out in the market.

Before I get into talking about the the actual sewing projects in the book, I’d like to quickly touch on one of my favorite items Heather writes about in Weekend Sewing–setting up your sewing space. This is the second book on my shelf that really does a nice job of that (Anna Maria Horner’s Seams to Me is the other one–although she has a different approach). Heather focuses on utilizing limit space effectively to creative a functional, personalize sewing space. This is something that we don’t have at our house–the dining table is the epicenter of our projects. My favorite method for organizing your sewing space that Heather discusses is using a computer cabinet to store all your goodies–including your sewing machine and ironing board. However, I also really like this compact, yet very function expandable desk set-up. (I definitely need one of those boards like in this photo up on the wall of my home office/someday sewing room, by the way.)

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So onto the projects…

There are basically three types of projets in Weekend Sewing–home decorating projects, clothing/wearables and kids stuff. Being that I’m primarily a garment and accessories sewer, the clothing/wearables projects are by far my favorites. So I’m going to focus on that section here–the homewares and kids sections have been well covered in other reviews, anyway.

This bag, for example kind of rocks my world. In fact, I really think I need to make a sweet red pleather version for myself. (The original uses leather.)

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The “Summer Blouse” really is a perfect go-everywhere blouse for, well, the summer. I had a blouse that I loved that was almost identical in design for years and years that finally fell apart last year–I’m hoping that this will be just the pattern to use in its resurrection. This would also be incredibly cute lengthened, with a belt at the waist, and maybe left sleeveless for a dressy, comfortable summer look.

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And more summer cuteness (this was a perfectly-timed release, seasonally speaking), the Trapeze Dress is freaking adorable. It’s another one that could be eaily modified–I’d like it shorted to tunic length and worn over jeans myself. (Like everyone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest in the early nineties, dresses over jeans still seem like a totally legit option. I know it looks dorky, but I am always getting the urge to combine those two things.)

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Each of the clothing projects continues this theme–easy to wear, highly-adaptable designs. And that makes me very happy, because it really demonstrates that Heather understands sewers. We don’t just want to sew up a cute project out a a book or pattern–we want to make it our own, adapt it to fit our lifestyle and what looks flattering on us. The clothing patterns each provide a great base from which we can become more creative and develop our own unique versions of the patterns in Weekend Sewing. And, from reading Heather’s blog, I’ve got to believe that it’s entirely intentional.

A few more random notes before I tell you that Weekend Sewing is a must-buy.

  • The book has large sheets of overlapping patterns. You can’t cut these out. Heather provides instruction on using tracing paper to trace them. For my Burda World of Fashion magazine patterns, I use fused together wax paper, which makes large, transparent sheets. You may want to try this out. I find it is easier to work with than tracing paper–you may too. (Honestly, it’s a good habit to get into–tracing your patterns rather than cutting–because it’s easier to make alterations if you don’t have to worry about destroying your only copy of a pattern.)
  • There are a few errors (or helpful notes that should have been included) in the book, please check the errata before you sew.
  • While the patterns I was most excited about are the more complicated ones (the shirtdress, bag, kimono dress, etc), there are plenty in Weekend Sewing that would be appropriate for complete beginners–particularly the projects in the home and kids sections. There’s also a helpful “Sewing Basics” section at the end of the book.
  • My only complaint is that there isn’t a single men’s pattern in Weekend Sewing (well, I guess there is a little boy’s shirt, but that’s not really the same). I know that the perception is that there aren’t enough men who sew or women who sew for men to justify it, but sometimes that feels like a chicken or egg scenario–I know I would sew more for Josh if there were more good patterns to sew from, and I’m sure that Josh would enjoy sewing more if there were more interesting, well-designed choices. I know Josh struggles with finding good patterns for men, and I find it irritating that if I want to make something for Josh, there are only like five decent men’s patterns out there (seriously–the selection is awful)–that gets boring pretty quickly.
  • Let’s give a hand to STC/Melanie Falick Books for continuing to strike a great balance between appealing to casual crafters and hardcore aficionados of particular mediums–they did it with Weekend Sewing, the Alabama Stitch Book, Material Obsession and Printing by Hand; and I hear that their knitting books strike a similar balance as well. This is a tough thing to do, and they just keep bringing it with great offerings.

With all that said, this is one of those books that I think most sewers would want on their bookshelf.


More Buttony Goodness

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Some of the original projects from "Button it Up." I got to pick a necklace to wear during the event--I sort of felt like Angelina Jolie borrowing fancy jewelry for the People's Choice Awards.

No, it hasn’t gotten to be all buttons, all the time here, but Josh and I have both been sick with various bugs–again–so we still haven’t had much of a chance to do much in the way of projects or photograph a few (now) oldies for Sewer-Sewist. I’ve also not had a chance to take pictures of my progress on my colossal project for my letterpress class through PNCA’s Continuing Education program, but I’m going to go to some printing tomorrow, so hopefully, I’ll have an update for you soon! (Hint: My big project is looking like it’s going to be bad-ass.) Anyway… I just had to share some of the pictures from last night’s awesome event in support of Susan Beal’s new book, Button it Up. (Yeah, I’ve mentioned it once or twice.)

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Three of my button hairclip creations. I love these. They also reminded me that I need to accessorize more often.

Susan’s event was at the Best Bookstore in the World (aka Powell’s Books here in Portland) and was loads of fun. Not only did we get to hear all about buttons and check out the original projects from the book, Susan brought along the supplies for a really marvelous little project–hairclips embellished with buttons. It was so fun getting together with folks and working on this simple project. I honestly think I could have made button clips all night–if I’d had my way, they probably would have had to kick me out of Powell’s, clutching the tube of Dazzle Tack in one hand, vintage buttons in the other.

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I love the clip on the right--Michelle snagged those buttons out of the pile and said, "These so look like you." And she was right. I wore this clip around today.

It was also lovely getting to catch up with some cool folks from around our area–and it reminded me how fortunate we are to live in a community that really fosters such creativity. In addition to Susan, I got to chat with the undeniable Queen of Craftiness Diane, Knitter Extraordinaire Lee (who also took the crown for “Best Dressed”–check it out), Baking Phenom Caitlin and my fellow member of the Blazers Craft Posse (yeah, we definitely need T-shirts), Michelle. (Y’all know about my love of assigning random nicknames to people, right?)

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Three different sets of fingers digging into a rainbow of buttons.

Oh, and Caitlin and I “styled” this part of the display.

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It's sort of hard to believe all these beautiful pieces are made with something as simple as buttons. It kind of blows my mind, even though I've seen a number of the items before.

I totally think that we knocked it out of the park–we could totally get jobs doing window displays at Anthropologie based on our skills here.

It was loads of fun, and reminded me of the importance of taking a bit of time to do something simple, like make a little hairclip for yourself. I felt a nice bit of creative revitalization, and I think everyone else did as well.

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Don't you just want to plunge your fingers into all those buttons and play with them?

You can check out all of my pictures from the event over on this Flickr photoset.

Also, there’s still an opportunity to come do some buttony crafting with Susan and pick up a signed copy of her book. The Best Fabric Shop Ever (aka Bolt in Portland’s awesome Concordia neighbor, right on Alberta Street) is hosting a book event where you can also make a bit of buttony goodness to take home next weekend. As a double-bonus, everyone who buys the book at the event at Bolt will get their own sampler bag of vintage buttons to take home–so you can get started with your own button projects right away. Get the details here and here. As a triple-bonus, Bolt is a unique independent sewing shop, so if you haven’t been there before, you’re in for a real treat.


Another Reason to Love Buttons

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What’s this? Two posts in one day? Be still my beating heart! (Although the first was definitely “unplanned posting,” so I’m not sure if that really counts.)

In case my review of Susan‘s new book didn’t give you enough reason to love buttons, here’s another–this really charming necklace that the aforementioned Susan dropped off at the house last night. But, before I get into the awesomeness that is this necklace, I have got to say that this is one of the reasons Susan is such a gem–she’s always finding or making things for other people–and they’re always things that are just “perfect.” For example, shortly after we met Susan and her lovely family, she gave us this awesome cocktail trail with a New Mexico motif on it. She’d purchased it before she met us, and said something along the lines of, “When I bought it, I didn’t know whose it was supposed to be, but then when I met you guys, I knew who the tray’s owners were.” She’s also the queen scavenger of vintage Trail Blazers paraphernalia as well–and I have definitely reaped the benefits of that. You can check out a couple of her finds that she’s passed on to me here and here. Or better yet, you can admire her own handiwork right here. My point is, that’s just the sort of exceptionally thoughtful person Susan is, and I really, really appreciate it. So, I’m reciprocating in my own way, by encouraging you to check out her book.When she gave me the necklace, she had no idea I would post it here, she just said that when she was making it that it looked like me. (Which is totally does–it has an almost Marimekko element to it that I love, love, love.) It even perfectly matches my favorite pair of spectacles.

Anyway, back to this necklace–which is definitely one of the the coolest things ever. Sure, it’s made from buttons, which rocks. But, not only is it made from buttons, Susan made the freaking buttons herself! Which might be a little crazy, but is also awesome. You can learn how to make your own buttons just like this over on Susan’s post on CraftStylish, and then get the instructions for making the necklace, plus two other styles, on this post. It looks like loads of fun–plus, how long has it been since you’ve played with shrinky-dink?

So, as you’ve probably noticed, I’m going to continue my little one-woman campaign to encourage you to buy Button it Up (it would make me super-happy if you’d consider buying it from your local, independent bookshop, too).  I can’t help it–I’m a “public relations professional,” promotion’s ingrained in me, I guess. (Although, if I can be introspective and random for a moment, I rarely ever promote myself–I’ve been trying to more lately, but it’s really hard.) I know economy’s crap–trust me, I know–but it’s a relatively inexpensive book, with great bang for the buck, since it includes some 80 projects. And, as I mentioned in the original review, the vast majority of the projects can be created with things you have on hand–since I know we sewers and sewists love to hold onto our favorite buttons!

And, since I’ve got a captive audience here, a reminder that Susan’s also got a couple of events coming up here in Portland in support of Button it Up. You can get the details here. There will be lots of crafty fun–you can be sure of it!


Buy This Book: “Button it Up” by Susan Beal

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Cover of "Button it Up," by my awesome pal Susan. Aside from the fact this is a unique new book, I really love the cover. I am a terrible one for judging a book by its cover, and Taunton did a lovely job with this design--it's very eye-catching and energetic.

I’m not even going to try to pretend to be unbiased in this review, I’m just going to try to give you a bunch of reasons why you should buy my friend Susan Beal‘s awesome new book, Button it Up: 80 Amazing Vintage Button Projects. While I’ve only recently amassed a collection of buttons (thanks, Bryan), I have always loved buttons, especially those of a vintage nature. This book, will certainly get your mind going about how to utilize the buttons in your collection in new and different ways.

Susan is a true button aficionado. Button it Up begins with a sweet introduction from her about her button memories as a child, playing with both of her grandmothers’ button stashes. As I was getting ready to write this post, I looked back on some of Susan’s old West Coast Crafty posts about this book, and I was struck by how many comments on this post in particular connected with a similar memory. It seems that there is something nearly universal about a childhood fascination with buttons, and this book is a warm reminder of that.

If you’re familiar with Susan’s jewelry-making book, Bead Simple (a well put together and highly approachable book, if you’re interested in jewelry making), you’ll appreciate that Button it Up follows a similar format–lots of great “recipes” (that’s how I think of them) for making unique projects, this time using buttons. This is definitely one of the strengths of the book–it gives you all the tools you need to unleash your own creativity–not simply replicate a project from the book. Also like Bead Simple, Button it Up is really enhanced by the presence of some really talented guest designers that bring their own flair to some unique button projects.

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This simple pendant could be customized in any number of ways using vintage buttons you've found.

Since Susan’s a jewelry designer extraordinaire, many of the projects (did I mention there are 80 of them?) are jewelry designs. I love the idea of showing off a love of sewing by creating jewelry with sewing’s most varied and fun notion. Buttons really are the accessories for our clothing, so why not have them serve as our, well, accessories?

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The simple plastic circles combined with retro buttons come together as a fun necklace.

Love buttons, but aren’t familiar with jewelry making techniques? No fear here–the introduction to Button it Up covers all the basic skills. Materials such as wire, chain, glues and findings are all discussed in a very straightforward manner, so you can feel very confident flipping to a project you want to try out and knowing that the resources you need to be successful in your project are right there in the book. As someone who hasn’t messed around with jewelry making since I was a teenager, I’m very grateful that this instructional section is so thorough.

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Definitely my favorite design in Button it Up -- circle chain combined with vibrant red buttons create a new take on the old school charm bracelet.

But it’s not all jewelry–there’s something fabulous for any maker who loves vintage buttons. There are chapters devoted to both “Housewares” and “Accessories, Embellishments and Gifts.” Since a number of the vintage buttons I acquired are singletons, these projects are great because they mostly don’t require matched sets of buttons, as do a number of the jewelry projects (although, in fairness, you don’t need matched buttons for the jewelry projects and quite a few are pendants, etc, that don’t need multiples). These are a few of my favorites from those sections:

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A simple embellished T-shirt looks fresh with a cluster of unique vintage buttons sewn on--almost like a nouveau brooch.

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These hairclips are simply charming, and--depending on the buttons you use--could be elegant for adults or fun and playful for little ones.

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Sigh... Someday, we will decorate for the holidays and make wonderful handmade items to celebrate the season. I love this button wreath. (So if anyone wants to make it for us--since we're so crummy at the whole holiday spirit thing...)

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I love that this toy features covered buttons--which is one of my favorite button styles, since I'm such a fabric lover. Could this owl project be any cuter? I don't think so.

I’m sure that there will be lots of reviews of Button it Up in advance of its official release date this coming Tuesday, so I’m not going to belabor the point about how fun and inspiring all of the projects are. But as I was looking through the book, I was struck by something else, something more practical: The projects in Button it Up are extremely accessible from a financial perspective. I own a lot of craft books–mostly sewing, printmaking and funky DIY-type books. Looking through a lot of those books, many are not particularly sensitive to the costs of the projects, and have a fairly high cover price. It’s not something that I’ve really thought about before, but given the current financial landscape, there’s something appealing on a very practical level about an inspiring book that helps empower you to create with what you have. Not only is the cover price of Button it Up very reasonable ($21.95 list), but there are 80 projects in this freaking thing. 80! That’s 27 cents a project. And looking through the supplies you need, these are items you may already own–if you’re a button collector or a sewer/sewist who tends to pick up a card of buttons here are there to have on hand–or can easily find at rummage sales and thrift stores and in the bulk jars at your independent fabric retailer; the things you may need to purchase are basic, easy-to-locate, inexpensive items like glues and wire. That’s really refreshing. In fact, because of this, I think Button it Up would be a great resource for a crafty afternoon with friends or family–have a potluck, bring some buttons to trade and share and use this book to create some fun, affordable, one-of-a-kind projects together. Sounds fun to me.

If you’re local to Portland, Susan’s having a couple of fun events for the book. The first will be at Powell’s on March 20 at 7:30 p.m. and the second will be in our ‘hood (Whoohoo, Concordia!), over at one of my favorite places in the world, Bolt Fabric Boutique on Alberta on March 28 at 4:00 p.m. Susan tells me that she’s got some simple projects planned for both of these events, so you’ll be able to make your own button item to take home with you. Anyone who buys a copy of the book from Bolt will get a vintage button grab bag and I hear there will also be an awesome door prize as well (I’ve been to the Bolt events before–the door prize is always amazing.). Finally, Susan’s set up a web site for Button it Up that you’ll want to check out.

Honestly, even if Susan wasn’t a friend, I would tell you to go buy this book (at your local independent bookstore, if it all possible).


Book Review: Seams to Me by Anna Maria Horner

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Anna Maria Horner's first book, Seams to Me, is exactly what you'd expect from this popular fabric designer.

One of the sewing books that I’d really looked forward to much of this year is Anna Maria Horner’s Seams to Me: 24 New Reasons to Love Sewing, which was released by Wiley in October. Anna Maria is one of my favorite fabric designers–I love the highly artistic graphics she utilizes in combination with vibrant colors. The result is a rich, bold and distinctive aesthetic that’s modern and fresh. When Seams to Me arrived in our mailbox, I was not surprised that the cover practically screamed “Anna Maria.” And the contents follow suit.

The first section, “Getting Started,” is a great introduction for new sewers and offers lots of tips and reminders for those of us old hands. For example, there’s an excellent page and a half of guidance on choosing and buying a sewing machine. My mother happened to be looking for a new machine after killing hers in a very abusive fashion right around when I got Seams to Me, and she found this advice very helpful:

The best machine for you is the one that keeps you inspired to try new things but doesn’t overwhelm you.

While that’s fairly simple advice, it is also advice that really holds true–and it proved helpful to my mom as she was making her decision about a new machine. This section also contains some excellent thoughts on setting up a comfortable sewing area, particularly making sure your setup is ergonomically appropriate. Anna Maria also covers some important concepts often overlooked in sewing books that are geared toward a broad audience (as this one is): good pressing, cutting tools and importance of using the right tools for your pinning, sewing and marking needs. Even advanced sewers and sewists need this reminder every so often. She even shares her clever trick for making perfect circles–which she dubs “Super Circles.”

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A page from the "Cooking with Color" section of Seams to Me. Anna Maria explains how three basic formulas can create wildly different effects, depending on the tone and pattern of your chosen fabric.

The final piece in this first section that really stands out to me as unique is her Anna Maria’s focus on combining colors–which she calls “Color Recipes.” She has three basic formulas for “Cooking with Color”–Monochromatic, Monocromatic with an Accent and Multicolored–and demonstrates quite well how these recipes can be applied in various ways to create radically different outcomes. While my initial impression was that these formulas would primarily benefit quilters and home decorators, after reflecting on it some more, I can definitely see some applications in the garment sewing that I do–especially when planning trims and accents.

Of the twenty-four projects in Seams to Me, seventeen are for home accessories or decorating items–only seven are garments or fashion accessories, two of which are (extremely cute) little girls items. As primarily a garment sewer, this is somewhat disappointing, although not surprising. This seems to be about the ratio in every general sewing book. It’s much more difficult and expensive to produce patterns for clothing with all the sizes required, and much more room for error in pattern drafting. With that said, the items in the “Stylize” chapter are really quite attractive, with one notable problem that I’ll discuss in a minute.

First, both bags are über-cute. (Because you can never, ever have too many bag patterns.)

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Taxi Tote: I really like the simple shape of this bias tape-trimmed shoulder bag. (I also think that the model in this photo may have stolen one of my outfits. That so looks like a combination I would put together.)

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I'll Have One of Everything Bag: This bag is constructed using small pieces of eight different fabrics--a great way to experience with the "Color Recipes" in Seams to Me.

I was also happy to see that the skirt “pattern” in this book is actually a formula, much like that in Sew What Skirts, for making a custom A-line skirt for your exact measurements. This is one of those things that really everyone who sews with any regularity should know how to do, in my opinion. I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed someone at the pattern counter who is wanting to learn how to sew who is asking the (often grumpy) salesperson for recommendations on an A-line skirt pattern so they can learn to sew. The custom skirt route is so much more forgiving fit-wise (since you draft it for your measurements), and I think that the investment in time creating a well-fitting skirt pattern can potentially encourage people to keep at sewing. Whereas so many of the big pattern companies have so many crazy fit issues that a beginner is fairly likely to get frustrated–especially when they find out that their measurements equal three or four sizes larger in sewing pattern sizing than they do in ready-to-wear. Two big thumbs up for this!

With that said, however, Anna Maria should have either 1) omitted the “Smashing Smock” or 2) given it the attention it deserves. It’s a very cute sleeveless yoked top, but it only comes in a medium (no size chart included, that I could find). As we know, one person’s medium is another’s extra-large is another’s small, so the label “medium” is essentially meaningless. Also, while Anna Maria included very comprehensive and methodologically-sound instructions for enlarging and shrinking the pattern, it’s such a fussy maneuver that I fear it will turn most readers off of this particular pattern. And, while the pattern will be modified successfully using those instructions (since it’s a loose, boxy style), it bothers me that the modifications don’t include a discussion of the fact that for most pattern you would need to grade the pattern to modify it, rather than just enlarging it. I would hate for someone to apply this technique to a fitted blouse because it worked for a boxy smock. You would end up with gaping armholes and a neckline that folds over onto itself.  The child’s “Prairie Blouse” (which is adorable) is modified the same way, and measurements are also omitted for that pattern as well. I realize I’m far more advanced and particular about fit in garments that most people who will be using Seams to Me to make either of these tops, but it’s still somewhat disappointing. (I also wish that the “Prairie Blouse” was the adult blouse because I love raglan sleeves, but that’s just me being wistful.)

The “Organize” chapter is really fun, with loads of items that would be great to make for a sewing room especially, including organizing cubes, a magnetic inspiration board, wall pockets and even a garment bag. These projects would be particularly rewarding for a new sewer who could simultaneously work through these projects, build his or her skills and organize and decorate a sewing space. There is one item in particular that I absolutely love–the “Pin Cushion Caddy.”

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Pin Cushion Caddy: This is fun project requiring small bits of fabric to create a pin cushion that also helps contain clutter in your sewing space.

I also absolutely love the items in the “Domesticate” chapter, which range from beautiful appliqued and embroidered dishtowels to a fun patchwork ball (which our dog has requested I make for her). Each of the items in this section would be thoughtful wedding or housewarming gifts, too. (I always keep in mind simple projects that would make good gifts for various life events.) These are my two favorites:

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The "Doggie Dreams Bed" (which you make using a formula based on your dog's size!) and the "Full Contact Cooking Apron" (which I need to make ASAP). Both of these designs from Seams to Me would be well-received housewarming gifts.

You’ve often read me gripe about how hard it is to read the print in many sewing books and how their design often doesn’t think about the end user. I have to tell you, I am 100% thrilled with the readability and usability of this book. It has sewing-friendly spiral binding, clear, dark print on a light background (yay!) and clear, understandable instructions with appealing, clear drawings. And, even better, they haven’t sacrificed the book attractiveness to make it accessible. It has loads of color on each page, beautiful photography that really shows the projects in detail (and you can get a good sense of the size of the items, too, as they’re shown with other items in each photo). Also, the people used throughout the book look like real folks, and the settings feel very familiar–like the pictures were taken at your friend’s very stylish farm. This total package makes Seams to Me one of those sewing books that’s really fun to flip through and admire.

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An example of an instruction page from Seams to Me (this page is for the "Right Off the Cuff" project. Each project has easy to read text and clear drawings and most have multiple photos. Finally someone who really understands sewing designed a sewing book!

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Playing Along Quilt: This is an example of the attractive, yet familiar, nature of the photography in Seams to Me.

Seams to Me is a fun book, and if you’ve followed Anna Maria’s blog and are familiar with her designs, you’ll see her mark all over this book. There are definitely enough projects that have a special twist that make it worth the $24.99 price tag, and the introductory section really stands apart among the rapidly-growing catalog of sewing books that are on the market. With the holidays coming up, this could be a nice gift for a sewer or sewist in your life–especially if they’re an Anna Maria Horner fan. It’s also another one that would be a quality addition to a “learning to sew” list, because of the clear instructions, variety of projects, tips and techniques and the fact that it doesn’t appeal strictly to the younger set–to me, Seams to Me has a wonderful universal, ageless appeal.

You can check out projects people have made using Seams to Me over on flickr. There’s also a free pattern download available from Wiley, if you’d like to take Seams to Me for a test drive before purchasing.


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.


Interview: Chika Mori, Co-Author of Zakka Sewing

2978112859 7d14562acd Interview: Chika Mori, Co Author of Zakka Sewing

Zakka Sewing is a new book–it came out last month–that is the first zakka book aimed at English-speaking crafters. As you know, we love our collection of Japanese craft books, and it turns out that they’ve become something of a phenomenon. The co-authors of Zakka Sewing, Therese Laskey and Chika Mori, recognized this trend and have brought anauthentic Japanese craft book experience–the worked with zakka makers in Japan to develop the projects–to the American audience. If you’re interested in Japanese crafting, but are intimidated by, or don’t have access to, the books from Japan, Zakka Sewing is a great introduction. In fact, despite our now-formidable collection of zakka books, we learned a lot about what constitutes zakka, the materials used and the themes that emerge in Japanese crafts.

Chika Mori, one of the co-authors, was kind enough to answer a few questions about  their new book, and zakka in general. You can learn more about Chika on her web site, Chikagraphy, and at her zakka blog, Zakka Place, which has loads more information about zakka projects .

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Zakka Sewing Co-Author Chika Mori

Sewer-Sewist: We’d love to know a bit more about you than what the book jacket tells us. We know you’re both creative types, and would love to hear about sewing and crafting in your lives.

Chika Mori: My parents tell me I started drawing when I was 2 or 3 years old. Sewing and crafting came much later, when I was 10. No one taught me how to sew. It came to me rather naturally.

I was brought up in a very creative environment. My great grandmother, my grandmother, and my mom, were always making something, such as purses, bags, and kimonos. Sometimes they re-used old scrap kimono fabrics and made patchwork comforter covers and pillows. Most of the time they created for themselves, but occasionally they gave away their creations as small gifts to close friends. I remember one day when my mother made me a tiny doll with some left over yarn. I loved the doll so much that I showed it to my classmates the next day – and I ended up asking my mom to make at least 30 more dolls for my friends. I wanted to make some too, but I was 6 years old and too clumsy for that.

My love of drawing and my sewing skills started to come together after I became a 4th grader. Drawing some funny-looking characters and making simple dolls or sewing appliqued handkerchiefs became my favorite hobby, and it has since become my profession.

SS: Why Zakka? What drew you to this topic, especially with so many existing books from Japan that are becoming more and more accessible, even in this country?

CM: There is a lot of literature out there, but how much of that is tailored to the non-Japanese audience?

There is a growing appreciation towards zakka so we thought there was an opportunity to create a book that just might hit the spot.

In this modern society, we have access to all kinds of products. It’s easy to to surround yourself with “things”, but do they make us feel good?

I believe more and more people started to look for substance in things. There is more to a product than just its form or function. A product can carry an idea or a meaning or a philosophy. Nowadays people think whether or not the product is made of recycled materials, or if it’s made by hand, or if it matches your lifestyle.

There is a philosophy behind the word “zakka”. We enjoy living our life each and everyday comfortably and happily. Zakka are everyday items that support this way of living. Zakka has magical powers to enrich your daily life – powers that go beyond what can be achieved by form or function. Simple household goods such as placemats and potholders can make you smile if they strike your chord. They give you a good feeling. I believe this is the essence of what is appealing to people.

I have come to a point in life where I appreciate the little things in life that make me happy. Zakka is one of the things I see that has plenty of little happiness that can be identified by many. I wanted to share my feelings with our readers through Zakka Sewing.

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In Japan, zakka makers create cozies for everything; this one is for a digital camera.

Zakka doesn’t have to be handmade. There are plenty of mass produced zakka. However, we are focusing here on the handmade kind. You can be very creative and original with zakka, and I think the fact that you can create your own feel-good item is exciting for people in this country and around the world.

SS: We are big fans of Japanese sewing/craft books and magazines, but always have a hard time putting our thumbs on what exactly it is that is so unique and intriguing about the Japanese style of crafting. What are your thoughts on why Japanese crafts are gaining in popularity with Americans?

CM: The simple and delicate aesthetics of Japanese crafts may be very unique to Americans. Clean lines and simple shapes, interesting mixture of materials, colors and patterns – all of these elements are carefully put together with attention to fine details and yet never overdone. Some Japanese artists incorporate foreign styles/cultures, especially French, to their creation. This blend of styles can also make Japanese zakka more interesting and unexpected.

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The Pear Purse. Fruit is a common zakka motif.

SS: Talk to us about the process of finding and working with the Zakka makers. What was involved in the process of collaborating with them to create projects aimed at a primarily American audience?

CM: In most cases I found the artists through Japanese publications and on the internet. Therese started a private blog for us in preparation for Zakka Sewing and we would post photos of handmade zakka and exchange thoughts.

We wanted to feature a broad range of projects from traditional Japanese feel to modern style, and from simple to complex. It was a challenge as I recall, but this was the key process to make this book appeal to a broader audience and I am very happy with our selections.

Not a single artist spoke or wrote English, so I had to do some heavy translating. It was quite a task to put their methods of creation in writing and then translate. Then I drew all the illustrations (combination of hand drawing and computer coloring). It was an interesting practice though, since it gave me an opportunity to examine the item from a different perspective and that taught me a lot.

Most of the projects in the book are each artists’ standard items. Sometimes Therese and I asked the artists to rearrange their projects for the American audience. An exception to this maybe the Bunko-bon Book Cover, because the book cover is originally designed to fit a standard “bunko-bon (Japanese paperback book)”. As we wanted the project to be original and authentic, we didn’t ask the artist to resize it. However, we did include instructions on adjusting the book cover’s size in case you don’t read bunko-bon, of course.

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Book cover—in Japan most books are the same size. The version in Zakka Sewing is easily adjustable for variations in book sizes.

Aside from working with the Zakka makers in Japan, what other research did you do that made its way into the book? For example, despite having quite a few Japanese sewing and crafts books in our personal library, we hadn’t realized what a prominent role linen plays in Zakka.

CM: As a crafts person myself, I have an extensive zakka library, new and old, plus I check most recent zakka trends via Japanese magazines and on the internet. I also go to hand craft events in Japan such as Design Festa in Tokyo and Tezukuri-ichi (handmade market) in Kyoto. There are also local boutiques that carry many handmade zakka, so I go and check them out as well. My craft friends who live in Japan are also my great resources. It’s really not research. It’s more like an obsession! I’m always looking and it’s what I do as part of my life.

European linen, especially natural French linen has been popular among Japanese crafters for the last several years, for its natural texture, color, and durability.

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Merci Apron. This project involved several popular zakka trends: embroidery, linen and foreign words.

SS: Do you have any tips for Sewer-Sewist readers who check out Zakka Sewing and find themselves wanting to learn more about Zakka and Japanese sewing and crafting?

CM: If you are a beginner sewer and don’t use a sewing machine, Tartlet Pincushion is the project to get you started. It’s a simple project that allows you to be playful and experimental. You can make it your own by using different kinds of fabrics (I suggest thick material) or using decorative beads/buttons, small or large. It will be a wonderful Christmas stocking stuffer if you have friends or family members who love sewing.

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Tartlet Pincushion. A simple project, even if you’ve never sewn before.

In general though, I believe it doesn’t really matter if you are a beginner or advanced.

As the original meaning of zakka implies, your creation can be any simple everyday item. What’s important is that you feel good when you make it and use it (or give it!).

SS: Thank you, Chika!


Book Review: Printing by Hand by Lena Corwin

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Lena Corwin’s book “Printing by Hand: A Modern Guide to Printing with Handmade Stamps, Stencils and Silk Screens” (published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, the same folks who brought us the beautiful Alabama Stitch Book) caught our eye when it was featured on Design Sponge earlier this summer. Her aesthetic is very interesting—rather minimalist, yet bold and printed. It’s an interesting juxtaposition.

The book is a comprehensive overview of all three major printing techniques (stamping, stenciling and screening) and their different applications using a variety of inks and printing surfaces. One of the most valuable aspects of this new book is its focus on design. We have a lot of printing books, and they all have their relative merits, and this one stands out because of its focus on developing and executing an original, hand printed design.

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Some of the stamping techniques are very unique, leaving us wanting to try more and more printing techniques (it’s so addictive!). For example, did you know that you can create your own large stamps using foam mount and clear plexiglass? We sure didn’t. But you can and the results are pretty spectacular. Another unique application of the rubber block stamps that’s described in the book is using a large rubber black stamp and cutting an inverse stamp and printing on fabric to create an almost patchwork-like effect.

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This is definitely something that would be wonderful to create to cover our dining table/workspace.

Another technique that we’d never thought about before is using oil-based spay paint for stenciling. With a bold stencil, this can look quite dramatic, and is a pretty simple process, making it ideal for a large-scale project like curtains or even upholstery.

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Would you believe that the chair seat is printed with spray paint? Us either. Given the range of interesting spray paints available these days, you could do some really creative projects. (Although here in Portland, buying spray paint is a colossal paint in the butt, due to local regulations.) In fact, the stenciling section is extremely helpful, as many of the techniques can also be translated for use in screen printing as well, so they do double duty. Plus, like the spray paint, there are a number of mediums and tools that we hadn’t considered before, such as mylar, that are covered in the book. Our osprey pillows were created using the freezer paper stencil technique from Printing by Hand.

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There’s another one of the unique elements of Printing by Hand: a very thorough discussion of the design process, particularly creating repeats, which is something we haven’t seen in other printing books. We were very excited about this, since we’re interesting in printing small “runs” of fabric for our personal projects. While some books have described the theory of creating repeats, we haven’t seen much in the way of the practical application of actually physically creating and printing repeats and pattern design. (Not that we’ve completed a comprehensive survey of all printing books, but we’ve looked at a lot of them!)2843277351 999e8d4bcd Book Review: Printing by Hand by Lena Corwin

Since there’s such a variety of topics covered in Printing by Hand, it’s hard to give it an overall assessment. It’s definitely one that we would highly recommend for your printing library. It’s interesting, however, because the screen printing section is definitely more design focused than it is practical screen printing. For example, the author has obviously had difficulties with burning her own screens (uh, we can TOTALLY relate) and therefore suggests that you take your screens to a screen printing shop to be burned. While this makes a whole lot of sense, especially if you’re an apartment dweller with little space, it’s completely doable yourself–it just takes some trial and error. If this is something you’re interested in, there are a number of books that focus on the technical aspects of screen printing that you’d want as a companion to this one. With that said, we recommend Printing by Hand without reservation. For us, it not only provided us with a logical next step in our printing education (creating repeats and more sophisticated designs), it also opened our eyes to the possibilities of techniques and materials we hadn’t previously considered. All of the patterns used in the book are included in an envelope attached to the back cover and there’s a good resource list as well, so the book really arms you with everything you need to start experimenting. This one’s a real winner.

~Sarah & Josh

Note: For another take, check out Kim’s review over on True Up.

We have a winner!

So, I assigned each of your wonderful comments a number (two numbers if you answered both questions or shared the giveaway on your blog, etc), and plunked all those numbers into Randomizer to get the winner of the Alabama Stitch Book. I must say, I am so glad that I didn’t do something ridiculous like pick the best comment, because y’all were amazing! Seriously, I’m going to compile your comments into a blog post or two because I was really touched by your reflections on your sewing heritage and was very inspired by your tips for integrating sustainability into your crafting.

Anyway, the winner of the Alabama Stitch Book is Stacy of Stacy Sews, who recycles clothing that no longer fits into other usable and useful items. I loved her tip for even re-using the pockets of old jeans for tote backs–that’s too clever!

So, Stacy, drop me a line at sewersewist [at] gmail [dot] com with your mailing address and I’ll send you the book. I have a feeling that you’ll love it!

Thank you everyone who entered for your wonderful comments!


A Giveaway!

(Note: Comments are now closed. We will announce the randomly-drawn winner shortly.)

But you gotta work for it a little bit.

Remember The Alabama Stitch Book that I reviewed back in June? The one that I used to make the skirt that I wore to that get-together with some old friends? Well, the lovely folks at Stewart, Tabori & Chang sent me a copy to review as well, so I have two copies. So, looks like I need to get rid of one of them…

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I think that whomever gets the copy of this book will really enjoy it. There are lots of great project ideas (which can easily be converted to machine-sewn projects for the hand-sewing averse among us, ehem…) and the real gem is the author’s take on sustainability and rejuvenating traditional craft.

In that vein, in order to win the book, I’d like to ask you to leave your tips in the comments section of this post on reusing, recycling or integrating “green” concepts into your sewing and crafting. Do you search out organic cottons? Refashion thrift store finds (Antoinette, I’m talking about you!)? Try to shop locally? Plus, feel free to make the argument as to why sewing in and of its self is sustainable… If you’re not feeling green, share something about your sewing heritage, which is a huge theme in the book. If you do both, I’ll enter you twice.

If you feel compelled to pass this giveaway along to someone else (via Facebook, Twitter, some other social networking service or on your own blog), let me know by emailing me at and I’ll enter you again.

I’ll keep this giveaway open until midnight (Pacific) on Monday, August 25.

Thanks, and I hope the winner enjoys this book as much as I did!


Oh so pretty…

It’s settled. One of us is going to have to learn Japanese. Because all of the goodies that we keep finding at Kinokuniya are getting a bit out of control. This time, and innocent trip to Uwajimaya has resulted in quite the find — The Pretty Bag Collection.

2767071436 6bc39f6874 Oh so pretty...

I have such a weakness for bag-making, as you’ve probably noticed (it’s funny, too, because I have only been making bags for a year or so). And this book has some really awesome projects. It’s, like many of the Japanese sewing books, brokenn down into thematic sections, this time by fabric type: Silk Shantung, Jacquard and Lace & Check. This is, actually, far more fabric information than I’m normally able to figure out in most of the books I’ve picked up on one of stops at the Japanese book store.

Here are just a few of the highlights that I quickly scanned this afternoon.

This asymmetric bag would be great to show off a striking lining fabric. I would be fun to sew it in a simple exterior fabric and an absolutely wild interior.

2767071184 ce2d060a01 Oh so pretty...

These two shaped bags are just damn pretty, hands down. And the round one, in particular, could be really fun — and is really screaming for contrasting panels. You could also do some interesting embellishment with beads or crochet (which I don’t know how to do, but like the idea of for whatever reason) on the ties at the top.

2766223147 826acf8f76 Oh so pretty...

I’ve nicknamed this pieced number “The Clever Bag” because I think its handle/closure is just so ingenious…

2767069664 af583df627 Oh so pretty...

But hands down, I have four definite favorites of the 24 projects in the Pretty Bag Collection. In fact, I’ve been looking at this book every time we go to Uwajimaya, because of these both of these. They’re garment-inspired bags! Seriously how awesome are these?

2767068738 a7b83e8299 Oh so pretty...

2766220767 c4fe1f3dba Oh so pretty...

They’re bags and they’re clothes. And you sew them. What’s not to love? It’s like the perfect storm of craftiness.


Book Review: Amy Butler’s Little Stitches for Little Ones

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As you probably know, I’m a huge Amy Butler fan. I so appreciate that she has built a brand that has succeeded in encouraging newbies to sew, while also meeting the needs of experienced sewers/sewists. It’s a winning combination. One of the things I appreciate most about her new book, Amy Butler’s Little Stitches for Little Ones: 20 Keepsake Sewing Projects for Baby and Mom, is Amy’s acknowledgments on the first page of the book,

This book is dedicated to the sewing community at-large. Without your enthusiasm and spirit, the fine craft of sewing would not be as vibrant.

I was really impressed with that shout-out. I believe that one of the keys to ensuring sewing’s long-term success (which is important, otherwise it will be harder and harder to practice our craft because of inadequate supplies and a lack of shared knowledge) is growing a community. It seems that (and this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this) Amy really understands that we’re all connected and integral to sewing’s success as a craft and industry.

I am a complete doofus when it comes to knowing what to give people as new baby gifts. In fact, I am eternally grateful for the whole “Target Baby Registry” thing or else who knows what I’d have given any number of acquaintances who have had babies over the last few years. However, I have a friend who is expecting his first little one ANY DAY NOW and wanted to make (of course) he and his wife something nice and thoughtful as a baby gift.

But, what to make?

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to receive a reviewer copy of Little Stitches (published by Chronicle) that bailed me out just in time.

The book is very comprehensive, with projects organized in six different categories: “Comforts” (snugly stuff), “Style” (clothes), “On the Go” (bags/bibs), “Decor” (that one’s obvious), “Playtime” (also obvious) and “Memories” (hand-sewn albums). Each of the twenty project is rated according to difficulty level, with a nice distribution from easiest to hardest, with most projects being in the middle of the range. It also comes with the most complex pattern pieces — the simple square and rectangles you draft yourself, as in In Stitches. The clothing projects are available in sizes for babies ranging from newborn to twelve months, with a (rather amusing) illustrated size chart. There are very comprehensive (if you’ve ever sewn an Amy Butler pattern, you’ll know what I mean) written instructions accompanying each project, and one or two illustrations. Each section has introduction pages of photos of the projects that follow. It is also spiral bound –which I so appreciate because it lays flat — and contains a handy pocket for the pattern pieces.

Little Stitches is definitely, and I think intentionally, geared toward people like myself (no, not complete doofuses) who are wanting to make a special handmade gift for new parents. This is definitely not a “quick and easy” type of guide that would be of use to busy soon-to-be parents who want to create some DIY baby projects. Check out what I mean:

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Even though some of the projects like the last one I posted are simple from a technical perspective, it’s definitely a labor-intensive endeavor. But, I am sure that anyone of those projects would be absolutely adored by the recipients.

One of the real highlights are the toys. Seriously, I had the urge to just make them all for our friends. They’re that fun and charming. And, they really highlight vibrant fabrics.

These blocks would be great — and probably less dangerous when the little one learns about throwing things and their siblings!

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And this cat thingy is just precious…

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My favorite, though, is the snail toy that converts into a pillow/cushion.

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There are also two bag patterns included in Little Stitches, and both are not only great-looking diaper bags, they both seem as if they’d make really functional everyday bags if you simply omitted or modified the bottle pockets. The “Modern Diaper Bag”, in particular, struck me as just about perfect as a big shopper that would work well for farmers markets — or any other time you need to haul a bunch of stuff around and still want to look cute.

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The two “Memories” projects would both make lovely gifts for grandparents especially. The “Brag Book” is rated at the easiest difficulty level and is a simple, folding album with stitched details. It also integrates paper craft, which is pretty cool (love that craft cross-pollination!). I’m also too embarrassed to admit this (but not quite), but when I first saw that particular project, my first thought was “Cool! I should make one about the dog for Josh!” (Yes, I’m a dork.)

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My only real quibble with this book is that the font is too small and fine to be easily read, especially against some of the darker backgrounds. My sewing style is definitely more of the glancing at the instructions as a plow through my project, and the typography does hinder that a bit, making it harder to find my place quickly and easily. I know that some people really didn’t care for having to draft out some of the pattern pieces in In Stitches, but it doesn’t bother me. My recommendation would be to create pieces on paper rather than directly on fabric, as Amy advises. That way, you can use the pieces over and over without having to repeat the drafting. Plus, the pocket in the book provides enough space that you can store your self-drafted pieces as well. You should also be aware that this is not a sewing instruction book, it is definitely for someone who knows their way around their machine, or has a good sewing reference book. The techniques used aren’t difficult, but if you’re not confident with the basic sewing techniques (although the glossary in the back is helpful), you may want a bit of support from another source.

All-in-all, I highly recommend this book as a great one for gift-givers. I can see many, many well-loved gifts coming out of Amy Butler’s Little Stitches. I look forward to sharing my project from the book with you soon! (The gift needs a few finishing touches and a trip to the post office. Sorry!)



We got the book Lotta Prints by Lotta Jansdotter (who also wrote the very-popular Simple Sewing book) when it first came out. As you know, Josh has gotten really interested in printmaking, especially screen printing, so this book had perfect timing as an impulse buy. We’re not going to bother to review the book, since both Average Jane Crafter (aka Rachel) and Diane (of CraftyPod fame) wrote great reviews already, but we thought we’d share the first results from a project in the book.

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This was Sarah’s first attempt in, oh, seventeen years or so, at printing using a linoleum block. (Lino block printing was big at 91 Grade School in Hubbard, Oregon, for whatever reason.) Needless to say, we need a bit of practice with the technique. It seemed easier as an eight-year-old. Or maybe we’re not as hard on ourselves when we’re in the third grade. This is an original design that was decided influenced by Lotta’s characteristic shapes and forms.

The carving part was actually the most fun part of the process. There’s a certain element of danger involved in using sharp tools to carve up a little block. In true crafty-geek fashion, Sarah sat in the garage/screenprinting studio and worked on this while Josh printed up some stuff. The neighbors probably think we’re loony when we do this sort of thing (we open the garage door to the street for better light/ventilation).

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Speaking of tools, we were able to score a great quality, very inexpensive ($7 or so) set of carving tools at Kinokuniya Bookstore, which is inside Uwajimaya in Beaverton. Kinokuniya is a Japanese bookstore that sells all sorts of intriguing stuff including animae pens, Japanese craft books, magazines from Japanese (including craft and sewing selections) and other odds and ends. Check it out if there’s one near you.

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Sewing a Celebration

We at Sewer-Sewist have been preoccupied with the idea of making our own flag (yes, you read that right, making our own flag) for quite awhile. The topic first came up when we were in the car one afternoon and Josh said, “You know, we should make our own flag. That would be really cool.”

To which Sarah replied, “Good idea. We totally should.”

We tossed that idea around awhile, and on a relatively recent Powell’s excursion (there are many of these such excursions) we picked up the groundbreaking Banners & Flags: How to Sew a Celebration. (For, like $5 or so…)

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There’s something really special about books from the 70s—they’re so over-the-top but folksy at the same time.

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This one has what is possibly the best book dedication ever.

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Hello! Who doesn’t love a parade? That would be downright wrong.

This book covers (obviously) making your own handmade flags and banners (AKA “Sew a Celebration”), and today being Independence Day we thought we’d share some selections out of the flag-making section.

Parts of a flag. (We also learned from this section that a person who’s really into flags is called a “vexillologist.”)

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While we were primarily interesting in the “how-to” component of the book, the types of flags and why they’re made is one of the most interesting sections of this book (this is actually really interesting because it goes into detail about using flags not only for celebration but designing them as protest symbols to affect social change—which has been a long tradition in the U.S.).

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Star placement on a traditional American flag.

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Applying the red stripes. There are very specific proportions you use to make a traditional U.S. flag.

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Techniques for stitching on the stars on the blue background.

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One of the author’s original flag designs.

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(Oh, if Levis still did last… The demise of the indestructible pair of Levis is often mourned around here…)

And, finally, being a seventies book, there’s the requisite rainbow flags.

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We haven’t started on our flag yet, but this book certainly has all the principles and guidelines you need to design and sew your own flag. We’ve been particularly thinking that we could take inspiration from this flag we saw appraised on Antiques Roadshow recently.

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Of course, we’ll add our own twist. Just wait and see.

~S & J

Book Review: Alabama Stitch Book

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While at The Best Bookstore Ever (aka Powell’s here in Portland) this spring, Josh spotted the beautiful Alabama Stitch Book, written by Natalie Chanin of Project Alabama fame. (Josh has a real eye for design and aesthetics, so it caught his eye because it’s such an attractive book.) This is the book that inspired the purple skirt I wore to a party with some old friends last weekend.

To be completely straight with you, I really bought the Alabama Stitch Book because it was “neat looking.” Which it is. It is an absolutely beautifully designed book, from beginning to end. Even the inside cover is gorgeous!

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The book walks you through all kinds of projects based around the idea of the ethos of the original Project Alabama (the author is quite clear that she’s no longer associated with Project Alabama in its current iteration). The idea is revitalizing the craft of working with cotton that used to be tremendously important in Alabama. As I’ve written about before, is something that’s really important to me, and I really salute Ms. Chanin (’cause I’m sure a shout-out from Sewer-Sewist is the one she’s been waiting for) for capturing the sewing and crafting heritage of her region. There’s a bit of everything related to this subject in the book—sourcing and reusing cotton jersey, beading, various appliqué techniques and complete projects that bring together many styles from the book.

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Now, the thing that really tripped me up, that I didn’t realize when I bought the book, was that the author pretty much uses hand-stitching techniques exclusively for the projects. She has a good reason.

Working this way takes time. Some call this approach “Slow Design,” which means embracing the long-term view over the short-term gain by using age-old techniques to create products that celebrate strong design principles for modern living.

As we’ve covered thoroughly before, I don’t hand sew. I even avoid sewing on buttons, since our machine does such a good job of it. (And in fairness to me, I do have a good reason, with my stupid tendinitis and all.) However, I totally get that this book is a response to the absurdity of our mass-produced, on-demand modern lives. And the techniques in this book (even when machine sewn) really do demand that we slow down, think about the design and create something truly one-of-a-kind. Check it out.

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The book even made me believe that something as simple as a Sharpie can be beautiful.

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This jersey quilt is stunning. It would be the perfect gift for someone very special. I love that the author’s employees made a similar quilt for her to commemorate all the designs she’d created. I’m not a quilter, but it makes me wish I were.

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For we garment sewers, the corset and swing skirt are the thing. Both are just lovely, simple shapes that can be customized with any and all of the embellishments from the book. You’re only limited by your creativity and time. I also had the thought that you could actually sew the two together and make a sweet-ass dress. (Since I’m all about dresses these days—hey, no matching required!)

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I modified the swing skirt pattern (there are full-sized patterns for both included in the book, in addition to instructions for the 17 other projects) for my purple skirt and used the one stencil that’s included (there are others that you can photocopy and make your own stencils with, but this one is ready to go, on card stock). Since I didn’t have any fabric paint, I just traced the shapes in Sharpie. I also didn’t have much in the way of black jersey (is it my imagination or has cotton jersey gotten waaaaay more expensive lately?), I only had a one layered skirt, and simply backed the Sharpied stencil. Because I really cannot hand sew (I swear this is a legit physical restriction, not laziness), I used a long stitch on the Kenmore to mimic hand-stitching. It doesn’t really look the same, largely because I used normal cotton thread and should have used hand-quilting or machine embroidery thread so that it would “pop” more. Regardless, I was pretty happy with the way it turned out.

I really wanted to try some of the beading techniques on this skirt as well, but that didn’t happen. I just didn’t have the supplies or time. And it would probably do a number on my hands/sanity anyway. But sometime I’ll have a go at it.

I apologize for this rambling review, but the Alabama Stitch Book is a hard one to distill into a few thoughts. It’s part textile history, part instruction book, part coffee table book. But it serves all those roles quite well.

It’s very obvious that Ms. Chanin put a lot of herself into this book. And it’s because of this that I hate to offer up anything negative. However, I do have to pick at the publisher a bit. One of the subtexts of the book really highlights sustainability and bringing back traditional American craft. This is 100% something I can get behind. Which is why I was so profoundly disappointed when I flipped over to the back cover of the book and saw this:

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Yep, “Printed in China.”

Now, I don’t place any blame whatsoever with the author. Like I said, it’s extremely obvious that she’s deeply committed to sustainability and preserving our crafting traditions. And authors really don’t have control over the business practices of their publishers. And if I were Natalie Chanin and were asked to decide between getting this message out to a broad public and having the book printed in China versus not having the Alabama Stitch Book published, I’d chose publishing the book every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

What shocks me really is that the publisher obviously didn’t see the inherent hypocrisy in sending this particular book halfway around the world to be printed. It’s because of practices like that that Alabama’s stitching traditions—that are the focus of the Alabama Stitch Book—have all but disappeared and need a book like this to preserve our craft heritage. This really bothers me. This isn’t a “gotcha!” thing for me, but rather a question to the publisher about how they justify that decision… It would be a revealing, and meaningful, conversation.


Book Review Preview

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This is just a quick preview of a book review I’ve promised I’m going to write—the fascinating Alabama Stitch Book. I buy a lot of sewing books (and more recently lots of print making books, too), but I hate to review them until I’ve actually made something out of the book. Looks of books are lovely to look at (such as Amy Butler’s In Stitches)—which has lots of merit as inspiration, but it takes a special one to be truly useful (such as Sew What! Skirts). In order to really know if a book is useful, I just need to dig in and make a project or two out of the book so I can let y’all know if it’s one I can really recommend. So, while I bought Alabama Stitch Book awhile ago, I haven’t had a chance to make anything until now. So, enjoy a little preview of my first project from the book.


Creative Energy

Josh’s screen printing has really piqued my interest. So much so that since he made his first screen, I had this vision in my head of a tree. I couldn’t quite get my head around what that tree would look like, but I had been messing around with a bunch of different ideas of trees and being slightly obsessed with looking at tree silhouettes online. Weird, I know. Anyway, I finally found the image that I was looking for—in the wonderful book Neubau Welt. This is the description of the book/CD:

My house, my pool, my horse, my Learjet, my Mercedes, my wife, my toys, my trees, my garden, my cockroach. Now it’s really all yours.

It’s an eclectic assortment of royalty-free vector images that are manipulatable using Adobe Illustrator. Pretty sweet!

Anyway, I printed “my tree” on several items, including a raglan sleeved T-shirt that I’m going to reconstruct into a cardigan inspired by The Alabama Stitch Book (I will write a review soon, I promise!). I also got the idea that it would be interesting to “make” my own fabric. And by make my own fabric, I mean printing on some black cotton from our local Ikea. (Oh Ikea, how I love you, even though that love makes me feel really unoriginal.) Using the same deep burgundy I used on my T-shirt, I screen printed my tree at more or less regular intervals over a yard and a half or so of fabric.

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Flat fabric is kind of hard to photograph, so this isn’t quite what it looks like in reality. The tree is a much deeper color, and it’s actually quite subtle. It turned out really lovely—I’m not really looking forward to cutting into it. But I am looking forward to telling people I printed the fabric myself. I’m thinking about either this skirt or this skirt—both from Burda World of Fashion.

Not really sewing related, but I’m also pretty proud of some printing on paper that I did with the same screen.

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I messed around with blending several iridescent colors, trying to mimic (albeit in an abstract sort of way) the way that the leaves on some of the Japanese maples in our yard almost glow in the fall evenings.

I’m warning you: I’m going to sound like a tremendous dork here—don’t say I didn’t warn you! I’ve never really thought of myself as a creative person. I had some really bad experiences in art class in elementary school (91 Grade School in Hubbard, Oregon!) and actually got a really bad grade in art on several occasions. Perspective gave me all kinds of trouble. I also had a lot of problems with the whole complementary colors thing. I distinctly remember having a fairly heated disagreement with my fourth grade teacher over whether or not green and purple are complementary or not. (I thought they were, but I guess our art curriculum didn’t agree.) I sort of realize now that a lot of my problems in art class actually were because I was kind of creative, and wasn’t huge on the rules of art (really, rules have never been my strong point in any context). Anyway, my point is, I’m always reluctant to do “arty” stuff because I have it in the back of my head that I suck at it. Anyway, screenprinting’s been really fun, and the stuff I’ve made with “my tree” doesn’t look half bad! That’s pretty exciting for me.


P.S. Lots of sewing projects we’ve got going on… We’ll update you soon—promise.

Putting on our idea hats…

You may remember that we’ve mentioned a few times that we really like hats. You may also have noticed that we’re slightly obsessed with looking for weird, quirky things to make together. Our latest project really scored on both accounts.

Recently, we have taken to going to Uwajimaya and the Japanese language bookstore contained within, Kinokuniya. It is a fantastic place where you can not only get cool books (albeit in Japanese) and then get us all sorts of tofu and interesting sauces to put on said tofu. Plus, we were able to find some great embroidery books for Sarah’s mom, who is quite the stitcher. Taking inspiration from the Geek Sewing blog we used to enjoy (it’s no longer in existence, but Geek Sewing contributes over on the forums at Tamyu’s site) we thought, “What the hell? Let’s give this Japanese sewing thing a try.” Sarah found a couple of really great books on retro clothing (we’ll write about those soon, we promise) and we both were over the moon with excitement for this fantastically titled book: Idea Hat Recipe!

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So, we’re pretty sure that “Idea Hat” is a Japanese translation of the term “thinking cap.” It was written by a Paris-based Japanese hatmaker called Sept Bleus. There’s sort of a duel concept thing going on in this book. First, all of the hats resemble desserts. Second, the book comes with a bunch of different elements (printed on pattern paper like Burda World of Fashion) that are combined in “recipes” that you piece together to make different hat styles. So, there’s sort of a foodie kind of theme going on. The one we created was “Marcaron The Russe.”

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Our first couple attempts were sort of like a bad fairy tale, one was enormous and the next was way too small. These are the problems you run into without directions that you can understand. If it were in German, between the two of us, we could figure it out. But Japanese—the only thing we understood were the numbers. But when they’re not related to anything, numbers aren’t that useful. We could have salvaged the first attempt, but Josh decided foolishly to cut eyeholes into it so he could look like a character from Fat Albert (Dumb Donald to be exact). Instead of looking cartoony, which would have made this needless destruction at least funny, Josh instead looked like a bank robber (a stupid, poorly wardrobed one at that).

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For the first successful hat we used the leftover fabric from Sarah’s fabulous retro dress. Instead of adding seam allowances (we assumed that the Idea Hats needed seams added—they didn’t) we used the exact pattern pieces and just a tiny seam allowance. Josh added a covered button to the top to finish it off. This one’s just a smidge too big, but with enough blow drying, Sarah’s hair can puff up enough to make it work.

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The second hat (it was quite a weekend) was made to match Sarah’s funky German soccer (fußball) jacket. We decided to use black medium weight denim and added an elastic headband to keep it tight and a really awesome metallic thread that matches the German flag on her jacket. Jawohl!

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Coming soon… report on Josh’s hat adventure for himself and our first attempt at printing on fabric!

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~Josh & Sarah

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).

BOOK REVIEW: Sew What! Skirts

51JQ6EGGQQL. SS500  BOOK REVIEW: Sew What! Skirtsfrom sarah the sewist

A few months back, I had tendonitis in my right index finger and basically couldn’t do a whole lot involving my hands—including sewing, knitting, opening doors, that sort of thing. Around that time, to compensate for the fact
that I was totally and completely bored, I went on a book-buying binge. One of those books has been some fun inspiration and helped me indulge my love of oh-too-cute cotton prints.

That book is Sew What! Skirts, which is, as the title indicates, a book of skirt styles that you can create using different techniques that result in a unique set of 16 skirt “patterns.” The authors utilize two basic formulas—one for a straight skirt, one for an A-line—and offer lots of different combinations for fastenings, waistlines and embellishments to make the styles even more unique. In the book, they’ve used really unusual fabric combinations, such as a satiny quilted fabric combine with a super-short Asian-print overlay. Or Barbie-pink silk with a reverse apron that’s in even pinker organza. Or maybe boucle is more your style? They’ve created a unique wrap skirt closed using snap tape, with the hem left raw.

I have made three skirts utilizing the book so far.

First, inspired by the “Asian Dream” skirt:

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This skirt utilized an aqua and brown fabric from Michael Miller called “Cute Diamonds.” To create this skirt, I used the top of a straight skirt to create a yoke. I inserted a back zipper and utilized a brown bias tape waistband. The rest of the skirt was created by making a large single pleat in both the front and back of the skirt and two small pleats on the sides. I thought the skirt was complete, and tried it on for Josh. He commented on how nice the bias tape waistband looks, and then said, “What don’t you trim the hem in the same stuff?” Josh was, of course, correct. The brown bias tape hem really takes the skirt from being pretty cute, to one that get complements each time I wear it.

The next was the one that actually fits me better than just about anything I own. (The Cute Diamonds skirt’s a little too big.)This fabric is one that I picked up from Bolt’s remnant basket (seriously, the best two square feet of fabric deals anywhere), and I’m not sure of the manufacturer.

957725465 ffdc1eb001 b BOOK REVIEW: Sew What! SkirtsThis is the most basic A-line with a bias tape waistband and a side zip. I used a blind hem to finish it off.

And, finally, my banana bike skirt:

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This was inspired by “Country Charm” with a little “Chinese Takeout” thrown in for good measure. This skirt, of course, has a story. We went to Fabric Depot during one of their many 30% off sales. Saw the Free Spirit/Heather Ross fabric from the “Lightning Bugs” collection that is not only pink, not only the softest cotton poplin ever, but has bikes on it that look just like the super-awesome banana seat bike I had as a kid (yes, it was pink). It had to be a skirt. Unfortunately, it’s also very see-through. So, I located some snazzy eyelet for an underlayer. Unfortunately, the eyelet was very ill-behaved, and caused me all kinds of problems when sewing. So, I ended up calling in reinforcements in the form of lace trim to disguise my funky-looking hemming and called it a day. I think my banana bike skirt’s awesome. I get a lot of comments on it, but it’s very pink, which seems to be a little off-putting to people who aren’t into color. Just an observation.

After sewing three skirts from Sew What! Skirts, I really do think it’s a fantastic book. It’s not going to challenge your sewing skills, unless you’re a fairly novice sewer-sewist, but the authors have done two things very, very well. First, they’ve really provided anyone, regardless of experience and skill level, with the basics to make a fun, useful skirt wardrobe. The possibilities really are endless with just the two basic styles. Second, and the thing I appreciate the most, is that the book encourages you to experience with fabric combinations, layering, embellishments and various closures and finishes. Sometimes, all you need is a little inspiration. Those two things alone make it worth the $16.95 price tag.

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