Thursday, November 3, 2011

Book review: The Colette Sewing Handbook: Inspired Styles and Classic Techniques for the New Seamstress

Yes, the long-awaited Colette Sewing Handbook.

I could not resist buying this book, even though I am an advanced sewer. I love Sarai’s aesthetic and made a few of her vintage-inspired styles before. I thought, yes, it is a beginner guide, but I wanted to have the patterns featured in the book. Eventually, patterns are the reason why I am keeping it. However, if you are a beginner, you may want to check out the content as well. Hope my review will help making your decision!

Seven chapters and five sewing projects guide readers through these fundamentals.

CHAPTER 1 – Getting Started – covers usual tools & supplies, machine and hand stitches and provides a few beginner lessons and tips. I liked how Sarai made a few techniques - inserting a zipper, or setting in a sleeve - sound and look so simple. I wonder, however, whether setting in a sleeve – a dreaded step even for advanced sewers - should be at the very start of the book, but it’s not a big deal.

CHAPTER 2 – A Thoughtful Plan – is one of my very favorites! This step is so often overlooked by all sewers. It is so easy to get carried away by a beautiful fabric, not thinking about thoughtful editing of your wardrobe. Sarai covers the process of planning with tips on where to find inspiration, how to process it using moodboards, notebooks, sketchbooks, etc.  She goes into individual style editing, inspired by your personality, your life and your shape. She finishes the chapter with some tips on developing a seasonal wardrobe plan and using personal croquis (a sketch of a garment on your figure) as a final step before making a concrete sewing project.

CHAPTER 3 -  A Precise Pattern – introduces the first sewing project – Meringue Skirt. (All her sewing projects, including patterns she sells on her website, have very yummy names and the styles in the book are no exception.). The chapter covers fabric preparation (pre-washing, pressing, graining techniques), working with a pattern, matching stripes or plaids, tracing and marking pattern lines and cutting.  Using all this information a beginner seamstress should be able to make the Meringue Skirt in a wide range of materials. The skirt has a scalloped hem– a cute detail and a great technique to learn! And I loved a simple black version of it featured further in the book. Instructions are detailed and include tips such as Fabric Selectionor Grading Seams.

Image: Coletterie
CHAPTER 4 – A Fantastic Fit . The author explains how a certain shape is achieved by using ease, darts and fullness. I liked how she covered alternatives to the pattern style achieved through manipulation of darts or their elimination.  The fitting process includes MUSLIN MAKING AND ADJUSTMENT, yay! Finally, someone thought of explaining benefits of muslins in a book. No fast sewing here – Sarai aims at quality.  Taking measurements is explained too briefly, but I understand the limitations of the book. Information on measuring your body is just enough to move on. 

Later in the Fit Chapter, the book lays down most common fitting problems and offers a few alterations. I think this part is just scratching the surface. Judge yourself: alterations covered are: Torso length, Sway back, Hip width, Large or small waist and Bust fullness alteration. I would have included shoulder slope adjustment as it is the first thing you should check for fit. Also, the fitting sequence is crucial and is not really covered in the book. So, if you buy this book, make sure you do have a good fitting book as well.

Also, I think that it would have been more logical if the Fit chapter preceded the chapter with the first sewing project, but I hope a beginner seamstress would skim through chapters before taking on that skirt.

However, the Pastille Dress – another sewing project – is a candy!

CHAPTER 5 – A Beautiful Fabric – helps beginner seamstresses to think about fabric as a key factor in achieving a beautiful garment. Sarai covers main fabric qualities, such as stretch, texture, sheen, weight and drape. It is just enough information to make the reader think: Will my fabric behave the way I want it to?  Fibers are the next topic in the chapter with some very basic information. Weaves and knits are covered too. I would have added a sentence or two on the advantages of each weave, but, well… Interfacing, thread, needle types sections help choose correct notions. Print and Patternsgive an overview of most common types; and Tricky Fabrics offers a few tips on working with Faux Fur, Denim, Velvet and Corduroy. I though this latter part was too brief to be useful, actually…

This Chapter’s Truffle Dress, however, is a beautiful and versatile project that offers you an opportunity to make it in different fabrics changing the overall look and feel of the garment!

CHAPTER 6 – A Fine Finish (another alliteration) – has a great bias tape tutorial, which was actually featured on Sarai’s blog Coletterie.  French Seam, Flat Felled, Serged and Pinked Seams round up the selection of seam finishes in the book.  Some common lining choices are given as well, but, again, not very helpful for a beginner trying to make a choice. A few words on key features of each of the choices would help. Why silk charmeuse or not crepe de chine? The advantage of Bemberg Rayon over silk lining? (what is durability?) I am not picking at the book – just trying to say that it would benefit from more explanation, rather than lists, especially when it comes to fabric choices.

Again, the Tuffy Blouse is sooo sweet! But it is cut on the bias! Where are the tips on handling bias cuts? And suggested fabrics are chiffon, gorgette, lawn and silk charmeuse!..  Instructions suggest pinning and stitching, and at this point I can only think of stretched or puckered seams… Sarai may be more confident about her audience, but for me this project requires greater-than-average sewing skills.

Image: Coletterie
CHAPTER 7 – Keep Learning – offers a list of useful resources and recommends a few websites and blogs. It finishes with the Licorice dress – which, according to the author, combines all the principles from the book.

Image: Coletterie
The Verdict:

Although there is some great content in the book, it would have benefited from some thoughtful editing! Getting rid of some advanced or specialized techniques (such as tricky fabrics, for example), and elaborating on more crucial processes essential to make included projects, such as fitting and working with the bias.

Also, the author doesn’t cover pants or a jacket.  On the other hand, dresses, skirts and blouses are Sarai’s specialty. She recently released a cigarette pant pattern – a Clover, which is relatively easy to fit and construct because of the use of stretch fabric.

If you are a beginner, by all means, buy this book but make sure it is not you only reference. And do check out Sarai’s blog Coletterie, which has by far more resources than the book.

If you are an intermediate or advanced sewer with great appreciation of vintage-inspired aesthetic, buy this book because of the patterns!  No apron, postcard or tote sewing here, but a beautiful wardrobe! That is why it is worth every cent I paid for it.


Readers, what about you? Did you order the book? Or are you going to? What's your opinion on it?


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