Sewing Books at the Library: Improv Sewing, Sew Retro and More

I love the public library. It’s a great source of free information for everyone. It’s also a wonderful place to check out new sewing books. Right now I’ve got five books out, four from the Berkeley Public Library and one from the San Francisco Public Library.

I flip through the books to see how many things I’d like to make and whether I’d learn any new techniques and ideas. Oftentimes I stick post-it notes on the pages of things I’d like to make or ideas that inspire me. If there are a lot of post-its, then I’ll very likely buy the book, which is what happened with Alabama Sewing + Design, reviewed here.

Here’s my roundup of the other books I’m reading:

Sew Retro: A Stylish History of the Sewing Revolution + 25 Vintage‐Inspired Projects for the Modern Girl by Judi Ketteler ($24.99). This is a fun book – a brief romp through fashion history (1880s to today) interspersed with profiles or interviews with women designers of the decades – from the 19th century’s Ellen Curtis Demorest to today’s Amy Butler. Alongside those pages, the author has projects (and patterns for them) that are supposed to be reminiscent of each time period. It’s a bit of a hybrid book with more pages devoted to history and people rather than sewing projects.

The projects were pretty basic, ranging from bags and purses to pillows and coasters – all things a beginning seamstress could easily handle. I’m not really interested in making most of the things in the book because I don’t need any more potholders, aprons, bags, etc. But I did like the needlecase – a nice design to store your hand sewing needles and thread snips.

Flowers I made from Petersham ribbon

Chic on a Shoestring: Simple to Sew Vintage-Style Accessories by Mary Jane Baxter ($22.95). This 2011 book has many ideas for embellishing tops and shoes – adding buttons, lace, rickrack, you name it – to refresh or refashion your existing wardrobe. Some of Baxter’s ideas aren’t really my style though. For example, I wouldn’t trim a hat with small pom poms or put lace doilies on a top. The author is a milliner.

The book also has several ideas for making accessories: belts from old neckties and necklaces as wells as detachable collars from a variety of materials — shoelaces, ribbon, fabric, beads and lace. I liked her idea for making flowers using Petersham ribbon that I made a few last month (see photo). I’ve attached clips to the back so I can wear them in my hair. She put several flowers on a purse, which looked quite elegant.

Sewn by Hand: Two Dozen Projects Stitched with Needle & Thread by Susan Wasinger ($19.95). This book has nice photos and illustrations on hand stitching, covering how to make knots (the single-hand, tangled knot vs. the two-hand knot) and a variety of hand stitches (running stitch, back stitch, stem stitch, blanket stitch, slipstich, overcast stitch, and so on). The book’s projects are all very nicely designed and photographed. Some of the usual things featured in sewing books are here: a tote bag and potholders. But the author gives them unique touches, such as the covered buttons and rope strap on the tote bag and the potholders with smocking.

Improv Sewing: 101 Fast, Fun, and Fearless Projects: Dresses, Tunics, Scarves, Skirts, Accessories, Pillows, Curtains, and More by Nicole Blum and Debra Immergut ($19.95). I put a slew of post-its on the pages of this book, which means that this one’s a keeper and I’ll definitely buy my own copy.

The book is full of simple designs for clothes (dresses, skirts, and tops), home projects, accessories and gifts. You make your own pattern for tops using your own shirt (or one you get from a thrift store if you don’t want to cut one up) as pattern pieces. Once you have your torso pattern piece, you reuse it again and again for the other designs

The majority of the book is devoted to clothes that you can make fairly quickly because they don’t have very many pattern pieces – and they look good! Some of the skirts use jersey knit fabric with foldover elastic over the waistband (no hemming necessary). How easy is that?

Sometimes I’m really impatient with sewing so it’ll be great to make something that I can finish in an afternoon. At more than 300 pages and with clear instructions and plenty of photos, it’s well worth the cover price. Oh, and the authors share a blog Improv Diary (in addition to their individual blogs) and they have an Improv Sewing Flickr group for folks to share what they’ve made.

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