Book Review: The Mood Guide to Fabric and Fashion

Mood Guide to Fabric and Fashion - Book Review -

Hi, last weekend I popped into the Berkeley Public Library and ran across two recent books, The Mood Guide to Fabric and Fashion and Lotta Jansdotter Everyday Style. Usually new books like these are not on the shelf and have a waiting list so I thought: This is my lucky day!

In this post, I’m going to focus on the Mood book. (I’ll review Lotta Jansdotter’s book later this month.) If you haven’t heard of Mood Fabrics, then you likely don’t watch television or buy fabric. Thanks to the reality TV series Project Runway (more than a dozen seasons so far!), Mood Fabrics is famous far beyond the fashion world. The flagship store in New York City gets more than 1,000 visitors a day. Wow.

So it’s not surprising that Mood Fabrics would author a book on fabric. The Mood Guide opens with a brief chapter on the fascinating history about how this family business got started by Jack Sauma, a Syrian immigrant who studied fashion design in Sweden. You ‘ll also get to see photos of employees, the family members who work for the store, and Swatch, the popular Boston Terrier who roams the aisles of the NYC store. The book mentions that some people come to the store just to take a photo of Swatch. Yep, the dog’s famous, too.You can see him in the photo below.

Mood Guide to Fabric and Fashion - inside -

The book cover has a round black circle on it that says “A complete resource from Mood Designer Fabrics.” At 184 pages, with plenty of gorgeous photos, I’m not sure I’d call it a “complete resource,” especially when you consider that Sandra Betzina’s book More Fabric Savvy, is 234 pages long and only focuses on fabric. However, unlike Betzina’s book, which is more of a reference book, The Mood Guide features beautiful photos throughout. I’d call it sort of a combination coffee table/fabric resource book.

As I flipped through The Mood Guide, I wondered who would buy it? Beginning sewists? People who don’t sew but who want to know more about the store because of Project Runway? Intermediate Sewists?

The book is a nice overview of the Mood store and fabric. There’s a chapter titled “Fabric 101: The fundamentals of fabric for sewers and designers,” explaining basic concepts such as cutting against the grain, what’s a lining, interlining, and underlining, and defines terms and concludes with fabric shopping tips from Phil Sauma (Jack’s son), who goes on fabric buying trip for the store. For example, he advises shoppers who are buying a print, to check the fabric before it’s cut. Make sure the placement of the colors are where they should be because a bad print bleeds.

There are chapters devoted to certain types of fabric. Cotton, linen, and hemp are folded into one chapter. Wools, knits, and silks each get their own chapter. The last one (titles “Other Fabrics”) is a hodgepodge of everything from metallic and pleated fabrics to leather, lace, and fake fur.

Wools - Mood Guide to Fabrics -

If you are expecting a book that offers practical advice on how to sew a particular fabric, what needles and type of thread to use, whether you should prewash the fabric, and so forth, you’d be better off getting Sandra Betzina’s More Fabric Savvy.

(For really specific and detailed information on textile terminology, you may want to invest in a copy of The Fairchild Books Dictionary of Textiles (more than 700 pages!). But that book is rather pricey if you buy it new (more than $200) but there are used copies for sale on Amazon, too. I have a used copy of an earlier edition that I got for less than $30 at a book store.)

If you want a beautifully photographed general resource book on fabric, or you’re a fan of the store, this book’s for you.




Books on Making Hats

Sewn Hats, Design & Make Fashion Hats

I’ve made a few hats on my sewing machine using Vogue patterns or just experimenting without a pattern (see “Sewing a Patricia Underwood Hat“). But I want to get a better understanding of construction. So I bought a few books on making hats. They each offer different levels of hat-making skills. Here’s my brief run-down.

Liesl cloche by Mary Abreu (Confessions of a Craft Addict)
Liesl Cloche by Mary Abreu

Sewn Hats by Carla Hegeman Crim of The Scientific Seamstress, is just that – a book focused on hats you can sew on your machine. You’ll find nearly three dozen hat designs — everything from adorable baby bonnets and cloches to driving caps and fun party hats. The author includes nine of her own designs and the other are by a variety of contributors, including Kaari Meng of French General, Jennifer Paginelli of Sis Boom, Bari J. Ackerman of Bari J., and Kathy Mack of Pink Chalk Studio.

All the patterns are PDFs that you download from the publisher’s website (the URL is in the book). What’s cool about many of these hats is that most come in a wide range of sizes – from XXS (baby) to XL (adult) – and some are unisex. Plus there are plenty of great photos so you can see what the finished version looks like.

Delmar Driving Cap by Carla Crim (Scientific Seamstress)
Delmar Driving Cap by Carla Crim

I’ve picked out a least three hats I want to make, the Liesl Cloche by Mary Abreu of Confessions of the Craft Addict and the Raindrop Hat by Alexia Marcelle Abegg of Green Bee Patterns, for myself, and for my hubby, the Delmar Driving Cap by Carla Crim.

Fashion Hats (Design & Make) by British milliner and hat designer Karen Henriksen, covers techniques on making hats from felt, sinamay (a type of straw from a banana plant), straw, and fabric. Making these hats (except for the fabric ones) requires specific equipment such as specially formed wood blocks to shape your hat material. Just think of a wool hat with those indentations in the crown, sort of like a fedora – you get that shape from dampening the wool felt and shaping it over a dome crown block and then steaming and making the indentations with your fingers, holding them in place until they’re dry. hat instructions in Deisgn & Make Fashion HatsThere’s also lots of pinning involved with the brim. But I’m not ready to invest in any wood blocks just yet but I will try making some of the fabric hats.

Though patterns are not included, Chapter 8 has instructions on how to draft patterns for a wide-brimmed hat, a brimless hat, a cap with a peak, and a beret. It’ll be fun to draft hat patterns and understand how the pieces work together to form a hat. And you can sew those hats on your sewing machine!

Hats by Sarah Cant

Last but not least is Hats: Make Classic Hats and Headpieces in Fabric, Felt, and Straw by British couture milliner Sarah Cant. This book is full of step-by-step instructions on how to make shaped hats with hat blocks. Some of the designs are quite fancy, with ribbons, feathers, and flowers. This book is for people who want to block hats, a meticulous and time-intensive endeavor involving plenty of hand stitching, steaming, pinning, and ironing.

Velvet Coolie HatOne hat that took me aback was the so-called “Velvet Coolie.” Yikes – the term “coolie” is rather offensive. It had been used back in the 19th century to refer to Asian slaves or manual laborers but today it’s considered a racial slur (see the Wikipedia entry for Coolie). The book says: “The term coolie originally referred to the conical hats worn in East and Southeast Asia. In the west, the shape became popular with Dior’s iconic New Look movement in the late 1940s and into the 1950s.” Uh, OK but do we still need to use that term to refer to this hat shape?

I’ll be working on drafting my own hat patterns and will post about that experience (hopefully) next month. I promised my hubby that I’d make a hat for him.

Book Review: ‘Overdressed’ by Elizabeth L. Cline

I knew something was wrong last year when I saw the sale price of a floor-length black cotton skirt at H&M: five dollars. I remember asking myself: How was it possible to make and sell a long skirt – even with an elastic waist and lightweight fabric – for only five dollars?

I really couldn’t answer the question – though lurking in the back of my mind was the thought that labor costs must be really, really low. Despite that thought, I’m embarrassed to admit, I couldn’t resist the price and I bought it.

Now after reading Elizabeth Cline’s eye-opening book Overdressed (Portfolio/Penguin), I know why that skirt was so cheap. As as a result I don’t think I’ll ever buy anything else from H&M. (OK, I confess that that’s not that much of a sacrifice. I was never a regular H&M shopper because of the slipshod construction of the clothes – stripes that usually don’t line up, seams that looked like they would will come apart in a few washings, cheap fabric, and so on.)

The author spells out why chain stores such as H&M can sell clothes at such low prices – volume. After all when you can place an order of fifty thousand or a hundred thousand outfits from a factory, you can sell it at a low price and still make a profit. Keep in mind that people working in those factories are making their country’s minimum wage, which is likely not a living wage. For example in 2010, garment workers in Bangladesh demanded a 200 percent increase in their wages, which meant $71 a month. In the end, they got about $43 a month.

H&M in San Francisco

And with new stock arriving in some stores a couple of times a week or even everyday (yes, Cline says “H&M and Forever 21 get daily shipments of new styles.”), we have “fast fashion,” which encourages shoppers to buy more clothes more often. But this also means that smaller companies can’t compete because they can’t place such huge orders and must charge significantly more for their wares.

The book is packed with revelatory facts about our gargantuan consumption for cheap fashion and its negative impact on the fashion industry and the environment. Overdressed also provides a succinct overview of how the fashion industry has changed and how our attitude toward clothes has evolved over the past century.

“We are buying and hoarding roughly twenty billion garments per year as a nation,” says Cline, who also points out that the United States “now makes 2 percent of the clothing its consumers purchase, down from about 50 percent in 1990.”

I don’t know about you, but my jaw dropped when I read those numbers.

But Overdressed isn’t just about facts and figures, the author also includes her own personal experiences as a consumer of inexpensive clothes, confessing “For a decade, I only bought cheap fashion…” paying “less than $30 per item on average for each piece of clothing” in her closet.

Cline’s fascinating book is a combination of her first-person perspective and meticulous research (interviewing many people in the fashion industry in New York and traveling to to various places, including garment factories in China, defunct textile mills in the South, and a unionized garment factory in the Dominican Republic). She also devotes a chapter to the “afterlife of cheap clothes – and it isn’t pretty. A Brooklyn Salvation Army distribution center processes an average of five TONS of outcast clothing every day. Cline notes that every year “Americans throw away 12.7 million tons or 68 pounds of textiles per person.”

We can’t recycle that many clothes, folks. It’s just not possible.

Overdressed tries to end on a positive note by discussing people who design, sew, or refashion clothes. Cline describes taking sewing classes with Sarah Kate Beaumont of Very Sweet Life, and buys her first sewing machine a few weeks later. She visits stores that feature clothes made domestically and/or produced from sustainable fabrics, including the Echo Park Independent Co-op in Los Angeles and Kaight in New York, and says that local production is growing because “designers are realizing it gives them far beter quality control and speed to market.”

It’s these last chapters that are a boon to those who make their own clothes or who buy clothes from local designers. So in the spirit of supporting local design, here’s my plug for Field Day, an Oakland company whose mission is “to create an ecologically friendly, handmade, unique and beautiful world” while “[s]triving to minimize textile waste by offering wearables made from sustainable materials.”

Who are your favorite local designers? Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section!

Chuleenan Svetvilas

UPDATE – October 15, 2012

I joined in a great Twitter chat (#EFCSRchat) today with Elizabeth Cline, Eileen Fisher, and Green Eileen, the recycled clothing initiative of the Eileen Fisher Community Foundation.

At the end of the chat I asked Elizabeth Cline (@thegoodcloset) “what do you tell your friends who are wearing #fastfashion?” She replied: “Lead by example, turn them on to ethical stores/websites. Go to for ideas.”

She also tweeted a follow-up reply: “check out my shopping directory for a list of alternatives.” Here’s a link to the shopping directory on her website, which includes “those fashion designers/brands who not only have a strong ethical vision, but are design/style leaders as well.” (You can send suggestions for the shopping directory to Elizabeth at elizabeth.l.cline AT

A few other pertinent tweets from Elizabeth from today’s #ERCSRchat:

” Even if you’re not into fashion, clothes matter! Buying responsibly has huge positive impacts on jobs/environment.”

“[W]e need to stop buying things we know are going to fall apart because textiles/fashion are huge polluters.”

“Ethical fashion has many components: Fair pay, environmental awareness, and smart/sustainable design.”

“It’s important for consumers to have their own sense of style NOT let the fashion industry dictate our choices.”

” Shopping compulsively and buying deals gets you nowhere fast. Check out my former closet:

“Now, fashion is split into the super cheap vs. insanely overpriced. We need more fairly priced, well-made clothes.”

And some of the comments from Eileen Fisher (@EILEENFISHER):

“We read in the book that clothes should be viewed as investments, not as trendy throw away items. Couldn’t agree with it more.”

“Problem is that we get into the habit of asking “why pay good $ for clothes that aren’t going to be in style nxt season?”

From Green Eileen (@GreenEileenShop)

“Best tip: Think of the Future! Buying fast fashion goodies offers instant gratification, but what abt long-term?”

“our teams fave OVERDRESSED quote is: “We are all stewards of our clothing, responsible for seeing it…

And finally, from Dr. Susan Rubin (@DrsuRu):

“If our kids understood where clothing came from, they might re-think their shopping choices. Once again, similar to food.”

“As with food, stick with higher quality clothing and it will serve you better. That’s why I shop at @GreenEileenShop.”

“Many Americans use shopping as a drug. Need to become more mindful and discover that less is more.”