Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Reading List Part One: So You Want to Learn to Sew

Oh, Natalie, my Russian taskmistress.

Here are some books to get you started.  (Note: these books will skew toward the pattern drafting side of things, since that's my primary interest, and also not terribly easy to just pick up on your own.)  We'll start useful and move on to the more "historical" texts in Part Three.  Most everything here is in the intermediate range; I sewed amateurishly for almost six years before finally getting serious about it, so it's been quite a while since I looked at the books for absolute beginners--though The Sew Everything Workshop looks like a good all-around start, if you're at the what-is-this-dial-on-my-sewing-machine stage of things.  If you're a bit farther along, try these books:

Modern Sewing Texts:

The Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (link goes to the edition I have, now available used for quite cheap) is the single most useful sewing book in the history of ever.  It's incredibly comprehensive, the illustrations are clear and consistent, and there are little notes in the top margin giving the page numbers for each technique you might need to reference (i.e. 'gathering' and 'staystitching' on the page about attaching waistbands).  Think of it as an encyclopedia, and keep it on hand to consult anytime there are gaps in your knowledge.

Useful features: All.

Drawbacks: It is not bound in leather with space for my family's birth and wedding dates in the front cover.  (This is a joke about how it is the Bible.)

Pattern Drafting for Dressmaking by Pamela Stringer, unfortunately not available cheaply, is nonetheless my favorite pattern drafting book.  It's clear, it's logical, it's not afraid to print the word "crotch" (as some other books I will not name hilariously are), and it's been my main ally in the war against pants.  If, like me, you get a headache trying to follow somebody else's pattern, this book will change your life (not really).  Try inter-library loan if your local library doesn't have it.

Useful features: Very straightforward, and not too intimidating if you've never drafted a pattern before; makes previously frightening tasks seem within your grasp; full-page chart of all the measurements you'll need for the entire book, for easy reference; includes both "seat" and "hip" measurements, because one is your ass and one is your hips and many books get this inexplicably wrong..

Drawbacks: Skews towards the eighties; does not give terribly in-depth reasons for why you're connecting point F and point K 1 cm outside bisecting line AD, so you don't have much control over the amount of ease or style choices; instructions are slightly too much like trigonometry.

Dress Pattern Designing (and its companion texts Dress Fitting and More Dress Pattern Designing) by Natalie Bray.  (This is the book that couldn't say crotch (whoops, named it).)  Mrs. Bray will school you.  You think you're tough?  Not as tough as Natalie "Slash and Spread" Bray.  She stares out at you from the author's page, a stern Slavic schoolmistress with a head for figures and no patience for sloppy measuring.  If you're going to resize a sleeve cap, you better do it the proper way or woe be to you.  Because I'm crazy, I got this book before Pamela Stringer's, though it is definitely the more advanced text (Stringer is a kind aunt cheering you through your first elastic-band pajama pants; Bray is an intimidating and strangely attractive calculus teacher scowling at the cluttered style lines of your strapless gown while you bleed from the fingers and sob).  I lied earlier.  This is my favorite pattern drafting book.

Useful features: Great diagrams; lack of bullshit; Natalie's sexy prose style; timeless illustrations and no small amount of contempt for seventies fashions; the best explanation of sleevecap ease I've ever seen:

Since the shoulder is a curve, the top edge of the sleeve cannot fit smoothly over it unless there is a little extra length (fullness) to fit the sleeve over the prominence of the shoulder bone.  The function of this fullness is the same as that of the Shoulder dart, without which a bodice front cannot be fitted over the curve of the bust: it moulds the top of the sleeve to the shape of the shoulder and 'pulls up' the sides of the sleeve. 
The higher a sleeve is fitted on the shoulder, the more pronounced will this fullness be.  It must not be confused with any extra fullness added to the sleeve as a trimming or fashion detail, though the origin is the same . . . When sleeves are fitted very low the necessity for this extra fullness disappears.     - Natalie Bray, Dress Pattern Designing, p. 70

Oh, and Dress Fitting contains a series of really enlightening exercises with a dress form and tissue paper.  You'll never see darts the same way, dude.

Drawbacks: It will hurt your brain.  I read each book through several times before starting to use any of the concepts she describes, because they're all interdependent--it really is a system for pattern drafting, not just tips.  But smart ol' Natalie has answered questions I didn't even know I had.  It's worth it, I promise.

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