A review: The Colette Sewing HandbookThis book review will be relatively concise (for one prone to verbosity, at least) as tomorrow the book's author, Sarai Mitnick, founder of the wonderful Colette Patterns, will be visiting as part of her book launch blog tour. I think that in many ways the questions that I put to Sarai are a reflection of my thoughts on the book, so I won't repeat myself too much here and you can look forward to hearing Sarai's take on things tomorrow. So, briefly (ahem!).... I think the publication of the Colette Sewing Handbook may be one of the sewing-related highlights of a dressmaker's year - I know it has been for me. But it may also become that for those who are at the stage of only nervously contemplating and procrastinating over making their first garment, for as with the individual patterns, this book teaches complex things in an incredibly simple way making turning out beautifully-finished, well-fitting garments a possibility even for the previously uninitiated. It's such a good aid to diving in and giving it a go; the combination of patterns and technique explanation means that you will have someone holding your hand at every step during the making of the five patterns included with the book. I remember as I stood on the precipice of jumping off into the adventure of making my first dress it felt like an oddly terrifying thing and my fears of failure were great. Everything felt overwhelming: even the rustle of that first thin tissue paper pattern that once unfolded could never be squeezed back into its envelope again and seemed to tear with alarming ease left me feeling jittery. I wish this book had existed then. The book is structured around what Sarai pinpoints as the five fundamental elements necessary to produce a successful garment and woven within each of these chapters is all the dressmaking expertise and know-how you might need, illustrating points by using the five sewing patterns that are provided with the book.
The first of the five fundamentals is'a thoughtful plan' . Here the book explores the psychology of dressing, discussing the chasm that so often exists between what we imagine we'd like to wear and what we actually choose to wear on a daily basis in such an insightful way that since reading it not only have I chosen or drafted patterns and selected fabrics in a different way, I've also kept Sarai's words in mind when buying ready-made garments.
The book also discusses how we feel about our bodies and how this is intertwined with the clothing that we make for ourselves; because the aim should be to make clothes that make you feel fantastic. Sarai's writing in this area is particularly thoughtful and it's an incredibly affirming, embracing book, in keeping with the ethos of the Coletterie blog, but somehow I felt surprised and delighted to find this positivity sprinkled over a book that essentially falls under the blanket of 'text book'. It's done with such a lightness of touch that you find yourself feeling warmed as you read through the pages of the book contemplating new techniques and skills. It is also done with unexpected humour at
times - one of my favourite lines in the book was this:
There are many female body types. Yes, sometimes it’s helpful to have the shorthand of saying that you are “pear-shaped” or “apple-shaped.” But when you get down to it, most of our bodies have numerous quirks beyond what a simple fruit metaphor can represent.
The second fundamental given is'a precise pattern'- here, you're walked through the basics of how to use a dress pattern, from preparing and marking your fabric to finally cutting it out.
The book then moves on to talk about the importance of'a fantastic fit'as the third fundamental. Sarai is emphatic that for a garment to fit well, any pattern will almost certainly need to be fitted to your shape and I found this to be one of the dominant and more technical themes covered by the book. It offers an extensive reference to redrafting patterns to accommodate every type of imaginable body quirk you may encounter (my own being a short body and a small bust - thankfully I don't need to factor in my large-for-my-frame bottom as this is already taken care of as Colette patterns are cut to flatter curves). Here, the book doesn't simply instruct you as to what steps should be taken to remedy these pattern issues though - it actually teaches the theory behind the steps too - it's this that fosters a more adept, intuitive seamstress who can think around a problem for herself and it's a complete delight to find a book that does this so well.
Finally,'a beautiful fabric'and'a fine finish'are covered as the two remaining fundamental elements and you'll find an in depth discussion concerning how to make a successful fabric choice to suit your intended pattern and style, along with a variety of seam finishes,bindings and lining options.
On the basis of those that I've already used from the Colette range, I had expected to love the patterns that come with the book (three of the five provided have already left me thinking about which fabrics I'd use to make them up in); to find the instruction clear; to learn new sewing techniques; and to feel delighted to have so much dressmaking expertise all nicely wrapped up in one place on my bookshelf. The book fulfils all of my expectations - what I hadn't anticipated was that it would be a book that I'd fall in love with beyond the confines of sewing. It marries technical teaching with philosophical thinking around the subject of clothes and dressmaking making it a warm, affirming cuddle of a book that is entirely unique within its genre.
As I said at the start of this review, tomorrow Sarai will be visiting here as part of her book launch blog tour, I do hope you'll check back then when you will be able to read some of the questions and answers we exchanged when I interviewed her a few weeks ago.
If you wish to buy the book in the meantime you can find it here. I can't recommend it highly enough.