‘Dressmaking’ book – intermediate skills
A new wardrobe pattern book, ‘Dressmaking’ by Alison Smith, includes good photo instructions for making about 30 garments, based on classic patterns for tops, skirts, pants, dresses, jackets (see my post on the styles included).
This book sparked off so many thoughts, my comments expanded to several posts. I’ve already posted about help for complete beginners and advanced beginners. This is a review of the ‘Dressmaking’ book. I’m writing another post on other routes to intermediate skills.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I like project based learning. It’s good for people who like very classic styles and want to learn intermediate sewing techniques, plus starter skills for pattern altering to make new styles. Very good on technique. But difficult to read and look things up.
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General limitations of the ‘Dressmaking’ book
In this book the typeface is small and low contrast so it’s difficult to see. The pages look lovely, but you have to peer closely to read the text. As this is an instruction book not a coffee-table book, I don’t think this is good book design.
There are pages and pages of tools which you apparently have to have before sewing a single stitch. I’ve been sewing for 70 years and I still haven’t got all of them.
There’s a good general section on altering a pattern to fit, but not much detail. As so often happens, there’s next to nothing on how you know what you need to alter on the pattern, or by how much ! You have to work out for yourself which parts of this are relevant to your project and your body shape. There’s a brief section on making a muslin to test fit, but very little on how to evaluate and alter it. So this is not a book to turn to if you need help with fit. (Index page 2 lists my posts on fit.)
This is a project based book. When techniques are described within projects, you need a good index if you want to look up a technique away from a particular project. Sadly this index is in such dim type you need a strong light to read it. And it’s not good. For example there are a couple of pages on openings (plackets), but they’re not mentioned in the index.
Hmm – 5 out of the first 6 things I looked up in the index aren’t there, though they are in the text.
So once you’ve learned to sew from this book, it’s not so good as a reference afterwards.
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Quality of instructions
I do like the technique instructions in this book. Lots of close-up photos. A huge amount of thought and work must have gone into preparing such detailed and effective illustrations. They give a high level of ‘I could do this’ confidence. (Though there isn’t enough to support complete beginners.)
I’ve read the whole thing and only found :
3 techniques which I think a first-timer would like a bit more help with.
3 techniques where I do things a bit differently. (I finish the neckline treatment while the garment is flat, before sewing the side seams, if possible.)
2 small omissions.
And in 200 pages packed with sewing instructions, there were only 3 steps which I didn’t understand.
Is this a record 😀
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Project based learning
Alison Smith’s other books describe techniques and have drawings rather than photos. This book is about projects. If you work through these projects, you’ll have a good grounding in sewing techniques up to intermediate level, though only for standard weave woven fabrics. But she doesn’t suggest a best sequence for learning. You could choose any project, with minimum guidance on how difficult it is.
If you do want to learn from a sequence of increasing difficulty, it’s probably best to work through all the projects in this book in the order given – from a skirt with darts, zip, waistband, to a lined jacket with lined patch pockets and shawl collar. Not as far as a structured notch-collar blazer. The technical descriptions for later garments are briefer and refer you back to earlier in the book.
If you work through the whole sequence, you’ll learn competent sewing of standard woven fabrics and simple pattern altering. There’s usually only a few clearly explained new skills in each project. It would be a good learning experience to work through all the projects in this book – except that making 31 ultra-classic garments is a major commitment !
I wrote a list of the pattern altering and sewing skills covered in each project in the Dressmaking book, for my own reference.
It won’t be of general interest, but some people who use the book might find it helpful. So here’s a pdf version :
It might also act as a guide to a sequence of learning intermediate skills.
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When I first got the ‘Dressmaking’ book I wavered wildly for and against. It is difficult to read and find things in. The patterns are ultra classic. I’ve settled on being very impressed with the instructions for technique. Very easy to learn from at intermediate level.
With over 300 large pages, this book is packed with information. But it can’t be all things for all people. The techniques are unusually easy to understand, but you may want to know about other fabrics or styles, easier or more advanced techniques, more guidance about fit.
The techniques included can be used for making a wide variety of styles, not just classics. But the patterns are more limited.
I love project-based learning rather than just working through a list of techniques, but I agree it is difficult to produce projects that everyone wants to make !
This also works well for me as an instruction book as I’m happy to sew at intermediate level. I have little wish to learn more advanced sewing techniques. But for some people that’s their big love. My interests are more in the direction of learning to make my own styles.
Which level of skill are you happiest to sew at 😀
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Links available March 2013
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