Monday, 22 April 2013

My favourite dressmaking book


I guess it's not massively helpful to review an out-of-print book, but you can sometimes get it used on Amazon for £0.01, and I've seen it several times in charity shops, so you can still buy a copy if you look out long enough!  Right now there are several on eBay for 99p.

Here goes: my favourite ever dressmaking book is "The Encyclopedia of Advanced Dressmaking", edited by Annie Woolridge.  It's not really a teach-you-the-basics one, but once you've made a few simple dresses you'll be past that stage anyway.  As soon as you want to try even a simple skirt or shirt there are already techniques in here that you'll find you need.  For example, different hemming methods and when to use them, types of interfacing and when to use them, waistbands, pleats, and this is all before page 25!  Pleasingly, most of the fashions in here have come round again already (inverted contrast pleats, wasn't that 2007-ish?)

There's also a fair bit on pattern alterations, both for fit and style (e.g. sleeve types) which is pleasing, and quite a lot of pages are devoted to grading patterns into different sizes.  That's pretty useful if you want to have a stab at making patterns yourself, or the pattern you got for free/cheap wasn't quite in the right size.

The tailoring techniques section looks to have a lot of the basics, but it's worth investing in a book on that whole subject if you're going there and want to do it properly.

There's also loads on how to work with difficult fabrics: sheers, leather, fur, velvet, sequinned etc.  What I like about this book's approach is that it doesn't waste time telling you how it's easy, it just tells you how to do it right.  There are no corner-cutting suggestions, just dictums on the right way to cut a skirt from tartan fabric so that the checks don't just match, but fall in the right places on the shirt front.  That's the level of nit-picky detail I love it for.

What the book does not do is cover every technique you'll need.  I haven't found piping or invisible zippers in here (although I may have missed them).  It's not really an encyclopedia in that sense.

Unlike so many books today that have you learn techniques through projects, or have "easy" projects at the end of each chapter which turn out mostly to be ugly bags, this book saves the patterns to the last half of the book where they're printed in graph form for you to enlarge yourself.  At a second glance they do seem to include some of the techniques in the book (fur, leather, sheers, silks and lace), but that doesn't appear to have been the motivation for choosing them.  Rather, they're a well rounded selection with something for everyone, and are awesome 70s style.  There is a nightie, several coats and loads of dresses, a peplum camisole (back in fashion right now) with matching skirt, some slightly comical menswear, a dated wedding dress and some maternity wear.  For the kiddies there is a sun-dress, adorable duffel coats and a really cute sou'wester set.  Okay, some patterns look terribly dated, but quite a few are classics.

The book is published by Marshall Cavendish Books Limited in 1978.  It's worth buying just for the fabulous fashion illustrations!

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