Friends, I'm happy to report that I'm feeling much better and was able to make it to the library yesterday, where I happened upon a copy of the new sewing book Famous Frocks by Sara Alm and Hannah McDevitt. Are you familiar with it?
I rarely find sewing books at the library, not that I look for them much. I own a ton already and have leafed through even more, but I find that for my current level of sewing -- which I'd categorize as intermediate, whatever that really means -- there isn't much new; the masters remain the masters. And let's face it, 90% of what a sewist is ever going to need to know can be found in thehighly untrendy Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing. Am I wrong?
More experienced sewers are already committed to their craft and don't need a strong hook to lure them into a book purchase, or expect a book to come with patterns included. And they probably already own too many (books and patterns).
But demographics change and a new generation of sewers demands its own sewing books, and why not? But to judge from many of the new sewing books, the focus today is on making sewing fun. I have a lot of thoughts about why this is the case, but I'll save that for another post.
So I borrowed Famous Frocks and had a look.
It's much easier to criticize other people's work than to create your own, readers, and a lot of how a book ends up is beyond the author's control. That said, as much as I wanted to love Famous Frocks, I was a little disappointed. Here's why and I'll be specific.
The title and subheading of this book are a bit misleading. The authors choose 10 celebrities with highly identifiable (some to the point of banality) signature looks (Jackie, Audrey, Marilyn, Twiggy: all present and accounted for). The book includes a paper pattern reinterpreting (i.e. simplifying) each iconic look. Included too is a slight variation for each look/dress.
While Jackie's signature A-line is attributed to Oleg Cassini, Audrey's LBD to Givenchy, and Marilyn's Seven Year Itch dress to William Travilla, no designer is mentioned for Bette Davis, although Orry-Kelly and Edith Head played a huge role in creating her onscreen wardrobe. Am I being too picky? No designer is mentioned with regard to Twiggy either. Shouldn't a book entitled Famous Frocks either mention all the frock's original designers, or the designers behind the icon's famous look?
Farrah Fawcett is shown in what is referred to as a wrap dress, "likely inspired by none other than Diane von Furstenberg." Notice anything unusual about this wrap dress, eagle-eyed readers?
Whoops, it's a shirtdress. Anyway, Farrah's hair was iconic, and the book includes a wrap dress pattern, which I think most people prefer to a shirtdress these days anyway.
The book contains no photographs of its patterns sewn up, just leggy illustrations, which may have had more to do with budget constraints than anything else, but I think the book really suffers for it.
You can see some versions of the finished dresses here, at a website whose URL is buried in the closing acknowledgments. (I think some of them are cute, actually.) Much is made about uploading your own versions tofamousfrocks.com. Obviously, something went wrong.
Like so many sewing books I've seen lately, Famous Frocks seems primarily targeted at the young female Project Runway fan who'd like to learn to sew her own clothes. That's why there's a glossary with terms like baste and gather. And why pretty much all the outfits lean toward the slim 'n' sexy.
For someone like that this book could be inspiring and fun. I know I'm not the target audience. But would someone who wanted to dress like mid-Eighties Madonna also want to dress like Rita Hayworth or Twiggy?
One last pet peeve: I find some version of this in many contemporary sewing books with regard to using vintage patterns and it's here as well:
With vintage patterns, sizing and fit is always an issue...
ALWAYS? Now as then, if your measurements match those of your pattern, the garment should fit. If not -- which is more the rule than the exception -- you're going to have to make some alterations to the pattern. Sometimes, true, patterns of yore (especially Fifties-era patterns) assumed you'd be wearing different undergarments than those popular today, which would enhance the final look and affect the fit of the garment, but there's a modern version available today of virtually everything grandma wore. Or just adjust the fit.
Finally, my dream sewing book, which isn't really a sewing book at all:
A highly experienced costumer, perhaps with the aid of a writer, deconstructs a series of actual dresses or gowns from Hollywood's Golden Age -- perhaps from a private collection; they don't have to be iconic, though ideally we would be able to track the costume to a specific film and performer -- and shows, in extreme detail, precisely what techniques were involved, specifically what materials, shortcuts, and so forth, maybe even how the design was intended to flatter or camouflage the person's body. That is a book I'd buy.
Any thoughts about favorite or not-so-favorite sewing books you wish to share?
I'm a native New Yorker and self-taught sewing fanatic! I've been sewing obsessively since 2009 and today make all my own clothes using mostly vintage patterns and vintage sewing machines. Welcome to the warm and whimsical world of Male Pattern Boldness, where the conversation is sewing, style, fashion, fabric, and more!