Book Review: Dressmaker’s Handbook of Couture Sewing Techniques

I seldom do book reviews. Not that I don’t buy books.  These days I prefer ebooks for cost, storage and portability reasons but I do buy books; lots of books. I just seldom do reviews.

I purchased this book by Lynda Maynard because I was interested in her Craftsy class.  The class sounded interesting but for $50, I felt like it should have more content.  I also was not impressed by the sample on Craftsy showing  bound edges on (what looked to me like ) a knit top.  I knew immediately , if  that top was on me, the neckline and armscyes would all gape terribly.  I’m adamant that my neck and armscye bindings must not only neatly finish the edges but add durability and snug the garment to my body.  Couldn’t see that happening with the sample provided. Nope. Not at all.

I read the class reviews. Once again, they are disappointing and not informative.  Mostly the reviews are  of  the “you are wonderful” or  “learned so much” types rather than providing specific information  such as ( *1 ) “that’s the first time using  a single thread to  stitch a dart made sense to me. ”

But, one comment about Lynda’s class stood out.  The student who wrote “I have her book now….”. Whoa! Lynda Maynard wrote a book?  This was particularly interesting to me because I’m  one  of the limited population who learn best through the written word. Most everyone else is a visual learner. Nothing wrong with that or with me either. It’s just that visual learners will get more from the  Sewing On the Edge video course while people like me get more from  this book “Dressmaker’s Handbook of Couture Sewing Techniques

At half the cost and with 4 times the content, the book was a much, much better choice for me.

One of the first things I want to share is a picture of one of the Index pages.

There are four pages. Each contains multiple small images (about 8 per page); one for each technique in the book.   Words sometimes fail . Often the same word can be used to mean multiple things.  It’s quite common for two people to be using the same technique/item/concept but calling it by different names.  With a pic next to a text, there is no question as to which technique is being referenced. I do find it easier to locate what I want by skimming the photos rather than reading the text .

I was most interested in the binding finishes. Lynda uses a variety of materials for binding: self fabric, ribbon, charmeuse, etc and shows a variety of methods including a Baby French Binding which I can’t wait to try.  “Bindings and Finishes” is followed by “Design Details On Show” and then “Design Details Concealed”. There is a fabulous section just about luxury fabrics (Chapter 5 “Directory of Luxury Fabrics”).  Oh, I totally didn’t mention Chapter 1 in which Lynda discusses and provides pics of the tools she uses.  I thought it was wonderful to see that I use many of the same tools as the “expert”.

I like that most of the techniques are machine orientated. I know Lynda has come under fire for using machine techniques (instead of  hand sewing ) and  having the gall to call her methods “couture”. Here’s my take: In the last 20 years, I estimate I’ve spent $20K on sewing machines (to include sergers and embroidery). That’s not counting the associated notions and supplies which could easily be quadruple the cost of machines. Like most US women I feel guilty at having spent such a large amount of money on my hobby.  I want to use my machines. I want to justify my expenditure (and enjoy my hobby). Any book that makes optimum use of my machines is far more likely to come home and be used.  Hand sewing is likely to be perused and left at the store. I’m really pleased and commend Lynda for translating couture methods into machine methods that  I can use with my machines.

The book is beautifully done. The pages are heavy, white and glossy. This book was intended to be a pleasure. It has a spiral binding which allows the book to lay flat while reading the step by step instructions. I can assure you that the book’s instructions are terrific. They’re clear, well written to include when and why to use the technique. I was impressed by the one set of directions I’ve already followed.  (Banded V-Neck on Knit Fabric,  which I’ll share in a future post.)  I haven’t listed all the techniques because I plan to post each one as I use it.  This could take months and  I’m not even sure I’ll be using every technique in the book. But what I do use, I will share and give credit to Lynda.

I was puzzled at how much this book appealed to me once it was in hand.  I have several of Claire Shaeffer’s books; also Sandra Betzina;  the Palmer and Pletsche publications and numerous others. But this book I stopped to use immediately. Why? It doesn’t have the extensive content of the referenced tomes.  I think partly I respond to format of the index and that it focuses on using machines to produce couture effects. But this is also a smaller and concise set of techniques. It’s  a digestible amount.  There’s enough information to interest me but not enough to overwhelm me or to be forgotten before I finish reading the book the first time.

One last comment, which really isn’t related closely to the book at all but applies more to the rag trade in general. In the book there are several pictures of beautiful haute couture pieces worn by beautiful haute couture models. Why do haute couture models look mean, nasty and bored?  I recall only one model with even a hint of a smile.  If I disliked my job that much, I would quit. I felt like telling one of the models that McDonalds is  hiring world-wide and they can’t be any worse to work for than the jerks employing her now. I mean, she’s obviously not happy.

Please join me in the next few months as I explore this book and if you are a visual learner, by all means do consider signing up for the Craftsy Class.

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*1  The single thread dart is called a “Couture Dart” by Lynda Maynard. Detailed on page 100; and yes this is the first time that it truly made sense to me.

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Dressmaker’s Handbook of Couture Sewing Techniques

  1. Thanks for this review–I also prefer books to video for many things, and most amazon book reviews don’t tell you what the book is like–just whether the reviewer found it helpful or not. (Much like the Craftsy reviews.)

    Historically, fashion houses selected models with bland facial features–you weren’t supposed to be distracted by the happy, pretty lady, but focus on the clothes, and imagine yourself wearing them. I think nowadays, they must look grim because they’re hungry all the time.

    1. Oh we’re both verbal learners. We’re just as good as the visual learners. Both styles are valid. But books work better for you and me.

      It’s interesting that Amazon book reviews are so poor. (I usually buy from Barnes and Noble.) I depend upon the reviews for many products sold on Amazon, like the camera I just purchased. It’s too bad that the reviewers get lazy when it comes to books. B&N previews aren’t all that terrific either. They shows the first X number of pages which generally includes several blank pages, a title page and portion of the Table of Contents. Not enough information IMO. There are lots of hard-copy books I won’t buy until I get to the store and take a look.

      Pity the models. I just can’t imagine not feeling happy if I were allowed to dress in those clothes.

  2. Thank you for this review. I too have many sewing books and the shelves are running out of room (honesty: at least 10 books are sitting on top of the full shelf of books!) but this sounds as if it could be worthwhile. I’m always trying to improve my techniques.

    1. Oh that sounds like me. I have some stacked in front of others.

      You’re welcome for the review. I think an honest review that points out both good and bad is more valuable to me. I hope I provided that service for you.

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