Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fit To Print

Today I have a couple of book reviews for you: one knitting and one sewing. Both are rather technical in nature but give you some really useful tools for your DIY projects. Kind of like a school textbook but more fun since it’s not a required subject and you won’t get tested or marked on it.

PadenBook The first one is Knitwear Design Workshop: A Comprehensive Guide to Handknits by Shirley Paden. Interweave Press LLC, 2009. 340+ pages, hardcover over spiral binding.

This is a massive book with lots of charts and math (with proofs!) and just tonnes of garment design information. Shirley is one of those truly elegant people who always look chic and perfect and this esthetic carries on throughout her work, her website and her book. And she wants you to share it too. Don’t be intimidated though; Shirley holds your hand and walks you through everything very carefully, step by step. I own other sweater design books and none of them covers the subject anywhere near as thoroughly. It’s a college-level course at least! If you have any desire to create your own knitted garments this is the book to have and to use. And to study carefully.

As a complement to the Knitware design program that I’ve talked about before, this book is wonderful. The program does the basic math for you but the book covers a lot more alternatives in much greater depth. You could generate a basic pattern to your measurements with the software and then tweak the shaping or add more elaborate details using the information in the book. At the very least you will understand a whole lot more about what you are doing with the program.

That said, I’m not inspired to knit any of Shirley’s designs. They are really lovely but just not my taste, being far too elegant for my lifestyle. She is the queen of huge collars, lace dresses and sewing pieces together. This is not the place to learn top-down construction or how to knit a garment in one piece. However, crocheters should not overlook the fact that the sizing, shaping and fitting and general design information can apply to them just as well as to knitters.

For extra information on Shirley Paden (her last name is pronounced with a long ‘a’), her work and her book, don’t forget to check out these links: go here for Interweave’s info (including a video where Shirley introduces herself) and here for her own appropriately lovely website (including extra downloadable worksheets, under Book).

SewBook Next, the sewing book I want to discuss is How to Use, Adapt, and Design Sewing Patterns by Lee Hollahan. Quarto Inc., 2010. 144 pages, softcover.

Subtitled “from store-bought patterns to drafting your own: a complete guide to fashion sewing with confidence”, I would say this book is also not really for the absolute beginner but with some experience you could improve your fitting and change garment details easily. More advanced sewers will get a better handle on starting to design their own garments from scratch.

Apparently originally from the US, Ms. Hollahan is a lecturer in fashion and textile design in the UK. She knows her stuff from the point of view of a professional, not a home-sewer, so her use of terminology (hint: toile = muslin, blocks = sloper) reflects that experience. However, the information is provided in clearly illustrated step-by-step form, with lots of notes and examples. There are even basic slopers in pattern sizes 6-18 (which have to be enlarged) provided for you to work with. You learn how to take measurements, how to add ease and how to adjust the fit by splitting, spreading and overlapping pattern pieces. Unfortunately there’s only a short 2 pages on fitting pants, which really demands a whole book of its own. Lots of design changes (collars, sleeves, cuffs, facings, princess seams, pockets etc.) are discussed. The last chapter is titled “Core Sewing Techniques” but is very short and without much detail so a good basic sewing book is an essential addition.

One thing I really missed was more information on pattern sizing which can totally baffle me, even though I’ve been sewing for millennia. Perhaps it’s not relevant if you are creating a basic block for yourself anyway. But it would be nice to know where to start if I go to buy a commercial pattern. My dilemma is multiple: different pattern companies use different amounts of ease, some use different numbering systems, and it’s all completely different from commercial ready-to-wear. Most women at least know their off-the-rack size intimately. I don’t have a clue! Of course my body is nowhere near any standard size anyway. Is anyone’s? (And it changes when I’m not looking.) In most patterns (McCall’s, Simplicity, Butterick, and some Vogue), I usually begin with a size 12 and adjust the hip and/or waist (if fitted), sleeve length and sometimes hem length. Sandra Betzina’s Today’s Fit patterns from Vogue have a more sensible fit, for me at least.

I did find a helpful article here from Threads. It’s one of the few places where the advice is to go by your high-bust, not regular bust measurement. And the author whips by that detail so quickly you might miss it! Butterick kind of says this too in a roundabout sortof way here. However I have a B cup and don’t need to make any large bust adjustments. This means that even though a standard size 12 pattern has a 34” bust, mine is actually 37” so I theoretically should go to a 14 or even a 16. But I would swim in it! My high-bust/chest is 35” so it should still be too small but I think they also add too much ease. However, on the bottom half of me I’m more like an 18 or 20 (the old pear syndrome!), hence those adjustments necessary on a more fitted garment. Not to mention my short arms! I have to remove about 2” on long sleeves or they cover my hands.

So you can see how being able to make your own patterns, or at least make some major adjusting to commercial ones, might be helpful. I plan to give this book a good workout. As soon as I find my studio under the mess. Again. Things got a little jumbled up there as I was getting ready for the Anne Field spinning workshop. I spent an hour yesterday just cleaning and readjusting my poor drumcarders. They aren’t used to being dragged around and used by strangers who aren’t nearly as nice to them as I am. I even found there was a missing nut and washer that I had to replace from T-Man’s stash. And also found that I need to get me a 7/16ths wrench for my own tool box. T’s tools are not easy to locate in his jumble sometimes.

In the jumble, the mighty jumble…oops. Channelling my inner John Lennon. What? You didn’t know I had one? Don’t get me started. I can quote from both his early books – In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works – better than his music lyrics. And yes, I still have my copies. My favourite is the poem, “I Sat Belonely Down A Tree”. Maybe John looks better through rose-tinted specs? Though I’m not forgetting one of the biggest influences on my teenaged years anyhow. And no, it was actually George who was my favourite Beatle. Yes, I’m that old.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reviews. I had been curious about the knitting book.

Louisa said...

Glad it was helpful, Rosemary! Though I wouldn't advise it for the faint-of-heart who just want to pick up needles and yarn and knit. You have to have an itch to learn new and complex things!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you for these reviews, Louisa. I bought the Paden book but have not had time to explore it yet, as we are packing to move next week and life is much too complicated to really read or knit just now. But I am looking forward to it as I have never done much in the way of modifying a pattern, and am just now starting to feel like I should/could manage to make things fit better.

I have not sewed much in years, but now that there are 3 darling grandaughters (and a very handsome young grandson!) I have started again. I made the girls matching jumpers for Christmas and learned that the trick to good sewing is repeating..... the first jumper was a little rough, the second was better and the third was perfect! So I need to find a few basic, classic patterns for myself and more than one..... that will definitely help me improve my skills.

Barbara M.