Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing

Another sewing book review! I had wanted to read "Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing"  by Gretchen Hirsch for quite some time and finally got it at the library.


The book is divided into two sections. Part One is on skill building and Part Two is on sewing the wardrobe. Gretchen Hirsch has a very popular blog with the emphasis on sewing vintage styled garments. This same vintage vibe is carried throughout this book. As I made my way through the first six chapters on skills I really liked what I read.  The artwork by Sun Young Park is fabulous and makes the reading experience quite enjoyable. I hope we see more of Park's work in sewing literature in the future.

The writing style here is definitely one of having chit chat with the girls but it still gets across the techniques really well. Gertie doesn't shy away from challenging her readers with hand picked zippers, bound buttonholes, circular hems and more. I love that. The look and writing style are there to appeal to the next generation of sewists. It is  filled with techniques that definitely aren't newbie but also good basic information is there. There are wonderful photos and directions for doing all the basic handstitches, something many patterns and books assume you know. Chapter Four is devoted to "Stabilizing and Tailoring"  with sections that vary from boning a bodice to pad-stitching a lapel. Chapter Six is all about Fitting. Here Hirsch describes her own fitting process. I like that people see that she, like almost all of us, has to make pattern adjustments. That fitting is a part of sewing is something that has to be established from the beginning in the learning curve of new sewists and I like how Gertie has written about that in Chapter Six. I really liked all that I saw in Part One of this book. It has much more than what little I have shared here and covers a very broad range of techniques and knowledge.

In Part Two, "Wardrobe",  we are introduced to the patterns that are included with the book. There is a Pencil Skirt, "Portrait Blouse", the "Sultry Sheath", the "Wiggle Dress" and more dresses, and additional skirts, blouses, a suit jacket and coat dress, PLENTY! One thing I found confusing here was the instructions were all numbered, much as you'd see in any pattern, but the illustrations were all lettered. For example, I am looking at Step 11. in the instructions for the pencil skirt and at the end of the sentence is the letter "J" in parenthesis. Why not just label the illustration 11. like the step that it is. The letters add a bit of confusion, IMO.. Some vintage techniques are used in the patterns, for example, boning a waist.

Hirsch lost me in this section, lost me as a fan who so enjoyed Part One of  the book. Why? Many of the garments have issues with fit and technique. I felt like I was given all this information in the beginning of the book but when I saw the efforts resulting from all that information in the second part of the book I was very very disappointed. I really expected better. Many of these issues are the same ones visible in garments made and modeled on Hirsch's blog, bodices too long, armholes too high, darts past the apex or spot on, pointy horsehair hems, etc. It always bothers me, no matter who is doing it, when someone is teaching something and can't pull off what they are trying to teach others.

In conclusion, I wouldn't recommend this book. I know  many like it and Hirsch has scores of devout followers, many who look up to her for the right way of sewing. She is in a position to set a standard for new sewists but for some reason was not able to pull it off with her own garments and patterns that came with the book. I have to say that in my  research I have seen many make her patterns and fit them properly with excellent skills and they look really great. She just didn't do a very good job. This book would have been much better once Gertie's skills matured to a higher skill level. That comes with time and experience and this book was before it's time.....Bunny


40 comments:

  1. Wow, thanks for the honest review! I am a sewing neophyte, but had noticed some of the issues that you mention from Gertie's blog. It's so hard for us new sewists to know who to ... listen to.

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    1. It is and that is why I think publishers and authors have a real responsibility to new sewists. I have had more great looking sewing books in my hand the past few years that really are filled with nothing but color and poorly executed designs. It's not fair to new sewists who really want to learn to sew correctly. That is one reason I recommended the Colette book. It really is good and perfect for a newbie.

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  2. I appreciate your review. If find some of the same issues you mentioned often on Pattern Review, Stitcher's Guild forum, and several other blogs I read. I hate seeing the dart issues especially as that is not so hard to fix. Not that my sewing is perfect---by any means..........and fit is such a personal issue.

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  3. I checked this book out of my library not long ago too. I have to agree with your review. The first part was quite good but the garments were not impressive.

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  4. I'm afraid I agree with you. Gertie has a wonderful blog with lots of great information on techniques and a very positive approach, but the book was written before her skills had caught up with her theoretical knowledge. I was surprised to see that someone who had been a relative beginner so recently had been given a book contract. She is certainly working hard at sewing well, and her skills are improving quickly, but the book would have been better if she'd waited a bit before writing it.

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  5. What a fine, balanced review! I love that you're reviewing sewing books now--I can't think of a better person to take this project on. And it's a great way to share your expertise.

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    1. I do hope to have more as they come in from the library. Right now I am re reading Claire Shaeffer's Couture Sewing book in preparation for my class with her. Wow. So much knowledge in that book and very interesting. More to come.

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  6. My sentiments (almost) exactly, Bunny. I don't like to see sewing portrayed just as "frosting" - with pretty prints and design lines. There is a great deal of engineering to get a garment to fit, hang, and look top-notch. I am willing to give Gertie a partial pass tho for one reason: she has motivated loads of people to sew. That IS worth something. Hopefully all of those new sewists will be inspired by others to improve their technical skills as they continue on their sewing journey. Thanks Bunny!

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    1. I also love how she has motivated new sewists and brought them into the fold. Let's face it. She is "cool". Hopefully her skills will mature and that gift will be used to teach a higher level of sewing than what was shown in this book. She appears to be a hard worker so I think that will come. Time will tell.

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  7. (I don't know if the first comment went through, but if it does, feel free to delete this one.)
    I ultimately didn't buy this book for the same reasons as you. I have plenty of books on hand tailoring and sewing techniques, and plenty of patterns. I was hoping for a bit more from her patterns, but I'm a bit disappointed in their design/engineering.

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  8. Just looking at her own dresses on her blog are very telling. As you say, too long waisted, all darts way past the bust points and other things that involve bad fit. I think...if she can't fit her own body with her own patterns...what chance is there for a newbie or even some of us gals who have been around a while to make these patterns work without so much altering?

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  9. I've also noticed all the poorly fitted garments on her blog. I'm not surprised that you found fitting issues in the book as well. It would have been so much more professional if she'd had someone that could do the fitting adjustments properly construct the garments so that they look professional and match the excellent first section of the book. Very disappointing. Thank you for the honest review.

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    1. Another issue, not hers, is how does a publisher edit a book like this and other sewing books? Unless you are Taunton Press (Threads) and really have experience in the subject, you don't know if the information is correct or could be improved. That's a major contribution to the poor quality of info aimed at newbie sewists.

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    2. Maybe someone could shed some light on the editing process in the sewing book arena. Thanks if you can.

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    3. Hi Bunny, I just edited a sewing book. The author, Claire Shaeffer, is someone I worked with during my short stint at Vogue Patterns Magazine when I edited an article she wrote. She introduced me to Taunton Press, and and that's how I came into this wonderful opportunity. The content was easy for me to handle because I have been sewing all my life, and I read sewing books the way cooks read cookbooks (in other words, I'll read a sewing book before I read a novel if I am in the mood for sewing!) Once I finished my work, more was done by the in-house staff at Taunton. In another month or so, I will review it all once more, just to make sure nothing is out of place before it goes to the printers.

      I met Gretchen a few years ago, before she had the book deal. She struck me as charming, likeable, enterprising and very hard-working. I still believe she is extremely talented (for example, she'll dip her toes into a millenary class, and then whips up beautiful hats - she is a quick study).

      I share your observations about the 2nd half of her book and I think she just didn't quite have the skills to pull it all off. With a knowledgeable editor, and help with sewing the samples, she could easily put out a top notch book.

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    4. Thanks for your input, Robin. It is greatly appreciated and very informative.

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  10. What a thorough, honest and still kind review. Thank you. I am definitely on a learning curve, and hearing such a critique from someone as skilled as yourself is invaluable. I certainly want to be careful to only study books that are well done.

    You are very right - she is "cool" and attracts many younger sewists. I guess I am too old, LOL, to love her personal style but I am trying to learn more about the "how and whys" of sewing well-made garments.

    Any particular recommendations from you on books to study? I have many, but some guidance in those to focus on / avoid would be quite welcome.

    I saw Mrs. Mole's comment - and by the way, I LOVE reading your blog Mrs. Mole!!! Your patience and skills are quite the inspiration to me. Your comment about the clothing being too long-waisted hit home. I am definitely long-waisted by nature, absolutely no question about that, and need to alter any pattern I sew. I hope I am not making mine TOO long-waisted! I will be rechecking a dress I was going to cut out today.

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  11. Dearest Ms. Bunny - I DID see the list of favorite books and mags on your blog - so I should clarify that I wondered if you had any others on your "avoid" list?

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    1. I'd have to think about that one. It never occurred to me to track those. I give my honest opinion and move on from negatives. Most sewing books are quite good. It's the fluffy new ones on making one item that's never ironed that get to me. I move on really fast from those!

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  12. I'd love to follow your library's collection development path, and learn if these new titles circulate. In my librarian years, I had the 600 shelves. Lots of great cookbooks followed me home! ;)

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    1. Robyn, we are in an enviable position with our lovely library. It is WELL endowed so we purchase many books. That means many books are pulled from the shelves on a regular basis. If a topic is too populated or lacks interest (no checkouts for several years) out they go. We have a wonderful book sale 3 times a year where 25 cents will buy you and of those discards! It's great fun and a bit crazy when it happens. On the last day it's a dollar a bag for all you can fit in!

      I take books home too. I read them then bring them back for the sale. As Robin said, I'd rather read a sewing book than a novel.

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    2. Knowing a bit about your location, I suspect we share similar libraries...mine was in a private school and named for a Ford - you might know it. We were (gently) obligated to add wisely to an already impressive collection. I'm so glad you are adding your expertise to your community!!

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  13. Hi there Bunny,

    I agree with the comments made thus far; I follow Gertie's blog and admire her enthusiasm, but yes, it was a pity about the clothes in the book. From what I understand there was a gap between her clothes being made and then being modelled for the book. I am sure I read that Gertie did put on a little weight...................so that may give some clarity on the fit issues that we all noticed after we purchased the book.

    I will be looking forward to reading your review on Claire's latest book with dvd. I have a copy and love it. Do others note the same as me though, that there is a lot of repetition in subsequent sewing books. I guess that cannot be avoided.............

    May I suggest a book you may wish to obtain for the library and review.I am new to tailoring techniques and really wish to make a jacket that incorporates welt pockets, and the use of pad stitching using hair canvas as I have never tackled these. The book is called Vintage Couture Sewing by Thomas von Nordheim. I have other tailoring books, but this one is written by a well know Tailor and I thought it would give a really good insight into that world too.

    Many thanks Bunny for your balanced approach to the review, I do agree with its content and you have delivered it in such a warm way that no offence could be taken.

    Regards,
    Marysia.

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    1. Aggg. I know I read the von Nordheim when it came out, and I cannot remember any of it. This has been happening a lot in the last few years; I'll read a tailoring/dressmaking book, and forget about it. I check it out again, and remember: Oh yes, it wasn't very interesting,

      This is probably due to an overwhelming number of books on the topic that I've absorbed over the years. For example, Gertie is inspiring to new sewists. I am not her audience, but I admire her positive attitude. The more Gerties and Project Runways there are, the more fabric stores reopen for us all.

      I just need to make better notes on my library page now about which ones I've already read!

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  14. Thanks for that suggestion, Marysia. I will look into that acquisition.

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    1. Hi,
      I should have said, I do already have the book, as it was recommended to me a while back.
      Thomas did an apprenticeship in an old style German couture salon. He moved to the U.K. in 1990 and besides having had a clientele of aristocrats, politicians etc, he also worked for the last surviving London couture house, Lachasse. He now runs his own business, since Lachasse sadly closed. I know that Marina Von Koenig who writes a blog as Frabjous Couture is travelling to London this year to take one of his courses!
      I really look forward to your thoughts on his book.

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  15. I appreciate this review. I've read the same from other sources. I too was hesitant to buy her book based on the garments I see on her blog. I love sewing books but I think I will have to pass on this one for now. Thanks for the honesty.

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  16. Here is my two cents worth on Gertie and some of the other bloggers I see and read on a regular basis. They do not understand good fit! I regularly see dresses they make and love that have serious fitting issues and I think it comes from the idea that good fit means that clothing is very form fitting and tight. I think Gertie is fun, lively, and genuinely enthusiastic and generous of spirit. A fine woman, I just do not think she is an expert on fit.

    There are several very popular blogs where the clothing is interesting and creative but not well fitted. I see a lot of blogs with tight, wrinkled, and strained clothes. I see a lot of badly aimed darts, I see a lot of gaping necklines and badly set sleeves.

    I give all these women, Gertie included, a pass because they are trying new things, learning, adapting and honing their skills. I agree with you completely that Gertie's book just was written and published before her skills were worthy of the complex styles she was trying to fit.

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  17. Thanks for the honest review of the book. I am trying to establish a library of good sewing resources. Books are expensive, but if they are going to give me accurate information to make me a better sewer, then I will spend the money. I tried to follow Gertie's blog, but it didn't "do it" for me. I think it just wasn't for my age. If she is a source of encouragement to get someone to sew, that's great. Of all the bloggers I follow, your blog is number one. You are very competent and cordial as well. A rarity in this day and age. I get completely turned off to blogs that have to use the "f" word and others to get their point across.

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    1. With six brothers I learned very early how to hold my own conversationally. Luckily I had a mom who taught me the essentials of being a lady.

      Thanks for your kind words and I appreciate them sincerely.

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    2. I completely agree with Pattyc. Your blog has a level of class that is sorely missing in many others. Perhaps if I were younger I would enjoy some of the other blogs a bit more, but honestly, even when I was 20 I would have felt the same.

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  18. I very much appreciate your honest review of this book, and by doing so you may have spared others a lot of frustration (and money too!). Like a couple of other sewing books I've seen, this one could cause a beginner to give up on sewing altogether...who would want to continue sewing when their finished garment doesn't fit well? This author has a point of view well worth sharing, but her sewing skills shouldn't be included (yet). Such a shame she rushed to print.

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  19. I thought I was the only one...............
    I read blogs and wonder 'who taught them to sew?' as I see essential fitting and pressing techniques overlooked.
    But then, I wonder through any suburban strip mall of mainstream clothing stores. I see unfitted clothes of poor quality, presented as if that should be the standard by which our wardrobes are judged. How can a novice seamstress, especially if she is a young woman who hasn't been exposed to fine fabrics, and professional fit, discern what is and what is not good practice???
    Those old Mary Brooks Picken - Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences - are still MY standard of choice. I have 16 volumes, but I don't really know how many there were supposed to be. The styles may be a bit dated, but the techniques withstand the test of time.

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  20. I hope this is not terribly presumptuous of me, but I just got a book that I think you would love. It is called "Bibliocraft -- A Modern Crafter's Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects" by Jessica Pigza. I did a review on my blog (http://rollingincloth.com/2014/04/11/bibliocraft-book-review/), but I would be interested to read what you think of it.

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    1. Sounds fabulous, Claudine. Thanks so much for that suggestion. I will look into it.

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  21. I was disappointed when Gertie's book came out too. The green skirt was just horrible. However, I think the main thing that she and others like her do contribute is making sewing new and fresh again. Having sewn from a young age, I always found that there was something of a generation gap. I used to attend the local sewing guild and the second youngest participant was in her 40's. Everyone around me was making stuff for their grandkids. They would ask 'How do we get young people to come?' When we did the local craft fair the one thing people would ask about was classes. But they wouldn't do classes. Blogging is about having the conversations, and making sewing relevant and accessible. Hopefully also shedding some light on how the badly the high-street stuff is made too. My generation don't even have the vocabulary around clothing, let alone the skills. [PS. The big Readers Digest book is my favourite sewing reference].

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  22. I've recently discovered your blog and am really enjoying your creations and posts. These book reviews have been great. I am a newbie and I've been looking for some books. Sarai's book isn't really my style but if it will help me gain skills properly, I may just have to buy it! Thanks again!

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    1. Welcome to the wonderful world of sewing! I wish you the best on this journey and if I can help at all, just email me. Have fun!

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