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The Colette Sewing Handbook - Book Review

Colette Sewing Handbook Cover
Sarai Mitnick is the founder and owner of Colette Patterns, a line of beautiful and detailed clothing patterns inspired by vintage designs with an updated fresh and modern look. She has recently released the Colette Sewing Handbook: Inspired Styles and Classic Techniques for the New Seamstress. This book is not only a handbook of techniques, but also includes five garment patterns that utilize the techniques that are explained in the book. This combination makes for a great learning experience, especially for those fairly new to sewing.

The book is spiral-bound so it opens up completely and lays flat. I have several other sewing books from this publisher, and I just love that they spiral bind their crafting publications. It makes the book so much more usable as a reference this way. All of the photos are high quality and beautifully arranged. Many of the techniques are helpfully illustrated step-by-step, a feature that is especially important to a beginning sewist.

The book is composed of seven chapters that progress logically from one to the next. Briefly, they are:

Chapter 1: Getting Started

This chapter discusses sewing tools and supplies, illustrates some basic machine and hand sewing stitches and demonstrates a few sewing techniques including zipper insertion and how to set in sleeves. The techniques are well illustrated, showing crucial steps in the processes from good angles.

Chapter 2: A Thoughtful Plan

As the title implies, in this chapter, Sarai discusses the garment planning process. She takes the process much further than fabric selection and brings in more creative elements such as finding inspiration and developing your personal style and then reflecting it in your garments. To me, this is the true beauty of making your own clothing - the ability to customize your wardrobe and create a unique look that is entirely your own.

Chapter 3: A Precise Pattern

Here we move on to garment construction with a simple skirt (Meringue) that is livened up with a jaunty scalloped hem. In this section, you will learn about fabric preparation, and I love that she stresses the importance of pre-washing your fabric and making sure that the grain is straight before cutting. She also discusses how to work with the pattern and matching plaids or stripes. This is a perfect project for a beginner because the skirt has no waistband (if you are interested in adding a waistband, you can visit the Colette blog to see a tutorial on this) and straightforward construction techniques.

Chapter 4: A Fantastic Fit

Now that you have made a basic skirt and presumably understand sewing fundamentals, Sarai takes you on the fitting journey. Fitting has always been a sticky point for me because I am not a standard shape and my patterns require multiple adjustments for them to fit well. Sarai does a good job of explaining the basics of how garments are shaped and why it is so important to make a fitting muslin. Some common fitting issues and their adjustments are included in this section such as full bust and length alterations. This is only an introduction to fitting; if you are interested in learning more, you will want to purchase a good fitting book that will address more detailed fitting techniques. This chapter introduces the Pastille dress.

Chapter 5: A Beautiful Fabric

As implied, this chapter discusses fabric, their qualities and characteristics and how they lend themselves to garment construction. Fiber and fabric selection are such an important part of this process. How you treat your textiles and put them together greatly influences the outcome. If you use the wrong interfacing, your garment can end up droopy or too stiff. If you use the wrong needle, you can snag your fabrics while sewing them. Some fabrics are more difficult to work with (satin, I'm looking at you) and she provides a few tips in the Tricky Fabrics section. Pick up Claire Schaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guideif you are interested in learning everything you ever wanted to know about fabric. This chapter includes assembly instructions for the Truffle dress. This is my favorite pattern in the collection because I love the flowing draped ruffle on the lower front of the dress.

Chapter 6: A Fine Finish

This is an informative chapter on seam finishes that includes a tutorial on making bias tape that is utilized in the included Taffy blouse pattern. The Taffy blouse is beautiful and takes a close second on my list. It is cut on the bias which makes the blouse drape nicely and skim the form in a flattering manner. I am not sure that I would consider this to be a beginner project, especially since the suggested fabrics include chiffon, georgette and silk charmeuse, none of which are terribly easy to use, but the lack of set-in sleeves does make the construction simple.

Chapter 7: Keep Learning

This chapter is mostly a reference list of resources and sewing related websites to encourage the sewer to keep polishing and learning new sewing skills. The last pattern in the included collection is the Licorice dress which utilizes many of the sewing techniques explained earlier in the book.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, I enjoyed this book and it has many redeeming qualities. For the patterns alone, the book is worth its purchase price. I do think that it is not truly a "beginner" book because some of the techniques were fairly advanced and some of the recommended fabrics are moderately difficult to handle. What I do love is that Sarai Mitnick is encouraging sewers to break out of their comfort zones and try new techniques and fabrics. If you are new to sewing, take your time and practice your skills on scrap fabrics before trying them out on your garment fabric.

One feature that I haven't yet mentioned is the accompanying blog Coletterie.com. The site has numerous tutorials for many of the techniques demonstrated in the book which serves as an invaluable teaching reinforcement.

By purchasing sewing books with patterns included, you get a lot of bang for your buck! Here are a few more you may like

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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