I too pre-ordered the book and received it about two weeks ago! You will probably have seen it everywhere on the Internet so I thought I’d follow the herd and give you a quick review of what I like in this book. To start with – as you might have guessed – I’m not too much into vintage patterns: I do find most of them very elegant, stunning sometimes and a great way to show off your sewing skills. But let’s be honest, I don’t think I have any room in my life at the moment for these beautifully fitted bodices and full skirts (with a petticoat of course). It might change over time, or I could have a special occasion one day that would require me to sew from a vintage pattern.
So I’m not using any vintage pattern but I love learning new things and skills and my education in history results in a high interest in history of techniques and what it shows of the society they were implemented in. I’m also always amazed that human beings managed to discover over time so many techniques in assembling a garment and pattern drafting.
Anyway, on to the book: it’s divided into two parts, skills and wardrobe. I’m halfway through the skills part and have already learned a lot on vintage patterns and vintage techniques applied to sewing. I like the emphasis on hand sewing – as Karen, I’ve discovered I like hand sewing, it’s a great (rather) mindless activity to be done in front of the television (competing with knitting, spinning and embroidery..). Gertie explains different hand and machine stitches and their purpose.
There are also a few pages on seam finishes, including Hong Kong seams and bound seams. Next are zippers (lapped, centered and invisible) and buttonholes with, of course a few pages on bound buttonholes (hey, what did you expect?).
Then on to hemming, where I discovered that you can gather the hem of flared of circular skirt – I hadn’t thought about that!
She shows faced horsehair for adding structure to circle skirts and other shaped hems. It looks great, but I’m wondering what the hell it’s called in French and where am I going to find any! Same goes for some material shown in the next chapter « Stabilizing and tailoring »: hair canvas, weft, fusible hair interfacing. This might be my quest one day. Gertie explains here interfacing, interlining, boning and tailoring: heaps of useful information and detailed illustrations. At the end of this chapter you have a vintage to modern dictionary which can be of use for those of you who sew vintage.
Chapter five is Patternmaking where she details different ways to customize your patterns. I’ve seen more in-depth books on this, but it’s a very good start if you’re a beginner in altering patterns for something other than fitting.
Keep in mind it’s not a drafting book! Next there’s a whole chapter on fitting, the nemesis of many seamstresses. There are many tips on how to check the fit before, during and after the process, as well as fixing common fit problems. She says « common » problems, so don’t expect extremely detailed explanations of every wrinkle you will find on your muslin. You will find the usual suspects: swayback, small and full bust adjustments, forward and sloping shoulders, etc. The fitting checklist on p. 119 is particularly helpful, go and have a look!
We then reach the second part of the book, probably the one you’ve heard most about: the wardrobe. Starting as usual with a skirt, Gertie offers also two blouses, another skirt, five dress and a jacket. Considering what I said above about vintage style, I would not make any of the patterns above straight out of the envelope, apart maybe from the Portrait Blouse. However, and this is what I most enjoyed about this book, she shows other versions of 8 out of the 10 patterns and some even have two. These other versions are not simply a change of fabric with a shortened hem, there are real alterations: for example, the Pencil Skirt is modified into an A-line skirt with Pintucks (this is more my style than the pencil skirt). This part is not only a catalogue of patterns with instructions, it also has some techniques: 3 ways to secure darts – the last one is so clever! adding boning to your waistband, hemming sleeves, finishing your neckline with bias strip.
The Sultry Sheath does not appeal to me as is, though I like the colour, but I could definitely wear it if I changed the neckline as well as the shoulders (too far apart, I need to wear a bra and hide it!). Is it just me or do the armholes fit bizarrely?
The Bow-Tied Blouse is shown with two other variations, one with a Peter Pan collar (I’m sorry I don’t get Peter Pan collars) and the other with a keyhole neckline and shirring at the shoulders. This one won’t work for me either as it’s buttoned at the back – and I’m just not into back buttons. The keyhole neckline (without shirring, I don’t like it either – I know, I’m picky) would be great with a side zipper!
I love the bodice of the Wiggle Dress, though you can’t really call it a bodice, because it’s not separated from the skirt part. Princess seams, kimono sleeves with an underarm gusset, boatneck front – I’m in! I would definitely cut at the waistline and change the skirt to an A-line one, but this dress will be part of my wardrobe in the next few months – regardless of my Autumn sewing plans (I knew something would get in the way!).
Shirtwaist Dress, no thanks, for me it’s either a shirt or a dress but not both! The Suit Jacket looks really cute, though.
And finally the Coat Dress, I would rather make it as a coat with a straighter « skirt » part, buttons not on the center line: brilliant!
In the wardrobe part, I really liked that she also showed the inside of the garments, something you rarely see in books; maybe a little more in sewing blogs – I know Carolyn does that often.
I can’t say anything about the patterns themselves, because obviously I haven’t had time to make any! Overall I like the very relaxed tone of the book, it feels like you’re in a conversation with Gertie and she’s just by your side helping you get better at sewing.