50 Heirloom Buttons To Make, Nancy Nehring, photography by Marcus Tullis, The Taunton Press 1996, DD 646.19 N396f, ISBN 1-56158-146-1
Reviewed July 2015
I have less than no interest in buttons, and was still impressed. The first thing to catch my eye was that the historical bits of information had the ring of truth, rather than the fanciful stories often spun in needlework books. I do believe that she not only didn't just write down rumors, she didn't merely look it up; I feel that the author has been interested in the history of buttons for some time.
Next I noticed that the techniques described look as though they would work, and there are nice clear photographs to show you what you are aiming at. And, as the title states, there are lots and lots of designs, some for use and some it would be a shame to push through a buttonhole. And there is enough information for you to design your own variations.
There is a full set of back matter.
The Resources list probably isn't as useful as it was in 1996, but those suppliers that I recognized are still around.
The bibliography gives eight suggestions for further reading.
It has not one, but two indexes! There is a regular index, listing all the things you might vaguely remember and want to read again, and a Button Index that sorts the designs by degree of difficulty.
And on the last page there's a colophon that made me realize that the people who made the book were as much craftsmen as the people who made the buttons. So I looked at the end of the spine: it's sewn in signatures, not "perfect bound" like most paperbacks. That makes it easier to read as well as longer lasting.
We Love to Sew/28 Pretty Things to Make: Jewelry · Headbands · Softies · T-shirts · Pillows · Bags & More, Annabel Wrigley, illustrated by Peter Dahlquist and Tim Manibuson, FunStitch Studio 2013, DD 646.1 W954w, ISBN 978-1-60705-632-4
Reviewed July 2015
What it says on the tin. I don't see anything in it I want to make, but I'm not ten years old. One place I opened says "remember to backstitch each time you start and stop". The backstitching superstition causes a lot of trouble; perhaps it starts here, with backstitching so a child won't undo part of a seam by mistake and get frustrated. Backstitching doesn't, after all, do any harm when making things that will never be washed.
It's nearly all pictures. Some of the text seems a bit downtalky to me.
Threads Sewing Made Simple: The Essential Guide to Teaching Yourself to Sew, Editors of Threads, Taunton Press, 2013, ISBN 978-1-60085-965-4
Reviewed July and August 2015
Chapter One: It would appear that in order to take up sewing as a casual hobby, one first needs a dedicated sewing space.
When we sewed in order to have clothes, we set up the sewing machine on whatever table wasn't in use for something else, and we cut out on the floor. This chapter reminds me of the early sixties, when I wanted to play at quilting for a while and bought a quilting frame much nicer than the frames our nineteenth-century ancestors used to make quilts to keep their families warm in unheated bedrooms. I felt slightly guilty every time I set it up. I wonder what happened to it? I don't remember giving it away.
The suggestions for improvised cutting tables don't include the floor! I once had a living-room floor made of two-inch boards that were very convenient for estimating how much fabric a pattern would require. The now-ubiquitous wall-to-wall carpet isn't as convenient. At least shag carpets have gone out of style.
This section of the chapter ends with saying one needs a "storyboard" — a bulletin board on which one posts ideas. This leaves me completely baffled. Perhaps the walls covered with patterns hanging on copper brads are my "storyboard".
Or the "to do" list commented out at the end of my sewing diary.
Next up: tools and supplies. First it suggests a transparent ruler, but doesn't mention that transparent rulers eliminate parallax. My transparent rulers aren't as transparent as they used to be; perhaps I should buy a new one. The book doesn't mention centering rulers, perhaps because they are unobtainable. I bought mine in the Ben Franklin dime store in Kahului sometime in the sixties; if the store is still around, I doubt that it still sells fabric and sewing tools.
Measuring tape, seam gauge, french curve, markers. It says that wax markers disappear when ironed, but that isn't strictly true. Wax marks are apt to become useless when melted, but the wax is still in the fabric — and the heat may make it more difficult for dry cleaning to get the pigment out.
Scissors, rotary cutters, and mats. I like the understatment of "To prolong the life of your mat, never iron on it."
Two full pages for pins and another two for needles, as is only right. Hand-sewing needles are skimped, getting only part of one paragraph.
Two pages of unconventional tools. Meant to encourage you to think outside the box, rather than to be comprehensive. I disagree that waxed paper is good for patterns. It marks if creased, and distorts if ironed. I could see it for a pattern that is to be thrown out after use, but that situation seldom arises. It would probably make a good tear-off stabilizer, as suggested, but I don't use those and so cannot comment.
My last renewal has expired, and I've only read to page twenty-three. I'm definitely giving up this reviewing lark.
I was startled when the discussion of types of sewing machines said that computer machines have "more power, capability, and longevity than their mechanical cousins". (emphasis added) I've been using a mechanical machine for half a century, and it's as good as new except that the light no longer works and I have to strap on a headlamp; a computer machine isn't expected to last five years. My hundred-year-old treadle has no flaws at all. (well the cabinet has been heavily damaged, but the moving parts of the cabinet still work perfectly. I wish I could get a modern machine in such a convenient cabinet!)
Then I realized that they are talking about mechanical machines that are built as cheaply as possible.
26 February 2016
Passed by the library last Saturday, and decided to give this review another whirl.
List of handy sewing-machine features: the first thing said is that the lack of an automatic needle threader is a deal breaker. Harrumph! Threading a needle by hand isn't difficult — sometimes easier than persuading an automatic gadget to do its thing. I assume, rashly, that the designers have worked out a good way to prevent the automatic gadget from doing its thing without permission, but it's still a thing that can break down, and a factor in the short life of the modern machine.
But I would consider the lack a deal breaker if it signified that the designers had skimped, so that stuff you can't see is apt to be missing or flimsy.
"Speed control" — this gave me a start; there are machines that don't allow you to control your speed? Not even the K-Mart machine was that simple. Though a battery-powered toy machine that I saw being reviewed on television appeared to be. (After about ten minutes of "will it work? will it work?" they switched it on, the needle went up and down, "It works!!")
But what the entry meant was that the machine has a low gear for beginners and difficult places.
The other entries strongly imply that computer machines are the only machines considered.
"Older machines generally have two choices [of presser feet]" shows that the writers have a really, really, recent idea of "older".
The other features seem mildly desirable — for example, "the presser foot not lowered" would be useful when the thing being sewed is so thick that tha foot can appear to be down when it isn't, but how often does that happen?
"Stitch memory" is definitely desireable if you actually use all those fancy stitches after the novelty wears off, but it smells a little of compensation for stitches that are unreasonably hard to set and adjust.
Now I'm on page 24 and it's time for my nap. The two-page spread on "how a machine works" looks good, but begins by stating flatly that all machines are lock-stitch machines. Perhaps I should take that as defining "sewing machine" for purposes of the current discussion. But some chain-stitch machines aren't "sergers". I'll give them the true-embroidery machines that are no longer around; one couldn't sew with them.
29 February 2016
Page 26: Maintenance. A smidgeon outdated; I gather that blowing into the latest machines gets dust into places that can't be cleaned, and they suggest liberal use of canned air.
"Fabric" begins on page 27. The introduction is a tad poetic for my taste.
I wonder what they mean by "wick" in "plant fibers … don't wick moisture". Put a drop of water on linen and it seems to wick just fine. The discussion of animal fibers doesn't mention that they don't wick, which is a great virtue: you want the layer under your windbreaker to be wool so that it won't pull rain in through the pores in the nylon. In addition, it's really, really hard to get wool wet, and it doesn't feel wet even when dripping.
And now I've used more words than the paragraph I'm reviewing!
The four lines on synthetics attribute every property that any synthetic has to every synthetic — but what can you do in five short lines?
I can't mention synthetics without warning you that you should always hold a snippet of a synthetic up to a flame before you cut it — and use tongs to hold the sample, and do the test under a range hood or outside over a fireproof surface.
Won't hurt to test natural fabrics too — as little as ten percent of nylon can change wool from fire protection into a fire hazard, and federal law says that makers needn't mention blends if the fabric is mostly what it says on the label.
They go on to explain wovens, knits, and non-wovens.
Page twenty-seven: pictures of swatches that aren't magnified enough to show much. This page must be just for decoration; otherwise, why would they put the explanation in white letters on an orange background? What I could make out didn't inspire me to fetch my needle-threading glasses to read the rest of it.
Pages 31 features a orange rectangle with white lettering in it. I think that the author told the book designer to emphasize the information. The headlines are "Seconhand Fabrics", "Explore the thrift store", "Recycle linens", "Make a trade", "Get rid of mildew and stains", and "Eliminate Bugs". What the body type says I'll never know.
Pages 32 and 33 are our favorite myths about color and a totally useless "yardage conversion chart".
If the pattern says one yard of 60" fabric and you want to use 35" fabric, you do not need one and three-fourths yards. You need to lay the pattern out and determine whether you can get it out of thirty-five inches at all, and then measure how much you need. Don't forget to allow for shrinkage and clerks who cut fabric off the bolt slantwise.
Odds are that you don't need one yard of sixty-inch fabric either. I've never used a pattern that wasn't way off in guessing how much fabric I needed.
3 March 2016
pp 34 & 35
A pony-tail holder to keep bobbins from unwinding? Just how big are these bobbins.
Maybe they mean teeny rubber bands — I think I've seen them in cosmetic departments.
I never had a problem with unwinding bobbins, except when I took a four-compartment bobbin box sewing kit on a bike tour and the bobbins bounced in the box all day.
The rest of this two-page spread is a list of ten of the available kinds of thread. The description of "silk" fits filament silk. Spun silk, which had been easier to come by than filament silk for a long time in 2013, isn't mentioned.
pp 36 – 39 : Hand Sewing Stitches
They repeat the myths about angle-cutting for easier threading and knots being secure. But they do have a clever way to tie a small knot at the end of the stitching. Working a couple of buttonhole stitches over a previous stitch, which they don't mention, makes a bigger knot than passing the needle through a loop drawn through the fabric, but it's easier.
The descriptions of the stitches seem simple and clear, but don't make it clear that there is more to it.
Running stitches, for example, can be lengths other than half an inch and a quarter inch.
Backstitch is defined as spaced back stitch.
Slip stitch is defined as slip-stitch hem; the possibility of joining two folds isn't mentioned.
Bar tack is a little confusing.
Upon trying to explain what I found wrong with it, I retract the previous paragraph: their explanation of bar tacks is a lot confusing.
Buttonhole stitch is described after two stitches that use it. They describe the variety in which the thread must be pulled to the right to settle the knot in the right place, but don't mention this step.
pp 40 & 41: Machine Stitches
I think that someone who knew just enough to be dangerous snipped five illustrations and their captions out of a forty-page essay. Most of it is reasonably clear and accurate, but pray take away this pudding; it has no theme.
pp 42 – 47: Basic Machine Sewing
Clear and coherent, though I could quibble with some of the details.
I presume that the stuff in small white letters on a light orange background is important. Headlines are "Sew it slanted", "See when it's wrong", and "Know if it's perfect".
20 March 2016
Page 44 came back to me when I was facing the armholes of my new bras, and realized that I wasn't keeping the curve flat on the machine bed, and that was causing me to sew in rumples.
pp 48 & 49: Removing Stitches
"Work under good light" doesn't mention indirect sunlight (or direct sunlight in December!), but I suppose that goes without saying.
I have more than a slight quibble with "use a lockstitch". I never use a chain stitch; I don't even own a machine capable of a chainstitch — but ALWAYS replace chain stitch with lockstitch? There might have been a reason for using chain stitch, and it still might apply. If I removed chainstitch from a commercial garment and then re-sewed in the same place, I'd probably sew by hand with a back stitch to supply the necessary stretch. Though I'm having a little trouble envisioning a garment that was worth repairing being sewn with a chain stitch in the first place. I can't remember when I've seen chainstitch on anything other than cat-litter bags.
It doesn't mention overlocked seams at all.
I wonder where one buys a "flat blade". I have seen scalpel-type seam rippers that work on the same principle.
I have the distinct impression that this two-page spread was at least four pages before editing.
pp 50 – 55: Hemming
page 56: Stabilizing Tapes
A list of tapes, with what I presume to be a description of each printed in small white letters on orange.
When I heal up from cataract surgery, I may make another pass at reviewing this book.
The library still has it.