Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Simple sewing with a French twist

We crafters are an opinionated lot, aren't we? I've told you before how I couldn't live without my rotary cutter and cutting board, my seam ripper or my thimble. On the other hand, I rarely use pins, don't care for pinking shears, and keep a safe distance from time-saving, space-taking clever gizmos. Call me old-fashioned. Or just a typical opinionated sewer.

But since I'm constantly asked for suggestions about sewing books, I'm now on the hunt for books I can recommend, especially for beginning sewers. So for what it's worth, here's my opinion:

We all love Marie Claire Idees, right? (That is, when we can find it on the newsstand or via subscription.) So wouldn't it be nice to own a book filled with similar French flair, but with instructions and descriptions in English? Celine Dupuy lives in Paris (yup, she can shop at La Droguerie any time she wants, lucky woman!) and designs for magazines like Marie Claire. So she's got the French thing and the sewing thing and the flair thing. And now she's got the translated-into-English thing, too.

So here's my list of what I really like about the book:

*Lovely photos and styling

*Loaded with projects (more than 50!) at every level of complexity

*Terrific introduction to the tools you'll need (as well as other optional but helpful tools that may be useful)

*Nice thematic organization/grouping of projects

*Clear descriptions and photos demonstrating basic sewing techniques

*A beautifully assembled guide to selecting colors and fabrics, and a resource guide at the back of the book. Next time you're in Paris you can shop at all the insiders' favorite sources!

A few things I'm not so keen on:

*Project instructions and sketches seem rather vague at times. Some of the instructions may be challenging for a beginning sewer to interpret.

*All that fabulous French style is achievable, in some cases, only with the proper chair/robe/coat/etc. to begin with. But hey, you may just find that perfect salvagable item at a thrift shop if you keep your eyes open! Or you can reinterpret the ideas and instructions to fit your own chair/robe/coat/etc. as well.

*You may need to do a bit of construction or heavy-duty upholstery in order to achieve your goals with some projects. I would recommend trying one of the simpler projects before deciding to build your own folding screen, for example. The sewing of the fabric panels will be easy; it's the construction of the screen that worries me.

*A few of the recommended techniques are questionable: I would hesitate to cut open a buttonhole before stitching around it (too risky) or zigzag stitch seam allowances before sewing a seam (the zigzag will warp the edges, making it difficult to sew the seam in the proper place).

*Additional guidance could be offered in some areas. When sewing on oilcloth, it can help to cover the oilcloth with tissue paper or to use a Teflon foot so the oilcloth doesn't stick to your presser foot. The project, a zippered cosmetic case, may sound easy until you try to sew and break a needle or can't budge the presser foot.

Overall, if you have a little sewing experience you'll probably really enjoy this book. It's full of clever projects that you may be inspired to try, or it may also give you ideas for transforming your own projects.

If you've never sewn before, I still recommend the book but offer a bit of caution. The instructions may be a bit brief at times. Start with the Monet flower brooch or the Tasseled shoe tote and work your way toward the Saturday market caddy gradually. I'm sure you'll learn a lot on your way, and if you're willing to take a few risks (which is what crafting is all about, right?), you're guaranteed to create your own little bit of France along the way.


  1. Its good to read this review. I have been wondering about this book. I jsut took a quick peek on the way out the door at the book shop swearing I'd go back, and so far I haven't made it in there. Thanks for the information, so nicely organized.

  2. Owh my where did you get or better yet, where can I get this yummy book.

  3. I have the book too and I love the look of it all and it does offer inspiration but I totally agree with you about your downsides. I loved the look of the trenchcoat but then realised that they don't show you how to make it just customise it. And yes more instructions and helpful tips are needed to see some of the projects through to fruition.

    But what great eye candy!

  4. I'm so glad you posted this! I was just pondering this book on amazon and thought I'd wait to see it in the flesh before ordering. I'm glad I resisted the initial urge because I'm not sure I could interpret these patterns.

  5. I am another one that bought this book earlier this month at my local Barnes and Noble. I really love the pictures and it is full of good ideas. I always like good pictures in the how to part of a book. But, I do agree with all of your downsides. I think it is more a book of good ideas than a learn to sew book.

  6. Thanks so much for this thorough, and helpful, review!

  7. Thanks for the review. I collect so many vintage sewing books I often forget that the new ones can be just as tantalizing.

  8. i just bought this book and I couldn't agree more with your perfect review of it- i was mentally writing my own and now I don't have to blog it since yours is so right on!

    i was particularly sad that there was not a pattern for her dear, darling trench coat!

  9. Anonymous11:41 AM

    I bought this recently and loved it as well. I'm pretty experience and second your cautions. But well worth the "risk" for a beginner! Jump in!
    anne sheridan

  10. Anonymous10:56 AM

    Thank you so much for your review. I've been trying to make up my mind on this book - dunno why all publishers don't gve Amazon the option to Search!

  11. Excellent review. I was trying to put my finger on what it is about this book, but you did it. Thank you.

  12. susaninfrance3:36 PM

    so glad this is out in english as i have it in french and find it difficult to follow...but all french instructions are difficult to follow (i'm fluent in french)...even marieclaireidees, very short on explanations! french cookbooks are the same...i think they do much more winging it ... a la francaise as they say.

  13. Thank you so much for taking the time for a thoughtful review with pictures. I was looking at the book on Amazon, and decided to google for more info; and thus found your great post about it.

  14. I found this post by searching google for others who have attempted to create the items in it. Glad to know that I'm not the only one that was frustrated with how vague some of the directions are. Am now using Martha Stewart's beret instructions to complete my half-assed project.

    Le sigh. LOL

  15. I have the book and think your review is spot on. I am trying to make the sweet chemise and having great difficulties with the size of the pattern (supposed to enlarge by 633%). I don't know if I have got it right as the length measurement given does not say where it is measured from! If you've got any tips, they would be greatly received.