The Little Book of Sewing by Karen Ball

I’ve been reading Karen’s blog Did You Make That for a while now and I always enjoy seeing what she makes and her exploits with Ella her characterful dog. What you will know, if you’re familiar with Karen yourself, is that she’s a book editor but now she’s made the leap to being a published author herself with her book ’The Little Book of Sewing’.

Karen was a speaker at the Sewing Weekender last August and she told us then that she was in the finishing stages for her first book and it would be all about sewing!

Well it’s finally here and I was lucky enough to have an advance PDF version to read and tell you about.

As you might expect, it’s a lovely read with beautiful illustrations, simple and understated, and each chapter is an area for thoughtful reflection and insight with headings such as self-love, body image and kindness. That tells you this isn’t your usual ‘How to Sew’ book, it’s a mindful exploration of what sewing is, why we do it for recreation and why it can actually be good for us [although as I sew a lot for other people there are times when I have a tight deadline that I struggle to remember that!] Karen touches on areas like mental health and body image, topics which have become so important in modern life, and how sewing our own clothes can actually help us address this because we get the pleasure (and occasional torment) of making what we want in our own time, how we want it and have the enormous confidence boost when someone comments “I love your dress/blouse/skirt, where did you get it?” and you can say, “thank you, I made it myself”

Even though the Little Book of Sewing isn’t a ‘how to’ guide in the usual sense of teaching us sewing techniques, Karen does give a few hints and tips along the way, she’s assuming that the reader already has at least a budding interest in sewing and dressmaking and she seeks to encourage that interest to flourish and blossom into a full-blown obsession!

I won’t say any more, I hope you’re intrigued enough to want to read it for yourself. I read a lot of non-fiction and this is beautifully, and accessibly, written. It’s the kind of book which you can dip in and out of, or devour at a single sitting-you could do that and then revisit the various chapters as they strike you or as you have need, keep it nearby in your sewing space so that you can recharge your sew-jo when the need arises… Easter is coming, why not treat yourself or a loved one instead of an Easter egg-fewer calories and longer lasting! Wherever you buy your copy from I know Karen would love us to leave a review (it matters in the world of book sales) I should also add that the gorgeous cover was created by Sam @stitchedupsam whose free-machine embroidery work you may have seen on Instagram, and if you haven’t then go and have a look, her David Bowie is amazing!

I received no payment for this review and all views expressed are entirely my own but I hope you’ll enjoy reading the Little Book of Sewing as much as I have.

Until next time,

Sue

a quick review of fashion-related books if you’re looking for present ideas!

It’s occurred to me that I’ve read a number of fashion-related books in the last couple of years which I found really enjoyable but the only two I’ve ever reviewed here was the autobiography of Vivienne Westwood, and a double biography of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano called Gods and Kings. You can still read the original posts here for the Westwood and likewise Gods and Kings although I must have fiddled with them in the past because I don’t think any of the photos now appear with them, sorry about that. I found both books well written, very readable and insightful into the lives and inspirations of all three protagonists. 

I also enjoyed reading “Blow by Blow” which is a biography of the life and influence of stylist and patron of up-and-coming fashion designers, Isabella Blow. Written by her husband Detmar Blow after her sad death in 2007 it gives an insight into her passions and creative joie de vivre which saw her discover, promote and support Alexander McQueen and milliner Philip Treacy. Sadly, she and McQueen became somewhat estranged and her death affected him very badly. Philip Treacy, however, still speaks very warmly of her kindness, humour, and possibly her best known public quality, sartorial eccentricity. There was no hat or outfit which she deemed too ridiculous to wear out in public if it promoted her favourite young designers! In spite of coming from a wealthy background she was frequently hard up but was always generous and supportive of her protegees.

Next up is a biography of Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie. Again I found it well-written and readable (always the most important factor as far as I’m concerned, if it’s all as dry as dust and doesn’t bring it’s subject matter alive to me then it’s not going to hold my interest for long, no matter how many interesting photos there are) I discovered that Gabrielle Chanel had a sad childhood about which she was very cagey in later life and an often-colourful love life too. [Amusing fact-I knew that the film version of Dad’s Army from 2016 was factually inaccurate from having read this book! A woman discovered to be the spy at the end of the film was ‘exposed’ because she was wearing Chanel outfits direct form Paris-this was impossible because Chanel closed down her salon for the duration of the war!]

One of my most recent fashion-related reads has been former Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman’s diary of the magazine’s centenary year in 2016, ‘Inside Vogue’. As you might expect from a woman with 25 years in the most influential position in British magazine publishing she offers interesting insights into how all the elements for the centenary edition, including the secret photo shoot with the Duchess of Cambridge, gradually came together. All this was happening alongside the regular monthly publications, plus the exhibition to be held at the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Vogue Festival with a wide variety of speakers and seminars, and a celebratory gala dinner. She finishes the book on the eve of the Brexit referendum vote….  

My penultimate book is a ‘bust the budget’ one about milliner Philip Treacy. I went to an evening ‘in conversation’ with him at the V&A (not me, someone else was talking to him, we just listened!!) It was such an enjoyable evening, the audience were held in wrapt attention as he has the most beautiful soft Irish lilt and told such charming and engrossing stories of his life and career that we didn’t want him to stop [I recommend listening to him on Desert Island Discs if you can find it as a podcast, you’ll get a sense of what I mean] I queued 45 minutes to buy the book afterwards and then another 45 minutes to have him sign it for me. It was worth the wait as I now have a personal, and very individual, inscription in the front. It’s a hefty coffee table book that’s for sure but it’s a lovely one to be able to see just how many high-profile clients he has had since being ‘discovered’ by Isabella Blow. These have included Lady Gaga, members of the Royal family and Grace Jones amongst many others.

And finally, the most recently published book I’ve acquired is The Fashion Chronicles written by fashion historian Amber Butchart. This is a nice little book which you can dip in and out of to learn about the people she considers to be amongst the most influential in clothing and fashion throughout history. Some of her choices are quite surprising and definitely no predicable, it’s well written and well illustrated. I’d love there to be a second series of  “A Stitch in Time” as it was as much about social history as the development of clothing in the past but sadly she doesn’t think there will be at the present time. 

So that’s my not very comprehensive review of some books about fashion that I’ve enjoyed and which you might too. The links I’ve provided are generally to Amazon but I’m in no way affiliated to them, nor was I sponsored or paid to write about any of these books so all views expressed are my own.   

So until next time,

Sue