23 maart 2013

Book Review: Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer


I don't think this book really needs an introduction. Claire Shaeffer is a household name, and her books come highly recommended. I bought this book on couture sewing techniques on a whim, when seeing it on sale somewhere. And boy, it didn't disappoint!

Just for your information: this book contains loads of interesting photos and drawings, but there is a lot of text as well. A lot of things are only explained in the text, with no accompanying diagrams or anything. So having a vivid imagination certainly helps to understand certain things!

The book starts with an extensive chapter on what couture actually is, a brief history, and a description of how one would go about purchasing a couture garment. This is an interesting read by itself: after learning just how much work and thought goes into a couture garment you might just understand where those prices come from...


Then the practical part of the book starts. Couture garments are mostly sewn by hand (!!) so an entire chapter on hand stitches is in place. Each stitch is shown in a little illustration, with a short text describing the function and use of this particular stitch. This chapter has definitely inspired me to try my hand at hand-stitching a bit more and I find it very relaxing and useful. Hand-basting might be slower than using a machine, bit it's very precise, while hand sewing hems is the perfect thing to do on a quiet evening. I found the instructions on the different stitches very extensive and comprehensible. The rest of the chapter is dedicated to different seams, with special attention for lace appliqué seams. This is something I hadn't seen in any other sewing book before, and I find it very intriguing! If I ever end up making something with lace I'll be sure to look back here.

The next chapter is all about finishing edges. She describes all kinds of different ways to finish a hem, the use of binding or facings. Most of the steps involve a lot of hand sewing and basting, but seem to provide a beautiful finish. A few things are illustrated with pictures of garments from the author's collection (lucky!) or from museums. There are a lot of interesting photographs in the book, but I would have liked to see even more, or see bigger versions. Sometimes the photo is printed quite small, and it gets harder to see the small details (which is what it's all about here)


The next chapter deals with closures, and I don't think I've ever seen so much information about buttons and buttonholes in one place. I've been meaning to learn how to make better hand-worked buttonholes for a while now (meaning: making buttonholes that don't look like creepy mouths) so I'll have to look into the instructions provided here. I love the photos in this chapter: they show fabric-covered buttons that were made to match the print on the fabric, or buttonholes on a checked shirt that change colour halfway. Such attention to details makes me geek out, and then feel inadequate.

The second part of the book is about applying all these techniques to your own sewing. The chapters are about specific types of garments, walk you through the construction of them and provide instructions on how to use couture techniques. You get a few different ways to make a waistband, how to fit a dress pattern, make a waist stay, make shoulder pads, ... There's an entire chapter on sleeves as well. And one on pockets. The apount of information can get a bit overwhelming, so I mostly read the book in small parts instead of in one sitting as I'd usually do.


The chapter on jackets and coats is one of my favourites. It describes a hand-tailored couture jacket in great detail and then goes on to describe the entire process of making one for yourself. I've been reading up on tailoring and would love to make a real, tailored coat that will last ma a long time by next winter. The instructions are very clear, even if this stuff is considered advanced sewing. I really like how she manages to explain these things so clearly, not only making them seem less intimidating but even doable for a home seamstress.


The final chapters are mostly focused on special occasion garments, with information on using lace fabrics, stripes and appliques in your designs. There's a lot of information about the inner structure of special occasion dresses, with instructions on how to make your own. I'm not sure if I'll be using this information in my own sewing right away, but if I ever have a really special occasion... Who knows.

All in all, this is a really great and extensive source of information for any seamstress interested in couture. There is a lot to take in, but it's all being presented in a way most average or intermediate sewers will understand. The only downside I could see were the (sometimes) small photographs, so I'd say this book is definitely worth looking into!

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