Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book Review: Easy Guide to Sewing Tops & T-Shirts by Marcy Tilton

I don't have a scanned copy of the cover of this book because I bought it as an e-book on the Taunton website.  If you wait for a sale, you can purchase this e-book for half off.

Title:  Easy Guide to Sewing Tops & T-Shirts
Author:  Marcy Tilton
ISBN:  1561582395
Publication Date:  1998
Pages: 128

Overall impression, I like this book and would recommend it to others.  I consider this book a must have if you want to take your sewing to the next level.  If you want quick and easy, this may not be required reading.  Many of her suggestions for getting the most out of your fabric or pattern design will add to your construction time.  I learned quite a bit and most of the book is very detailed.  There were a few instances where I found Marcy's description of a technique a bit inadequate (for my understanding anyway, you may think she was very clear).  There are more photos than drawings but I wish there was an illustration for each step when she is explaining a technique.  Usually there are only 2 or 3 photos for a 7-step process and sometimes I found myself scratching my head wondering how she got from picture 2 to picture 3.  She does a great job giving you ideas on how to venture away from the basic pattern construction, such as manipulating a fabric to showcase it's best properties.  I particularly enjoyed the section on changing on-grain patterns to a bias grain.  She goes into great detail about which fabrics are best for bias work and how the pattern will need to be modified.  For those of you thinking "Why bother?", read the book.  Her description helps you realize that you don't need to purchase a new pattern for each design detail you like.  Have a handful of patterns you've used in the past quite successfully.  Now put a spin on the design, add an interesting neck binding, cut the fabric on the bias, embellish the fabric, and now your tried-and-true pattern looks like a completely different top. 

The construction chapters are broken down by woven vs. knit top construction, which is very helpful. She starts the discussion with a list of steps and then goes into great detail on the following pages.  She gives recommendations for fabrics for those just starting out.  For instance, silks are lovely to wear but not a beginner fabric.  Rayons, although nice to touch, are more difficult to manipulate on the bias so save those for when you are more experienced. 

Marcy talks a lot about "staystitch-plus" (or easestitch-plus) as a method of easing a longer section of fabric to match a shorter section of fabric as you sew.  I had never heard of this term before so I had to read the description of this several times.  (I found a decent description of it here in regards to hems--scroll one-third of the way down the page.)  I can see how this would be a great way to set-in sleeves and such.  I find the technique confusing regarding topstitching (and Marcy recommends using it in topstitching quite a bit).  Wouldn't that give you bumpy topstitching?  With natural fibers, you could probably steam out the bumps and give it a nice look but I still don't understand why you would want to ease a hem's topstitching.  Ease the hem's raw edge before pressing the hem and topstitching, that I get but easing the topstitching??  Maybe that is what Marcy meant but I've re-read that section several times (and she mentions it elsewhere and I've re-read those as well) and it just doesn't sound right to me.  If you follow the link I gave above (link here), you'll see this author specifically says not to staystitch-plus a hem's topstitching, as in a turn-and-stitch hem.  Anyway, I haven't tried to use this technique on a hem yet so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

One technique I do disagree with (and have ample experience with) is Marcy's recommendation to not use double-needle stitching on hems for double knits.  I have done this successfully with every double knit I've used (mostly poly blends or rayon) and I've never had any stretching or rippling that she warns will happen.  (Perhaps a silk double knit would ripple with the double-needle topstitching.)  I have, however, had skipped stitches and thanks to her recommendations for needles when sewing knits, I now know why.  She does a fantastic job explaining how to add a strip of interfacing to a hem.  I thought you fused the interfacing to the hem allowance, pressed up the hem and then stitched.  She recommends stitching the interfacing to the hem first (interfacing is fusible side up, so nonsticky side is stitched to wrong side of fabric), press up the hem (which fuses the interfacing to secure the hem), flip to the right side of the fabric and topstitch.  With the hem already fused in place, no slippage while you sew.  So simple but very handy. 

Marcy's section on use of the bias grain is fantastic as well.  She even shows you how to use the bias (with center seam) on a sleeve to make an interesting effect with a striped fabric.  It is stunning and I will have to try that some time soon.  My only quibble with this section of the book is the recommendation to stretch the fabric as you sew a bias seam.  She says you stretch the fabric as much as possible while you stitch and then steam it flat.  I've not had luck with this in the past but perhaps I was being too gentle with my fabric.  I took a couture sewing class with Susan Khalje last summer and she showed us a great way to sew bias seams stitched in short segments (described very clearly in each of her books).  This method doesn't sound like it would work but one of the ladies in the class was sewing silk with bias seams and it looked great.  I've never seen a bias seam look so good before.  It hung beautifully, not a ripple in sight.  I will have to compare these 2 techniques and see which I like better.

The best section of this book is the "pattern proofing" section. She spends an entire chapter talking about little tweaks to make to your pattern before you cut your fabric.  Adding a little extra width and length at the bust area for large busts.  Curving the shoulder and sleeve hems to hang nicely.  Those are just a few but they make sense because fabric drapes and your body isn't flat like pattern paper.  These little tweaks help take a flat pattern to a wearable garment that works with the body's contours instead of against it.  I probably spent the most time reading this one chapter alone.

This book was a great read, and even a fast read because it was so enjoyable to read.  Even though I disagree with a few of the recommendations, I found the majority of her recommendations to be very helpful.  The nice thing about sewing is the fact that there is usually more than one way to accomplish a task.  You find what works best for you and use that, even if other experts say that technique won't give you the best results.

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