Whenever I’m in a used bookstore are the first place I go is the craft and hobbies section. I love to collect vintage sewing books. My favorite are the books that get deep into technical topics, like fitting and pattern alteration. I seak out these old books because of the quality of the content. Nothing is dumbed down. The authors assumed the reader wanted to sew clothes that fit and wore well, even if it took a lot of time and planning.
Disclaimer: I received an advanced digital copy of this book for free through NetGalley. All opinions are honest and my own. This post also contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of these links I may receive a small commission at no cost to you. See my policies page for more.
When I was given a review copy of The Act of Sewing by Sonya Philip (Bookshop.org, Amazon.com) I was delighted to find that it was written in the same spirit and with the same attention to detail as the vintage manuals I so love.
I first became aware of Sonya Philp through 100 Acts of of Sewing, which began as a project to sew 100 peices of clothing in a year. The goal of the project was not just to make the clothing, but to show the process in order to educate her audience about the time, labor, and skill involved in sewing. Philps sewing and art skills are largely self-taught, and she calls what she does “conceptual craft.” Check out her website for Soyna Philp’s full bio.
I love the design of this book. A wonderfuly chunky font is used for the headers. The sans-serif used for longer text blocks is easy to read. Pink, yellow, and teal are used throughout the book in diagrams and decoration. I found the changing colors useful when skiming because they signaled when chapters began and ended. I can also see this helping when trying to remember a where a diagram of a specific technique was located. I’m definitely the type to remember “it was in that yellow chapter” rather than the chapter name.
Chapters and Organization
The Act of Sewing is a practical manual for sewing your own wardrobe organized into five chapters:
- Basic Tools & Techniques
- Modifications and Embellishments
- Combining Patterns
Each chapter is divided up into several sections, making this an easy book to navigate. Since this the typee of book a reader will return to repeatedly, that ability to navigate within the book is important.
Additioinally, the book includes four patterns: 2 tops, a skirt, and a pair of pants. These basic patterns are intened to be embelished and modified using the instructions in the book. As these were not included in my digital review copy I can’t say much about them. However, I do think that including them was a wonderful idea!
And if you need more, there’s an index and glossary in the back.
Book Content and Instructions
As with most sewing, fitting, and pattern alteration books, Philps begins by going through the tools she reccomends. What I love about this section is that she is constantly mentioning the important little details that only someone who has really sewn will know. For example, in a breif pragraph about pins she advises readers to use thinner pins if they find their pins sliding out of the fabric and also advises against using plastic headed pins because of their tendancy to melt. These are the sort of details that can make all the difference, especially if you’re new to the craft.
The first chapter also spends some time on basic terminology and sewing techniques. Things like understanding fabric grain and how to deal with tension issuse are covered. My favorite part is the section on making and using bias tape, which is such a great way to finish edges.
Chapter 2 goes over the four baisic patterns included with the book and how to sew them. The written insctructions are thorough and the diagrams are clear. However, the book relies more heavily on written instructions than a typical commercial pattern might, so they might feel a bit sparse to some.
The next three chapters are all about taking this baisic information and using it to design and create your own wardrobe. Chapter 3 is all about fitting and pattern alteratioins though basic adjustments. Some of these are stylistic changes and others are meant to improve the fit. These start out simple, and ending with instructions for how to do a seat adjustment on a pair of trousers.
The real creative fun begins in chapter 4, where Philps teaches different techniques for altering the patterns stylistically. This includes adding pleats and pockets, creating a yolk, and changing hemlines. Chapter 5 is similar, but involves taking peices from multiple different patterns to create something new. The best thing about these three chapters is that Philps shows both how to alter the pattern and how to sew the new garment together.
Overall, I loved this book. It’s packed with information and well organized. Additionally, the design is great and the resulting book is beautiful. This book is a great option for those intrested in home or custom garment sewing. It covers more than enough information about sewing, fitting, and pattern alteration to get anyone started on a DIY wardrobe.
I’d reccomend it most to intermediate sewers. Working through few projects using The Act of Sewing would be a great way to learn about pattern altertion and to gain the confidence to design your own clothes. This is also a solid reference guide that can be used for many years. Advanced sewers who have never found an all-purpose reference manual they vibe with should give The Act of Sewing serious consideration. There is a lot to be said for having a trusted source in arms reach when sewing and this one coveres both patterning and sewing.
Beginner sewists might find they need more visual and hands-on instruction than this (or any) book can provide. But I wouldn’t rule it out as an option even for someone who’s never picked up a needle before. The information in the book builds on its self as you go, making it possible to learn a lot if you work through it like a textbook.
Honestly, I would seriously consider usinig this as class text or to reccomend it to someone taking a begining sewing class. I can also see it being great for someone that is just learning to sew but has a friend or relative to help them as-needed. It would be great paired with Mend It, Wear It, Love It by Zoe Edwards.
Have you bought The Act of Sewing? Or do you have another favorite sewing, fitting, and pattern alteration book? Let me know in the comments or over on Instagram!