Book Review: Handmade Bags in Natural Fabrics

I’m here today to a book review courtesy of Tuttle Publishing.  They have provided me with the book in exchange for this review, but the opinions are all my own.

If you’re in the market for a unique gift for a friend who sews, or you’re looking for something a little different to try yourself, I have the book for you. 

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Handmade Bags in Natural Fabrics by Emiko Takahashi might look a little ordinary at first glance.  It’s filled with 25 basic handbag designs, with variations to bring the impressive total to 60 different options.  The colors used throughout the book are fairly neutral, and the many of the shapes we’ve seen before.  Why is this book so unusual then?  All of the bags are meant to be sewn completely by hand.

Knowing that really changes the way you look at this book.  I’ve been doing a lot of hand embroidery recently, but I’m so tied to my sewing machines that I forget it’s possible to construct something without touching a machine at all.  Somehow, a simple bag is a little more beautiful when you know it was made entirely, and literally, by hand.

The projects are divided into three categories,  and the first is shopping bags.  My favorite here is the Checkout Basket Bag.  What a smart idea!

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The next topic is everyday bags, with a selection of simple bags that could be used in a million different ways.

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The last group is fashion bags.  There are some nice shapes in this section.  And a hand-sewn zipper!

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Following the projects, the book covers the construction techniques, equipment and materials used to make these bags.  Everything is explained in such a way that I wouldn’t be afraid to give this book to even the most novice sewist, with the recommendation that she read through the whole book before starting on her first project.

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The instructions for each project seem very thorough.  There are plenty of illustrations, which is a huge plus for me in both sewing and recipe books.  Apparently I’m more of a show, don’t tell kind of person.

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As I mentioned, I’ve been embroidering like crazy, so I really appreciate that the book doesn’t just say “put this sort of stitch here.”   There are diagrams showing what each stitch looks like and how it’s made so that even someone nervously clutching her first skein of floss knows what to do with it.

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Many of the bags are constructed using basic shapes, but there is a pattern sheet in the back of the book for the more oddly shaped.

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Without a doubt, this is my favorite book I’ve reviewed for Tuttle Publishing so far.  There isn’t a single bag shown that I wouldn’t consider making, and I’m completely in love with the idea of sewing it with nothing but a needle and thread.  Maybe some pretty bag fabric will find its way into my Christmas stocking!

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Book Review: Basic Black

I’m here today to share another book review courtesy of Tuttle Publishing.  They have provided me with the book, but the opinions are all my own.

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing Happy Homemade Sew Chic Kids, Happy Homemade Sew Chic and Stylish Skirts so far, and I loved things about all of them, but I’ve unintentionally saved the best for last.   I have lots of black clothes in my closet, so I was bound to find a few things here I liked, but I was pleasantly surprised at how many that turned out to be. 

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This book was written by the talented Sato Watanabe.  It started as all the Tuttle books have so far – with photos of each finished garment.  Not that it has anything to do with the sewing aspect, but one thing I really liked about this book was the cheerfulness of the model.  With all of the garments being black, the happy expressions versus a typical starving model pose set a good tone.

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I had a hard time narrowing down which favorites I wanted to share with you, but the first one that stood out to me was the Dress with Stitched Skirt.  I love the look of white embroidery on black.

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While a good part of the book features cold weather items, like this Zip-Up Vest with High Neck…

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…there are also plenty of things for the warm season too, like this Whimsical Vest in Chiffon Lace.

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This High Neck Shirt with Three Quarter Length Sleeves would be great for that transition from summer to fall.

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I love the neckline on this Flannel Short Coat. 

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I haven’t made anything from this book yet, but it seems like there’s a pretty broad range of skill levels required for the different projects.  There is a page detailing the different tools needed, as you might find in a book for beginners.  There are many projects with only a small number of pieces to cut out and one page of instructions, like this Asymmetrical Blouse with Tape Trim.

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But there are also a few more complex projects for those who’d like to stretch their wings, like this Seersucker Shirt with Collar, which requires several pieces and has three pages of instructions.

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The patterns come in XS, S, M and L and need to be traced onto drafting paper or pattern tissue to use, as they’re overlapped on the pattern page included.  If you wonder why they do this, here is what 26 ordinary sewing patterns look like.

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Compare that to this book, with it’s skinny envelope in the back.  Makes sense, right?

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My thanks to Tuttle Publishing for asking me to review their books.  It was a real pleasure!

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Book Review: Stylish Skirts

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, Tuttle Publishing contacted me and asked if I would review some of their sewing books here on my blog.  I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing Happy Homemade:  Sew Chic and Happy Homemade:  Sew Chic Kids already, and today I’m here with Stylish Skirts.  The books were given to me by Tuttle, but the opinions here are completely my own.

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I was really excited when Stylish Skirts by Sato Watanabe arrived in the mail.  I love skirts, and every year around this time I vow to wear more of them.  They also tend to be one of the easiest clothing items a seamstress can make, with so many options for variations.  This book arrived with 23 choices available, almost every one of them something I would wear. 

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I like the unique touches to classic styles, like this Slub Denim Wrap-Style Panel Skirt, with its extra bit of extended hem.

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Irregular hem skirts have been in style for a few years now, and this version just looks like someone should dance in it.

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The Tiered Look Frilled Skirt adds a twist to the usual tiered skirt by making the layers end at different lengths.

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I really like the white stripe coordinating with the white buttons on this one.

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There is quite a bit of embroidery in this book, which I’ve been loving lately.  Since this skirt is so easy to sew, the extra effort to add the embroidery isn’t much work.

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As far as the way the book is laid out, it’s very similar to the others I’ve reviewed from Tuttle.  It starts out with photos of each skirt on the same dress form, along with page numbers for the instructions.  I miss the personality of human models, but it did make me feel a bit less intimidated that I’m not the size 0 shown in the photos.

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The book includes several helpful pages for beginners or anyone needing a refresher, like this one that covers different closures.

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I really like the way they have diagramed the sewing instructions.  Like my cookbooks, my sewing books can’t have too many photos. 

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The one issue I have with this book is that you have to draft your own patterns.  I understand this is necessary because there’s no way 23 skirt patterns in a variety of sizes are going to fit in an envelope.  However, I was disappointed to find no “How to Draft a Pattern” page, and even with my 40+ years of sewing experience and help from my husband I couldn’t figure out how to make my favorite skirt.

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Granted, I don’t often draft clothing patterns, so this problem may be confined to me.  I did understand some of the other patterns.  My suggestion would be to make a muslin, especially for your first drafted pattern from this book.  I’m still hoping to figure it out, because I have a piece of fabric that would be perfect for that skirt.

The other thing I’d like to see is clearer fabric suggestions.  There are some, but if they were to add that and a page explaining pattern drafting, this book would be perfect.  Still, Stylish Skirts is definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a skirt fan like I am!

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Book Review: Happy Homemade Sew Chic

Just like last week, I’m going to start this off with full disclosure.  Tuttle Publishing contacted me and asked if I would review some of their sewing books here on my blog.  Having flipped through a couple of them in the past, I was happy to do so.  The books were given to me by Tuttle, but the opinions here are completely my own.

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Japanese sewing books have a large, faithful following.  I knew they were popular, I just hadn’t taken the time to find out what they were all about.  Apparently, it’s not uncommon for a seamstress to translate the books herself from their original Japanese.  Fortunately, the Happy Homemade series has been translated to English already, making them a quick and easy source for simple and stylish sewing projects.

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There are lots of cute outfits in this book.  Many of them are made for someone a bit less curvy than I am, but there are a few options for those of us who can’t pull off a loose, tunic style.  In fact, the first time I flipped through it, I thought there wasn’t really anything in this book for me.  When I looked through it again and examined some of the drawings I realized there were many things I could wear.  I’d recommend giving it a thorough read before deciding for yourself.

One of my favorites is this Straight-Cut Tiered Skirt.  This style is often designed to be too short for me, but this one is a perfect length.

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The garment I most want to make is this Jacket with Back Tie.  It’s such a simple style and would look great with so many things.

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I could see myself wearing this Sleeveless Blouse with Frill.  In fact, I’m taking a trip to Disneyland in the fall, and this seems like a perfect vacation top.

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Like the kids’ version last week, this book is very thorough in its layout of basic tools, techniques and tips for a beginning sewer.  I really like the page that describes some of the commonly used sewing terms, such as facings and pockets.  The drawings are very clear, making it handy for a beginner just learning such things or a more advanced sewer needing a basic refresher.

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There are 20 projects included in this book.  Needless to say, in order to provide full-sized patterns for each one they needed to be printed in such a way that they would all fit in one envelope.  That means they are overlapped and printed on both sides, so you need to plan on tracing all of the pieces.  If you’ve ever tried to use one size from a multi-size pattern, you know that’s probably going to make your life easier in the end anyway.  You also need to add a seam allowance, which is easy enough since you’re already tracing and is detailed in the book.  The one thing I found odd was that the suggested seam allowance was 3/8”.  I’ve always been told to use 5/8” with garments, but since you’re adding it yourself you can do whatever is comfortable for you.

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I’m very impressed with the diagrams included with each project, showing exactly how a specific part of the assembly is done.

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I have to tell you, I did have one disappointment in reading this book.  That adorable little top on the front cover is not one of the patterns included.  Maybe I can look forward to it in a future edition!  Otherwise, I really enjoyed Happy Homemade Sew Chic, and I think the Japanese sewing book genre can count another fan.

Book Review: Happy Homemade Sew Chic Kids

I’m going to start this off with full disclosure.  Tuttle Publishing contacted me and asked if I would review some of their sewing books here on my blog.  Having flipped through a couple of them in the past, I was happy to do so.  The books were given to me by Tuttle, but the opinions here are completely my own.

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I’m starting off this week with the first title that caught my attention, Happy Homemade: Sew Chic Kids by Ruriko Yamada.  Put a cute kid on the cover and that’s all the marketing strategy you need for me.  Three of them, wearing my current favorite color palette, and I’m all in.  Fortunately, the rest of the book didn’t disappoint either.

If a beginning sewer were to pick up this book and flip through it, they might assume it was for a more intermediate skill level.  The sheer amount of information and diagrams could be intimidating at first glance.  But that’s exactly why this book would be great for anyone.  The sections on basic tools, needles and thread and sewing machine tips bring a newbie up to speed on what they need to know to get started, then the explanations on how to deal with the pattern pieces and fabric bring it home.  My advice is to read it through before deciding whether it fits into your skill level.

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The book starts out with some basic information on sizing, then dives right into the simple, clean photos of each garment.  I’m not just saying this – I love every single project.  I kept deciding on a favorite, then turning the page to find another.  I did finally narrow it down to four.

This sweet little dress could be made in so many fabrics and worn with leggings, with a top underneath or all by itself.

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This top is really my absolute favorite thing in the whole book.  There’s just something so fun about it.

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The author didn’t forget about the boys either.  I remember when my son was small it was always tough to find things to make for him.  These shorts are simple but easy to customize.

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This shirt is classic, and yet just a little different with the stand-up collar.

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There are 20 projects included in this book.  Needless to say, in order to provide full-sized patterns for each one they needed to be printed in such a way that they would all fit in one envelope.  That means they are overlapped and printed on both sides, so you need to plan on tracing all of the pieces.  If you’ve ever tried to use one size from a multi-size pattern, you know that’s probably going to make your life easier in the end anyway.  You also need to add a seam allowance, which is easy enough since you’re already tracing and is detailed in the book.  The one thing I found odd was that the suggested seam allowance was 3/8”.  I’ve always been told to use 5/8” with garments, but since you’re adding it yourself you can do whatever is comfortable for you.

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I’ll admit, I was a bit puzzled when I read the instructions for the first project.  Steps 2 and 4 are on the page, but no others.  It wasn’t until I spotted the guide telling me make it according to the instructions on another project, substituting the two steps, that it all made sense.  Rather than repeat they just redirect.  Again, it cuts down on what would otherwise be an enormous book.  There are handy flip-outs on the inside of the front and back covers to help keep your place when you need to go back and forth.

The layouts for cutting the pattern pieces are very clear and the diagrams for how to complete each step are very helpful.  Like my cookbooks, I want my sewing books to have lots of pictures.

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Overall, I really love this book.  The garments fit kids sizes 2 through 8, and I don’t currently have anyone to sew for that fits that demographic.  However, all of the projects are so simple and classic, I feel like it’s a book I can pull off the shelf a few years from now and none of it will be outdated. 

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Next week I’ll be reviewing Happy Homemade: Sew Chic by Yoshiko Tsukiori.  Have you sewn with any of the Happy Homemade books?