Review: Sewing Pants and Skirts

12/29/10 This post has been amended at close.

As previously requested, I’m reviewing Laurel Hoffman‘s book Sewing Pants and Skirts. I do not have her newest title (Design Room Techniques) which could be the book Mary mentioned in comments. It could be worthwhile to review the comments in that thread.

Keeping in mind how I review drafting books, I’ve done pretty much the same with this one in that I review basic techniques, verbiage etc for consistency and application. With pattern books, I give the basics a fast pass since most book authors get the basics right. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for sewing books. Which is not to say they’re not consistent because they are but they’re consistently wrong. Okay, maybe not wrong but not right for our purposes no matter how much they claim to be.

A particular strength of this book lies in illustration. The text is profusely and impressively illustrated with very clean and crisp line drawings. Sure, there’s a few drawings that are confusing but this is usually (but not always) because it is a difficult aspect to illustrate rather than any fault of the author. I personally had trouble understanding the welt pocket diagrams (see pg 175 etc) which seem unnecessarily complex. However, it is possible a better judge of this particular example is someone who hasn’t made many welt pockets. They may think the drawings are great and their opinions should trump mine since I already make them in my sleep.

As far as illustrated processes and instruction in Laurel’s book are concerned (zipper insertions, welt pockets etc), my instruction is markedly different. This may not make much of a difference to you. For example, she shows making welt pockets with two littler cut pieces instead of the one piece pattern I used in my tutorials. One (there were several) difference in zipper sewing methods is that she inserts the zipper with half of the top allowance extending beyond the skirt or pant cut edge. Her way is not wrong per se but sewing it like that will not leave enough room to have both a hook and eye and top stitching.

As to whether I would recommend this would depend on the user’s needs. For enthusiasts, you could do a lot worse in text selection. And sure, she’s only covered two product types but any of the given processes will readily transfer into many other kinds of products. One particular strength is how to manage linings (how to draft and sew them). Again, I do it differently but if you mastered the presented lessons, the need or advantages of any divergent or competing processes would become apparent and complimentary as opposed to contradicting what you’d already learned.

I think this book would be an excellent construction orientation for people who are starting a clothing line whether they sew or not. If one doesn’t sew (and doesn’t intend to learn) just reading passages in the book would be a tremendous benefit because you’d have a much greater understanding of many things like seam finishing, layout, fiber behavior, construction; really it is endless (most of what I mean is stuff I never think to mention so that’s another huge plus). Most of the terminology is on target with what is commonly used in the trade (as opposed to those home sewing cum “industry” books). I do note regional differences in the terminology Laurel uses but most people in the trade would know what you meant or could figure it out -and the same can’t be said for home sewing books. Which is not to say there wouldn’t be points of confusion (she calls guides “markers” which could definitely be problematic) but you could elaborate easily enough to make your meaning and intent clear to another party.

There’s a few things I’m not sure of. An example is the mention of “V” notches (cutting out a wedge) being mandatory to mark center front and center back points. I can honestly say I have never seen a “V” notch cut out in either pattern, pieces or finished products at any place I’ve ever worked, nor have I been instructed to use them. I’ve never known these V notches to exist at all. However, that I’ve never seen or known of these doesn’t mean Laurel is wrong, it could be that these are from before my time (she’s older than me) and could also be a regional practice particular to the east coast. In the same vein, I thought it was a bit funny (funny ha ha, not funny weird) that she defines “self” (main fabrication used in a garment) but then uses the term “shell” (same thing) frequently instead. Shell and self are interchangeable. I use the term shell almost exclusively and have to remind myself that self seems to be most common among younger people and on the west coast.

As to whether you should buy this particular book, I’m not sure yet. I’m not sure because she has the new book out and although it costs more ($125 as opposed to $90 for this one) it may be a better value. Again, I can’t review a sewing book for industrial purposes only to limit its value to those who sew. I must also review products for people who won’t be sewing but need a solid orientation to construction processes. Once I have the newer book I can make a better suggestion for all concerned such as practitioners, those transitioning from hobby to commercial sewing and for designers who need a solid understanding of terms and construction order in order to communicate with production staffers. If you want a fast answer as to whether this is a must buy, post in comments or consider borrowing it from the library. For what it’s worth, I think you will be pleased with it. As far as any other books I know of on the market (which doesn’t include her newest book), there are no others to compare with this one in terms of applied industry terminology and practices. And as you know, language is one of our biggest barriers.

I hope this was helpful.

Amended 12/29/10
I spent some time with Laurel on the phone today. She says the new book isn’t ready, that she’s withheld publication due to some clarifications she felt were necessary to maintain the integrity of the work. She said she’ll notify me when it’s ready.

As far as the price, this was due to pricing quotes (inordinately high ones in my opinion) she’d received. I mentioned some other resources for printing that were more competitive and in keeping with the minimums she has in mind. I’m confident she will be able to adjust the anticipated cost accordingly. I’ll tell you more when I have better information.

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6 comments

  1. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Thanks for the review, Kathleen. Right now the only thing keeping me from buying the new book right now is the price. But I think it is one I’m going to drop a hint to the librarian as to one she should buy for the reference shelf in our community college library. We have the Margaret Islander DVDs in the library and I would love to compare the two.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Hi Theresa, I’ve amended this entry with more up to date information. At this writing, the book isn’t available yet and we both hope the price will be more affordable.

  3. Terra says:

    I have an earlier version of this book because I took the class with Laurel. The illustrations are meticulous and Laurel was constantly upgrading our version throughout the class in order to provide the best examples possible. I have all of her books (most of them are not published – they were for the classes) and they’ve helped me immensely. I knew nothing when I took those classes, home sewing or otherwise, and I learned to draft, grade, and sew. I also second what Kathleen said about how after “mastering” the lessons in the book, any changes you might need to make and how to do it would become obvious. It has to me, and strangely enough (though perhaps not) learning garment construction and drafting and all that has switched something on in my brain. Good review, Kathleen.

  4. anne says:

    When I worked for a bridal company we used “V” notches on lace where a straight clip would disappear.
    Also used them at CF and CB when there were a lot of other notches along the waistline; for instance if w had a stripe that was being pleated down (to create a solid field) and then released

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