Review: Leather Fashion Design

leather_fashion_design_coverLeather Fashion Design is the newest book written by Francesca Sterlacci, former fashion chair at FIT. Accordingly, some of you probably know her; I’ve never had the pleasure although I knew of her through an earlier book she wrote called Leather Apparel Design. Speaking of, this new book is very similar to the earlier one so if you have that you may not need this one. The new book amounts to a revised and expanded edition of the previous title which is now out of print. Lastly a caveat on my suitability for reviewing this book;  much of my experience is in leather production.

Strengths: Overall, it’s a solid focus on design and production constraints. In my professional opinion, this is required reading and careful study for anyone who is considering a career in leather production either as a manufacturer or designer. The text contains a nice survey of leather garment history (also nice photos), a comprehensive discussion of hide tanning and processing, as well as much needed explanation of hand, weights and finishes. Subsequent chapters include advice on line planning, costing, cutting, seam finishing and sewing.

Weaknesses: Other than our respective differences of opinion (not the same thing as a weakness per se), I really don’t see any downsides to the book -except that it may not meet everyone’s expectations. Which is not to say everyone’s expectations are reasonable. For example, this is not a leather pattern making book but she has mentioned the necessity of piecing to fit hides (a nice example is illustrated on page 89). It is also not -strictly- a leather sewing book although she has shown step by step construction for a shirt, a pair of pants and a jacket.

Another weakness or perhaps better described as a strength (depending on your opinion) is duplication of content. Namely, there are spec sheets, costing and related topics that apply to apparel manufacturing generally. I suppose this is good if one didn’t want to buy any other production management books but on the other hand, the argument could be made that commonalities should be eliminated from the page count. Personally, I’d rather have a book that focused on what was unique to a given aspect of apparel without those redundancies. Be that as it may, these subjects are not covered in such detail that the content of other sections suffers. Meaning, the page count of what I would consider redundant is quite low.

Speaking of differences of opinion while keeping in mind that this is a book for designers of leather apparel versus my background in leather pattern making and production, differences of opinion are a natural and probably minimal consequence. Specifically, I don’t agree with some of her advice:

  • Seam allowances: she says to use 1/2″ -that’s crazy talk. You should use 3/8″ if not 1/4″. She does mention you should use 1/4″ on parts that are turned (pockets, collars) with which I concur. See The rules on seam allowances, also part two.
  • Cutting demonstration: in which a blade is run around a pattern’s edge. I beg of you, do not do this. Trace it, then cut it out. You can only cut around a pattern’s edge with a blade if the pattern has been cut out of 1/4″ thick hardboard. It takes a band saw and considerable skill to make those patterns.
  • Glues: She likes glue. I don’t. I’ve never glued a seam in a leather garment. Other than that barge is toxic, I don’t like the finished result. When a seam is butterflied and glued open, and the piece it is glued to has stretched but the seam allowance has not, there’s a pull in the hide. Maybe others don’t see it but I do. Feel free to do as you please; if majority matters, you’ll find more people agree with her than me. I just think glue is a work around. A better construction method can eliminate the need of gluing.  And again, leather glue is nasty stuff; it causes cancer.
  • Pressing: her advice requires a careful reading. On one hand she correctly states that garment portions that require structure should be fused (like me, she recommends the fusible tricot). On the other, she says to never use steam, never allow contact between hide and sole, and that you should use paper between them. I hate the affect of paper; the leather looks sweaty and the paper sticks to it and looks off when you pull it away. I’ve never had a problem pressing -but then I always press with a teflon shoe.

Summary: At $26, I rate this book as an outstanding value and a must buy. If you’re getting into leather products and decide not to buy it for some unfathomable reason, good luck because you’ll need it. [It is not unreasonable to presume you’ll make any number of other decisions that will be similarly detrimental to your enterprise.]

Leather Fashion Designby Francesca Sterlacci, copyright 2010
8.5 x 11; 192 pp, copious photographs and clear illustrations
Published by Laurence King

In closing and somewhat off topic, two items:

  1. This is the first book I’ve purchased from Lawrence King publishing. Between you and me, I’ve seen their imprint around but not liking the cover design, wasn’t in a rush to buy them. I have to tell you, I’m very pleased with the titles I have. Nice quality print jobs, many nice illustrations, sturdy paper, and solid content from lesser known authors. I still don’t like the table of contents design but whatever.
  2. I looked at the Amazon reviews for this title and it’s enough to make you cry. Of the 8 reviews (four and five stars), only one is genuine. The rest are fake -two appear to be from Ms. Sterlacci’s siblings. Follow the links to the reviewers other reviews and you’ll see they’ve only reviewed books by Ms. Sterlacci and in some cases, the reviews are a copy and paste. It is a travesty that buyers haven’t been motivated to write genuine reviews of this book. Authors really depend on them and this title deserves more respect and attention than it has received. I hope you’ll leave a review if you buy and enjoy it. I plan to leave one myself.

Leather pattern making and sewing class
Sewing with leather pt.1
Sewing with leather pt.2

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  1. Heather says:

    Great heads up on researching reviewers on Amazon. I don’t rely on reviews so much, preferring the look inside the book function so I can make up my own mind, but your investigation of the reviewers of this book was a real eye-opener. I’ll do more of this in the future.

  2. Kathleen says:

    I like reviews very much. Even negative reviews are instructive. For example, if I’m interested in buying an entry level text on what is a complex subject (for me), negative reviews can actually persuade me to buy if reviewers say the material is [too] simplistic or introductory. Etc. Good reviewers will also make suggestions for other books they prefer or that they also recommend. I’ve found some nice books that way I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

    Normally I don’t question the veracity of reviewers, only if such pattern emerges that a closer look is warranted. In this case, several reviews were left within the same 24 hour period, nearly all within the same two week period and lastly, each of those reviews were brief (2 sentences long). In a popular title, it is not a big deal if reviews were posted shortly after publication but these lagged release by a few months. Clicking on one questionable review, I saw they’d only reviewed books by Sterlacci -which is what made me look at the rest of them and they all followed the same pattern. Only one reviewer was flagged as having bought the book.

    My point is, this is a nice book, a good value and it’s tragic anyone had to resort to doing this just to bump it up in the ratings (where it should have been imo).

    • alex says:

      Great review thanks Kathleen, fake reviews are becoming more and more of an issue on Amazon. I appreciate someone with pattern making experience taking the time to review the book correctly! Great advice, as well, we make one of a kind leather designs and find this book to be of great value.

  3. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Els of the Sewing Divas favorably reviewed this book in March on the Sewing Divas blog She is a patternmaker as well.

  4. Mary L. says:

    I’ve worked and patterned for leather, definitely 3/8″ S.A.! I never even considered not using glue, I like that idea. I concur on the pressing, just use a teflon shoe. As for fusing, we would fuse just about every seam; armholes, neck openings, welt pocket openings on the body etc. I would consider purchasing the book for the leather quality, processing and manufacturing information.

  5. Joelle Hodson says:

    Your book reviews have reminded me that I need to work on my pattern/fashion library. I’m adding this one to my wish list. Thank you!

  6. Seth Meyerink-Griffin says:

    I’ve used contact cements for making shoes (where it’s invaluable, unless you *really* love stitching soles on by hand), but I used rubber cement for garments. I didn’t notice anything happening around the seams as a result; is this because rubber cement is more flexible, or it because my eye is improperly trained? (Then again, I was also faux-felling most of the seams, so any added rigidity could have been the result of layers of leather.) It’s also significantly less toxic; no need for a downdraft table/open windows/fan/respirator.

  7. Kathleen says:

    I didn’t notice anything happening around the seams as a result; is this because rubber cement is more flexible, or it because my eye is improperly trained?

    The faux felling could be a contributing factor, the seam is more stabilized into the depth of the allowances. It could also depend on the weight of the goods. It would be more evident on the lightest drapiest goods (lamb skin for example).

    I don’t know if rubber cement is toxic like barge but suspect not. The issue with rubber cement is that with prolonged use, it works its way into the hook and bobbin assemblies. Those who use it as a matter of course have to regularly schedule preventive maintenance to clean the gunk out of there.

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