Book Review: Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers

When I sat down to write this post it shocked me when I realized I’ve had this book for seven years. It doesn’t even feel like that long and yet I still consider it the definitive guide for sewers and designers who take their work seriously. This is the book that I should have had when I was in design school. Technically a textbook this book was developed and written by two women, Julie Cole and Sharon Czachor, who teach professionally at Harper College in Illinois. What makes this book better than any instructional sewing book that I’ve come across so far (and I’ve read dozens) is that it takes into account not just the how but the why. It discusses pattern development and helps guide the reader to picking the best technique for the job at hand. This may seem obvious which is probably why it is too often omitted from most sewing books, especially for those geared towards the casual sewist. If you’re looking to elevate your skills or round out your understanding of garment construction this the first place you should look. Concepts are discussed here that I wasn’t introduced to until after I graduated from design school and I’d say that I had a pretty comprehensive albeit sink or swim education out in L.A at the California Design College  (the name has since changed and is under the Art Institutes banner). Had I learned these concepts then it would have saved me a lot of heartache and unnecessary stress over the years.

It covers garment manufacturing industry standard techniques and uses industry standard understandings of garment construction. For home sewers who haven’t ventured beyond store bought patterns this may be a bit of a learning curve but it shouldn’t be too much of one. Even though it teaches using these standards as a foundation that does not mean they can’t translate into the home. Often times, for better or worse, home sewists are looking to copy and learn “industry secrets” and this book will help you get there if that’s what you’re looking for.

Another thing that really sets this book apart from many others in its same category is that it troubleshoots common gripes and confusions instructors hear from students. This may be the most valuable part of the book because I recognized many(i) of them from my own experience as a student. The authors tell you where you’ll be tempted to go wrong and help to steer you in the right direction. They encourage you to try and make mistakes which is so important to any sort of learning. Most of all they explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. What good is it to know how to sew a facing if you don’t know what it’s for, the many ways it can be used, or why it should be sewn the way they show you? Far too many textbooks read like technical manuals instead of [insert something witty and observational here] That said, it’s not a thing to be used in page order. The concepts are grouped in ways that to me make the most sense for teaching garment construction. Instead of listing techniques according to garment type they list them in accordance with function noting when techniques used on pants can be used on shirts and dresses. This book does not focus on knit construction nearly as much as woven however it does give a general overview of the most common techniques and troubles a designer or sewist may face when working with knits.

Though I wish there were photographs instead of illustrations, a book of this scope would be unreasonably expensive to produce with full color photos. That said even though I was familiar with much of what was in the book when I first read it I found at times the illustrations difficult to follow. I read and reread sections to make sure what I was reading was as depicted. I haven’t found an instance when it didn’t eventually make sense but keep that in mind as you go through the book. Despite this slight grievance, the overall calm and encouraging tone of the book will help the reader take charge of their construction efforts.

I refer mostly to Professional Sewing Techniques for Fashion Designers when it has been a while since I’ve done a particular technique or need a reminder about a certain facet of apparel manufacturing. If you are a person who prefers to self teach this is really the way to go. So much is described in minute detail that it’s almost entirely possible to forgo a human teacher. Almost. Remember no book can teach everything about any one particular subject but this one comes exceedingly close in the realm of ready to wear garment construction. I highly recommend that if you don’t have it and you’re serious about garment construction that you make the investment and add this guide to your library.

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