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Sew Retro: A Stylish History of the Sewing Revolution Book Review

Grab a cup of coffee, or tea, or cocoa. It’s time for another book review

Sew Retro – A Stylish History of the Sewing Revolution by Judi Ketteler

Sew Retro is a combination history and how-to book. Patterns for the projects are included.

DISCLAIMER: I have not actually made any of the projects using the provided pattern pieces or instructions. My pattern pieces are still sealed in the envelope bound into the rear of this hardback, spiral bound book.

The book covers roughly 150 years of history, from the 18000s to the 1980s. I guess anything newer than that is too new to be retro!

A fun timeline marches across the bottom of the pages through all the chapters, noting important sewing related events.

Each chapter begins by talking about the changing role of women, major events and circumstances that affect the United States and their impact on the home sewing industry. Biographies of key women in fashion history and interviews with contemporary women in the industry pepper this section, and advertisements from the era provide rich, intriguing illustrations. The history portion is followed by several projects that (are supposed to) reflect that time period.

Chapter One – 1800s – Victorian Pin Cushion, Elegant Shawl, Sweet Sewing Basket, Charming Needlecase

Chapter Two – 1910s; 1920s – Opera Bag, Flapper Apron, Smart Felt Hat

Chapter Three – 1930s; 1940s – Patchwork Potholders, Pinch a Penny Change Purse, Cafe Curtains, Tea Party Tablecloth, Ribbon Embellished Napkins

Chapter Four – 1950s -Hostess Apron, Mod Gathered Pillow, Pretty Little Purse, Birds of a Feather Table Runner, Handkerchief Bag

Chapter Five – 1960s; 1970s – Not So Mini Mini Skirt, Cool Coasters, Easy Elastic Headband, Groovy Patchwork Throw

Chapter Six – 1980s – Saturday Afternoon Skirt, Farmer’s Market Bag, Catch-All Caddy, Almost Effortless Scarf

Every project includes a photo of the completed item. Many of these projects are (or could be) quite useful items, for example, the Thrifty Thirties Patchwork Potholders, or the Victorian Sweet Sewing Basket. Others, like the Mid Century Modern Birds of a Feather Table Runner and Almost Effortless Scarf, are just not my taste at all. And some, like the Mid Century Modern Pretty Little Purse, are actually quite cute, but not in the fabrics and colors chosen for the examples.

All the projects are Easy or Very Easy. A few, like the Easy Elastic Headband, a fabric tube with an elastic insert, are easy enough for children. The Patchwork Potholders would be a good project to introduce kids to quilting, and the Groovy Patchwork Throw could make an easy project for a beginning quilter. Some projects, like the Cafe Curtains or the Elegant Shawl, are simple projects that an intermediate sewist could probably create on their own without the book (I know I’ve been making simple curtains like for over 30 years, often out of sheets).

Each project includes a list of needed supplies, the pattern pieces used (if any), a list of what fabric pieces to cut, and assembly steps accompanied by illustrations with a hand-drawn quality.

Will you like this book?

If you are looking for a how-to-sew book, this probably isn’t for you. It does include some sewing information, and a couple of projects could be good introductions to quilling, but the how-to information is largely limited to how-to do each project, not sewing in general.

If you are looking to recreate authentic items from a specific era of history, this book is not for you. The projects are all modern interpretations inspired by the mood and feeling of a specific era.

If you are looking for Easy or Very Easy sewing projects (including some that can be done by hand, or by children, or by hand by children) you might like this book. If you dislike the way an item looks in the project photo, do not be put off. These items can be made in different colors (or in prints or solids) and different fabric, producing different results.

If you enjoy vintage advertising, sewing history, interviews and biographies of fashion industry figures, you might like this book.



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