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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Some thoughts: Liberty Book of Home Sewing

If I don't sew at least once a week I get sad. It's a bit like going to the gym. I hate the thought of getting ready and dragging myself down there but as soon as I'm working out I love it. With sewing I hate the pressures of keeping my sewing table clear and tidy and the fact the needle probably needs replacing or the tension is wrong yet once I've sat down, foot on the peddle, all my worries and stresses diminish. I'm no sewing domestic goddess though....I can sew and I know how to set up a machine and teach others how to use it but my skills are by no means advanced. My work is a bit wonky, the odd missed stitch, the wrong tension, seams that haven't been totally flattened by the iron.... but I'm happy if it joins, it doesn't need to be perfect. I prefer to be known as a Subversive Seamstress (I screen printed these patches to remind me that being a sewer doesn't mean you have to follow all the rules.)
I'm a crafter with a dedicated home studio but it's not one of those ones that could be photographed for a magazine. I don't have piles of neatly folded printed cottons in glass cabinets instead I have masses and masses of piled up fabric scraps, in all corners of the room - this one by the door, starts on the floor and each day looks more and more like a rubbish tip. But when you're so active your craft room really can't look pristine and tidy...
Then there's my stash of sewing porn. I hoard craft books to look at the pictures and get inspiration. I own hundreds of them (this is a sample of sewing ones). It's totally fantastical oogling, ooing and aahhing over beautiful things I would love to own but realistically will never have time to make. Of all craft books, sewing are among the most complicated because as much as I'm not one to follow rules if you're sewing something and the size goes wrong you've got a potential craft disaster on your hands (and believe me I've had plenty of those.) Finding a good sewing book is hard though. Some look stunning but are too complex, some look easy but the layout is unappealing and some are full of yummy gorgeous fabrics that you just know you'll never source. The newest and most anticipated sewing book of the year that is published next month is The Liberty Book of Home Sewing. Unbelievably (what took them so long????!!!!) It's the first ever sewing book from Liberty despite the fact Liberty Print fabric is legendary in fashion and textile circles.
The book has received lots of praise in the blogosphere, some which sound like they could be describing any craft book listing contents and projects. So there's no point in me adding to the list with an equally glowing/informative review. The reason anyone keeps a blog is to have an independent outlet to express their opinions. And one thing that is integral to my blog is being honest so even when I get sent freebies (like a review copy of this book) it's important I stay true to my principles. And the truth is this book is not what I expected.
I don't own any Liberty Print fabric (possibly because of the price tag) but my sister who is a huge fan used her stash to make me a business card holder for my birthday. Today she tweeted about how much she loves their new Hello Kitty range....yes even I was surprised they are selling that! Liberty Print is very traditional and in keeping with these values, the books feel equally traditional but in some respects a little too old fashioned for the current craft book climate. But before I go into that, here's the features I like about the book:
The fabric cover is stunning. The book is about using Liberty Print fabric so to be able to own a sample is very satisfying. It's a craft book first (I think!) to have a fabric cover and I'm sure it's going to start a trend.
The most fascinating section in the book is at the back where it lists different Liberty prints giving details of their history. I feel like it would have been a much stronger book if the focus was more about the fabric and 'how to sew' which to me is what the title suggests. But it actually has very little on 'sewing' and launches straight into projects and this is where I'm slightly disappointed. There are hundreds of sewing books on the market so it's going to be hard to maintain originality but I felt overall that the choice of projects in the book are stale......they are all things that I've seen before - cushion cover, blind, curtain, doorstop, noticeboard and even a corsage.......corsage???? They were popular a decade ago.
The books switches from 'simple' like the corsage, to the ridiculously hard. Quilting has its place in home sewing but it's a specialist craft in itself and it felt like it was just brushed over by sticking a quilt in the book.....which quite frankly is far too complicated to be dedicated just six pages.
Instructions for making projects are clear but they are illustrations. There's nothing wrong with this, but sewing is difficult and step-by-step photos on this occasion would have been stronger.
There's a small section on sewing techniques but it's soooooooo bland! Grey illustrations? Who decided on that? The part of the book that frustrates me the most however is that you're expected to make your own patterns. It wouldn't have been hard to enclose an envelope at the back which contained patterns you could cut up and start using straight away .....honestly? Does any crafter actually have the time to sit and make a pattern and then craft?
This is where I struggle with the book. It's like picking up an old vintage craft book (with its choice of fabric, projects and instructions) but at the same time it's trying to be modern. It will sell and be popular because of the Liberty brand but if it was just another sewing book with the projects it contains, it would be a flop. What would have been so much better is if there had been more original ideas, like this peacock pin cushion.
It's my favourite project in the book because it uses their iconic peacock print in a novel way. More unique ideas like this would have made it a much more original and memorable book to suit it's lovely cover. 

Before I wrote this post I toyed with whether or not I really should say what I think. Maybe because I haven't been full of praise I won't be sent any more books to review and maybe I'll upset the author (I'd be upset if I read a review on a book I'd written that said it was unoriginal and boring) but I can't stand on the fence either and say 'yeah it's great go and buy it'. Some people love Liberty Fabric and will adore the book because of that, others may want a traditional sewing book (todays craft books are possibly too 'modern' for some tastes). My advice is have a look at it. You may find something in it that appeals to you. As for my copy,  it won't be one of those craft books I keep coming back to but luckily I know someone will would appreciate it and their birthday is coming up!

Liberty is a luxury London department store that opened in 1875 and fabric has always been one of it's key products.


  1. It's great that you're being honest about it. It's very rare to read a less than positive review about a freebie from a blogger. I just received the book today and yours was the first review I read that I agreed with. Too bad I paid for the book though, at least it's beautiful!

  2. Hi Rocio,
    Thanks so much for your support! I still feel a little upset about this post mainly as I know most of my crafty peers are raving about it and I don't want to get blacklisted as a bad reviewer! But then again I stick with my observations about the book - I hope you get some inspiration from it and thanks for checking out my blog x