Tag Archives | book review

A couple of book reviews

Just before Christmas, Bloomsbury Publishing asked me if I would like to review a couple of their books.  As soon as I saw the titles, I jumped at the chance.

What the publishers say:

 The Vintage Pattern Selector by Jo Barnfield is a practical sewing book that arms the reader with all the techniques and information they need in order to mix and match clothing styles from the 20th century.

Accompanied by a CD with printable patterns for a range of dress sizes, this book is a comprehensive guide to creating contemporary outfits from vintage styles.

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The book is clearly and attractively set out with lots of pictures and diagrams.  It contains full instructions for printing the patterns, assembling them and making the dresses, with a section at the back covering the basic techniques of dressmaking.  

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It starts with a timeline of the main styles and trends for each decade between the 1920s and 1970s then goes into more detail about each decade.

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I liked the way it shows the way modern fashions draw on vintage styles, giving examples from different shops.  It also suggests ways to combine particular details of different eras so they work together.

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I haven’t yet tried making up any of the patterns but I can envisage playing with a few of them, notably the 1920s flapper dress (pity I no longer have the shape for it!!).

The second book is quite different in style to the first.  The publisher’s introduction to The Story of Colour in Textiles by Susan Kay-Williams -

Colour and shade of dyed textiles were once as much an indicator of social class or position as the fabric itself, and for centuries the recipes used by dyers were closely guarded secrets.

The arrival of synthetic dyestuffs in the middle of the nineteenth century opened up a whole rainbow of options and within 50 years modern dyes had completely overturned the dyeing industry.

From pre-history to the current day, the story of dyed textiles in Western Europe brings together the worlds of politics, money, the church, law, taxation, international trade and exploration, fashion, serendipity and science.

The Story of Colour in Textiles is an introduction to a broad, diverse and fascinating subject of how and why people coloured textiles.

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Being a historian as well as a dyer, I loved reading this book.  Again, it is attractively set out with lots of gorgeous pictures, but much more factual information too.  I enjoyed reading Victoria Finlay’s book on the story of colour generally, but this book focuses specifically on colouring textiles in Europe.  It mentions other parts of the world but mostly only as they affected European dyeing.  The book starts with an introduction to the various types of fabrics that were being dyed, mostly natural ones such as wool, linen, silk and cotton.

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Unlike Victoria Finlay’s book which goes through each colour in turn, the author of this book works her way through history with chapters on prehistory, the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, then each century from the 15th to the present day. It was useful to read about them in their historical context, and she draws on contemporary paintings which illustrate various dyeing processes, such as Jan van Eyck’s painting of the Arnolfinis, and the Bleaching fields of Haarlem by Jan van Kessel the Elder.

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It is a good book to dip into or use as a reference, but also has a very readable style.  It was interesting to read about the secrecy around new discoveries and subterfuge used to obtain valuable information.  Did you know that a whole mile of coastline around Tyre and Sidon consists of ground up mollusc shells, waste from extracting purple from the shellfish?    Colour as a sign of wealth, power and intrigue….

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She also covers the use of mordants, the introduction of patents and the development of chemical dyes as well as bleaching and the removal of colour to make white. 

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The book has an extensive list of footnotes at the end of each chapter and a large bibliography for further reading.  Definitely worth buying if you are interested in the development of dyeing and use of colour through the ages.

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Book review – Knitting Art

This book was sent to me to review on my blog.

Knitting Art: 180 innovative works from 18 contemporary artists

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I love the gorgeous photography and the colourful knitted pieces. This is not a ‘how to’ book, it is an anthology of knitted art by a number of different artists. I wouldn’t normally buy this type of book, tending more towards ‘technique’ type books. But I loved this one.

It focuses on the work of 18 different artists using knitting as their medium. Along with the photographs of their work, each artist talks about how they came to do what they do, their inspiration, their process and how they get ideas and structure their day as an artist. They are all from North America and their knitted works vary from wearable art to huge installations. And superhero suits…

Even though I don’t use knitting in my work (yet!) I enjoyed reading about what motivates them as artists. And got ideas. One of them, Jeung-Hwa Park, ties her knitting round resists such as stones and then felts it. The tied areas don’t felt so you get the contrast between the texture of the felted and unfelted parts.

It’s a book to read one artist at a time and I’m sure I will be dipping into it constantly as I grow as an artist myself.

The photos are gorgeous, both close up and of the whole thing.

Here are the vital statistics:

Author: Karen Searle

ISBN: 978-0-7603-3067-8

Retail: $34.95US – $38.50CAN – £25.00

Hardcover / 8.5 x 11 / 160 pages / 171 color photos

Pub Date: October 2008

Available in bookstores everywhere or through www.voyageurpress.com.


Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

A book I’ve been reading  and working through recently and it’s brilliant: Learn to Draw: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Ever since I did my C&G course I’ve been wanting to learn to draw properly but never been able to quite work out how to get 3 dimensional things in the proper proportion to one another and looking right! The author of this book reckons that the left side of the brain, which is the one that controls language and stuff like that, likes to find symbols for things and so you end up drawing things the way you think they are (because that’s the way you’ve been drawing them since childhood) rather than the way they actually look.

One of the exercises is to look at the wrinkles on your hand (mine seems to have an increasing number these days, sigh…) and draw them without looking at what you are drawing – so you’re focussing on the seeing rather than what you’re putting on the paper. It causes the left side of your brain to get bored and shut down and allows the more creative, right side to come to the fore. Another exercise is to copy an upside down drawing – so you just focus on the pattern the lines are making and the distance between them rather than on the picture itself. This came out amazingly accurate.

I’ll post some pictures in due course.

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