Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Book Review: Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

The following is a review of Gertie Sews Vintage Casual by Gretchen Hirsch.  I was not sponsored or otherwise enticed to buy this book.  In fact, I struggled to find many reviews of it before I pressed "Buy it Now".

I bought this book in the hope that it would kick-start my flagging sew-jo.
Has it?
I am afraid not. (No, I did not sew a skirt this weekend.)
There are lots of things I really like about it.
It is full of good sewing and pattern-drafting advice to help you make well-finished clothes that fit.
The concept chimes perfectly with my idea of how I want to dress in the workplace:
"everyday retro"..."luxurious comfortable wardrobe basics", based on "The American Look" of the 1940's and 1950's.
The line drawings are lovely.  Reminiscent of the drawings on vintage pattern envelopes, they make me want that dress.  I want to be that girl.
But the photographs of finished garments?  Eeugh.  No.
It took me a long time to figure out what was putting me off.
Gertie and her pals are good-looking gals with plenty of pizzazz and attitude.  I love their hair, their make up, their tattoos, their style.  But in those garments?  Frumpy.
And if a 20-something girl with pink hair and tattoos looks old-fashioned and dowdy in that skirt / top combo, what hope is there for a greying middle-aged woman?

I think part of the problem may be that they are photographed square-on, against a single-coloured background.  There is no context.  It is too flat, two-dimensional, stark.  If I don't like the fabric Gertie has chosen, it is hard to see beyond it.
I am such a sucker for aspirational bookcase backgrounds - stick her in a library and I might like this sweater.
I tried to ignore the photographs and focus on the drawings.
Ooh!  A cobbler's apron!  That's exactly what I need!
But it is not in the book.

OK, try again... 40's style wide legged pants!    Um... not exactly.  You take the basic cigarette pant pattern and add 2 inches either side of the original seam lines, straight down to the hem.  Um, no.
That would be fine as a quick-fix fancy-dress costume design, but as anyone who has made vintage-pattern trousers can tell you, the crotch rise is entirely different in a wide-legged style (low slung) from a cigarette pant (high slung).  And the accompanying photograph confirms my fear - ugly, granny trousers, clinging in all the wrong places.

I wanted to love this book, I really did, but right now it is making me feel sad.
It sets out to provide the home-sewer with the basic patterns to create an entire vintage-casual wardrobe, in "modern sizes", with instructions to alter the fit to suit your own body shape.  But the "modern sizes" are definitely not my size.  I would have to redraft every single pattern, because the proportions are so far away from my own.
This probably means there are a lot of very happy curvy stitchers out there, praising Gertie for her "updating" of previously unattainable vintage styles.  But I would have to cut a size 2 bust, 6 waist, and 3 hip (if 3 even existed) instead of just picking up an original pattern from 1948 that fits me exactly.  Why would I bother?
So for several weeks now I have been lamenting my over-sized waist.  No, I was not thinking my bust and hips were too small, I was thinking my waist was too big.  And that is depressing and dysmorphic and just plain wrong!
Fat and frumpy.  That's how this book made me feel.
And that's not a good selling point.

By far the best-looking patterns are the ones for knit fabrics.  There is a sweetheart-neck tee just like the one they sell at Collectif.  And there is a waist-length "sweater" made out of knit fabric which I would wear, if I could source suitable fabric (problem).  But there is nothing in here I am sufficiently excited about to get out my pattern-drafting tools.

Would I recommend this book to others?
I do think that if you are a curvy gal who likes a retro-looking garment and are keen to engage in drafting your own patterns, this could a good buy.
But if you want "the real thing" and have vintage proportions like me (1948 and 1968 are my golden years!) you might be better off buying original patterns from Etsy and keeping this on your coffee table.


madeinoxford said...

I haven't seen much about this book anywhere really, which I put down to cutting back on my dressmaking blogs recently.

Oddly enough, your review has made me think "hmmm, this might be the book for me." I have the opposite problem - I've stopped looking at the backs of vintage patterns, because most of them don't even go up to my hip size. And even with modern, non-vintage designers, I'd have to cobble together 3 sizes only for the finished product not to suit me because it was designed for someone with different proportions (Sewaholic is the only exception).

I'm really sorry the book didn't work for you, but I appreciated the detailed review. I probably won't be buying it, as I have too many patterns I haven't made already, but it's interesting to have decent detail rather than a general like/dislike review.

joelle st-laurent said...

thanks for your thoughts on gertie's new book! i have previously heard only raving reviews (albeit only very few of them), which made me uneasy because i felt something was missing without being able to put my finger on it. i bought the book the second it was available, that is how excited about it i was. but despite the beautiful drawings and the wealth of great info, i felt it fell a bit flat. you put your finger exactly on what i feel is the issue with this book: the photography, paired with fabric choices that are not all the time right up my alley. i wanted the photography to be really inspirational, and it just falls flat. but i love the contents nonetheless: gertie's texts are lovly to read, and (most of)the patterns really are good basics, when you manage to look past the bland photos. but gertie does vintage glamour a lot better than she does everyday comfort...

beate grigutsch said...

all in all - this was expected. gertie is far away to be a professional seamstress. here in germany you have to learn 3 years in fulltime to earn the title. the whole book screams "hobby" - thats o.k., everyone can do what they want, even publish a book...... it´s only bad for the buyer if the content of the book don´t fits the cover if you know what i mean. dressmaking/tailoring is a wonderful craft, but it is hard work because the product has to fit and funktion on real people - and they´r all different.
i think with an old/vintage book about pattern drafting you will go better.
and yes - if the photographer/stylist did that to me i would kill him/her ;-)

vintagerockchick said...

Thank you for a fair and honest review. I'm afraid I tend to agree with the sentiments expressed by the commenter above - just because someone has made a name for themselves in blog land, doesn't necessarily make them qualified to write a book teaching dressmaking and pattern cutting to others. So, thanks for saving me a few quid and a bit of space in my bookshelves x

Jane said...

After seeing the sneak preview of this book on Gertie's blog, and then her post on the wrap dress pattern, I must say I wasn't impressed. Your review has confirmed my suspicions - it's definitely the photography, it's just appalling. As you say. If the patterns look frumpy on a gorgeous pink-haired 20-something, what are they going to look like on the rest of us?! Thanks for your honest review! x

Janine said...

Thanks for your thoughts on the book and sorry it didn't stir your sewing mojo . For me the best way to stir my anything mojo is to just do it and then the mojo comes .
I knew you had paid for the book without your 'disclaimer ' because the only reviews I see for free books etc are that the item is perfect and I should buy it too.

SewTypical said...

wow! finally... an honest review in indie-land. Thank you.

Those photos are truly awful - how did they let them slip into the book!

poppyinstitches said...

great honest review! I managed to find it at my local book store and spent ages deliberating, your right if the gorgeous Gertie didn't look amazing - what hope did I have.

Twelfthknit said...

Totally agree. I really wanted to love this but sadly don't

Louise Perry said...

Oh no! So sorry you did not enjoy the book. I have recently given the book a glowing review: http://seamsoddlouise.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/book-review-gertie-sews-vintage-casual.html
This is despite the fact I am far too flat chested to fit into any of these designs! This just makes me so pleased- how boring life would be if we all thought the same.

Scruffybadger said...

How disappointing. For you, as you've actually parted with cash and had high hopes of this book. As you say, maybe it'll suit others, and your review hasn't put off others ( judging by some of the comments!) but it's sad as I wanted this to be a rip roaring success too.

violicious said...

I have to say the photos in the first book put me off (the lighting!), I did make the pencil skirt and the fit was good which was a surprise because the sizes are all over the place for me too. I check most of my sewing books out of the library, luckily.

The Textile Art Forum said...

Every era women are morphed into a different shape to fit whatever designer sets the tone. In the 20's we needed to have androgenous shapeless bodies, 30's tall and skinny, 40's broad shouldered and strong, 50's hourglass, 60's back to 20's etc... it follows a distinctive pattern reflecting womens' role in society. Sciaperelli said, 'Don't mold the dress to fit the body, mold the body to fit the dress'.. I DON'T AGREE! Ladies, lets be ourselves whatever shape we are. The secret is finding out what suits your body shape and wearing it with confidence.
I'll get off my soapbox now :)

Amber Walker said...

Where would I find a pattern for high waisted wide legged pants for a curvy girl? I just bought this online and am disapointed to see that the pants are not what i hoped as thats why i bought this book!

Bunny said...

Thank you for your honest review of the book. I thought I was alone in my thoughts and you have confirmed I am not. I was a child in the era of these designs and distinctly remember my beautiful SAHM and how she and her friends dressed. It was nothing like this, I assure you. I found the garments frumpy and unflattering the minute I saw the beautiful Gertie on the cover. The only design that I found with promise was the one she made several times on her blog but as a Simplicity pattern, a line shift with collar. While the photography leaves a lot to be desired, the sleeve lengths, collars and more of these garments seem to contribute to something I think most young women would like better not wearing. I was disappointed and hoped Gertie would have figured it out by the second book. I, too, get my books through the library. Really appreciate your honest review and that you gave credit where you thought it was deserved but weren't blindsided with the rest of the content.

GingerThreads said...

I do agree with you that the photos don't look great, and not all the fabric choices are good (although in my opinion definitely an improvement from her first book).
But I found the patterns I have tried out so far to be very useful, and the information in the book has been helpful.
It's always interesting to hear different opinions!