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

I picked this book up at the library this week, along with a stack of other sewing/craft books that I’d like to review for you. I was actually looking for books of fashion history/victorian fashion plates for a costume I’m planning when I found this one. I almost passed it up, until I started flipping through it and noticed that it wasn’t just patterns, it was history, too.

Sew Retro combines a crafty how-to with a history of sewing unlike anything I’ve read. We begin with the invention of the sewing machine in the mid-1800s, including interesting facts like Issac Singer, who revolutionized the textile community, wasn’t exactly known for great inventions–more like fast ways to turn a buck. Funny how something as enduring as the sewing machine was originally meant to be a “get rich quick” scheme for the inventor.

Ketteler takes the historical facts and blends them seamlessly with modern thought, exploring feminism and it’s view of the past as well as the modern impetus for crafts, fashion, and sewing. She looks at both what historical women may have felt about their household chore, and how we today view our hobby. 

Her prose is well written, and illustrated with hundreds of vintage images taken from advertising, pamphlets, and magazines. The book itself combines historical essays with timelines, profiles of historical figures in the sewing and fashion industry, as well as interviews with contemporary designers.

There are 25 patterns included in this book. The instructions are clear and concise, and a low skill level is required. A beginner could easily tackle every project in this book. However, I find that the designs themselves are somewhat unappealing, despite my love for vintage fashion. Most of them are for accessories or household items (lots of bags, aprons, and table linens), with only two actual garments in  the entire book (both skirts). That being said, however, the historical information makes this book well worth it, and there might be some techniques used in the patterns that would be useful in other applications.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 skeins