A trio of book reviews

I thought I'd group a few book reviews into one post, so let's begin! The first is Sweat Shop The Book. It's centred around a small shop in Paris where people come to sew and make, eat cake and chat. With a wish to start their own Sweat Shop so that there might be fewer actual sweatshops in the world, it was set up by a Swiss make-up artist and an Austrian fashion designer; their vision for it was both 'a workshop and a living room' that would recreate the sense of community found in smaller villages of times gone by when people met to share cake and creativity on Sunday afternoons. It seems their venture was entirely successful and from the photos it looks like a lively, yet relaxed, hub of bohemian creativity. The book warmly introduces the local characters who they share their street with and then goes on to present a series of projects contributed by the shop's patrons. There are some photo stories and delicious looking baking recipes mixed in too.

The book is beautifully written - it says of the people who come through Sweat Shop's doors: 'these are people who weave today's Paris into Macaroon colours and who hunt for adventure in her labyrinthine streets'. Isn't that delicious? It's full of lovely images like that and it's also wonderfully French in every way.

This book wasn't at all what I'd expected it to be though and I very quickly realised that I wasn't its target audience. At first it appeared to be a ragbag of avant garde projects*. It was only on my second look through when I started to imagine who the book might be aimed at that I appreciated what a wonderful book it really is. The projects have a lo-fi look that would appeal to college students and those with a more bohemian dressing style - I certainly would have loved it if such a book had existed at that age. It's a book that fosters free-styling, individuality and innovation and I can imagine it inspiring many late-night sewing sessions on the floors of bedrooms in suburbia, halls of residence, and college dorms.

Again, at first it seemed as though the instruction was rather haphazard, but actually when I thought it through (clearly a day for snap judgements, most of them wrong) I realised that what looks unfinished to me, is probably exactly the look that a fashion student might be going for and it embraces this edgy, youthful spirit, while teaching the fundamentals in a proper way.

Among the line up of contributors is Celine Dupuy (whose out of print book on making handbags I've coveted for several years), as well as many other highly accomplished seamstresses (including an adorable nine year old who shows you how to whip up a pair of 'house booties' with great aplomb). And if the credentials of the book needed any further substantiating - Sweat Shop recently opened a week-long pop-up shop in Selfridges, with an enviable line up of experts holding master classes.

Some books that are dripping with cool, can also ooze aloofness and superiority, but there's none of the latter to be found in these pages, which is why I think it's doubly lovely for its target age group. Although, there's nothing that really ties it to an age group and if my friend, Leanne, were to sew I can imagine this being the book she'd turn to and she's nearing 30. So perhaps it's more to do with spirit and style than age. And just in case you hadn't guessed...I don't feel like I'm in possession of that spirit or style, but I would still quite like to make the cloche hat from the book. If you know someone with a youthful, free-spirited way about them, then do buy them this book - they will love it (and you will look incredibly cool for having winkled it out for them). It's published by Ivy Press and is available here at nearly half price.

Onto Patch! by Cath Kidston, which couldn't be more at odds in feel with the previous book. This book arrived unexpectedly on my doorstep from Quadrille a few weeks ago and it's not a book that I'd instinctively be drawn to. About eight or nine years ago, I really loved Cath Kidston's retro floral prints and they reminded me of childhood. However, something about the proliferation of these patterns; the wall of distinctive colour and chintz that hits you as you walk past the window of her shops, has gradually meant that my eyes glaze over slightly when I'm faced with her fabrics. They no longer hold the same charm for me as they once did, which is a shame as I recently listened to an interview with her on the radio and she sounded so lovely that I really wished I did still love her fabrics (even though I know that she understands and confessed to being aware of her fabrics bringing out a love/hate Marmite response in people). Anyway, onto her latest book which is due to be published in November, just in time for Christmas gifting.

Like many Cath Kidston books it includes the fabrics needed to make one of the projects inside, in this case a beautiful Dresden tote bag or cushion, depending on personal preference. This alone, if you love Cath Kidston fabrics, will mean that the book is a complete delight. The book includes 30 projects, many of which could be completed entirely by hand using just small scraps of fabric. Sticking to the 'patch' theme it covers applique, patchwork and small embellishments, some as fully-formed projects, others as additions to revive an old sweater or pair of trousers.

It offers a wide range of projects and techniques, making it a good book for a novice sewer who wishes to dabble in different areas of sewing and is drawn to a homely, handmade finish. It would also appeal as a book to share with a child - many of the projects feature animal shapes or have a warm, fuzzy nursery look to them that I think, up until the last year, my own daughter would have enjoyed. While it makes me feel a little hand-wringy to not be able to be thoroughly enthusiastic about something, I think Cath can take it - I just fall on the wrong side of the Marmite pot for this book.

And finally Print and Pattern Two, the offshoot book from the wonderful Print & Pattern blog. You might remember the review I did on Pattern Cutting, a book that I stayed up half the night reading and fell completely in love with. Well, the publishers, Laurence King, kindly offered to send me this book to look through at the same time as they thought it might appeal. This is a really lovely mini-library of a book. Each page features work from the likes of Marimekko to Amy Butler, Rob Ryan to Cosmo Cricket, with a brief synopsis of their training, inspiration and where their work can be found, as well as a short list on who their own design heroes are (I particularly love this bit - when you're in awe of someones talent it's always feels like a satisfying piece in a jigsaw puzzle to discover where they look to for inspiration).

Typically the book features three or four prints taken from each person's body of work and annotates each illustration with an explanation of that particular piece. The layout and formatting are wonderful: clean, minimalist and entirely in keeping with the work that it's displaying. Initially, I'd just assumed this kind of book was produced purely for those who love pattern (both Kate and Karen came to mind when I opened this book - I think they would love it), but when I showed the book to my husband one evening he told me that the designers who he works with have stacks of this type of book on their desks and that they're a widely used reference for agreeing on design styles and gathering inspiration. So I'm guessing that it's not just for pattern affectionados, but also a tool for illustrators and designers.

The book has a very current feel to it and is largely based around what I think of (in my own head) as vector-image patterns - shapes that have a clean, computer generated look with smooth edges and block colours, that can easily be scaled up and down to suit the surface they're to be printed on. It's a very specific look that's covered and so isn't as far-reaching or encyclopedic in its scope as it might be, but it's very much in keeping with the styles that appear on the Print & Pattern blog, so if you're a follower then Print & Pattern 2 is a perfect must-buy companion to it.

What do you think? Are you interested in any of these books? What are your plans for the weekend? Will you be visiting the Knitting & Stitching show at Alexandra Palace? The list of exhibitors looks wonderful.

Florence x

* Yes, I felt a little old. Do you remember that scene from The Young Ones (which incidentally my parents allowed me to watch from age 5! I was charmed by those strange characters, but had a very strange early vocabulary as a result) where Rick was in a queue at the post office with some old people collecting their pensions and starts shouting at them 'The only reason you don't understand our music is because you don't like it!'? I think I may have been in the queue for a moment...(although the book wasn't shouting at me...just my younger self).


  1. The print and pattern book is going on my Christmas list! My eye was immediately drawn to it, yum.

  2. I love that we can get to know each other so well thru the alternative world of the internet! And the pages that you have picked out are just the ones I love too ;-)
    I am with you with the CK too...want to love it all, but so much other more innovative, edgy work out there.

  3. Off to the Itchy & Scratchy Show, as we call it in my family, in just a moment! Promise to report back on my blog over the weekend...

  4. The Print and Pattern book would appeal to me the most. I'm by no means anti CK, but it does feel she's saturated the British market. I recall reading an article by one fashionista type suggesting that as CK now had an outlet store at Bicester Village it had cheapened the brand and they were no longer interested. I guess I get too fed up with seeing things touted as: 'very Cath Kidson'.

  5. I love Cath & her vintagey style. I would like to see her ideas in the patchwork book, as I think her fabric lends itself to those kinds of projects. If it's an eyesore to you, you can always recycle it my way ;)

  6. I like Cath Kidston's style but somehow it just doesn't work for me, it just doesn't look right in my home, I prefer more bold graphic patterns. And I agree with Isisjem, the UK market is just overloaded with CK'esque copies.

  7. Thank you so much for the comments and thoughts.

    Nina - I love that...although less clear on what the scratchy bit is?

    Pink Fawn - I wouldn't go so far as to say eyesore! But I'm really sorry, I've already promised it to a friend who makes delicious things for her children and who I know will do something lovely with the fabrics. Sorry not to be able to send it your way.



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Florence x