Lorna Knight’s Dressmaking for Real Women: How to Adapt Your Store-bought Patterns to Flatter the Curves You Want to Keep and Drape the Ones You Don’t is a book that I wish was on my shelf when I started sewing garments a couple of years ago. For one thing, when I started sewing, I didn’t understand why you couldn’t just shorten a skirt or pair of pants by hemming up from the bottom. And for another, I didn’t realize in dress-making how many possible alterations one could make to get the best possible fit. These are just two of the areas that Knight covers in detail, with full-colour photographs and illustrations along with concise explanatory text.
Starting with a section on measurement and body type, the novice sewist is lead through a series of considerations when choosing a garment pattern, and then recognizing what points might need alteration. Straight up, this is not a body-shaming book at all! But it does recognize that many of us who sew garments are doing so because our bodies don’t always fit neatly into “off-the-rack” garments. In my case, I’m busty and short, with an apple-y figure. Knight covers my body type and makes recommendations for the type of garments I might find most comfortable in (and she’s right, I always seek out and make upper body garments that flow over the hip and I hate clingy fabric). This provides a good starting point for pattern-browsing.
Knight mainly examines various points for alteration step-by-step, walking the reader through shoulders, neckline, bust, back, sleeve, hips, and pants-fitting considerations. In each section, she breaks down considerations the sewist might have and then tackles modifications to suit the wearer. She then guides us through making a toile (a dummy garment to ensure correct fit – something I almost never do but always think I should), as well as some basic sewing and finishing techniques.
After sewing garments for a couple of years, I’ve recently become interested in making better-quality pieces. That is, I’ve got the straight techniques of cutting, sewing and following mid-range patterns down and I feel like it’s time to move into more thoughtful garment-making. This means more careful pattern selection as well as introducing more couture techniques into everyday garments so as to get the longest wear and the best fit out of them. Certainly commercial pattern alteration is a skill worth learning as part of this quest for nicer DIY clothing!
Knight’s book is a real pleasure with up-to-date techniques, bright photos, body-image-friendly illustrations, and a lot of core information about sewing garments explained. Definitely on the recommended list for someone who is newly-engaged in garment-making, but slightly beyond the stage of just learning to follow a pattern.