Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book to review on my blog, along with a giveaway at the end of this post!
This is Gretchen Hirsch’s third book, which was just released last week. You may also be familiar with the “Gertie” name from her blog, her line of patterns with Butterick, or fabric with JoAnn Fabric (man, sooo many cute prints in her spring line). Anyway, the publisher sent me a copy to review, and I really don’t say yes to too many reviews (although I’ll have another one soonish!), but a retro-themed dressmaking book? Obviously, I was in!
Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book is a gorgeous book. And you get a lot of bang for your buck—it’s a little over $20 USD on Amazon, and for that price you get about 120 pages of sewing basics, techniques and fittings tips, along with another hundred pages of mix and match sewing patterns. That’s all for the price of about one indie sewing pattern, or a few Big 4 patterns on sale. Even if you ended up only learning a couple new-to-you techniques and liked one or two patterns in the book, I think you’re still well ahead of the game!
So right, back to the book itself. It feels great and looks great. And thank you for the lay flat spiral binding! I love that the pages between chapters are so similar to the ones in old sewing books. If you have any, you know exactly what I mean. (If you don’t, you should! Vintage sewing resources are fantastic even if you’re not into vintage.)
As you can see, each chapter is dedicated to a particular area—Getting Ready to Sew, Basic Dress Construction, Finishing Details, Giving the Dress Structure, Techniques for Special Fabrics, and Fitting. These are the areas that make up the first part of the book, all about dressmaking.
Getting Ready to Sew is geared towards more beginner sewers, covering things like different types of fabrics, good things to have in your basic sewing kit, fabric care, correcting fabric grain, pressing, and seam finishes. I admit I glossed over most of this chapter, but if you’re newer to sewing, there’s some good stuff in here.
And then the book gets meatier from there. I feel like my dressmaking skills are somewhat advanced at this point, but I love learning new techniques and there were definitely things that were new to me in the book! And the Finishing Details and Giving the Dress Structure sections are great if you’re stepping up your dress. I tend to mainly enjoy sewing relatively “simple” cotton day dresses (obviously not always, with my strapless, boned Shaheen-inspired sarong dress last summer), but if a taffeta party dress is in your future, or a shantung sarong, or lace overlay, or a structured skirt with horsehair braid in the hem, or a boned bodice, sewing your own crinoline (I really need to do this!), accentuating sheer fabrics, dealing with slippery fabrics, built in bra cups… then there’s lots of helpful stuff in these chapters for you. I haven’t even come close to making my way fully through this part of the book yet!
And last but not least, there’s a chapter on fitting, too, covering adding and removing length, shoulder sloping, gaping necklines, moving darts, sleeve cap ease, sleeve circumference ease, plus lots more fitting issues you may encounter and need to fuss with in your dressmaking adventures. There aren’t lengthen and shorten lines on the patterns, but this section covers making such alterations yourself, don’t worry.
The second part of the book is the actual sewing patterns, called Wardrobe.
This was the part I was most excited about: all the patterns are mix and match. Every bodice and every skirt can be swapped in separate combinations, and almost every sleeve and collar, too. (And when it can’t, like a collar that’s specific for one bodice’s neckline, she lets you know.)
To me, this idea is so smart, because it’s the same way I think about sewing. I’m always looking at the bodice of one dress, and the skirt from another, and deciding what new combinations I can come up with. Yes, you can do that with any patterns, obviously. But a book based on that very concept is a great idea, and I love when resources try to get you to think outside the box a little.
Princess seam bodice with a side pleated skirt, boat neck with a 3/4 circle skirt, v-neck with a box pleat circle skirt, sarong skirt with strapless bodice, surplice bodice with an a-line skirt… swap out anything I just said and put it in a different combination and you get the idea. So the book has 23 dresses featured, but you don’t have to sew any of them as-is if you don’t want to. It just gives you inspiration on how to put things together yourself!
The pattern pieces come on heavy paper in an envelope in the back of the book, and they’re nested and a few of the larger skirt pieces overlap, so you’ll need to trace off the patterns.
How is it to follow one of the patterns in the book? Well, I’ve done it, so I can tell you! It can be a tiny bit disjointed because it’s a book, and not a dedicated sewing pattern per se. So I found I ended up jumping back and forth a little bit between chapters for a few small things. For brevity since there are so many pattern combos in the book, the patterns themselves will say things like “Insert a center back lapped zipper” for basics, so unless you know exactly how you intend to do this (note: I usually do, but wanted to try a new way), you’ll then need to skip back to the section on zippers. But from what I’ve seen, most sewing pattern books with many patterns are like this, because, well, frankly you’ve got to get all the basics in there somehow without repeating it 20 times! Books do have to be limited somehow. Where it might be a bit annoying if you need to have precise instructions for every single basic step, it’s actually quite handy when you don’t. But for anything specific to a particular pattern (positioning scalloped lace for the Pink Lace Party Dress, cutting the visible bias facing for the Plaid Rockabilly Dress, adding an organdy crinoline ruffle for the Blue Floral Sailor Dress), there’s plenty of details. And then you can just apply that to your own project, if you’re going to mix and match.
How’s the sizing? Pretty much bang on. I sewed a dress using the v-neck bodice (used in the Plaid Rockabilly Dress, in the Wardrobe section), but since I was using a border print and needed to cut the fabric out cross grain anyway, I just gathered a reallllly big rectangle for the skirt (100″) to eat up as much as possible. According to the size chart in the book, I’m a size 4 in the bust and waist and a 2 in the hips, and cut a size 4 (since hips were irrelevant for the style). True to most 1950s-inspired dresses, there’s not much wearing ease (even less since I cut cross grain), so if you prefer more ease, definitely consider sizing up or giving yourself a bit more room in the side seams. But I appreciate there’s not a ton of wearing ease built in from the get go, as it’s confusing when you have to sew a size that’s different from what you think you need to be sewing.
Soooo want a sneaky peek of my dress now?? I’ll give you all the guts n’ glory later in the week, but here’s a first look! I only did a couple of very minor alterations to the bodice, and was pleased as punch with how the muslin fit nearly right from the envelope. The v-neck bodice gets a thumbs up from me, and I’m excited to try the others, too.
Now, enough of my yammering on in this review! Here’s the fun part for you: the giveaway!
The book publishers have set aside a copy of Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book and a fabric bundle from Fabric Traditions, the company that makes Gertie’s own fabric line for JoAnn Fabrics. One lucky winner will get a copy of the book and the fabric bundle from Gertie’s fabric line. Pretty sweet! But they’re delivering, so I’m sorry to say that this giveaway is limited to the US and Canada, sorry international friends! However, the book is now out for release everywhere, so everyone can pick up a copy! Plus there are a few other places to win a copy of the book within the US and Canada, too: Brewer Sewing, Madalynne, A Dress A Day, and Lish Dorset. And if you’re worldwide, don’t worry: Gertie is giving away three copies and fabric bundles, and the UK-based blog for The Fold Line is giving away a copy, too (ending tomorrow so hop to it). Lots of chances to get this book!
To win a copy of Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book and fabric bundle from her line of fabrics with Fabric Traditions, leave a comment on this post by Friday, March 18th at midnight, Central US time. In your comment, tell me what gets you the most excited about this book. Winner will be selected at random and I’ll give your contact info to STC Crafts to send along your goodies. Limited to US and Canada residents, and please include contact information in your comment (if you’re logging in through WordPress, your email should be in there).
Good luck, and more from me about my dress from the book later this week! 😉
Update: this giveaway is now over. The winner has been contacted. Congratulations, Shelley!! 🙂
(If you’d like to see more of the dress I sewed from the book, check it out here!)
I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review, and all opinions expressed are 100% my own as always!