When good books go bad

I’ll confess up front that I don’t own very many books on sewing.

The Bishop Method of Clothing Construction has been a valuable friend, although I tremble that the ghost of Edna Bishop may suddenly  appear and rap my knuckles with a french curve if I sew a seam in the wrong direction.  

Participating in Peter’s shirt sew-along, and the impending wedding have moved me out of my “outerwear mode”.  To prepare for my new projects I picked up both Shirtmaking by David Coffin and Classic Tailoring Techniques by Roberto Cabrera.  Both books have the reputation as being the authority on their subjects.  
I’ll start with shirtmaking and hope that David Page Coffin NEVER reads this blog.  Readers, do you have any slightly OCD habits that you’d like to keep hidden from the world.  Do you have trouble sleeping knowing that there are dirty dishes in the dishwasher?  Can’t leave the house if the bed isn’t made?  Maybe you have to set two alarms in case one fails?  Trust me, you will feel completely normal after you delve into DPC’s world of obsessive shirtmaking.  To be fair, there is some great information here.  There are templates for shirt plackets, cuffs, collars and stands.  Gotta love that.  There’s also a great design ideas chapter to help create your own unique shirts.  Much of the book, however, involves overly complicated construction techniques that will have you wanting to mix a pitcher of martinis before noon.  He will convince you that a decent shirt can’t possibly be sewn without a felling foot and a hem roller.  I think the MPB sew-along proved this false about 100 times.  You will also end up pulling, stretching, trimming and swearing for results, that in the long run, really aren’t worth it.  Personally, I’ve never been bothered by the amount of fabric in the seam where my shirt cuffs meet the placket.  If you have, then by all means pick up this book.  
You will read plenty of glowing reviews on Amazon for Classic Tailoring Techniques by Roberto Cabrera.  There is nothing flashy about this book.  There are very few photos.  The model appears to be a fifteen year old prep school student from the ’70’s.  Bizarre.  There are, however, page after page of clear line drawings moving step by step through the construction process.  This makes tackling something new much easier for me.  No getting around it, there is a lot of very technical information here.  But it seems to lack the fanatical tone of the Shirtmaking book.  My experience with the shirt process has altered my approach to the jacket.  There are just some features / techniques that really don’t matter to me.  For example I don’t intend to handstitch the front facing with barely visible stitches done in silk finishing thread.  This is $8.50 / yd linen, not $250 / yard imported Italian cashmere.  Do I need to drive myself crazy making a Barcelona inside chest pocket, or will a simple welt pocket a la Edna Bishop do the job?  
Books are a great resource, but following them slavishly has proven to take much of the joy out of my projects.  I’m sure I’m not alone on this one.  

6 thoughts on “When good books go bad

  1. Ha! It's not just me, then! I have that DPC book and I haven't looked at it in years. Because when I do, I get paralyzed by the exacting techniques and it actually *deters* me from sewing. Better to just jump on in and accept my sewing flaws, I've decided. At least then the shirts get made.

    -Alexea, visiting from MPB


  2. Agreeing to disagree, then…I think that both books are amazing and have revolutionized the way I sew and the output I can manage. Not to denigrate the Bishop — most of us started there — but the Coffin and the Cabrera are for those of us who truly love the minutiae of sewing.


  3. Thanks for the very good blog. I am very happy that you really focus on men's clothes!

    I can only comment on DPC's book (haven't got Cabrera's yet). Yes, you are right. Lots of overwhelming and often complicated information. But I don't want to blame the author for it. I use the techniques and information which I like and find useful and just forget about the rest! His method to do the plackets is the best I have found, but e.g. his recommendation for the flatfelling and seam roller feet to my opinion is useless.


  4. Sorry, you can run but you can't hide:) Found you! Seems to me you're using my book exactly right: Take what you need and forget the rest.

    But oh, those fellers! I've certainly seen a lot of folks complain about those little feet I love, but whenever I've poked into the complaint it always seems they aren't trying to make ⅛-inch seams and hems, something which never occurred to me anybody wouldn't want, back in 1985 when I wrote the book and had been trying to duplicate my beloved old Brooks Brothers dress shirts for the previous 10 years. Well, things change and not everybody's a nut in the same way:) But I just checked back and noticed that I DID throw in this proviso, not two sentences into the text on these little wonders: “Unless you're making them at least ¼-in. wide…doing them by hand is a painful process…: And so it is. But if you only want ¼-in. hems and seams, don't need the feet. In fact, they'll probably just slow you down. Still, when I first discovered that there were these little presser feet that would make the BBs-type seams and hems actually EASY…well, it was the Holy Grail, and in my little sewing corner. Seemed worth writing about to me:)


  5. I was going to leave a message asking if you’ve either changed your views on the shirtmaking book, or found a better one.

    Then I saw that the Man Himself took you to task for not loving his book. The fact that you kept seeing after that experience shows iron determination on your part. Reading his message must have been a surreal experience!


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