Book review: Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline

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I was lucky enough to grow up in a family with some amazing seamstresses.  My grandmother went to a needlecrafts trade school during the Depression, had done piecework in a factory before getting married, and continued to be a sewing machine master well into her later years.  My mom is quite gifted on the machine, too, and even (to my embarrassment at the time) made me a Vogue inspired wardrobe as a kid.  My aunt had dreams of being a fashion designer and while she eventually settled into another career, she seems to always return to sewing.

Little me modeling one of the outfits my mom made.

Growing up, I remember my mom and grandmother always touching fabric, checking seams, and reading fiber content labels before we bought any clothes.  My mom would always insist on natural fibers and would often exchange clothing gifts made with synthetic fibers.

Perhaps it was this training or maybe it is because I generally hate the process of shopping, but I’ve never really been one for fast fashion. I prefer infrequent shopping and buying simple classics which can last many years.  In the past few years, though, I’ve found even seasonal clothing shopping more and more difficult.  This has especially become challenging as I’ve advanced in my career and had to move away from my favorite wardrobe staples (jeans and t-shirts).  Searching for women’s business casual or business attire has been a real turn-off lately.  Between the trendy styles, bold colors and prints, and shoddy construction, I’ve been less and less likely to actually purchase anything during my visits to the stores.  Earlier this year, I professed my desire to start sewing garments to a friend of mine.  (Yes, it is a real goal for 2013!)  I even talked my mom into giving me some garment sewing lessons once she sets up her sewing machine again.

With all of this swirling around in my mind, in mid-September, I came across this thread in the Designers group on Ravelry.  I became very intrigued, and requested a review copy of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline from NetGalley.  (Elizabeth previously blogged at The Good Closet.)

I read the book slowly, over the course of a rather busy month, and while I have already recommended it to several people, I found it a very difficult book to review.  I think this is because Overdressed is really several books inside of one jacket (or, in my case, inside one Kindle e-book).

I loved the book that felt like it was written by an investigative journalist exploring the ins and outs of fast fashion.  I learned a lot about the history of the fashion industry and how it moved from seasonal cycles to fast fashion cycles.  The explorations of the labor, environmental, economic, and social aspects of fast fashion were interesting and thought provoking, and I’ve already had conversations with several friends and family about the contents.  I also appreciated the conversation about DIY and upcycled fashion and the introduction to many bloggers, designers, and store owners involved in the “slow fashion” movement (but that’s probably no surprise!).  I would give that book 5 stars and recommend it far and wide.

There’s another side of the book which is about Elizabeth’s personal exploration through this world. I’m not sure if it was because I couldn’t relate to her experiences of binge shopping or because my inner-women’s-college-alumna was alarmed by her seemingly ignorant approach to many encounters, but I was not at all pulled in by these stories.  On occasion, it seems like Elizabeth is “playing dumb” to reach a broader audience.  (Could the same woman who thoroughly researched the history of a multi-national industry really have thought she could easily travel to various locations in China when she doesn’t speak a word of Chinese without a car or a guide until someone suggested she needed a driver?)   I felt as though she tried to combine a book that appealed to readers of serious non-fiction with one aimed at shopaholics and folks looking for something “lighter” to read.  Personally, I found the switch back and forth a bit disjointed, although perhaps it will bring in readers who aren’t already comfortable with critiquing the industry.

And then, there was the editing and formatting.  There were many instances of words running together without spaces in between (looking something like this: wordsrunningtogetherwithoutspacesinbetween) and there were noticeable editing mistakes.  I have not previously had that experience with any book published by a major publisher (in this case, Penguin’s Portfolio imprint).  I was always able to infer what Elizabeth was trying to convey, but I found this aspect of the book unsettling. It felt a bit like “fast publishing” to me.

Back to my original quandary: How do I review this book?  I think the content is important and it is mostly an engaging and well-researched book.  I can’t in good conscience give it a 5 star review, though.  If my review were based purely on editing and formatting, I would probably have to give it 2 stars.  If I were rating the “Elizabeth’s personal conversion to slow fashionista” sub-plot, I would probably give the book 3 stars.  So I guess in the end, I will give it 4 stars but with this warning – I recommend that you read Overdressed, think about it’s content, and talk about it.  But be prepared for poor editing and formatting, and to be slightly urked by some of Elizabeth’s purported ignorance.

Full disclosure: A free electronic review copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley. Although I accept free books for review, I do not accept additional compensation from the publisher, nor do I guarantee a positive review.  My reviews are based entirely on my honest opinions. This also post contains affiliate links. You can read my affiliate and review disclosures here.

Interview with Nicki Trench, Author of Geek Chic Crochet

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Today I’m interviewing Nicki Trench, a multi-craftual author and needlecrafts teacher working in East SussexLauren Walsh at CICO Books was able to give me a sneak peak of Nicki’s latest book, Geek Chic Crochet: 35 Retro-inspired Projects That Are Off the Hook, and you can expect plenty of garments and accessories, as well as a few home decor items. Nicki can be found online at her website, her blog, Twitter, Pinterest, and Ravelry.  Geek Chic Crochet is published by CICO Books at £12.99 ($21.95 US) paperback and is available from all good bookshops (and online booksellers).

Nicki Trench. (Photo by Zara Poole.)

Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first learn to crochet?

Nicki: I was about 12. My mother and grandmother always crocheted, but I learnt when my sister was living in Paris and her boss wanted a crocheted poncho – they were very chic at the time! I got commissioned to make 3 or 4 in the end!!

UC: What inspired you to start designing?

Nicki: I’ve always enjoyed working with colour and I’ve always been involved with design in some form or the other. I started making my own knitwear designs in my early twenties. I used to design quite unusual jumpers for my boyfriends! Then I discovered Fairisle and started designing cushions and throws. When I got more into crochet I started playing with squares and combining some great colours.

UC: You are quite obviously multi-craftual.  What is your favorite “go to” craft these days?

Nicki: My favourite craft is patchwork. I love fabrics, but I also love crocheting, so I jump between the two. UC: Tell us what Geek Chic means to you.

Nicki: I wanted to aim at younger women. I have a mix of easy and more challenging patterns in the book and I’ve tried my hardest to design garments that young people will wear. I want people to think that crochet is achievable at all levels and it’s not just for grannies.

UC: There seem to be more adult sized garments in Geek Chic Crochet than in your previous crochet books.  What was the design process like for this book?

Nicki: I did a lot of research to see what was fashionable in crochet. I took a few trips to Shoreditch in East London, where there are loads of vintage shops and I also looked around the high street to see what is fashionable in crochet. I was pleasantly surprised to find there is a lot of crochet out there, so it was easy to get inspired.

UC: You teach a variety of crafts, including crochet.  Does your experience as a teacher influence your design process, and if so, how?

Nicki: Yes, definitely. I know what works and what doesn’t. I try out my patterns on my students and this is the best way to test if something works. I also have a good understanding of how people read and understand patterns and what they want to make.

UC: What is your favorite crochet book in your collection (besides yours, of course)?

Nicki: I only really use reference books, so anything that has lots of different stitches and samples. Other than those I love the Japanese crochet books, they are very simple and beautiful.  (UC comment: I love the Japanese crochet books, too.  And, if you don’t read Japanese, they are a great way to learn to read stitch symbols.)

UC: Do you visit any crochet or craft blogs or websites regularly?

Nicki: I don’t tend to visit craft or crochet blogs as regularly as I’d like. I do lots of research before I write a book, to see what’s popular and in trend and that’s the time when I’ll browse the internet to see what people are talking about. There are always new crochet blogs popping up and it’s good to see what’s new and what people are making – especially when it’s something from my books!

Thanks for stopping by, Nicki, and we wish you success with you latest book!

I’m  blogging daily throughout October.  Visit I Saw You Dancing for more Blogtoberfest bloggers and CurlyPops for Blogtoberfest giveaways.  Search #blogtoberfest12 on Twitter.

Year of Projects: Crochet Master Class – Freeform Knitting and Crochet with Margaret Hubert

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This post is part of my Year of Projects: Crochet Master Class series.  You can find my other posts in this series here.

Two weeks ago, I spent my Sunday at the Lion Brand Yarn Studio as part of their Crochet Masters weekend.  After taking the wonderful Tartans & Plaids class with Jenny King, I had some time to browse the store.

Samples of fall-themed Lion Brand Yarn projects on display.
A glimpse of the Mochi Mochi Mochi Mochi Mochi installation by Anna Hrachovec.

(You can see more of Anna’s designs here, learn more about the display here, or visit the Mochimochi Land website here.)

My afternoon class was Freeform Knitting & Crochet with Margaret Hubert.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Margaret back in June, and have been a big fan of her many books and patterns for a while.  Margaret is the fashion crochet master in Crochet Master Class: Lessons and Projects from Today’s Top Crocheters.

I recently had an exploration into freeform crochet as part of my Crochet Master Class project and wanted to see how Margaret would teach the subject.  I’ll admit that I only did a bit of the homework.  (Yes, I was a bad student!)  I was having trouble imagining how all of these pieces would come together.  I’m a bit on the fence about freeform crochet – sometimes I think it looks like junk, while other times it looks phenomenal.  Margaret’s freeform work seems quite inspired, so I was anxious to take the class with her.

Margaret’s a very generous teacher. She gave each of us an extensive handout…
… and our choice of awesome button.
(My button from the back.)

It turns out that Margaret does some planning to give her freeform a more orderly appearance.  She shared three techniques she uses for making freeform clothing and other projects.

I ended up doing quite a bit of work in class – and not just because I hadn’t done all of the homework!

Margaret advised us to have a “focal point” for our freeform pieces, and I made this flower to serve that purpose during class.

I changed my idea about what I wanted to make and decided to work on a small case for my digital camera.  Silly as it seems, since I lost the case a while back, I have been alternately putting it inside of a fingerless cuff or a stray sock on the occasions where I’ve taken it out of the apartment.  (Like many crocheters and knitters, most of my projects are for other people and the items for me seem to fall lower and lower on the to do list.)

Here’s the start of my camera bag.

Margaret’s teaching style is very hands on, and she spent quite a bit of time with each of us.  She also demonstrated different stitches and, because she brought so much of her own work, she could show examples of many of the techniques she was teaching.  Margaret’s lovely samples included some sneak peek projects from her upcoming The Granny Square Book: Timeless Techniques and Fresh Ideas for Crocheting Square by Square.  (The projects were awesome, by the way!)

I ended up buying a copy of her Learn to Free-Form Crochet in the Lion Brand Yarn Studio with the student discount.

I confess, I’m addicted to DRG technique booklets!

I used Donegal Tweed by Tahki Stacy Charles (stash yarns) for the class, so I felt I should purchase something in the shop.   I was glad that I could see the book in person because I had been looking at it online.  I’m pretty happy with it so far!  I haven’t made much progress on my camera bag since the class, though – too many higher priority WIPs in the queue.

For more Year of Projects posts, visit When Did I Become a Knitter.

To find more blogs participating in Blogtoberfest 2011, visit Tinnie Girl.  For Blogtoberfest 2011 giveaways, visit Curly Pops.