Book Review: Stay-Stitched

Fact: sewing patterns can be intimidating. Really intimidating. Intimidating to the point that I hardly ever sew anymore because I’m under the impression that anything I would want to make from scratch and then wear would be a hair-pullingly complex and painful process.

To make a long story short, I was very, very wrong.

Erin Arsenault’s Stay-Stitched: Sewing without a pattern and designing as you go is possibly the most approachable sewing how-to book I’ve ever read. It’s also exactly what it says on the box—at no point is a pattern ever used, and since garment pieces are based on your own measurements, everything is designed to fit your specific shape. Arsenault describes it as a “workbook,” and she isn’t kidding. There are spaces for you to fill in with your measurements, and plenty of gridded blank pages for your notes, sketches, and ideas. The book contains instructions for eleven projects, including a simple tote bag, a cute kimono, and wide-leg sailor pants. It also has a list of basic sewing supplies, stitches, and instructions on how to do things such as make your own bias tape, add in pockets, and make facings for neck and arm holes.

Since making a tote bag for the purpose of this review seemed like cheating, I chose to make the “Egyptian Tunic,” a simple A-line skirt with braces. After picking out some cutely creepy Norman Rockwell baby-face print cotton, I set to work on my skirt. It was remarkably easy—all you do is use your measurements to find the waistband width and strap length, and the length and flare of the skirt are up to you. I ended up making my skirt shorter and more fitted at the waist than the book suggested, which was not a problem at all, simply a matter of pinning and re-stitching one of the side seams—and I love the way it turned out.

And that’s the beauty of Stay-Stitched—everything is customizable. All you have to do is re-draw your lines if you don’t like the way something fits or looks. Even if the projects in the book aren’t to your liking, I’m sure you could apply the skills learned in these pages to other clothes-making endeavours. A novice stitcher could learn a lot by starting at the beginning and working their way through. (Just a little note on the projects—the book is very skirt- and dress-heavy, but I’m sure some crafty gentlemen and those who don’t like skirts would appreciate the sailor pants and viking tunic.) I can also see this book being a godsend for anybody who doesn’t fit into standard pattern sizes.

I would highly recommend Stay-Stitched to people who want to learn to make their own clothes but don’t know where to start, or to jaded semi-experienced seamstresses like myself, who just need their faith in their abilities renewed.

Stay-Stitched: Sewing without a pattern and designing as you go, self-published by Erin Arsenault, 2009
reviewed by Kat Brightwell