Book Review: The New Handmade

The New Handmade: Simple Sewing for Contemporary StyleThe New Handmade: Simple Sewing for Contemporary Style by Cassie Barden

I like this book.

I first heard about from Angela, a fellow BAMQGer who made the Bird-Watcher Messenger Bag and brought it to a Bay Area Modern Quilt Guild Meeting for show and tell. My thought was that some of the projects might make good gifts. I tried to borrow the book from the Library, but they didn’t have it. I finally ended up buying The New Handmade with a gift card. I am glad I did, because I really like the writing style and the projects are interesting and useful as well.

First and foremost this is a project book. I know I often complain about books being all about projects, but the tone of the writing makes it much more palatable. Cassie Barden writes in a friendly and, especially in the back where she lists general instructions, as though her readers are intelligent. In the section on topstitching, Barden writes “Oftentimes I will call for a scant 1/8th inch, which basically means to topstitch very close to the edge. Just how close is often an aesthetic choice, so if you prefer a slightly larger space between the edge and the stitching, do so” (pg.106). I really appreciate that kind of writing, because I have been sewing for awhile and I know my tastes and my skill level. Also, I am not going to be able to hold a ruler while I am sewing close to the edge to measure the 1/8″. I appreciate the added explanation.

It is a very easy read, if you don’t scrutinize every step of every pattern, which I didn’t. I may update this review after I make some of the projects.

The books starts out with a brief introduction and some information on color, inspiration, choosing fabric, and mistakes & modifications. The sections are brief-a couple of paragraphs at most. In the inspiration section, Ms. Barden says “inspiration is everywhere” and I don’t think I can hear that too often. In the mistakes and modifications section, she does perpetuate, which I believe has been debunked, the thought/myth that the Amish intentionally added an error to their quilts because only God is perfect (pg.10). I would have liked to have seen a footnote, if that has not been debunked. Barden has a nice array of fabric illustrating appealing color choices.

I didn’t realize how nice it is to get straight to the projects after only a brief amount of text until I was near the end of the The New Handmade where the general instructions appeared. I was ready to hear what she had to say after getting an idea of her style by looking through the projects. I thought that was a good layout and I applaud Martingale for trying out such an arrangement.

Each project has some brief text about Miss Barden’s inspiration or her thoughts about the project, then there is a list of supplies and the instructions. In some cases, an illustration showing how to layout the pattern pieces on the yardage is also included. Some of the patterns include illustrations on how to execute certain steps and most of the projects include a ‘head shot’ of the completed project. I would have liked to have seen the projects done in an alternate colorway, but there is a New Handmade Flickr Group with lots of great examples of the projects in alternate colorways shown.

Another thing I like about this book are the tip boxes. They explain a concept or technique further. You might remember how annoyed I was with the Amy Butler Sweet Harmony bag pattern, because one of the instructions was to shorten the zipper, but the pattern didn’t actually say how to do that. In The New Handmade, Cassie Barden has a tip box on how to shorten a zipper (pg.53) WITH illustrations and arrows pointing to various important information/steps. The other thing I like about tip boxes is that they stand out from the regular text and project instructions, breaking up the layout of the book. They are not as colorful as C&T’s tip boxes, but they do the trick.

The part about shortening a zipper is also optional. Barden says, in the project materials list for the Evening Essentials Wristlet, “This length may be hard to find in the color you want. You can purchase a longer zipper and follow the instructions in the tip box (page 53) to shorten it.” Again, she is not being dogmatic, but providing options and the tutorial to back them up. I really like that about this book.

The projects on my (very long!) list to make are the Novella Composition Book and the Bird-Watcher Messenger Bag. Both would make great gifts some some of the twenty-somethings I know. I would also like one of the Bird-Watcher Messenger Bag and might modify my journal cover tutorial to feature some of the pockets in the Novella Composition Book project. I kind of like the I {heart} Coffee French Press Cozy, too, but don’t really think I would use it. I don’t drink coffee much, but will think about how I could adapt it for another use. Yoga mat cozy, perhaps? I would definitely make one if I were giving a French Press as a gift.

The Dinner Party Grocery Bag is appealing, but is not on my ‘must make’ list at the moment. It shares a bottom technique with the Bird-Watcher Messenger Bag concerns me. I really prefer making bottoms like Cassie Barden shows in the Flea Market Purse project, which is also how Anna Maria Horner makes a bag bottom in her Multi-tasker Tote pattern. The Dinner Party Grocery Bag and the Bird-Watcher Messenger Bag patterns both require the maker to cut a separate bottom and then sew it on to the sides. This way of making the bottom seems very difficult and a little scary to me! I keep thinking about whether I could modify those two patterns to use the other method. I suppose I should at least try Barden’s method.

I like the pattern layout instructions for the Bird-Watcher Messenger Bag, but I wish that she had included the name of the piece on that layout in addition to the dimensions. Angela gave me her notes, so I wrote the pattern piece names in my book. I think it would have just been a nice additional feature.

In the laptop sleeve, All Business Laptop Sleeve, instructions Ms. Barden includes some helpful measurement information. She writes, on the project introduction page (pg.71) “…though anything more than 1″ wider won’t fit. Instructions for measure and adjusting the pattern for a different sized laptop are found at the end of the instructions.” It is really great that she is providing her readers with the tools to adjust the project to fit their needs. It makes the book so much more useful. People don’t have to pass a project they want to make by, because they don’t know how to adjust the projects to fit their needs.

The general instructions, as I said are at the back of the book and are about 10 pages long. Again, the tone is friendly. She talks about sewing machines, needles and thread, scissors, irons, marking tools and much more. Again, the writing style is not dogmatic and very informational. Throughout the section, Cassie includes personal tips and tricks that work for her. I like the tip to use a sewing and knitting gauge for quick measurements. She also includes some shopping tips, such as (regarding template plastic) “…I recommend giving it a shot, try to find the large sheets, which are commonly found at quilting stores. Craft stores sell the same stuff, but sometimes it’s only available in 8.5×11″ sheets and at several times the cost of the larger sheets” (pg.103).

I think Martingale missed an opportunity to suggest another one of their books on machine applique’ in the section on the same topic. Miss Barden tells the reader how she does her machine applique’, and infers that the reader can choose her own. I think it would have been a great addition to say something like “see X book on machine applique’ for more techniques.”

This book has fun projects and a great writing style. Recommend your Library buy this book, buy the book yourself and let me know what you think.

View all my reviews

Author: Jaye

Quiltmaker who enjoys writing and frozen chocolate covered bananas.

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