Saturday, March 08, 2008

Embellishing a Garment - Part 1

The other day, I was having a conversation with a friend about how I use trim and my ability to see it in a garment. So I decided that maybe I would share some info with you about how I think about embellishing garments and how I execute the look.

First a little background:
I have always liked trimmings. I know that I sneaked a piece of lace from my Grandma's stash to add to one of my original Barbie creations at 11! And I vividly remember learning about piping and how to apply it to a garment as a teenager. Does anyone else remember those Wright packages of trimmings? I used those for the longest time...

Several people have said to me that they think I use trim so much and so effectively because it is readily available to me through local resources, i.e., NYC Garment District. And while it is true that I do have some amazing resources, Daytona Trimmings, M&J Trimmings and Tinsel Trading as well as a host of bead and button shops, I truly believe that if you don't have an idea and a plan for how to use the trim, resources won't matter.

This first post will be about embellishment/trim books. Now you know that I am a huge believer in owning the right sewing book to get the job done. When I checked my sewing library I found that I had 13 books on some form of to apply it, techniques, inspiration, etc. A few are quilting titles, a few are technique driven, and a couple are totally inspirational. Almost all of my vintage sewing books offer a section on embellishment and even though the topic basically comprises one chapter of the book, they are chockful of information!

The following are my favorite top five embellishment books, in no particular order...

Author: Stephanie Valley; Published by Taunton Press

As the title says it goes through embellishment techniques from A to Z. It has large clear pictures, a project rating (easy to advanced), a supply list and some sewing techniques. This is a great how-to book and since it has a spiral binding it will lay flat next to your sewing machine if you want to follow along.

2. Make it Your Own - Personalizing Patterns for Creative Design
Authors: Lori Bottom & Ronda Chaney; Published by Chilton Book Company
There is a tag line on the back of the book that says, "No more cookie-cutter clothes" and I think that is the essence of this book. You are shown through pattern alterations how to change a pattern up and embellish the original look. Now this is not a use-trim to get an effect book but a pattern alteration manual that uses the pattern and fabric to enhance your garment.

Authors: Lois Ericson, Linda Wakefield; self published
This book has a more Wearable Art feel but there are some interesting techniques in here that could be applied to a host of garment situations. I like this book because it is a really think outside the box book.

Authors: Kenneth King; published by Sterling Publishing Company

This book is full of techniques that Kenneth has perfected in his design line. There are pictures as well as illustrations with step by step instructions. Just a wonderful book by a master of embellishment.

Author: Jane Conlon; published by Taunton Press

This book concentrates on five types of embellishment - beading, threadwork, trims, applique and binding & pipings. There are great color photographs and clear illustrations with a lot of step by step instructions.

I highly recommend all of these books. After taking the time to read and ingest the information in these books, you will look at trims and embellishments in a completely different manner!

The other 8 books in my library are:

a. Embellishments - Adding Glamour to Garments by Linda Fry Kenzle

b. Fabulous Fabric Embellishments Elegant & Innovative Techniques by Mary Jo Hiney

c. Celtic Knotwork Designs by Sheila Sturrock

d. Weave It! Quilt It! Wear It! by Mary Anne Caplinger

e. Sew Easy Embellishments by Nancy Zieman

f. On the Surface by Wendy Hill

g. The Artful Ribbon by Candance Kling

h. The Art of Fabric Collage by Rosemary Eichorn

Now a few vintage book mentions:
Two are from Edna Bishop ~ Fashion Sewing by the Bishop Method & The Bishop Method of Clothing Construction - both have just one chapter on trimming the finished garment but the ideas that are shown are awe-inspiring, yet quite easy to accomplish...definitely not things you would see on today's clothing even the ones with a retro feel.

The last one is, Sewing Made Easy by Mary Lynch and Dorothy Sara. This book has three chapters on embellishing your clothing and again the embellishments just add so much to the finished garments.

Lastly a pretty new reference that I highly recommend is the latest issue of Sew Stylish Magazine that is all about embellishments! If you just want a taste of embellishing knowledge without a hefty investment, this is the way to go!

In my next post I will talk about when I choose to embellish a garment and some techniques I use.


  1. Great post Carolyn! I love the latest edition of Sew Stylish!!!! It has some great tips in it!

  2. You are such an enabler!! Now I want to head over to Amazon and buy some books. Thanks for the recommendations!

  3. you know, I never think of embellishing my garments that much, unless the pattern requires it, I'm always so scared to put on something on my garments that don't look right so I just leave it as it, I am way to safe, lol
    thanks for the resource, I think I'm going to get the first book, maybe dabble in the world of embellishments in the future

  4. There are books on embellishing? You *are* an enabler. I think especially because you add flavor, you don't make it wearable art.

  5. Ooo, I just realized that I got the latest Sew Stylish, but I haven't looked through it yet. It's sitting on my desk, under a pile of stuff - time to pull it out!

    P.S. Thanks for the ice cream message - it was a 'pick-me-up' on the day you sent it.

  6. Now I have to go look at my Bishop books to see what I've been missing! That KK book is apparently OOP and impossible to find, so hold onto it very tightly. :)

  7. Great information. And you reminded me that I bought that issue of Sew Stylish, now I have to figure out where I stashed it...

  8. OMG! Once again, I'm channeling your library. I started pulling books while reading through your post, and I have most of them!

    Lately, I haven't been doing much embellishment, but maybe I will now that I have "Carolyn's inspiration books" out, just waiting to inspire me.

  9. Thank you so much for reviewing these books, Carolyn! I lack books on embellishment in my sewing library and this information is very precious to me.

  10. I love trim and embellishment too! Sometimes a garment just needs a bit of trim to take it from ordinary to extraordinary.

  11. Well, you certainly know how to get someone interested in embellishment techniques. Looking forward to your next post on how you do it yourself, but this list is great! I never did much embellishments, but perhaps I should give it a try.

  12. I've gone into those stores in NYC and I just stand there, jaw dropped, and totally lost. I think unless I really have a firm idea of what I want to do and what I'll need to do it, I can't just walk in and expect to buy something out of inspiration. There is just too much there - almost makes me dizzy.

  13. I am looking forward to your posts on this. I have some of your embellishment books, but I have to admit I haven't really done anything with them. I am either pressed for time or when I walk into M&J and the others I am overwhelmed and cannot figure out what I want. What is your process on buying trim?

  14. Thanks, Carolyn, the book reviews. I'll definitely use this post as a reference when I get up the nerve to do some serious embellishment.

  15. I think piping is the most underrated embellishment...if you so by any chance...decide to post on piping in any detail I'll be all ears...err..eyes :-)

  16. Wow, Carolyn, I don't have a single embellishment book on my sewing bookshelf and it is already full! I have to admit that I have a fear of embellishing. When you pick up trims because you love them, how much would you purchase?


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