A few weeks ago I was scrolling through the ‘gram and saw that a Hilarie Dayton of Little Stitch Studio in Norfolk VA had a sewing book published and I was totally overcome with excitement for her! I’ve always been a fan of creative books, my shelves have been lined with sewing and craft books since I was a teenager. I remember getting a (at the time) crazy popular t-shirt upcycling book and pouring over the projects in search of something to satisfy my fledgling sewing and garment making urges. While I probably barreled through those projects with the finesse of any beginner 15 year old sewist, what I gained from those books were new ideas and techniques that I would carry with me forever.
So, jump to my copy of Sew Bags: The Practical Guide to Making Purses, Totes, Clutches & More appearing in my mailbox (courtesy of Hilarie) this past month. Before I even opened the cover I noticed the approachable cover design, complete with fashion illustrations and drawings of the bags you could find inside. Upon reading the introduction I learned that Hilarie had set out to make this book like a design class, focused on teaching principles of design and applying them to basic, beginner friendly bag projects that had varying techniques and styles. Having gone to Parsons the New School for Design, I always appreciate when someone looks to break down the process of design as a concept as opposed to simply drawing and making bags.
Hilarie unpacks design terms like scale, proportion and harmony in the “Building Blocks” section, which are general tenets for any aspiring designer. I love how in her “How to Think Like a Designer” section she walks the reader through a color theory exercise, and then gives another little exercise on how flat patterns work with a mini-patterns of her bags. You get the feeling that it means a lot to her that you understand as much as you can about the process of designing and making things as you can. I feel as if this book is valuable for any budding sewists/designers for these sections alone! I learned while following her on Instagram that she has managed to teach many of her young students (as young as 8 and 9 years old!) how to draft patterns and manipulate darts- I love a fearless teacher who figures out how to teach kids more complex techniques in a way that they can understand and apply them. Especially ones that involve math! Sometimes I struggle to explain what seam allowance is to kids who’ve been sewing with me for months… I may start using some of the exercises she outlines in the book in my own classes!
In her “Getting Started” section, she preps even the most beginner sewist to tackle the projects included in the book. She covers all the essentials to getting started sewing from the tools, general sewing machine operation and bag hardware. She eloquently explains everything needed to sew her bags and complete these projects, which I could imagine a young child and a willing parent gathering all these supplies and feeling confident enough to make their first project on a sewing machine.
In addition to my review, I also wanted to make a point to follow one of Hilarie’s tutorials for a bag to see how clear her instructions where and if they would fly in a beginner setting. As a teacher, I appreciate when there isn’t any flowery language for beginners because often I find that it is straightforward instructions and execution to be the best for most people who are learning. It’s obvious that Hilarie is a fantastic instructor because she approaches the instructions with clear language and logical order. Earlier in the book she laid out most of the language we as sewists use, so once a reader gets to the project section they are well prepared (or else help is but a few pages earlier) to tackle each project. There are also variations and annotations added alongside construction notes to aid the reader in both personalizing their projects or understanding why certain steps are taken during construction. Hilarie leaves little space for confusion, I especially love a sidebar on page __ where she explains how pleats and tucks help create volume and how they can become functional and aesthetic details in our bag designs.
I have kids camps happening all Summer at my studio, Old Spool Sewing, so I knew her Abigail Boxed Bottom Tote would be a tutorial worth checking out. Because I’m at the beach here in Jersey, next week’s class is themed “Beach Bum Week” where I was hoping to introduce campers to the art of shibori dying with natural indigo, too, so I present a shibori dyed boxed bottom beach bag!
I used Hilarie’s measurements and patterns as a starting point but drafted my bag slightly larger to finish at 17’’ x 17’’’ with a 3’’ boxed bottom. This is helpful because I know I could give each student a half yard of fabric to dye and make their bag from. I omitted the color blocked portion so that the shibori could be on full display. The instructions were very clear and I even used a strap attaching technique that is new to me! The photos that accompany the instructions are also very clear and I appreciate that Hilarie prioritized clean, clear samples over anything too loud or over designed. She picked a bright pink fabric to make the pocket in for her sample which inspired me to dig into my stash for my beloved scraps of Rifle Paper canvas because I always love to mix and match my prints!
I feel as if my choice to hand dye my fabric before making my bag falls in line with Hilarie’s suggestions for getting creative and taking her designs to the next level. All of the bags included are great for beginners and I always suggest bags like these as beginner projects for my students of any age.
All in all, it’s apparent I enjoyed and absolutely recommend Sew Bags, by Hilarie Dayton. It’s a wonderful addition to the sewing library of newbie sewists, no matter their age. If you know a young person who enjoys reading and shows interest in fashion design, the bulk of this book introduces them to the design process and challenges them to think creatively. This review is unbiased and uncompensated, I was excited to give my time to help a fellow sewing instructor promote such a big milestone in her career.