The Party Dress Book – A Review

I’d heard a lot about this book in the blogging community and had eagerly lapped up reviews from Erika and Diana & Me. It was only a matter of time before I ordered my own copy. Who’s going to pay the cover price of £17.99 when you can get it for £11.67 from Amazon? (Speaks volumes about the current state of the publishing and bookselling industries, but that’s a whole other blog!) Order the book from Amazon I did. For UK readers: this book is a US import, so the resources section isn’t much use to us. Nay matter.

Now here’s the interesting thing about Amazon. You don’t really know what you’re going to get until it’s in your hands. From the sumptuous cover (and isn’t that a brilliant photo?) I’d anticipated a glossy coffee table book. That’s not what I received. The book is ring bound and matt, the cover a kind of stiffened card. Don’t get me wrong – this doesn’t suggest scrimping. Ring bound books are extremely expensive to produce and the paper quality is clearly good, too. It just wasn’t quite what I’d thought I was ordering.

Another surprise. Patterns in the back – yay!

There are three dress variations supplied in this book. Actually, that’s a lie. By the time you’ve considered different fabric choices, necklines, combinations of bodices and skirts the variations are endless.

I’ll be honest, I’m not necessarily as big on frills as some as the other fans of this book may be. But in terms of stimulating my creative thinking? With three patterns thrown in? Suddenly my £11.67 was looking like money extremely well spent. And when I say ‘frills’ don’t only think taffeta and silk. There’s a healthy amount of cotton, taking its inspiration from Horrockses, which I really enjoyed seeing:

There are some – emphasise on some – construction step-by-steps, such as the French seam:

This isn’t a ‘how to’ book, but again – don’t let that fool you. Once you start reading the dressmaking directions in detail, you’ll find loads of hints and tips hidden away in a more conversational style. Mary Adams tells us to lift WIPs over our head rather than stepping into them, to wear the right bra (and shoes!) when fitting and how to pre-prepare fabric. Mary won’t hold your hand and talk you through every step of inserting an invisible zipper but she will tell you how a jellyfish inspired one of her dresses!

Mary -who has no formal sewing training – talks of piecing, quilting, pintucking whilst we lend half an ear and look at the pretty pictures, soaking up information without realising it. There’s a lot of the ‘I’ in this book; The Party Dress Book is as much about Mary as it is about dressmaking. Don’t mistake this for ego; it’s the reading equivalent of sitting next to your mother and watching her sew. We learn by following.

I’d call this book a mood board with instructions. I’d also call it a chameleon, changing form every time you go back to it. It hasn’t taught me a new technique, but it has given me inspiration. Tellingly, my thoughts have drifted back to The Party Dress Book again and again in my quiet moments and I’ve been planning my buys of fabrics for a pieced dress based on one of Mary’s patterns.

I was wrong about this book. It isn’t for the coffee table. It’s for the bedside table, to inspire dreams.


160 pages

4 chapters

3 patterns

1 dress waiting to be made by you!


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8 Responses to The Party Dress Book – A Review

  1. Kirsty says:

    Ooh I’d not heard of this one, it’s definitely going on my Amazon wishlist now, great review!

  2. Roobeedoo says:

    Interesting! Not one for me – I’m not a dressy girl, but thanks for the review!

  3. Bold Sewist says:

    What a great review! That book had not particularly been on my must read list, but now… oh the power of blogs!

  4. whatsupcupcake says:

    Ooh! Sounds great – I love the pics that you shared. I’ve just added it to my Amazon wishlist. 🙂

  5. Amy says:

    Ahoy Karen, I thought you might join the Party Dress club! Sweet sewing dreams!

  6. rachel says:

    It looks like a very cute book – I’d buy it for the pictures alone!

  7. Suzy says:

    I completely agree with what you say. I have this book and love how it opens up endless possibilities for dress making.

  8. Across the Pond says:

    Thanks for the review. I’ve read a bit about it, and Amazon has recommended it for months. Sounds like a good book. Wish the model didn’t have such a stupid expression on her face.

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