Chic on a Shoestring
by Mary Jane Baxter

Penguin Group, 2011. ISBN 978-0-399-15959-6.
Reviewed by Juliet Porton
Posted on 06/26/2012

Nonfiction: Arts/Crafts

A teacher once approached me at my children's Back to School night, saying, "You look crafty! I could really use some sewing help." I've never figured out if that was a compliment, an insult or a clever teacher trick, but I know I was a bit embarrassed to admit that I am, in fact, craft-challenged. I've always liked the idea of being able to whip up a meaningful present or unique keepsake, but my attempts at knitted socks and baby quilts have all ended badly (and expensively.)

My mistake was not having a book like Chic on a Shoestring. This book contains exactly what it advertises: easy to make, vintage-style projects that won't cost you lots of time or money. Author Mary Jane Baxter recommends starting a collection of vintage items, like buttons, lace and scrap fabrics, so that you can make something truly unique. This means you can follow her patterns more than once and get a completely different result each time.

In my first read-through, I bookmarked ten projects I wanted to try, such as a fabric flower brooch and scrap lace scarf. Skills required: cutting, folding, measuring, ironing, and sewing in a straight-ish line (by hand or machine.) There are clear photos of each step to help you along, as well as sample shots of the finished products.

The first project I tackled was the tea towel apron. In the time it took to watch a movie, I was able to pull it off with about five dollars worth of supplies found at a discount store. My young daughter and I also made the vintage fabric headbands, and plan to make more as gifts for her friends. I pulled out my sewing machine, but never even had to deal with re-threading the bobbin. For the absolute novice, Baxter also includes a few pages in the front of the book to explain the sewing techniques and vocabulary used.

Some of the projects require a level of "chic" beyond me, but those were fun to look at, too. Even if you are an expert crafter, I expect you'll find ideas for accessories and gifts that are new. This would be a fun gift for a teenager with a flair for fashion, or for a beginning crafter.

Mary Jane Baxter is a writer, milliner, former BBC journalist and all-around stylish gal. She teaches others to create couture hats and unique repurposed fashions in magazine articles and classes held across Europe. You can learn more about her and follow her blog.

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