Review: “Making Life More Beautiful: A Maker’s Handbook”

For several years I’ve been following Kate Davies’s blog, “Fabrickated.”  London-based Kate has a “real” job, but among other talents, she is a skilled and creative clothing KateBookdesigner/maker with a keen eye for assessing fashion.  Kate’s mission always seemed to share how to insert color and classic styling into the minds of those who like to make their own clothes – and those who don’t – but wonder why they might not look “nice.”  So I was not surprised by the title of Kate’s first book, “Making life more beautiful: A makers’ handbook.”

First, kudos to Kate!  She doesn’t back away from the criticality of dressing well; clothing matters.  She notes:  “They are the first thing others see when they meet us.  The viewer makes a judgement based on what you look like, even if you believe this is shallow or unfair” (p87).

Are you asking yourself is this really important?  Um, in a word, YES – if you would like to avoid an appearance that screams you don’t own a mirror and are proud of it.

Kate wrote this book for those “who want to make themselves more beautiful by understanding colour and style” (p6).  She tackles the subject without making a reader who might be weak in those areas feel depressed or embarrassed.

Kate understands – probably better than most – the pressure on women to dress a certain way, to attain a certain look, to “look good” (which is alone subjective and empty).  Yet throughout the book she urges women to celebrate their individuality, confident in their natural beauty.

Yes, Kate’s premise is that every woman has natural beauty; her goal is to help identify, acknowledge and celebrate it through a reasoned and artful use of styles and colors.  Thus Kate works to help women identify and celebrate their individuality in a way that is neither over- nor under-dressed, in a way that is comfortable and individual yet artistic and beautiful.

Kate takes a stance against lemming-like fashion waves in the book’s first section, “Beauty.”  Here she encourages the reader to “revisit survivalist theories of beauty” (p16) and instead explore “uniqueness … [that] might boost our self-esteem, and become more beautiful by celebrating our unique individuality.”   (Far more eloquent and much more focused than the “you go, girl” cry.)

To guide the reader as she searches for authenticity in her clothes (with positive words and pictorial examples modeled by real women, each of whom seems to glow with her confident sense of uniqueness and beauty), Kate breaks down and explores three key elements: natural coloring (6 of them), basic body shape (4 of them) and wardrobe/personal style (5 of them).  For each coloring, the reader learns what colors, hues, neutrals, and patterns work best for casual, work and evening wear.  For each body style, Kate shares what styles work best and, more importantly, explains why.  Her suggestions on wardrobe/personal style allow ample room for individuality.

Kate also introduces (with a nod to Dior), the “four key colours approach.”  Why?  Because Kate believes that “[k]nowing what works best will help you build your wardrobe so everything you wear enhances your personal colouring, and goes well with everything else” (p44).

Notice the words Kate uses: build (this is not about emptying your closet, running to a store and refilling) and enhance (not camouflage or change).   As I walked through airports several times this week, I paid attention to what my fellow travelers were wearing.  I wished there were someway I could direct them to Kate’s book.  [sigh]

A sensitive subject for most women is body shape.  Remember, Kate starts from the premise that the reader is already uniquely beautiful but may not know the best ways to use color and clothing to bring out and celebrate her beauty in unique and confident ways.  Thus Kate seeks to assist the reader identify her “basic silhouette rather than look at how much you weigh” so that “you can develop your understanding of what can be done to enhance your natural contours” (p50).  Kate also explains how to downplay or draw attention to various parts of one’s body for the purpose of achieving “an illusion of perfect balance” (p58), a balance that is aesthetically pleasing.

On the heels of Kate’s discussion of body shapes is wardrobe.  She briefly but critically looks at five clothing preferences or wardrobe “personalities” and then explores how to make a “capsule” wardrobe for each personality.   (A capsule wardrobe is, according to Wikipedia, “a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces.”)

The second section of the book is titled “Making” as Kate hopes that her “book may also appeal to people who have never tried to make textiles or garments and would like to know how” (p6).  I do not believe, however, that this book is a good primer for beginners who want to try their hand making textiles or garments, though it will serve as a colorful, straightforward encouragement to those who would like to try that.  Kate, in fact, urges interested readers to take a class or ask a skilled friend for tutoring.  I would strongly dissuade a reader without some previous experience attempting Kate’s patterns.

I’ve been reading Kate’s enthusiastic posts about learning how to knit and was not surprised that she took to it so readily.  Her background in textile design and pattern making guaranteed she’d want well-fitted knitted garments and would have an idea of how to structurally achieve them.  That said, writing good knitting patterns is a separate skill set.  Kate’s knitting patterns would be aided, for one, by good schematics.  The schematic for the Sleeveless Jumper Pattern,” for instance, lacks measurements, and the “Colorful Yoke Sweater” has no schematic at all.  While her “Pencil Skirt” has a good schematic, undoubtedly reflecting her experience and comfort with sewed clothing design, the other sewing patterns have no schematics.

That Making Life Beautiful isn’t yet another narrowly focused “how to” book is to be applauded. Kate approaches the topic with a broad view and directs the reader toward what she could do or might try. There are no detailed, pictorial instructions on, for instance, how to cast on, sew a seam, make a double crochet or iron silk.

In the last and shortest section of her book – “Life” – Kate offers suggestions (and reasons) to establish and maintain a creative space in which to develop one’s creative senses.  She is not an isolationalist; she focuses on community(ies), both face-to-face and virtual, that are born out of neighborhoods, social media and globalization.  Better yet, she comes up with several ways creative people can connect and exchange ideas with other creative people.

Kate’s book is not a thick tome; it is 105 pages, clearly written, well laid out and filled with delightful, colorful photographs.  Throughout, Kate’s words are encouraging and positive, and her inclusion of the wonderful photographs captures the essence of “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  Her models are not professional clothes hangers but rather women she interacts with professionally, socially and/or personally.  Of varying ethnicities, ranging from teenagers to Kate’s mother, the women are beautiful, unique and hold themselves with confidence, clearly capturing Kate’s ethos of making life more beautiful.

This entry was posted in Crocheting, Dyeing, Knitting, Miscellany, Sewing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Review: “Making Life More Beautiful: A Maker’s Handbook”

  1. Susan Mckee-Nugent says:

    Well, the mystery is solved! Her name threw me as Kate Davies is the Scottish knitwear designer I follow. I followed a blog from a woman in Ontario, CA who sews and fabrickated would comment on that with good suggestions. I never knew her name but recognized her picture. Nice review, thank you.


  2. Glenda says:

    I’ve always been terrible about dressing myself. I may have to get this book!


  3. fabrickated says:

    Thank you so much for reviewing my book, and so generously. You really got to the heart of it and allowed its positive philosophy to breathe. I have to accept my knitting instructions are rudimentary and probably the weakest part of the book – obviously an area for me to work on. As you have referred to this as my “first book” (!) that is a nice challenge for me.


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