The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Quibbling with the King

Arrgghh! A pun on a last name! I hate puns on last names, particularly when people are making puns on mine. Aren't I a hypocrite?

I am speaking of, as you may (or may not) have guessed, Kenneth King. I recently got his book "Designer Techniques: Couture tips for Home Sewing" out from the library. I have, as I'm sure you've implied, some disagreements with him. (I almost called this post "The King is a Fink", but that seemed too harsh.)

I first got interested in Kenneth King when I saw his "Books on CD" being sold on Pattern Review. I was particularly interested in "The Moulage", though all of them looked interesting. But, being a very suspicious type person, I didn't want to buy a cat-in-a-bag. (The saying, of course, comes from olden day swindlers. Cats were cheap; you stick a cat(s) in a bag, and go tell some un-suspicious type person that it's really a pig, or a couple chickens (which are a good deal harder to get a hold of than a few stray cats). The un-suspicious type person buys the wiggling sack, and doesn't know until he "lets the cat out of the bag" that he's been majorly ripped off.)

Anyway. I read some where, though I can't find it know, that he chose to put his books on CD because it was cheaper, and then he also didn't have to deal with constricting editors. Well, right off the bat, this puts him head to head with me, because I hate books on CD's (though I do have some sympathy for him, as I also think I would hate constricting editors. And I'm obviously cheap). Spending too much time in front of the monitor makes my eyes feel miserable, and I can't reference the computer while I'm working, or curl up in my bed with my computer. If I get a book on CD, the first thing I would have to do is print it out. And pay for my own paper and ink, and a binder to keep it all (hopefully) together. So, cheaper for him, maybe, but not me.

However, I also have an independent streak (or maybe several independent streaks. . .), so I understand where he is coming from, and am willing to overlook the desire to do things as such. But I would still like to know what I am getting before I pay my hard-earned money for it, thank you very much. If it was a book, I would get it out of the library, or look at it at a book store. But noooo. He doesn't even include so much as trailer or excerpt from his books.

I did manage to dig up one book he actual made into a book--the aforementioned Designer Techniques. Whilst I was waiting for it to come in through inter-library loan, I found his website.

I found reading his "About" section to be encouraging. He seemed to be agreeing with me on many things, such as. . .

". . .This customer wants clothes that set her apart from the crowd, but not in a shocking way. . .She wears the clothes, instead of having the clothes wear her."


". . .I maintain that the truly revolutionary stance in today’s climate is to produce clothing that is beautiful and beautifully made, enhances one’s appearance and is both a joy to look at and a pleasure to wear."

I'm not so sure I would say "revolutionary", but at any rate, I agree we oughten forget our clothes are subordinate to us, not the other way around. Never should we say "Oh, I can't do that, I'll ruin my clothes!" but rather make the clothes for what it is we are doing. Function over form, but not forgetting form either. (This is one reason I like Shaker work so much. It is undeniably beautiful and beautifully made, and it is also both a pleasure to look at and to use.)

Thusly encouraged, I wandered over to his
Gallery, whereupon I discovered that just because we technically speak the same language (American English), we apparently don't speak the same language. Okay, so none of his models are actually nekkid, and they are still able to move. And I suppose that there have been less appealing pieces of clothing invented before (maybe). I don't know exactly what is supposed to make his designs timeless, either, besides the fact that they don't seem to technically belong to an "era" or "style". I guess if you're crazy enough to wear them once, you probably always will be. Really, though, he mostly serves to me as a powerful reminder of why I don't bother to keep up with all the runway shows, and why I don't want to become a clothing designer down in NYC, and why I will always be considered "unfashionable" and "fuddy duddy".

Yes, m'dear, we know all about your weird tastes in fashion. How about actually talking about the book?!

Oh. Yes. The book. I was getting to that. Eventually.

It was a disappointment.

Even after reading the website and realizing that if he was from Earth I was from the outer rims of Pluto, I still thought he would give me ground-breaking technical information. After all, the book was called Designer Techniques: Couture Tips. . . I mean, to me, "couture" brings to mind lavish hand sewing of highest technical ability. "Designer techniques" speak to me of secret and stunning methods previously un-heard of to the common seamstress.

While he did have valid tips, they struck me as just that--tips. Nothing ground breaking, unordinary, or partciularly unusual. Just helpful hints. Nothing really couture either; almost everything was done by machine. It seemed as though the whole book ought to have just been a few more paragraphs (or maybe chapters) worked into some much more complete reference. As it was, I would never even think to look up information in his book, because it is hard to remember where one sees a 2 or 3 paragraph blurb on velvet. The book is almost completely un-related, not brought together by any whole, and not big enough to be a valuable reference.

To add insult to injury, several tips weren't from him at all; they were directly cited from "Sandra Betzina-Webster". Although one must be impressed with Ms. Betzina's ability to show up in such a vast number of sewing books, one must also be a bit annoyed with Mr. King for not even publishing original tips.

Irriatingly, it seemed to be nothing more than a quick attempt at his part to make a few bucks, a feeling which his introduction only encouraged. Although it did have very clear illustrations to explain what he was talking about, the main photographs were totally unrelated to the text. They were mostly models in a sewing room setting, lounging about in some of his garments, in a painful attempt to be amusing. (Then again, maybe my sense of humor is just as whacked as my sense of fashion. I make no apologies in either case.)

At any rate, his book was not an encouragement to buy his cat-in-a-bag Moulage--not without being able to look through it and get a second opinion. Actually, it wasn't an encouragement to buy any of his "Books on CD", particularly when I'd still have to print them out anyway.

And particularly not when compared to the competition, which I hope to post about soon (relatively speaking). Of course, European Cut doesn't cover all of the same subjects, but it's a good place to start. However, at $169.95 (for all of his CD's, excluding the tailored jacket and the eye candy ones; and you'd still have pay for the printing if you actually wanted a printed version), it doesn't stack up too great against the rest of the competition, either. Helen Joseph Armstrong's Pattern Making for Fashion Design (which is the standard textbook at many fashion design schools) is selling for about $90 on Amazon ($90.67 for the 4th edition, $99 for the 3rd edition). Connie Crawford is selling her Pattern Drafting for Everyone at for $95. There are several other pattern making books selling on Amazon for $75 or less. And if you won't even have to print them yourself!

This is, of course, not to say that all of these books are created equal, even if they are written on the same subject. Perhaps King's books are superior than the competition. But at those prices, and for only getting a CD and not a bound book, and without being able to see what I'm getting before I pay for it, . . .I'm not likely to find out any time soon.


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