I’m still a bit in shock that my new book, “Ahead of the Curve: Learn to Fit and Sew Amazing Clothes for your Curves” has been announced, after working on it in secret for 18 months! But it’s also been simply joyous to see the response from the community. If you didn’t already hear the news, it’s launching in October, and you can pre-order right now from Amazon, Bookshop.org, or from your local independent bookseller. Pre-orders make a huge difference to authors, so if you’re interested, please do place a pre-order!
Today I wanted to share a little about how this book came to be, and some behind the scenes of how the writing and development process happened. Settle in – it’s a long one!
How I got my book deal
So those who know me personally are well aware that for a very long time I said I was never going to write a sewing book – ha! In all honesty, I’d heard some horror stories about how hard it is, how impossible it is to write a book while also maintaining your business, not to mention that from a financial point of view, it’s typically selling several patterns for a much much lower price than you normally would.
Then, in October 2019, I got a message out of the blue from Harriet at Quadrille (Hardie Grant), who are the publishers of the best-selling sewing books from Tilly and the Buttons and Named among others. She’d read my article in the Guardian about how sewing transformed my body image and was wondering if I’d be interested in expanding that to a whole book. On a side note, this book is a direct result of the #CakeWithCashmerette phenomenon all the way back in 2015 before I launched the patterns! The viral moment led to an article in the Guardian, which led to them commissioning me to write one, and then a follow up a few years later to write the one that caught the eye of Quadrille…. strange story, huh?!
I agreed to a call through curiosity if nothing else, and by the end, Harriet had pretty much convinced me. What really tipped the scales were two things. First, I’d fairly recently come off maternity leave and during that period my employees had done an AMAZING job keeping the ship running without me. That made me realize that I could step back a lot from my day-to-day work to write a book without it significantly impacting Cashmerette’s other work. Second, Harriet really brought it home to me that there was no body positive sewing book focused on plus sizes in the market. It was hard to believe, but when I thought about, it was true! While there are some great fitting reference books out there, none both focused on plus sizes and were body positive. Even the most well-meaning ones I’d read snuck in shaming language, or even went so far as to tell bigger bodied people to avoid stripes or bright colours. That’s so passe now, but the book market hadn’t caught up – and given that Cashmerette’s mission is all about empowering sewing for curvy bodies, I was the right person to give it a go.
Through my discussion with Harriet, the idea of a unique hybrid book appeared: a fitting book that also features simple patterns that are used to demonstrate how to do the adjustments. I realized that a lot of beginners struggle with fitting guidance if the pattern they’re using doesn’t quite match what’s being shown, and this was a way to eliminate that issue, and result in the reader having an amazingly fitting capsule wardrobe by the end of the book.
I decided to go for it. At Harriet’s request I wrote up a proposal (and here is where my speed writing skills come in handy, because I wrote it in an afternoon in a cafe in Boston!), hired an agent to do the negotiation process for me, and by February 2020 we had a signed deal.
Pandemics ruin the best laid plans
See what’s coming now?!?
Yep, shortly after I signed the deal, COVID struck. I found myself stranded in a 5th floor condo in the centre of Boston, attempting to (single) parent my baby, work out how to run Cashmerette entirely remotely (at a time when we weren’t even allowed in our studio), and now I was meant to write a book. Well, I tried! But after a few weeks it became very evident that there was no way I was going to be able to meet the original deadlines when I could only work for the 2 hours a day my baby was napping. Luckily for me, Quadrille couldn’t have been any more helpful – they totally understood, and we pushed back all the dates by 6 months. Come May, I realised the pandemic wasn’t going to be over any time soon, and ended up temporarily packing up and moving back to the UK to live with my family. That turned out to be a very good idea! I spent the next 14 months in the English countryside, my parents looked after my daughter part-time, and the book writing could begin in earnest!
The process of writing Ahead of the Curve
I’d never written a book before, although I had written a fairly long thesis for my Master degree a few years previously. The good news is that I’m both quite organized, and also an unusually speedy writer, so in some ways I was well set up for it. The challenging side is that writing a sewing book isn’t “just” writing – in fact, writing is perhaps the least time-consuming part of it! Here’s roughly how it went:
I’m a big planner, and for writing very long texts like a book, that trait came in handy! I began by thinking about the big picture: what did I want the book to achieve? What content would be essential? What would be nice to have if I had room? I start thinking about the format of the book, settling in on an introductory section which covered the philosophy of fitting, and the core things you need to get right before you start adjustments, like measuring and picking the right size; that was followed by the fitting adjustments; and then instructions on how to sew up the patterns.
I fleshed out each section in great detail, brainstorming all the possible things I could include (way more than I could possibly fit!), and in particular, constantly thinking “what unique advice is there for plus size bodies that isn’t usually seen in these books?”
Content Development: Patterns
I knew from experience that pattern development can take a long time – and also that none of the illustrations could be done for the book before they were finalized – so I kicked off the patterns straight away. Unlike usually at Cashmerette, where pattern development is a team effort, I needed my team to keep the regular Cashmerette ship afloat, so it was back to the olden days, where I did (almost) all the development myself.
The process was pretty different to usual Cashmerette pattern development, because I had very specific objectives in mind: I had a list of all the pattern adjustments and fitting I wanted to include, and the 5 patterns I developed would need to have the appropriate features in order to demonstrate all those aspects. So it was a case of looking at what garments I could make with the right combinations of features to achieve my goals – making sure I had one dart, two dart and princess seam bodices, for instance; pants to demonstrate crotch curve adjustments; different forms of sleeves for different full bicep methods. I also wanted to keep it simple, because the goal of the book was to teach fitting in a way that would be applicable across lots of patterns, and also to enable even absolute beginners to get a great result.
Out of that brainstorming came a proposal for 5 patterns: a woven sleeveless top, a knit sleeved top, a woven dress, a knit dress, and woven pants. Once they were approved by Quadrille, then it was on to the “usual” pattern process: briefing the drafter, making samples and fitting them, going through more drafting rounds, writing and illustrating the instructions (yep, I did all that myself!), sending them to test, making changes post test, and then processing and finalizing the finished patterns.
You might think the main work on the patterns was done by then, but it was in fact just the beginning! Read on for more….
Content Development: Text
In parallel with the pattern development, I started writing the text. Long story short, that involved a lot of intense writing sessions, but I approached it as a long (very long!) series of blog posts, which served me well. It kept me from feeling overwhelmed, and I often found I was able to do a first draft in an afternoon for sections where I already knew the content like the back of my hand. I needed to do more research for some fitting areas that I’m less familiar with (I can fit boobs with a blindfold on, but I’ve done less in the bum area!), and experimented with different techniques and approaches.
Once the patterns were finalized, I was able to start doing the content for the “Fit Clinics” which are the heart of the book. I used a very methodical approach, having the same structure for each section, and making the illustrations using the pattern pieces.
Then, inevitably, I had to go through and re-work lots of the content, in particular, trying to trim it down to the word count – I tend towards the verbose, if you haven’t already noticed! It was hard at times as there was content I loved that had to go, but at the end of the day apparently you’re just not allowed a 600 page sewing book (why?!?!)
Preparing for the Photoshoot
Believe it or not, I think that preparing for the photoshoot may legitimately have taken more time than every other stage! The reason for that is I decided from the very beginning that I wanted photos of real models wearing a “before” and “after” for every single adjustment, because I know from personal experience that it’s much easier to understand fit issues from an actual garment than from an idealized illustration which may not look very much like reality.
What that meant is that I had to prepare “before” and “after” garments for 5 models for dozens of adjustments…. remotely, due to COVID! For every single adjustment in the book that meant I had to make up samples and send them to the models and then do zoom fittings, and not only did I have to get them fitting well, but I also then had to “un-fit” them in a way to demonstrate what it looks like something ISN’T fitting well. Weird, huh! In some cases it was super quick – knits are my friend – but in other cases we went through round upon round to get there – I’m looking at you, pants. I know that if we’d been able to meet in person it would have gone way quicker, but ultimately I’m just so glad I was in the UK and not also having to send every iteration across the Atlantic!
Once those many, many garment patterns had been finalized, I then had to co-ordinate having all of the muslins made again “properly” for the book photoshoot, along with the final garments to show off the designs. It was another feat of organization, although this time I didn’t do all the sewing – I literally couldn’t make 45+ garments myself! I did however have to figure out styling, order fabrics, and co-ordinate a veritable fleet of sample sewists, which as you can imagine took a lot of time too.
By the time the photoshoot rolled around in April 2021 I was a bit exhausted but also excited to see it come to life – not least because we were just emerging from a third lockdown round in the UK and it was the first time I was doing work in person for over a year.
I had a fabulous day at a shoot house in London, with our 5 amazing models and a professional team with a photographer, make up and hair artist, stylist, and producer from the publisher. It was amazing not to be in charge of everything as usual – it’s pretty exhausting when you’re directing, producing and modeling at the same time!
Everyone did an awesome job and although I was quite nervous about modeling for the cover, I absolutely love what the team achieved! Our models – all beacons of the UK sewing community – were also absolutely fabulous, not only in their modeling abilities but also in their willingness to be poked and prodded and adjusted all day long! Let’s just say me and Dibs know each other pretty well now after some of those pants fitting shots, lol 😀
When the final photos came through I was a touch verklempt and it was the first time the book felt real.
Final editing and off to print
Then it was rounds of final editing – and wowsers it’s unbelievable how many rounds you have to through before you catch all the errors (all!? I HOPE SO) – and eventually I reluctantly said ok, this is it, let’s go to print.
PHEW! Are you as exhausted reading this as I was writing it? I still have to pinch myself that this is real – if you’d told me when I was younger that not only I’d be a published author, but that I’d be on the front cover, I never would have believed you! I can’t wait until you can read it – and don’t forget, you can pre-order right now from Amazon, Bookshop.org, or from your local independent bookseller. More information about the book and the patterns will be coming out between now and the launch in October, but in the meantime I’m happy to answer any questions you might have!