Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Book Review: How to Sew a Button and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew

Some books just need to be written, and to be written at a specific time. Erin Bried's book, How to Sew a Button is a prime example.

Readers of this blog know that I am all about self-sufficiency. I was fortunate enough to be raised by a mother who lived through World War II in rural England. Mom knew how to do and make do and she never un-learned those lessons. We were taught to sew at a young age, first edging handkerchiefs and then moving on to make aprons, curtains, skirts and eventually our own wedding dresses. Mom could make a roast of beef last almost an entire week, even for our family of thirteen children.

My mother would have been a prime candidate to be one of the grandmothers who advised Bried as she wrote this book of how-to hints that cover everything from cooking a whole chicken (although she does not tell you how to actually kill and dress the bird) to building a fire, sharpening a knife, unclogging a toilet, and yes, sewing on a button.

Bried was not raised to do-it-herself. After college she landed a good job at Self magazine and lived the life of one who has others take care of things. She candidly admits that she never balanced a checkbook or developed a household budget. Reading the introduction, I found myself either laughing aloud or gasping in disbelief. It's difficult for me to grasp that there really are people who do not know how to do the things I consider basic to survival--like cooking, sewing, and gardening.

And yet.

There are more people living in urban areas today than there are in the country, and more people who were raised in suburban settings with two working parents. The stay-home mother is not so commonplace now, and even those who do stay home may not have had mothers or grandmothers who still practiced the ages-old household arts.

And that is what inspired Bried to write this book. She realized that she didn't know how to do the most basic things, like sewing on a button. And she knew she was not alone. Since her grandmothers had passed away many years ago, she recruited some women who had survived the Great Depression to advise and teach. Her education is the basis for her book, and there will be many women who will thank her for writing it.

Today frugality is all the rage. I admit I laugh when I read blogs that espouse "frugality" by telling readers about great deals to be had at various big-box stores or online sources. The truly frugal know that saving is not about spending, it's about using what you have on hand. There is another level of frugality, however, that does not just make do, it does so elegantly and with style so that life is enriched in the process.

This isn't just a book about housekeeping, however. Relationship in need of help? Baby won't go to sleep? Need to find no-cost entertainment? Bried offers suggestions and helpful advice on all of these topics too, recognizing that too often we look to the outside for solutions that might be within our own homes and hearts.

How to Sew a Button will help readers do-it-themselves in a creative, relaxed and entertaining manner. Feeling stressed about that chicken? Drink another glass of wine, Bried advises. Snake in your garden? After you chase it out, share your tale of bravery with your friends and get a cat. (You wanted one anyway, right?)

For an old homesteader like me, there's not a lot of new information in How to Sew a Button. But for those who weren't raised by a frugal mother or grandmother or who haven't spent years in the country, this book could well become an indispensable guidebook into the mysteries of the simple life.

How to Sew a Button
Ballantine Books; December 15, 2009
ISBN-10: 0345518756
ISBN-13: 978-0345518750



  1. Hey Granny Sue!

    That books sounds like interesting read.

    I was just thinking the other day that being a stay at home mom isn't as common as it was when I was a kid. Now adays there are so many children who have both parents who work. It made me think that when teachers have their career days with doctors and police they should start including the stay at home mom because we do a lot of work that some don't realize.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Ha! When I was in college 30 years ago we had to do a demonstration speech. Mine was about how to sew on a button. I had young guys and some girls coming up to thank me after the speech.

  3. This is my kind of book though, like you, I probbably know most of what is in there. My mum could make tasty meals out of next to nothing and I was taught how to cook, clean, knit and sew as a child. I've never plucked and dressed a chicken but I've watched my dad do it so I could if I had to. I've never understood why being a 'just a housewife' (how I loathe that phrase!!) is so looked down on, if you do the job properly it requires a great many varied skills. It's time more people realised this.

  4. I did a college speech on how to budget...afterward a student came up to me and said...I am going to try that, it makes sense! How I laugh at our government which can't figure out a budget that stays within the money that is available and then demands that schools begin to teach students how to budget!!! tm

  5. This sounds like a good book. I taught my granddaughter to spin and knit and build a fire this summer. My husband taught her to fish. We made jelly and canned peaches, too, but she'll need some hands-on with that.

    But the very simple things can get mislaid when they're only with you for a short while. Both parents work and both grandkids are in other people's care throughout the days. The kid has complained before that "school's don't teach me anything real".

    They do teach real things, of course, but she meant life skills. I raised my kids on books by Tom Brown, Jr. and this child loves looking for herbs and following animal tracks, too. She's not a book person like the rest of the family, but I think I'll get her this one, anyway.

  6. What you are all saying echoes what I have been thinking about this topic. I feel fortunate to have had a mother who knew how to do so many things. Then I moved to an area where everyone does it themselves, and help each other too. Like yesterday, my husband changed the water pump on our truck at our neighbor's garage and they helped--no money changed hands. I cannot imagine living life without knowing how to cook, clean, fix, and preserve my own food, but today these seem to be rare skills.

    Most readers here are self-sufficient or learning to become that way. I think it's a trend in our country now, and a good one.

  7. What a perfect thing to send Devyn now that she's on her own--thanks for that review. As much as I prefer to support independent bookstores, Amazon does turn out to be handy for some things, like saving international shipping LOL. A little present might cheer her up after going back to home-alone and work; I'll have to throw in a comic book I guess!


  8. It's perfect for her, Susan. And do let her know we're just a phone call away.

  9. This looks like a great graduation gift.
    I'm intrigued by it. I feel fortunate to know how to do many things--can, build fence, drive a tractor, garden, etc.
    Too bad we didn't think of writing this book!

  10. No kidding, Laura! I'm glad someone did write it, though. You're right about it being a good graduation present and I think it would be a good wedding present too--guys would find it just as useful as women would.

  11. Those are the kinds of books that still need to be written. I'm not even sure my husband would even know where to start! I learned how to sew in Brownies... they taught me to knit too. I don't think kids have the time any longer. Sad. They don't don't what they are missing lol...

  12. Sounds like a great book to give to my non-county-fried friends.

    I grew up in SW Pennsylvania in a generation of coal miners. It was all about surving and putting food on the table - at least I know that now. Back then it was just the way things were - I didn't know any different. I learned the difference when my daddy was laid off from the mine and we moved to Florida.

    Did you ever watch the PBS program
    Frontier House ( I was glued to the tube when that program aired.

  13. I meant to ask if you have ever read any of the Foxfire books?

  14. All of them, Staci. Actually, I just bought 1,2,and 3 for my husband because he found #1 on my shelf and as he was reading it, it fell to pieces. I'll eventually get all of them for him. Those are about the best books on mountain living and mountain ways that have ever been published.


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