Book Review | Sharon Rothman, The Fashion Designer’s Sketchbook

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The edition I’m reviewing has the following details: Bloomsbury, 2016 | ISBN 978-1-4725-6729-1. There is a newer edition here.

I’ve written a smidgen about design development before, but somehow not yet got around to showcasing this book on the blog.  This fortnight’s book review is dedicated to my current cohort of pilot students, who are navigating their way through the design development process by way of principles and techniques.  In short: it is a lot to manage, and one way of dealing with the intensity is to keep a sketchbook.

The sketchbook is really an object for exploring the design development process.  Although geared towards undergraduates, this is a valuable book that shows just how many strings designers must pull together to create collections.  Take a look at this book, even if you have no intention of working in the fashion industry.  It’s an inspiring insight and reference book that takes you on a fascinating journey: seeing how ideas take form.

There’s no specific focus on knitwear or any constructed textile, but the exploration of design development is the most in-depth I’ve seen so far.  The clarity achieved without sacrificing this depth is outstanding.  Sharon Rothman has written a beautifully conceived book that demands time and attention to appreciate.  The illustrations are wonderful for the coffee table, but the quotes will suck you in.

You don’t need to have a physical sketchbook or work in one to get the benefit of The Fashion Designer’s Sketchbook.  Personally, I have never liked sketchbooks.  They are far too restrictive for me; I prefer to work on loose sheets so that I can see everything at a glance, including swatches and other 3D modelling.  My development work is permanently attached only when I am clear on the route and next steps, or ready to share my workings out with other people.  However, the emotions, thought processes, experiments and sketches are documented – and THAT’S the key.

Documentation is vital because design development is hardcore experimentation.  It’s messy, exciting, scary, time-consuming, exhilarating, flowing, frustrating and fulfilling – sometimes all at once.  It is so important to get things out of your head and onto a page to avoid overwhelm.  Creating visuals and physical samples is more important than many people realise.  Not only do material objects hold information for you, they also reveal solutions to you.  I doubt anyone’s regretted leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to navigate the forest of their imagination.

There are plenty of suggestions for presentation documents as well as working documents; Rothman suggests having three different types of sketchbooks for different stages of design development.  Page layouts, CAD (computer aided design), spreads and storytelling devices are included.  Experimentation is encouraged here too, but practical considerations – for example, ingenious ways of letting readers or viewers know that a page should be folded out – are highlighted.  The point is to let people into your design world as you would welcome a guest into your home.

This book is recommended if you:

  • Need insight into what design development is, or can be
  • Are looking for inspiration for drawing or presentation style
  • Are wondering what goes into clothing design, or how fashion designers work
  • Like reading interviews with designers about their design process
  • Need reassurance that you’re ‘doing it right’ (spoiler: you probably are 😊)

My only reservation about this book – which will come as no surprise to those accustomed to fashion design titles – is the lack of diversity and representation, particularly of body types.  Please find your way to My Body Model for support with and representation of the body types you’d like to dress, particularly as you work through your size range.  Again, I will stress that this is typical of fashion and fashion books – and otherwise, if you like the sound of The Fashion Designer’s Sketchbook, please give it a try.  There’s plenty of encouragement and sound advice from an experienced teacher here, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Apart from that, you’ll need to tweak the marketing advice for your own audience.  I point this out because the undergraduate population aspires to high-end fashion, which is not for everyone.  But the notes on positioning are great – and a reminder that, if you’re a knitter or crocheter, the people buying your patterns also visit and are influenced by what’s in the shops.  A revelation, I know! – but where they shop can be very insightful as you get to know your community or customers.

All in all, the sentiment, dedication and passion of the author is infectious, and this book is well worth at least a good look.  Highly recommended – and prepare to be s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d!

Book Review | Sharon Rothman, The Fashion Designer’s Sketchbook

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Natalie in Stitches

I design for confident knitters who are keen on getting their garments to fit well. My catalogue includes knitting patterns for lace sweaters, cable sweaters, shawls, cowls, and the occasional scarf. These designs are ideal for building or curating an inspiring wardrobe. I am also a qualified teacher and share my favourite tips, tricks and techniques on my blog, where you can also find advice on garment fitting, alterations, knitwear design and sewing pattern reviews. Courses are also coming soon - sign up to my newsletter for updates.

2 thoughts on “Book Review | Sharon Rothman, The Fashion Designer’s Sketchbook

  • February 22, 2023 at 11:40 pm

    Will never be ‘there’ but the book does sound very interesting…apart from the lack of body diversity! Thanks for showing this.


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