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REVIEW: ‘How to Sew a Button’ as useful as title suggests

“How to Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew” by Erin Bried

“How to Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew” by Erin Bried had me at the word “nifty.” But the book is actually a really cool concept since there are tons of things my grandma can do that I never learned, like how to garden or hem jeans.

The book starts with a brief introduction by Bried, who realized after a failed attempt at making strawberry-rhubarb pie that her grandmother used to grow rhubarb, but the author couldn’t identify it at the store (she accidentally made it with Swiss chard).

So, she set out to interview grandmothers from around the U.S. and find out what she never thought to learn from her own grandma.

Those grandmas help inform the book, although the author adds some additional research. And their quotes are included at the beginning of each how-to, creating an interesting connection with the past and how things used to be done.

Each how-to list is broken into steps, with a “More Nifty Tips” section for additional advice and resources. The lists are organized into chapters, like cleaning or gardening, to help the reader readily locate specific pieces of advice, and they really do run the gamut from “How to Compost” to “How to Save on Energy Costs.”

It’s easy for a book like this to be dry and only pulled out when necessary, but it’s actually a fun read. There’s some great advice, like how to hand wash clothing or hone a knife, but Bried also writes with a lot of humor that makes the book enjoyable. Some of her double entendres and additional instructions, like telling you to laugh maniacally while killing bugs in the garden, made me laugh out loud. But sometimes it can be a little too over the top as Bried can try too hard to make it funny and instead makes it corny, but it definitely keeps the manual from being boring.

The how-tos were also generally easy to follow. There are a few that could benefit from illustrations, like “How to Bake Bread” or “How to Properly Fold a Fitted Sheet,” but I suspect the directions might make more sense if you’re actually trying to follow them.

The “More Nifty Tips” sections at the end of each list are some of the best parts because that’s where the tips and tricks really come in. The author also adds websites to help readers learn more if they’re interested, as well as advice on how to simplify and modernize some of these processes, like buying a ready-made compost bin instead of making one yourself. One chapter even includes its own hotline.

Bried does a really good job of making it an all-around useful book with advice everyone can use, but I wouldn’t call it comprehensive.

I was really surprised there wasn’t a chapter on how to reuse things. One of the grandmother’s quotes she includes said she never threw anything away, and with the rise of Pinterest and DIY, I expected her to capitalize on that.

I also think expanding on some homemade beauty routines or sewing lists would have been more useful than chapters like “How to Make a Centerpiece” or “How to Build a Walking Regimen.”

And the book is definitely aimed more at married women with their own houses, with lists on child-rearing and many more references to houses than apartments (there’s no place for a clothesline in mine). This really surprised me because the author lived in New York and couldn’t take advantage of a lot of this advice herself.

At the same time, some of the chapters are ones I will definitely use in my own life, like “How to Shop Without Credit” or “How to Plan a Week’s Menu.” And the book really fits well into the green movement, encouraging people to grow their own food, compost and clean with vinegar and baking soda instead of harsh chemicals.

While “How to Sew a Button” doesn’t cover everything and has room for improvement, I definitely think it’s useful. The idea is great and it’s a handy starting point for exploring similar self-sufficient skills. This book will definitely find its way onto my bookshelf, and I might even have to add to it by consulting my own grandmother.