I am very pleased to introduce you to a new sewing book today!
While planning that earlier post on How To Start To Sew, I decided I needed to find some beginning-sewing resources for you. Since I didn't learn to sew from books, blogs or seminars myself, I had none of these from my own experience to recommend. And while I have bought sewing books in the recent decade, they have all been ones on drafting. See this, this and this for some reviews.
So I went to amazon.com and found Cinnamon Miles' new book, "Idiot's Guide: Sewing". Cinnamon is the co-founder and lead designer of Liberty Jane Clothing which produces gorgeous clothing patterns for 18 inch dolls. What I saw in the free browsing pages of her book was so promising that I contacted Cinnamon, and she sent me a free copy to review. This is not my usual modus operandi; usually, companies send me products of their own free will, with no strings attached, so that I can remain transparent to my readers in my reviews. I will, however, make exceptions when something inspires enough confidence that I know I'll like it. Cinnamon's book is one of those.
Before we get into the review, let me say that there are loads of sewing books out there, including those aimed at beginners. Loads, I tell you. I've roughly categorized them into two kinds:
1 Project Books
These are written to showcase a certain number of simple projects. The main focus of these books is the projects. We know this because the titles emphasize this: "50 Simple Beginner Projects!" "27 Easy Things To Make With A Jelly Roll!" "100456 Entry-Level Skirts To Sew From A Single Sloper!" The first chapters are usually devoted to the introduction of Necessary Skills, Tools and Techniques. Often, the books promise that each subsequent project builds on some skill or other and may even offer hints on how to adapt or personalize each project to make it even funner. Because these books are more inspirational than truly instructional, they are usually visually gorgeous (because the focus is on the projects, remember?) and we love them because they are filled with photos, ideas and designer fabric. They are also often written by authors whose skill levels span anything and everything from "loves to sew" to "has worked in the garment and fashion industry for 4 decades" to "taught sewing to third world countries since the 1970s" to "just released her new fabric line". They are, after all, not that different from rounding up your favorite 100456 tutorials and publishing them in print form.
2 Technique Books
These are like an encyclopedia of specific skills and techniques, laid out like a curriculum. Far more linear and systematic than the Project Books, the entire book is devoted to techniques and, depending on the scope of the book, may be fairly comprehensive in its broad coverage of general sewing skills or concentrated in-depth on a niche area (e.g. Mending and Alteration). These books also contain projects, but they are there to illustrate the skill or technique being taught, because these books are more instructional than inspirational. Some of these books are in color, some have photos, some contain only sketches and drawings, some are wordy, and some are even didactic. Some are beautiful and fun to read, but some you might buy only if you have an interest in researching that particular area of sewing.
"Idiot's Guide: Sewing" is a general technique book, but a visually beautiful one that I think beginning seamstresses will enjoy and find extremely helpful. Here is a quick summary of my reasons:
- It is visually attractive and well laid out and organized.
- It spends time on the very beginning stuff - the first 30 pages, for instance, are on just preparation and familiarizing, before you even sew your first real stitch.
- It covers a lot of (what I think are) foundational techniques for beginning seamstresses. This builds a good repertoire of helpful sewing skills, not all of which feel like entry-level techniques (piping, zippers, pattern-deciphering, for instance), which in turn allows beginners to make a wide variety of projects with confidence.
- It feels modern and current - people who read sewing blogs, for instance, will not feel as if they're reading a curriculum from the 1950s.
- There are wonderful step-by-step annotated photos, and definitions, which help with visualizing processes.
- It covers enough for a beginner to feel equipped for the early stages of sewing, and for tackling more challenging sewing tasks later, should they feel they are ready for them. At the same time, it does not overwhelm with so much in-depth information in an attempt to be "completely and utterly comprehensive".
- It introduces quilting, basic garment-making from patterns and craft sewing for a broad coverage of some of the popular fields of sewing.
- It features simple, effective projects throughout the chapters, plus more involved and varied projects at the end of the book to attempt independently.
Now, let's look inside!
First, the contents pages:
Were I teaching a sewing course, I'd count the first four (maybe five, depending on how demanding on one's definition) chapters as Basic Techniques, because a person would need all of those to make even the simplest project. But before the actual hands-on making happens, a lot of even more foundational familiarizing-withs and knowing-abouts have to first occur.
For instance, the vocabulary of fabric,
and the workings of a sewing machine, including the versions of the same parts that are found in different brands and models. Experienced seamstresses know that all sewing machines are the same, just like car dashboards. But beginners are very easily thrown off by even slight variations in structure. One of my friends, who was learning to sew some years ago, picked up a used machine and discovered that it was a drop-in bobbin type. It took her a long time to even dare to touch her machine because the lack of a user's manual frustrated her to no end. She eventually discarded it in favor of a brand new machine which came with a user's manual and she's been happily sewing on it ever since.
The instructions in many sewing patterns and tutorials often state, "Finish the seam with a serger or zig-zag stitch," with the implication that those are basic techniques that everyone should know. While most people know what a zig-zag stitch is, beginners may not know how to use it to do finish a seam without an actual demonstration.
Can I just say that contrary to popular belief, seam ripping is not instinctive? People have to be taught how to rip seams, and not just beginners. And there are many ways to rip seams, so don't be all bigoted and say, "Huh. My fashion-industry sewing instructor taught me THIS way so every one else's way is rubbish." We say to you, "Go away, bad sewing person."
The book then moves onto more techniques (not projects), including curved seams, ruffles, gathers and trims. Here are two very useful pairs of techniques:
1 Seam grading, which beginners may not realize is done differently for internal and external corners, and
external corners internal corners
2 Seam trimming, which is conceptually similar to seam grading and which, again, beginners may not realize is done differently for concave and convex seams.
notching concave seams snipping convex seams
Shirring and its non-stretchy cousins, ruffles and gathers, are very popular in modern sewing because of their dramatic textured finish. They are actually very easily achieved, especially by beginner seamstresses.
There is a neat section on working with bias tape, making your own and getting nice mitered corners with it.
I was very pleased that piping was included in the arsenal of techniques, and not only because I am incurably infatuated with it. I don't believe piping is an intermediate thing, any more than bias-binding an edge (or seam) is an intermediate thing. Like binding, hemming or trimming, piping is merely a finishing technique. However, because its assembly sequence involves inserting it between fabric layers and the possible procurement of a specialized machine foot (a rumor no doubt slyly started by sewing machine dealers), many people shy away from it, mislabeling it "intermediate/advanced", "tricky" and "optional for when I am 60 years old and have more time to learn hard things".
Anyone who has tried piping (with adequate instruction) will tell you that it is actually even easier than, say, inserting a zipper.
Pleats and darts now!
The next section on decorative techniques discusses applique, reverse-applique and quilting. I did not know there were four types of quilting. I always thought quilting = batting sandwich. See - I am a total quilting beginner, in spite of having sewn quilts for people in the past.
The final two instructional categories involve clothing techniques and commercial patterns.
Here is interfacing demystified, and we learn that interfacing isn't just for garments or bags - it comes in different weights and weaves so it can serve different fabrics and functions. The book doesn't decipher the crazy brand names (Pellon! Stacy! Vilene!) of the ones available in your particular country, which will probably require a catalog all of their own, but it explains the 6 main categories, which is a perfect starting point for your own shopping escapades.
Here are some techniques used in garment-making:
Here is a section I especially enjoyed, because I don't use commercial patterns at all
and know nothing of the foreign language that is their symbol and marking system.
Layout next. It is possible for beginner seamstresses, especially if they focus mainly on craft sewing, to never be affected by the weave or grain of their fabric. This is because craft-sewing fabrics (e.g. quilting cotton, home dec, bottomweights) produce pretty much the same outcome no matter how the project is laid out (with the exception of the bias layout, which could be disastrous).
By contrast, when working with apparel fabrics, one must pay attention to the direction of layout in order for the garment to drape and hang correctly on the body. As a beginning garment seamstress in my early teens, I was fortunate enough to have Mum drill this into my brain and even then, I'd cut quite a few garments the wrong way (and wore them). It is easy to make this mistake and I know of quite a few adult seamstresses, new to garment-making, who had to learn this the hard way. It is nothing to be ashamed of because it is not at all a common-sense thing and requires actual pointing out.
Finally, here are some of the 13 independent projects at the end of the book, in addition to the 9 practice ones throughout the instructional chapters. There is a nice mix in three challenge levels: basic, easy and intermediate. I love that Cinnamon does not shy away from clothing - throughout the book, she demonstrates general sewing techniques while constructing and embellishing pockets, waistbands, peter pan collars, sleeves, skirts, t-shirts and tank tops. Rather than whimsical, these are practical, and reassuring in that, after investing time and effort, one might actually be able to wear something one has sewn, even if one has never been in fashion school.
I hope you enjoyed the tour! This is a fabulous book for folks of all levels of experience and familiarity with sewing, but I like it especially for beginners.
Cinnamon Miles is giving away two copies of "Idiot's Guide: Sewing" to two readers (US addresses only, please). If you'd like to win a copy, please
- leave a comment to this post, telling me some of your sewing goals for the year and then
- log in to the rafflecopter widget below.
The giveaway will close on Tuesday 13 May, after which I will randomly pick two winners. Good luck!
Disclaimer: At my request, I was given a free copy of this book to review, and the opinions are my own.