Pros: Lots of very useful information; plenty of photos and diagrams
Cons: Missing bits of information; need for more diagrams; difficult-to-visualize instructions
Rating: 3 out of 5
Somewhere around 1992 I took up sewing for a while. The ability to make clothes in my choice of fabric, style, and color really appealed to me; also, since I’m very short, I loved being able to make things that fit my body shape. Then in late 1993 I developed tendonitis, and I pretty much dropped it—when you can’t even turn a key in a lock with one hand, cutting, measuring, and sewing are right out.
While I still have tendonitis, years of being careful with my hands have paid off, and I can now do a lot of things I couldn’t before. Since my husband and I have fallen in with a great crowd that happens to do a lot of SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) stuff, we’d also like to be able to make period-appropriate garb. I hadn’t had enough time or experience before to become very proficient with sewing the first time around, so I decided to start off this time by picking up a couple of books. The first one I read was Carol Ann Camp’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sewing Illustrated. I learned a lot, but in my opinion, it isn’t the ideal book for starting out. It would probably be most useful to someone looking to refresh their memory after a hiatus from sewing.
There’s a lot of great stuff in this book. For instance, the second chapter will help you figure out what tools and ‘notions’ you’ll want to have in your sewing basket before you get started. (Mind you, you probably won’t be able to figure out which optional items you’ll need until you know what project you’re going to attempt and have read the rest of the book.) There’s also a great intro section on different types of fabric.
Part 2, which covers the basics of starting out, goes into basic stitching techniques, some quick and easy hand-sewn projects to try out, how to use a sewing machine, the various ways to sew seams and hems, how to lengthen or shorten a hem, and how to sew in zippers.
Part 3 details some easy home projects. There are directions for different sorts of pillows, tablecloths, table runners, place mats, drapes, etc. I found these instructions largely easy to follow along with and make sense of. The book also includes handy charts that you can copy for keeping needed measurements handy so you’ll always know how much cloth to buy if you spot just the right material.
Part 4 is all about making clothes: how to take your measurements, picking a pattern that suits you, reading and working with patterns, custom-fitting a pattern to your body’s unique shape, working with fabric, and putting your final piece of clothing together. I particularly appreciated the list of suggestions for altering an item to fit as you’re piecing it together.
Part 5 gives you instructions for sewing a very simple top, skirt, pull-on pants, or relax-around-the-house dress as a practice project, without the need for a pattern. And part 6 provides instructions for a few projects you can give as gifts to others.
Finally, the appendices include practice lines to work on with your sewing machine (so you learn to sew accurately around curves, corners, etc.), a tear-out machine troubleshooting chart, tear-out table and window measurement charts, and suggestions for further reading.
In need of a round of editing?
It isn’t typos that are at issue: it’s the kind of little mistakes you hopefully catch when you run everything past a few extra pairs of eyes, or get someone who’s new to sewing to run through your book and make sure they understand everything. To use that handy section on needed sewing basket contents from chapter 2 as an example, the actual list doesn’t mention any kind of marking pen or tailor’s chalk, even though you’ll find it mentioned in the meat of the chapter. If someone went back to refer to the list to make up their shopping list, they’d probably miss that item.
In part two I started to find bits of instructions that I had difficulty visualizing (and the visual part of my imagination is pretty good). The blind hem stitch is one technique I was particularly looking forward to understanding, because I’ve had trouble grasping it before, and this book didn’t entirely help: the explanation left me somewhat confused, and naturally it was the one type of stitch for which no diagram was included. The deeper the book got into clothing and patterns, the more I ran into spots where I had trouble visualizing exactly what a given set of directions intended for the reader to do.
While there are instructions for sewing on buttons, the book doesn’t go into button-holes.
I love the contents of this book, but I find myself hoping Alpha Books puts out a second edition with more careful instructions and more diagrams. I think someone with some experience wouldn’t have too much trouble re-learning forgotten techniques or refreshing their memory with this book, but it isn’t ideal for a rank beginner.
This is a great review, very through. Have fun with SCA events! ~B
thanks for stopping by my blog! great review on the sewing book- i do some sewing and this is the kind of book i would buy thinking it might help me. so the caveats were really helpful! 🙂
Great review! I really enjoy SCA and would love to learn to make my own costumes.
I’m sorry you had tendonitis; I have joint weakness and discomfort myself; I find exercise and heating pads help, as well as a natural cream called Joint Medic.
Betsy: Thank you, Betsy!
marie: I’m glad to hear you found it helpful–thank you! I have another beginner’s book I plan to read & review soon; hopefully it’ll turn out to be a bit more what we’re looking for.
Leigh: Thank you!
I’m sorry to hear about the joint pain; unfortunately heat makes it worse (ice tends to be better for tendonitis), as do most types of hand/arm activity. Unfortunately the only thing long-term I’ve found that helps is just knowing my boundaries and not doing to much with my hands.
Thank you for this very thorough review! Alpha Books should really consider hiring you to give the next edition a once over before publishing. 😉
Thanks for the great review. I like to sew also myself, especialy on the new bosh sewing machine.