Pros: Stunning amount of information; extremely detailed diagrams and plenty of them; lots of photos
Rating: 5 out of 5
After reading The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sewing Illustrated, I knew I still needed more information on the subject before I got started again. (This is, after all, why I always buy at least two books on any craft or hobby I plan to tackle.) So I opened up the Reader’s Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing and hoped it would be more useful. I can understand why the CIG tried to keep things simple as an introductory book, but their approach backfired. There are simply a number of techniques you’re likely to need to know or learn even as a beginner, and it didn’t cover or explain all of them adequately.
Thus, I was greatly cheered when I opened the book and immediately came upon pages and pages of information and photographs meant to help you understand and identify the various types of fabric out there. The list in the CIG was much shorter and certainly didn’t have accompanying color photos.
This is a big, thick, heavy book, and not exactly something you can tuck in a corner while you work. It’s large and wide, though, and lies flat fairly easily, which helps to make it easier to look at while working. It includes an absolutely amazing amount of detail meant to get you from rank beginner through finely tailored clothing, and honestly I expect this book to still be useful to me in ten years from now. It’s jam-packed with diagrams, color photos, and plenty of highly-detailed and very clear instructions.
Chapters One & Two: Getting Started
The book starts off with information on equipment, fabric, supplies, sewing machines. It moves quickly on into all the elements of cutting out your fabric: taking your measurements (it includes a fair number of measurements, complete with photos to make sure you’re measuring exactly the right spots in exactly the right ways).
There’s a chart that will help you convert required amounts of cloth from one width of fabric to another, and plenty of information on using patterns, pattern catalogs, pattern sheets, etc. The book explains how to alter patterns, as well as how to create a fitting shell and a master pattern for the ultimate in tailored shaping. There’s even information on how to properly cut special fabrics.
Chapter Three: Stitching Basics
Stitches and seams come next. Hand-sewing tips are included, as well as instructions for using the ‘essential’ hand stitches. This includes full-page instructions in most cases, with multiple diagrams. Each diagram comes with both an easy-to-understand explanation and a set of step-by-step detailed instructions. Essential stitches includes everything from tailor’s tacks to basting, backstitching, hemming & joining (slipstitch, cross-stitch, overhand, whipstitch, etc.), finishing stitches, decorative stitches, and so on. In particular I appreciate that the explanation included with each stitch details exactly what that stitch tends to be used for and why. Next we encounter machine stitches. Directions for stitching with a machine include tips for working with knits; keeping seems straight; cornering; etc.
There’s a huge section on seam finishes, including everything from pinked to zigzagged, machine-overedged, bias-bound, French, and more. One of my favorite details here (and throughout the book) is the extensive cross-referencing. For example, the page that details and diagrams overedge seams provides page references to the overlock machine on page 15, zigzag stitching on page 83, and overlock stitching on p. 83. You won’t have to go nuts trying to locate all the information you need. In addition, there’s a side-bar at the beginning of the ‘stitches and seams’ section that provides a quick-reference to all provided hand stitches and their page locations.
You’ll also find here the first actual projects, each one using techniques taught in that chapter. The very first item is an evening blouse, with step-by-step directions, fabric and notion requirements, photographs, and, again, page references for specific techniques. You’ll also find a set of dress pants, a christening dress, curtains and a pleated skirt.
Here’s also where you’ll learn to make seams with bias tape, interfacing, ease, and other unusual requirements. Special instructions are provided for working with materials such as sheers, knits, vinyls, leather, and fur or faux-fur. Shaping comes next, including techniques such as princess seams, tucks, pleats, gathers, shirring and darts.
Chapters Four through Seven: Details
Chapter four is all about neckline finishes and collars, so it contains detailed information on all sorts of facings, finishings, bindings, bands, collars, etc. It includes a summer dress project, a tailored jacket with notched collar, and a shirt blouse.
Chapter five delves into waistlines and belts. Joinings, casings, stays, and waistbands, while six tackles sleeves and sleeve finishes and seven covers pockets.
Each chapter provides both simple methods that even beginners will be able to make sense of, as well as plenty of advanced techniques, or techniques needed to achieve certain effects or work with particular materials. Again, the book includes plenty of photos, diagrams, clear explanations, projects, and more.
Chapters Eight through Ten: Finishing
Finally the book walks you through hems (turned-up, faced, decorative, bound, etc.), fastenings (zippers, buttons, hooks and eyes, snaps, etc.), and tailoring. Again, you’ll find everything from the very basics to the information you need to create finely-tailored suits that fit you perfectly.
While the New Complete Guide to Sewing concentrates largely on techniques and on such practical applications as clothing, it does include a chapter on quilting. If you really plan to get into quilting you’ll presumably want to get a book on that alone, but it doesn’t hurt to read a little to help you decide whether you’re interested or not.
The book also includes a glossary and an incredibly detailed index—although with all the cross-referencing, you hopefully won’t need it as much as you’d think.
I’m incredibly glad that this ended up being one of the sewing books I picked up. I suspect it’ll not only get me through my beginning traumas, but also help me learn for years to come.