So far in my sewing journey, I have learned basic sewing skills and consolidated them by completing projects of varying difficulty. My next step is to start making garments and my first pattern of choice is ‘The Bettine’ from Tilly and the Buttons. I was so excited to receive the pattern two weeks ago. I couldn’t wait to find the right fabric and get started as soon as possible. I opened the pack, took out the instructions and the pattern, then immediately froze.
The pattern looked so confusing that despite the clearly written instructions, I could not make head nor tail of what I was expected to do. I felt a sense of panic and the fact that I am a complete novice really hit home. I have never attended a dressmaking class and I had no interest in learning these skills when I was younger. My mother is a fine dressmaker and has the ability to create wonderful garments without ever using a pattern. This meant that she would be of minimal assistance if I required further support with understanding the pattern I had purchased. In short, I had no idea where to start and I felt a barrier to sewing evolving.
In order to ensure that my fear and inexperience did not get the better of me, I decided that it was time to read, read, read. I would carry out research and teach myself the skills I required to start making simple garments, using a pattern. To do this, I required books to guide and aid my progress in dressmaking. I set about researching the sewing books available for beginners. There are a plethora of books available for the novice sewist, so there is something that suits every personality and learning style.
After a comprehensive search, I ordered 3 books that covered multiple bases in the gaping chasm that is currently my dressmaking knowledge. They are: ‘Learn to Sew with Lauren: From first stitches to perfect projects’ by Lauren Guthrie (finalist in BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee), ‘Sewing Machine Basics: A step-by-step course for the first-time stitchers’ by Jane Bolsover and ‘Sew U: The Built By Wendy guide to making your own wardrobe’ by Wendy Mullin. These 3 books were exactly what I needed and contained information that I thought would be beneficial to my particular sewing journey.
Each book has their individual strengths and combined, they provide me with comprehensive information on basic dressmaking and sewing skills. I will not be providing a detailed review of all 3 books, simply a general overview, as I believe that the usefulness of a book is determined by the requirements of the reader. I think that overall, for absolute beginners, any of these books could be used in isolation. The first few chapters of all 3 books go over the very basics – basic sewing kit, how to use your sewing machine, types of fabric, their composition and their uses, hand sewing and the stitches that you may need to use (back stitching, basting, etc.).
All 3 books are written in a clear and concise manner, providing adequate detail to ensure that the novice sewist understands how and why different techniques are performed/items are used. ‘Sew U’ concentrates solely on dressmaking projects, which is particularly helpful to me, as this is now my area of interest. The other 2 books have a mixture of garment and home decor projects, e.g. cushion covers. I will now give a brief overview of my thoughts regarding each book.
Sewing Machine Basics
This book really focuses on how to achieve each project by using your sewing machine effectively. It also includes patterns for you to make the garments included in the book. The step by step instructions are comprehensive and supported with pictures, in order to further aid your progress in each project. There are comprehensive measurement charts provided for the garment projects, which I absolutely love. There is a good variety of projects for the complete novice, to the improving beginner. I really like the detail provided in this book, because I like to know as much as possible about whatever a subject may be.
Learn to Sew with Lauren
The layout of this book is extremely well organised with projects categorised into the following sections: ‘Beginners easy peasy,’ ‘Improvers next steps,’ and ‘Improvers more tricky.’ The projects in each category reflect the level of difficulty. There are a variety of projects to choose from and each project builds upon the skills previously learned. A lot of thought has been put into this book, which is aesthetically pleasing (the photographs in this book are wonderful) and extremely informative, without giving information overload. Patterns are included for the garment projects.
This book is precisely what I need in terms of my dressmaking journey. It provides comprehensive, clear, well-written information and advice on all things dressmaking-related. It even has a section that explains how to express your creative vision if you want a tailor or seamstress to create clothes for you! Patterns are included for you to make the garments illustrated in the book.
My favourite chapter is completely devoted to patterns and it makes sense out of what appears to me to be nonsense. This book immediately puts me at ease when I think about making ‘The Bettine’ dress, because I can use it as a constant companion. In fact, this book makes me extremely excited about starting to make my own clothes and demystifies an aspect of sewing that initially appears to be so daunting and complicated.
I dip in an out of all 3 books, referring to one or the other, depending on the level of detail and explanation I require. There are some projects in these books that I may not attempt, simply because they are of little or no interest to me, e.g. making curtains and making roman blinds. What I like about all 3 books is that they can all be referred back to further down the line in my sewing adventure, when I am no longer a novice. This makes them, in my opinion, a good investment and money well spent.
I definitely recommend having at least one sewing book that you can use as a guide when you first start sewing. It can always be on hand during those moments of panic and they really help to build up your basic, traditional, sewing skills. I bought ‘Learn to Sew with Lauren’ from brand new, but I managed to source the other two second-hand at under £3 for each. Due to this fact, I invested in all 3 books, however one book would have sufficed. I must say that the quality of the second-hand books were brilliant, just like new, but in order to ensure this was the case I did my research prior to purchase.
This is how I spent last week; reading through the chapters of these 3 books, consolidating my theoretical knowledge and understanding of basic sewing techniques. It turns out that it was time well spent, because once I finally returned to the sewing machine, theory met with practical and everything slotted into place. I achieved another ‘EUREKA’ moment and had the best time sewing. Here’s to sewing books: the handy companions that will remain by my side throughout my sewing journey.