October 10, 2012

Review - New How to Sew Books

Our library recently acquired three new how-to-sew books. Sewing is picking up in popularity and the numbers of books coming out about sewing reflect that. I took some time to flip through them and here are my thoughts. All of these booksgive the impression of being exhaustive in their subject. They are also project based meaning the how to sections are emphasized by the included projects.


Published by DK, Dressmaking has the fantastic photography one comes to expect from DK. The book is written by Allison Smith who previously penned The Sewing Book: An Encyclopedic Resource of Step-by-Step Techniques also put out by DK. The layout and organization of Dressmaking is above average. The how-to photography is clear and easy to understand.

The projects are in the back of the book with additional instructions to complete each project. This means the how to section is designed to support the projects. So, you will have to flip back and forth to get a complete how-to. It also means that the how-to section is not comprehensive. You will likely need a more comprehensive how-to sew book such as The Sewing Book or the Reader's Digest Guide to Sewing to supplement what is missing. What is missing is the info to complete some other project not included in the book. Much of the information can be applied to other styles. But you may want to do a project with some design feature that requires a different technique, which is not included in this book. Thus the need for some other sewing manual. For advanced sewists, this is not a big deal, but then again an advanced sewist probably wouldn't need the how-to section anyway.

The styles are pretty basic. The graded patterns are printed on grids at the back of the book. This means you would have to enlarge them yourself. Since I didn't make up any of the styles, I can't tell you how accurately the patterns are drafted. I also can't comment on fit. You will almost certainly have to spend time testing the pattern in muslin. The process would be time consuming.

The biggest problem with this book is the binding. It is a large book and while the binding is sewn, it is cheap. Many DK books of this size fall apart with semi-regular use. In the library, we have replaced one very popular DK book several times, which begins to fall apart after only two circulations.

The Collette Sewing Handbook

Written by Sarai Mitnick, the book was written to support Mitnick's indie sewing pattern company Collette Patterns. The book is spiral bound, so it will lay flat when open. The layout and photography is also pretty good.

Mitnick spends time explaining her five basic principles: a thoughtful plan, a precise pattern, a fantastic fit, a beautiful fabric, and a fine finish. I only spent a few minutes reviewing the sections on fit and sewing. The information presented is pretty basic and you will need supplemental resources if you do not have the fit issues described. The sewing information is also basic but will at least help you sew the projects in the book. The patterns are apparently drafted for a C-cup, which means that if that is not you, expect alterations. The patterns are printed on tissue and included in the back of the book. I didn't take the time to check the patterns or sew them up as the styles didn't appeal to me.


This sewing manual is written by Nora Abousteit, a Hurbert Burda employee and Alison Kelly, a Project Runway alum. The book is designed to support the Burdastyle website and Burda sewing patterns. The book is spiral bound so that it will lay flat when open with the patterns included in the back.

I have an admitted preference for Burda patterns because I have used some of them from the magazine. They are usually drafted pretty well, though the instructions are very anemic, which is a challenge for beginners. This book explains how to use the Burda patterns from the magazine. It explains the pattern notations, how to trace off the patterns, and how to add seam allowances. Burda patterns are based off a European sizing system. It is important to measure yourself to find the appropriate size on the Burda size chart. Unfortunately, the how to measure instructions are pretty pathetic with simple, flat line drawings. The sewing instructions are pretty basic.

There is one thing that I really liked about this book. The book encourages the reader to experiment and redesign the styles. There are only four projects in the book, but the reader is shown several variations. There are instructions for a project with no alterations and then there are instructions for a variation. Additional variations are show in a photograph with no additional instructions in the hope the reader can figure them out on their own. The variation with instructions demonstrates how to alter the patterns to achieve the desired effect. I like how the authors encourage their readers to experiment and play because I feel that is the best way to learn. I think this may be a challenge for beginning or brand new sewists.

I think most of the projects are pretty achievable. I didn't sew any of them up because the styles didn't appeal to me. The jacket would be the most challenging project, especially the variation.

A few final thoughts

All of these books will help either a beginning or intermediate sewist with lots of hand holding for the included projects. Though, I expect there will be some frustration with the patterns and some of the instructions. Additional support material is definitely required for more complete coverage of the subject. The Reader's Digest book is still a gold standard due to it's comprehensive nature. Older how-to sewing books are also better. There really isn't anything new presented with the exception of the included patterns.

There is one popular book that I have not reviewed and that is Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing. The primary reason is that I don't have access to a copy and a full review would be unfair. But, I am admittedly biased against the book already. The content is just an updated version of previously available information. Gertie got her start by working her way through a Vogue sewing manual, and that is the primary source for her book. Some of her tutorials found on her blog have been lifted off of at least one other website. Also, from what I have heard, Gertie is the fit model for the included patterns, which are then graded up and down. If you aren't Gertie, then expect needing to make adjustments.

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