In the last few years, more and more people have decided to sew – for the first time, or again after a long lapse. In this post, I’ll be sharing my reviews of three sewing books aimed at helping beginner sewists get to the next level of sewing, along with your chance to win one of my review copies of the books. Read on for details!
This post contains affiliate links. I may receive compensation (at no added cost to you) if you make a purchase using these links. Search Press North American provided me with free review copies of each of the books reviewed in this blog post. Although I accept free products for review, I do not accept additional compensation, nor do I guarantee a positive review. My reviews are based entirely on my honest opinions.
Book Reviews of Beginner Sewing Books
Whether you are a sewing newbie or just feeling a bit rusty after years of ignoring your sewing machine, this set of reviews is designed to introduce you to three different sewing books for beginners, each of which has a different approach to sewing and to teaching: Sewing for the Absolute Beginner, A Beginner’s Guide to Machine Sewing: 50 Lessons & 15 Projects to Get You Started (available through independent booksellers or on Amazon), and Girl With a Sewing Machine: The No-Fuss Guide to Making and Adapting Your Own Clothes. From reading these reviews, you’re sure to find the perfect resource book for you!
By the way, if you are a complete beginner, you may want to check out other posts in my Sewing Basics series, including
- How to buy a sewing machine for beginners,
- How to use a sewing machine for beginners,
- All about bobbins, and
- Sewing machine presser foot guide.
Book Review: Girl With a Sewing Machine
As the title suggests, Girl With a Sewing Machine: The No-Fuss Guide to Making and Adapting Your Own Clothes (available through independent booksellers or on Amazon) by Jenniffer Taylor (also known as Tailor Taylor or The Sewing Revolution) is a beginner-friendly guide for new sewists who aspire to make their own garments. The book opens with a glimpse of Jenniffer’s personality – a picture of a wall where people have shared their handwritten thoughts on what “Sewing Is…” In the Introduction and My Sewing Journey, Jenniffer shares her story of finding her passion for sewing as an adult after deciding to make her own wedding dress. After the success of that first big project, she ended up as a contestant on The Great British Sewing Bee – I won’t spoil how, you’ll have to read the book! – et voilà, a star (of sewing) was born.
The next section is Sewing Kit, which shares a list of all the things you will need to get started sewing. Here again, you can get to know Jenniffer because rather than the flat lay type of supply photos that are common in most sewing books, there is a picture of Jenniffer’s sewing room, with the items numbered so you can identify the different supplies. (Here is where I learned that “earbuds” in British English means “cotton swabs” in US English!) The next section is Fabricology, where Jenniffer’s advice is somewhat different than what you might find in most beginner sewing books because she has such a heavy emphasis on upcycling. She speaks fondly of her local haberdasheries (also known as sewing shops in the US) but also recommends other sources, like thrift stores, as well as tips for keeping your fabric budget low. This section also includes helpful terminology such as a list of fabric terms and a list of seam finishings, each with a photo so you can recognize the different seam types.
The next sections contain the patterns. In Getting Started, Jenniffer introduces the “Top Tips,” which are short, yet helpful hints that are sprinkled throughout the rest of the book. The Top Tips have an illustration of a spool of thread so they are easy to spot within patterns. There are four patterns in Getting Started: a vintage pincushion, a scarf top made from large square scarves, a pair of mittens and a snood (cowl) made from an upcycled jumper (also known as a knit in wool sweater in the US), and a festival pouch to attach to a belt made from an upcycled pair of jeans. In Customising Clothes, Jenniffer first shares tips for using vintage doilies, embroidery, stamping, and tie-dying to customize ready-to-wear garments. Then she shares two patterns for customizing existing tops, including adding tassels and removing a collar and sleeves from a men’s button-down shirt. In Making Clothes from Scratch, Jenniffer begins with a section on taking accurate measurements for great fit. The patterns in this section include three dresses, two sleeveless tops, a skirt, a blanket coat, and a pair of wrap trousers (pants). In total, there are 14 patterns in the book, and each pattern section contains progressively more challenging patterns.
Within each pattern, you’ll find a short introduction by Jenniffer, a list of materials needed, a list of skills completing the pattern will teach you, and the seam allowance you should use. The patterns in Making Clothes from Scratch additionally include instructions for the body measurements needed for making the clothes. The patterns are then written in steps, which are numbered and correspond to photos. For more complex parts of a pattern – such as how to make inseam pockets or specialized seams – or alternative necklines, Jenniffer includes a separate group of instructions which are set apart from the main pattern with color boxes. In addition to the progress photos, each pattern includes large photos of the patterns, and the clothing patterns include pictures from multiple angles so details such as necklines or interesting backs are visible. The book finishes with an index.
Although Girl With a Sewing Machine (available through independent booksellers or on Amazon) is a paperback book, it does have front and back cover flaps so it is easy to keep your place while sewing. This book doesn’t include “patterns” which you cut out but rather “recipes” which explain to you how to do your own measurements and patternmaking. If you follow the step-by-step guidelines, you’ll learn how to measure yourself and how to get a better fit. However, you won’t learn how to use conventional patterns, so you may find yourself with another (small) learning curve if you later decide that adapting conventional patterns to fit is something you’d like to try. Jenniffer’s instructions are chatty and friendly, and you can feel her personality shining through. If you’d like to have the feeling of sewing with a friendly teacher, this is a great book for you. If you’re more interested in “getting to the point,” you may find the conversational tone distracting at some points. There are lots of nuggets of knowledge about sewing in these little bits of conversation, so you will likely build more confidence and gain a clearer understanding by reading through the instructions. I would recommend Girl With a Sewing Machine (available through independent booksellers or on Amazon) to a first time garment maker who is interested in upcycling and who plans to draft their own patterns rather than rely on commercial patterns to make clothes.
Book Review: A Beginner’s Guide to Machine Sewing
As the title suggests, A Beginner’s Guide to Machine Sewing: 50 Lessons & 15 Projects to Get You Started (available through independent booksellers or on Amazon) by Clémentine Collinet is a book for beginners who specifically want to learn more about their sewing machine. Clémentine is a French illustrator of children’s books who also loves to sew, and her whimsical style is visible throughout the book. In her introduction, she explains that the book will lead you from basic through more advanced projects to build your skills.
Before Starting is a 10-page section including Your Sewing Machine, Preparing the Bobbins, The Ideal Sewing Box, and Commonly Used Terms. Clémentine introduces tools and terminology with short bullet points and large photos.
The next section, Sewing Simple Items, is split into 23 lessons and five projects. Each set of lessons culminates in a project. For example, Lessons 1 through 7 (Preparing Your Work, Using Straight Stitch, Making a Corner Seam, Finishing Off A Seam: Reverse or Knot, Oversewing and Cutting, and Closing Up a Seam) lead you to making your first project, a flat pincushion. The next section, Sew Your Own Clothes, is divided into 12 lessons and three projects. Sew Accessories includes 10 additional lessons and five more projects. The final section, Sew A Bag, includes the remaining five lessons and two projects. The lessons start with brief introductions to the technique or skill being taught and then include brief bulleted instructions with large photographs. Tips and common questions are included in white boxes throughout the book. The projects include an introduction to the pattern, sizing information (garment projects indicate whether hems or seams need to be added to the patterns), and a materials list, followed by brief step-by-step instructions. There are plenty of large photos of each project, usually featuring Clémentine hugging the finished project or smiling brightly.
A Beginner’s Guide to Machine Sewing (available through independent booksellers or on Amazon) is a paperback book which makes it a bit harder to read and sew at the same time. However, because of the size of the book itself, it does tend to lay flat in most sections and it does have a front cover flaps to keep your place while sewing. The back flap contains printed patterns for the three garment projects. The book includes both a detailed table of contents, which lists each lesson topic and each project, and an index. This book includes simple instructions but they are clearly outlined and progressive. Clémentine’s personality comes out not through the written instructions (which are translated from the original French, anyway), but from the pictures. Her joy at sewing is evident in the way that she holds or wears the finished projects, and her smile is a bit infectious. I would recommend A Beginner’s Guide to Machine Sewing (available through independent booksellers or on Amazon) to a sewist that wants to learn the ins and outs of machine sewing, try a variety of projects, and learn to use printed patterns. The garments are only available in a few sizes, so this is not a size inclusive book. However, it does teach a variety of skills that would be helpful in sewing garments at larger or smaller sizes.
Book Review: Sewing for the Absolute Beginner
As the title suggests, Sewing for the Absolute Beginner by Caroline Smith is a beginner’s guide to sewing. It is written in the style of a reference book that you can come back to frequently for information, rather than as a teaching book where you might read it straight through while working on projects. In the introduction, Caroline shares some of the joys of sewing and introduces sewing as a way to make gifts for others.
In Fabric Know-How, you’ll learn all about fabric, while Equipment reviews the tools you’ll need while also discussing materials like threads. Hand stitches provides an overview of basting, running stitch, backstitch, slipstitch, overhand stitch, hem stitch, catchstitch, and blanket stitch, and then includes written instructions with photos of the needle at work for each stitch. Sewing Machine Basics explains the parts of the machine, including common stitches and presser feet, how to sew, and how to correct thread tension. Seams and Hems describe and share pictures of different seaming and hemming techniques, while Patterns and Scaling provides an overview of using both commercial patterns and drafting your own patterns. These sections are followed by five home decor patterns.
Mitred Corners provides written instructions and progress photos for both double and single mitred corners, while Buttons explains how to sew on buttons and make buttonholes by hand. Loops, Ties, and Tabs and Zips (Zippers in US terms) describes different ways to add these fasteners. These sections are followed by five patterns (including four for home decor and one children’s pattern).
Bias Binding, Bias Strips, and Piping share instructions for using these for finishing raw edges or for decoration. These sections are followed by five home decor patterns. Using Trims is followed by four patterns for home decor and bags. Quilting Techniques introduces simple, line quilting and is followed by seven home decor projects, most of which use some quilting for decoration. (Note that this section is literally about quilting, and not using the word quilting as a catchall term to encompass patchwork, assembling a quilt, and then quilting through the layers.) The book ends with a Fabric Glossary where you can look up common sewing terms, and an index.
Each pattern includes an introduction with tips (such as how to choose fabrics or construction details), You Will Need (a supply list), and Making Up (a set of bulleted instructions with progress photos). The larger projects include more fabric details but the smaller projects do not necessarily include fabric amounts. The projects typically include one photo highlighting project details.
Sewing for the Absolute Beginner is available as a spiral-bound book, or as a softcover. Its smaller size means it’s a bit more portable so you could bring it with you to sewing class or to a sewing circle and refer back to it. The book is best for someone looking for a reference book to check for sewing terms or to learn about fabrics, stitches, and materials. The book also includes 25 projects, most of which are for home decor or for using at home (such as an apron), which you can use to practice sewing. While the projects are simple, as you become more confident, you can embellish them.
So which beginner sewing book is right for you?
In this post, I’ve shared three different books and while you can certainly buy all three, each is a bit different so there may be one that is perfect for you.
- Sewing for the Absolute Beginner is a general sewing reference book that also includes an array of simple projects. This is best for someone who may be using other sources for project inspiration and wants an offline reference book to check while sewing.
- A Beginner’s Guide to Machine Sewing: 50 Lessons & 15 Projects to Get You Started (available through independent booksellers or on Amazon) is a skill-building book for those who want to focus on machine sewing and who are interested in making a variety of projects including home decor, simple garments, and bags.
- Girl With a Sewing Machine: The No-Fuss Guide to Making and Adapting Your Own Clothes (available through independent booksellers or on Amazon) is geared towards people who want to learn to sew and build sewing skills on a sewing machine while making and customizing garments that fit their own bodies without the use of patterns. This is also the right book for someone who wants to feel like they are side-by-side with a teacher, as Jenniffer’s personality comes through in the writing.
I hope this helps you decide which book is right for you!