A top book to help make your own clothes (plus my first making disaster)

The Encyclopedia of Sewing Techniques

The Encyclopedia Of Sewing Techniques by Wendy Gardiner

Before I bought my sewing machine, when it was just a whim that I might make my own clothes, I checked out this book to see what kinds of thing I might need to learn. It convinced me that it was a sound idea and so I bought my sewing machine and haven’t yet regretted it (unlike the knitting machine, much regret there). It was so useful that I ended up with library fines for not returning it on time and had to buy my own copy.

So with this book, having read the sewing machine manual and bought some charity shop sheets, cotton saris and curtains to practice on, and some sewing patterns from eBay, I got on with making stuff. I had some disasters, but that I made anything at all is down to this book, as I’m completely self taught. (More after the jump, this is a long post!)

A sewing disaster example: This is  sewing a bit I didn’t intend to when making a bodice section of a pinafore. One thing you need aside from a book, is a bit of practice, and these days this kind of  mess doesn’t happen as I’m more careful in my pining and only getting the layers I want under the actual needle.

First ever dress

Disaster aside, this book is a great aid when you are following a sewing pattern, as you can quickly look up the words you don’t understand (like selvedge, top stitch, gather, nap etc). I used it this week to revise a technique for hand sewing a hem. Everything is laid out in an easy to read way and as a beginner I never stumble over passages, having to reread them, like I have with some sewing pattern instructions. There are full colour photos and diagrams all over it.

Incidentally I did fix and finish the dress and even wore it once, but then it went back into the fabric pile and has recently been reused as pocket lining. It was a very easy Simplicity pattern and wasn’t very faltering (and why didn’t I tidy my room before taking this picture?).

Dress first ever purple multi pattern (3)

Back to the point – I would really recommend this book for beginners, as it will give you the confidence to give it a try and it’s easy to find what you need to read when you are stuck. I wouldn’t read it cover to cover, but the first half is a great grounding, covering everything:

which sewing machine feet are which, common sewing terms explained, choosing the right fabric, how to use a sewing pattern, what tools and materials you will need, all about seams, hems, stabilizers, interfacing, hand stitching, gathers, pockets, waistbands, zips, which needle to use on what fabric etc.

I think the only negative point is that it does look a little bit dated, but this is more in the fabrics shown in the photos. There is a section on soft furnishings like curtains, and another on special sewing techniques like quilting and free hand embroidery that you might never use, but is not the majority of the book. I have never used some bits – is fringing and beading really necessary in the essential hand stitches section? How about the usefulness of smocking? But it is an encyclopedia, so it needs everything. Besides, fringed smocked dresses might come into fashion and I’ll be the one who can make them, with couture lace panels, couching, self covered buttons and bound button holes!

[This franken-dress idea makes me think that  maybe there should be a “use all the techniques at once” challenge? Maybe not with the intention of making something in a wearable style.]

There are useful bits on adding bias binding and using knit fabrics tucked away in sections I wouldn’t have put them in, but I found them through the index, so no harm done.

In case I forgot anythings, here is what it says on Amazon.co.uk :

The complete step-by-step guide to hand and machine sewing, combining basic know-how for the beginner with advanced techniques for the more experienced…... All the techniques are clearly illustrated with photographs, diagrams, and easy to follow step-by-step instructions. – The complete step-by-step guide to hand and machine sewing – The book combines basic know-how for the beginner with advance techniques for the more experienced sewer – Beautifully illustrated with full colour photography

I know a lot of sewers who are learning from blogs and Youtube, but I’d suggest having a book instead. Reading blogs only gives you what that writer has thought of to share, it won’t be everything you need to know and even an expert will forget things, if they don’t have an editor and a team making sure their blog is encyclopedic. You can only google or youtube for the things you are aware that you don’t know. This book has the unknown unknowns (and I can’t remember which American politicians came up with that phrase, but he may have been an idiot savant).

After reading, when following the given directions in a pattern for the first time, for example with pleats or darts, you can understand better because you understand the end goal, which make interpreting the diagrams and cryptic instructions a lot easier.

With this book you’ll have a lot of information presented in a logical order and in an understandable way, which is the best you could wish for. (And no, the publisher hasn’t paid or in anyway sponsored this post.)

One comment

  1. Really enjoyable, but I have to get showered and ready for work, am so absorbed by your writing, have lost half hour this morning!

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