The Great British Sewing Bee Book Review 2014

By Claire Mackaness of Beautiful Things BeautifulThings

  As the owner of a craft and sewing workshop The Great British Sewing Bee is an annual television event that brings us no end of new business. It’s extremely important that we are on top of all the latest news, so as soon as the current book was released ‘Sew Your Own Wardrobe’ I got straight onto Amazon Prime next day delivery and ordered myself a copy, paying £21 for it and then finding out two days later that they were in fact on SALE ‘already’ in WH Smith for a teeny tiny £12.99!!

  Pounds and pennies aside, on first impressions I was pleasantly surprised to find a separate folder included with my book consisting of 5 pull out pattern sheets, containing full sized patterns for all the garments featured in the book. No links to print and stick PDFs in sight and nice, easy to trace and well marked pieces. As far as the opening pages of the book go, they offer clear and concise information on different types of fabric and why you would choose them, techniques for cutting and piecing and lots of handy guides to hand stitching and creating button holes, inserting zips etc.

  As you move onto the patterns themselves you might be a little un-impressed at first, certainly if you’re a novice sewer you will be feeling a bit scared at this point as some of the first patterns you find are an anorak and a prom dress! I’m sure as the show continues on BBC 2 on Tuesday evenings we will start to see why such items have been included in the book as we have been hinted at by Patrick and May that all of the patterns in the new book are featured at some point in the show. For instance last week’s box pleated skirt is in there and I will be very interested to see the show when the dress I have tried to make is featured, doubtless in a few weeks’ time. (At the time of writing this review I was not aware of the content of Tuesday 4th March’s show but if we are really lucky, who knows it may have been on!)

  Even though the first few patterns look slightly scary, I could see from this point that there were clear images and step by step instructions so I assumed (perhaps somewhat naively) that the items would be easy enough to attempt.After having a good look through I decided the best way to see how the book read was to actually try a pattern. At first I was tempted by the shift dress on page 124, but putting my sensible head on I realised my somewhat curvy figure would not squeeze into such figure hugging lines and turned over to the next project, the ‘Full Skirted Dress’.

  I was pleased to read that the pattern required you to make the bodice as per the shift dress so I could still try my hand at those lovely darts and a princess-sided bodice. What the pattern didn’t say was that if you were making the full skirted version there was no need to cut all the arm facings on the pattern, meaning I wasted quite a bit of time, effort and fabric in cutting additional pieces. Having made two dresses in the past I had tackled a lay plan before and was fortunate enough to realise that two of the pieces had been incorrectly labelled. I’ve now made a note in the book itself for future reference but for those with the book: (page 124shift dress lay plan – front side bodice should read, front BACK bodice and back bodice cut 2, should read FRONT bodice).

  So I set to assembling my bodice and was pleasantly surprised with how clear the instructions were. I managed to make a nice fitting top half, although I have to admit it was very, very snug. I am a size 14 and had decided to
make a 16 to allow for the garment to be taken in if needed. I always like to err on the side of caution and I am very glad I did, as the patterns are far from generous!

  Once I’d finished the bodice, although I was not moving on to adding a skirt to it as per the shift dress instructions, I did notice that a vital part of the instructions was missing! The skirt shows darts on the waistband but nowhere does it instruct you to sew them in!

  Moving onto the full skirt pattern and following the instructions for the attaching of the bodice I worked my way smoothly through, inserting my zip and then trying it on for fit. It’s at this point we made my little flipbook vid and you can see that the dress falls nicely but the bodice is really too high under the bust line and is pulling at the seams.

  I took the dress out slightly to allow for the pull, but the bodice issue could only be solved by lengthening the pattern pieces and re-making. Not something a novice could do, so be warned if you try this pattern out, you will end up with an empire line frock!

  Last but not least came the sleeves, again good clear instructions and although fiddly with lots of hand stitching we got there in the end. Although once again there is an error in the book! (For those who have it, on page 134 the image of the facings has simply been edited from the shift dress and you do not need to cut arm facings as you will have used binding).

  So all in all, what do I think?

A nice book, clear instructions and well put together, but sadly not tested or proofread accurately. If a novice was to pick up this book they would instantly get stuck and give it up as a bad job.

  There is no excuse for badly written patterns in a sewing book, but if you read through the thanks and acknowledgments in the back it sounds like the writing team was working to pulled in deadlines from the publishing house.

  It’s a shame as the show is wonderful and gets so many people itching to start sewing. Naturally they are going to reach for a book that accompanies the show, but will find themselves up against a brick wall very quickly.

  I will try a few more of the patterns in the book and see how I go with them, bearing in mind need to be watchful for errors and make the biggest sizes going! (Up to an 18).

  As a general sewing book there are useful pages on zip insertion and handstitching etc., but as a whole I would give this book a 6/10.

  I’m expecting quite a few calls to our studio in the near future for help with some of these projects!

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