Book Review: Sewing Basics by Sandra Bardwell

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to write a review of one of the first sewing books I ever bought – Sewing Basics: All You Need To Know About Machine And Hand Sewing by Sandra Bardwell. As a self-taught sewist, I have relied completely on books and internet resources in order to teach myself the most basic sewing skills. Since the Sewing Basics book was foundational in terms of my sewing knowledge, I thought that it would be a worthy book to offer up for review on Sew for Victory – particularly for those of you who, like me, are entirely self-taught.

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When I initially set out to learn to sew, I knew that it was going to be an uphill battle. I armed myself with a couple of very basic patterns – hoping that they would teach me as I went – and the cheapest sewing machine that I could find on Amazon. From here, it was really a matter of learning on the job. But I knew that I needed to work simultaneously to  build my basic knowledge of garment construction. The problem with learning as I went along was that – even though I might produce a wearable garment at the end of the process – everything felt a little bit jerry-rigged. Although I always knew that this would be a natural part of learning a new skill from scratch, I did want to make sure that I was learning the right way to do things. Without a teacher, this was quite a challenge.

It’s for this reason that I picked out the Sewing Basics book. I was most impressed by how comprehensive the contents of the volume seemed and I certainly wasn’t disappointed by the detail of the chapters themselves.

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The book really builds you from the ground up in learning to sew. From working out what tools you will need to figuring out how to sew different kinds of seams, Sewing Basics really does what it says in the title – it teaches you the very basics. But, since the book is so comprehensive, I still use it as a reference point on different techniques about which I’m unsure. This is definitely a book that will take you further than simply learning the basics of sewing into building skills that I would consider more advanced.

One of the best things about Sewing Basics is that it goes beyond just reciting facts by also offering a number of helpful tutorials. There is, for example, information on how to produce piping and how to use various methods of hand embroidery.

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It’s a tiny croissant!

That said, the book is incredibly instructional when it comes to the basics. Each part comes with very clear pictures, as well as detailed information that is easy to comprehend. I was able to understand and use this book with absolutely no previous sewing knowledge and, at no point, did I feel out of my depth or unable to grasp the meanings of the various sections. The layout of each chapter and section of the book varies depending on the information being presented. There are paragraphs of text, plenty of pictures, and – where necessary – tables of information. I really appreciated the layout of the information presented in the chapter ‘Fabrics and Interfacings’.

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For someone with no knowledge, this ‘school textbook’ approach is really useful and illuminating. It also ensures that the book continues to serve as an excellent and easy-to-use reference guide where you aren’t having to search around for ages to find the appropriate information.

I particularly love the pictures in the book. They are so well laid out and help to ensure that, at no point, is the reader having to look up additional visual information online. I’ve found this to be a big problem with a lot of the ‘foundational’ sewing guides – there’s always plenty of information presented textually but, without good accompanying pictures, it’s very difficult for a beginner to understand how this information would apply visually. Sewing Basics really doesn’t suffer from this issue.

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All in all, I think that Sewing Basics by Sandra Bardwell is a worthy place to start for anyone interested in learning to sew – or anyone simply looking to fill the gaps in their sewing knowledge. I know that there are a huge number of basic techniques that I still don’t have down quite as well as I could, so having a guide to the foundations of sewing is always useful. This book is definitely an excellent companion!


Sewing Basics: All You Need To Know About Machine And Hand Sewing by Sandra Bardwell is a UK book but seems to be readily available in the US. You can find it here on Amazon US or, alternatively, on Amazon UK here.

Book Review: Vintage Details – A Fashion Sourcebook by Jeffrey Mayer and Basia Szkutnicka

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As a self-taught seamstress, I’ve relied heavily on a variety of different resources to help me learn and develop my skills. As much as I love a good Youtube video – and they’re pretty indispensable for seeing exactly how things are supposed to be done – books are definitely my go-to place for learning or refreshing my knowledge! As my sewing library has grown, I’ve developed a core group of reference books, all of which I continually return to when I need a little inspiration. But of all my books, none has been so vital to me as Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook by Jeffrey Mayer and Basnia Szkutnicka.* Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows that I talk about this book with incredible regularity because it is such a valuable resource for my sewing adventures. So I thought that it was high time that I write up a review on Sew for Victory for all those of you who might need a little bit of added vintage inspiration.

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Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook is exactly what it claims to be – a sourcebook. It’s an incredibly well categorised and curated set of photos of different garments, covering the years from 1913 to 1995. As you can see from the Contents page above, the garments are indexed and referenced, as appropriate, in the book’s various chapters. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of vintage detailing – from stunning necklines to gorgeous embellishments.

The Visual Index provides a full-length shot of all of the garments referenced in the book, organised by date, and providing a brief set of details. It’s important to note that more detailed close-up shots of the garments are given in the chapters where they are referenced (so, for example, if a dress is referenced under the ‘Collars’ section, you can expect close-up shots of the collar). The Visual Index is important, however, because it allows you to have a flip through to find particular periods of interest and then cross-reference with any sections of the book that you’re especially keen to look at. As you can see from the photo below, the information in the Visual Index also provides page numbers for where each garment is referenced, as well as abbreviations for the section (for example, EMB for embellishments or SLV for sleeves). This system makes the book incredibly simple to use. When I was making my dress for the Big Vintage Sew-Along, for example, I knew that I wanted to add some authentic 1930s flairs to the pattern. Looking for inspiration, I cycled through the Visual Index to the 1930s dresses and paid particular attention to those referenced in the EMB section of the book. Quick and easy.

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As I mentioned above, where the garments pop up in later sections, you will find more detailed shots of the garment. What you won’t find, however, is any great amount of information about the garment and the details on which the specific section focuses. The information provided in the book’s main sections is a simple reiteration of what you find in the Visual Index – so very basic info regarding the year, location, colour and fabric. This book is entirely a photo sourcebook. While that is incredibly valuable in its own right, it can be a little frustrating when you are looking to incorporate something of what you’re seeing into your own makes – particularly if you’re a relative beginner to vintage sewing and wouldn’t be able to replicate garments/details from sight. I tend to use this book for the first stages of gathering inspiration. I might be looking at colours, buttons, piping – things that are easily replicable without having to drastically alter whatever pattern I’m working with. If you’re at the pre-pattern selection phase, the book can be a useful resource simply for considering silhouettes. If, for example, you know you want to make a 1950s inspired dress but aren’t sure where you want to go with it, it can be useful to look at the various shapes of 1950s garments before settling on a pattern.

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Of course, this book is an incredible resource beyond the sewing world. For anyone simply interested in vintage fashion, it certainly satisfies curiosity. I find myself flipping through the pages with nothing particular in mind, continuously stumbling upon photos that pique my interest. The photos are so incredibly well-taken and the book is so well organised that it would make for a perfect coffee-table book, as well as an obvious addition to the library of any vintage sewist.

I don’t need to tell you all how massively I recommend this book. I’m clearly a fan! But especially for those of you who have an interest in vintage fashion or sewing, Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook will definitely serve as a fantastic resource that I have no doubt you’ll be returning to time and time again.


Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook by Jeffrey Mayer and Basia Szkutnicka is available pretty much everywhere. It is available on both US Amazon and UK Amazon.

* Sidenote: I’m not being paid to review this book. My husband bought it for me ages ago and I just happen to think it’s amazing!

No Snow, All Sew

Sweetpeas!

Firstly, sorry for my blogging neglect this month. I’ve been away from my sewing machine, and a stream of family events have totally soaked up my December. Fortunately, things are a little calmer now that the holidays have passed – although I still have 10 days of time in the US!

That said, I’ve had a super successful Christmas sewing-wise. My family have totally embraced the hobby and have taken it upon themselves to give me gifts that would held me move forward with new projects and skills.

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From my fiancé’s lovely parents, I got a couple of sewing-themed books: ‘Couture Sewing Techniques’ by Claire Shaeffer (which I’m already knee-deep in) and ‘Everyday Fashions of the Forties’. The second is an amazing collection of illustrations, photos and ads from Sears Catalogues of the 1940s. Also pictured are two gorgeous vintage brooches bought for me by my mum and the photo’s background is 3m of a 1940s fabric from my parents. Needless to say, I’m insanely excited to find a pattern worthy of this material!

Knowing my love of old magazines, my fiancé got me three American magazines from the 1940s (two Woman’s Day, and one Better Homes and Gardens). He also got me a couple of old sewing manuals, providing tips on various vintage sewing techniques.

Accessories

And finally, my fiance’s parents sorted me out with some extra accessories! Pictured on the right of the photo is a tomato pincushion – I’m told this is an American staple!

So there’s no doubt that I did very well this year, and I can’t wait to get back home so that I can start putting everything to use. For now, I’m contenting myself with a stroll through the magazines and books. The collection of 1940s Sears Catalogue photos has been providing me with some extra inspiration for future makes. A few dresses have totally caught my eye:

Aren’t they divine? I just need to find some patterns that will work!

Anyway, my loves, I hope that you have all had a fabulous December, whether celebrating Christmas, another holiday, or just relishing in the winter weather. I’ll be back shortly with a few new patterns that I’ve collected, plus some insights into the domestic life of the 1940s. In the meantime, have a fabulous New Year’s celebration – I’m massively looking forward to getting to know you all even better in 2016!

Laura x

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Me and Mama Clarke doing some vintage hat shopping!