Learn To Sew With Lauren

Learn To Sew With LaurenThis is the debut sewing book from Lauren Guthrie. Maybe you remember her from the first series of The Great British Sewing Bee? That seems a lifetime ago now. Back then, we had no idea if the series would be any good, what or whom it might feature. Little did we know that an institution and new careers were in the making!

I vividly remember Lauren’s dedication to a clean and pretty aesthetic, executed to a high standard, and you’ll definitely see those principles reproduced in this book for beginners. Crisp lawns and cottons abound, along with pretty bias tape and liberty print details. Lauren is a woman of taste and her aesthetic is arguably one of the main reasons for buying this book over others aimed at beginners.

Learn To Sew With Lauren iThere’s a range of techniques and projects, aimed at steering a beginner through makes, from bow belts and scarves (above) to skirts and dresses and children’s outfits. It’s not all dressmaking. There are bags and quilts and roman blinds, something I’m desperate to make!

Roman blinds

These PJ bottoms are cute, aren’t they?


Four books have emerged from The Great British Sewing Bee so far, priced between £20-£25. (Not that many of us pay the full cover price, or have for a long time now.) I’m sure more are in the pipeline and wonder how many sewing books can or will be published on the back of this massively successful programme. Not forgetting that the US version hasn’t even gone live yet!

My palate is starting to crave something aimed at people who may have been sewing for a few more years, or someone who wants to aspire through their reading. One day I might be able to do that, too! That’s what started me sewing and I’d happily pay £25 for a book by Beth or Ann. Beginner Sewists won’t stay novices for ever and will want something for the next step in their sewing careers. (And their loved ones will want more ideas for Christmas gifts!) I hope publishers are already drawing up their grand plans, because I don’t think the sewing craze is going away.

Good luck to Lauren and her book! She seems lovely and has clearly worked like a trojan. She deserves success.

What do you look for in a sewing book?

This post was written as part of a book blog tour organised by Octopus Books.


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46 Responses to Learn To Sew With Lauren

  1. surreyjan says:

    Karen, I so agree with you last comments. If it wasn’t for your blog and others like it, where do us fairly new sewists go to further our knowledge, experience and inspiration as well as taking our learning to the next levels. I dive into every bookshop whenever I go shopping in the hope of finding just such a tome but most of them have over HALF the books that are available dedicated to what a sewing machine, cotton reel and pair of scissors looks like???? There is certainly a place for beginners but a vast chasm for those of us ready to move on. I have learned much from Craftsy.com classes and they have excellent standards for all levels of experience – when are we going to catch up in the UK? Get writing Karen – you could do it.

  2. I am in agreement. There are a plethora of beginner’s sewing books, all eye candy and I am sure very well written but they just don’t appeal as they are far too basic. I did buy a few when they first started appearing on the market but I would love to cut my teeth on something really challenging like proper tailoring. Saying that, I have been enjoying “Draping: The Complete Course” by Karolyn Kilsel as this is a skill I could do with learning properly but tis is not really a beginner’s book, just a sewing one. Can never have too many of those!

  3. anenthusiast says:

    Who are you kidding, Karen? I would DEFINITELY buy a book aimed at the aspiring seamstress written by you! You have both the writing skills and the sewing skills… Can we start a petition??

  4. I think that you have tapped into something because I totally agree with the other comments and feel the same about all the (beginners) sewing books,Thankfully we have blogs like yours to inspire us and keep challenging ourselves with more involved techniques.
    I haven’t bought a sewing book in awhile because I want something that is a step up from the beginners level. The last book I bought was Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer, but this feels like such a huge leap from the normal sewing books (and in my skill level), I do think there is a massive gap the publishers are missing though, I second the motion for you to bridge that gap (should you wish…he he)
    Good luck to Lauren though, it looks like a lovely gift for someone who is just starting to sew.

  5. luckycat99 says:

    I agree. Apart from the couture book someone mentioned, there are very few good books available for the sewist who wants to advance their skills. I rely heavily on blogs and the internet but at times a book is preferable, such as when wifi is on the blink. There is definitely a gap in the market. I have to say that the Craftsy classes seem quite expensive as they seem to offer very little in terms of skill advancement compared to what you might pay for a whole book. My ‘go to’ is my Readers Digest book. Does anyone have any other recommendations?

    • Oh, the Reader’s Digest book is my Bible too.

    • Ms. McCall says:

      As you move on from beginner material, the books that are interesting are necessarily more specific. I love the David Coffin Shirtmaking book (but not the trousers), I think the Singer series on different types of garments are great if you’re actually making that kind of garment. I only put it that way because I took the jacket book out of the library a while back and found it boring. Now that I’m making a jacket it’s suddenly very interesting. For general reading I love Adele P. Margolis’ writing.

      I don’t read threads, but I imagine that’s where a lot of people end up when wanting sewing related reading material.

  6. amcclure2014 says:

    This looks like a lovely book. I might get it for my daughter who is starting to sew. Although I am a beginner, I have too many books aimed at absolute beginners and like the others above, am looking for the next step, which would allow me to produce garments to a high standard. Though obviously some practice would help! I bought the couture book mentioned but agree there is a gap in the market for a book aimed at the intermediate/aspiring sewer.

  7. Marianne says:

    Those beginner books are much hyped and available in a lot of bookstores. You can look inside, get carried away by the beautiful pictures and buy on impulse. Lauren’s book looks great and will be of help to many beginners but I’m with you on cranking up the levels. I love all books by Kenneth D. King, Claire Shaeffer, Lynda Maynard and Susan Khalje but have never seen any of them on the shelves of a bookstore. Therefore I love it when experienced sewists review their favourite sewing books!

    • I think some of the laudable books you mention are what publishers would describe as niche. A potential purchaser has to be passionate about their hobby, research the books and seek them out. They probably don’t sell enough copies a week to justify space on a bookshop shelf – but I’m quite certain make great backlist income as classics that will be sought out year after year.

  8. Kerry says:

    Gosh, I absolutely agree with you Karen! I wonder if the market is a little saturated with beginner level books at the minute and I think something ‘in between’ beginner and couture would be popular. Perhaps not such an obvious or easy to capture market but surely it will come in time.

  9. Michelle Pye says:

    Michelle Pye English Couture. I have been trying to get sewing magazines & book publishers to fill this gap for about 3 years. I have even offered to write the articles for free. They are not interested as the beginners market is the big thing, jumping on the back of the beginners TV programmes. I’ve tried to point out that beginners will not stay beginners but they just fob me off. I have a couple of books started but can’t get anyone interested in publishing them. I would support you all the way if you could get anything going.

  10. thewallinna says:

    I could not agree more with other comments: please, more books for advanced seamstresses! My favourite book of all times is ‘Couture Techniques’ by Claire Shaeffer where I can find answers to many of my questions. Currently, I am working on coats but there is not much printed information about it out there, so I spent hours browsing sewing blogs and forums.

  11. Ros says:

    I thought it was interesting that Sally from Charity Shop Chic aimed her new line of patterns deliberately at the intermediate to advanced market. I think there is definitely a niche out there for people who have been sewing for a while and want to keep improving their techniques. I would be surprised, however, if that niche is big enough for publishers to make money on expensive hardback books with lovely illustrations. I could be wrong, but that’s my sense. So I think the door is open for individual entrepreneurs to fill it. Like you did with your little bound buttonhole booklet. Self-publishing is doable these days, even with print books via Createspace or Lulu. You don’t have to stack boxes of the things in your garage, wondering how to sell them. I’d love to see more technique books produced in this sort of way. Someone just needs to grasp the opportunity!

  12. Hila says:

    Amen to that! I usually try books out from my local library before commiting to buying (i used to just buy but now am more selective). I have found beginner books to be pretty but I quickly have no further use for them beyond one or two things. The book I always pull out when doing a project and am having ‘wtf’ is The Sewing Book by DK. It almost always sorts out things :-).

  13. accordion3 says:

    My favorites are the Singer series and the Readers digest Guide to Sewing. Very neatly cover the gap between novice and couture.

    Got them all via Amazon.

  14. Mertxe says:

    I agree with you here, we need more advanced sewing books! But I also want to comment on the TV programme. I’ve been following in the net since the begining, and I love it, but there is a huge black hole in it, in my opinion. It is the haste to sew, totally oposite to my sewing philosophy. In the past, I used to value quantitiy over quality, but after 25 years of sewing I can say I have more clothes than I need (to put it mildly), so I decided to slow down a bit, and make good quality pieces, fewer but better. When in doubt, I always chose the slow path, the “well done” technique. And I am sorry to say, this is opposite to TGBSB dinamics, where the sewists are always fighting agaisnt time. It makes me nervous!!!

  15. Agree so much with you Karen, and everyone else who has commented. I’ve been sewing for 2 years and have taught myself mainly by following sewing blogs (yours was one of the first!). I bought the Colette Sewing Handbook and another book which particularly focused on using the machine – and they were very helpful during those early months. However, whilst I still have a huge amount to learn and am still a massive amatuer, I wouldn’t even consider purchasing another beginners book when there’s so much to be discovered through blogs – I’d rather spend what little cash I have on fabric (or an overlocker!!). I’ve made a note of some of the more intermediate books mentioned by everyone else here, and will be seeking them out!

  16. LinB says:

    At this point in my sewing career (47 years and counting) the sewing books I seek are from the 19th century, detailed drafting and tailoring texts that show now-abandoned techniques that might be applicable to modern garments. That, and stage costuming textbooks. These texts are very helpful in illuminating short-cuts in construction (all those masses of costumes to churn out in a short while, you know) that would not hurt the final result of day-to-day wear. Plus they are helpful in showing what steps to skip for a one-time-only wearing (community theatre one-off production, Halloween costume, bridal gown, etc.). There’s no need to finish seams in a thing that will only be seen for a few hours, then tossed away or stored for posterity, never to see the light of day again. Also, velcro. Hook-and-loop tape is faster to install than zippers. These are useful in my life, now.

    • anenthusiast says:

      Wow! 47 years is impressive!

      • LinB says:

        Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? I was shocked when I did the math. My mother let me learn to use her sewing machine when I was eight. The pillowcase I ran up was put into regular household use until it fell apart from age and general wearing out. She was a good mother and always used the wonky things her children made for her. (She is a good mama, still. She still sews a bit, but that machine — a wedding gift from my dad to her — is lurking in a closet in somebody else’s house, now.

  17. Shelley says:

    I think any book that encourages creativity is fab. I suppose I am an intermediate sewist, but love books aimed at any level including children’s. I have found blogs such as yours really helpful and inspiring, but nothing beats a good solid book. I love browsing and getting ideas and inspiration, as do my young daughters. I’d love Lauren’s book, the glimpses I’ve seen look great, there is a skirt pattern that especially interests me. I love the pretty details she includes. WhiIe I may not make everything in the book cost per pattern still works out good value compared to buying individual patterns. I have a well laden sewing bookshelf, non of which are a definitive guide to sewing for me nor would I want any book to be. I think as individuals we look for different things and use different methods anyway so it would be impossible for anyone to write the perfect sewing book for me. What excuse would I have for more sewing book porn if such a book was written? So there is probably space on my shelf for “Learn to Sew With Lauren” and others. Good luck to Lauren and to any other aspiring craft authors.

    • Oh, I totally agree about children’s books. (I may be biased – I publish children’s books for a living!) But seriously, if you want an accessible, highly illustrated intro to a new topic, the best thing you can do is go to the children’s section of a library or bookshop.

      • LinB says:

        Agreed! Because an author must distill his/her subject into the absolutely purest form to be understood well by children, it takes more effort to write for children. And, if a child can understand something, chances are good that an adult can also understand it.

  18. Gilraen says:

    Another one in agreement A book between the beginner and couture techniques would be great!

  19. sewchet says:

    I love books but, like everyone above, have never found one for the experienced sewer. If I have to flick through one more that shows how to make aprons or lavender bags I think I might explode!!!

  20. Kerri says:

    @LinB book titles please?

    I’ve just received the new May Martin book for my birthday that promised 40 years of tips and tricks on the cover. When I got it – it’s aimed squarely at beginners. Argh. And to add insult to injury if you want to sew some of the patterns you have to purchase them separately first.

    I’ve been buying 2nd hand books on abebooks and amazon. If something is recommended anywhere I stick it on my amazon wish list and buy it when it get’s to a reasonable price.

    I purchased the readers digest guide to sewing that way for £2.81 inc. postage.

    Now I just need the time to use my new acquisitions.

  21. Laura says:

    My copy of the Reader’s Digest sewing guide is my bestie in the sewing room! I have also collected a few older books like McCalls Sewing In Colour from 1964 and Dress Pattern Designing by Natalie Bray. As another commenter mentioned these older books are great for learning more coutour-ish techniques. But there does seem to be a gap in the market curently! I guess there will always be beginners (well we should hope so 🙂 but it does seem like those sewists who are looking for more challenges are missing out.

    • fabrickated says:

      I agree with most of the above points. However where your sewing goes is very much a personal preference. There is bias cutting, draping on the stand, menswear, industrial techniques, pattern cutting, historic outfits, lingerie, millinery, working with challenging fabrics, sportswear, learning from the history of fashion, linings, Childrenswear, soft furnishing, etc. it wouldn’t really be possible to produce a book to cover all of these topics! My take is to buy any old sewing books and patterns as there is something to be learned from all of them. But books are inevitably rather limited and I do believe there is a great deal to be learned from attending proper sewing classes. Despite having been sewing for over 30 years I still go once a week to learn something new. At the moment I am most interested in learning about how to print and decorate fabric. In addition, as everyone has said, there are some quality blogs and websites out there. Artisans Square is quite helpful as is Threads. If you look at what has happened to cookery books there is simply an explosion in the variety and quantity of books available. This is bound to happen with sewing in due course.

  22. As a very experienced sewer, part of me is delighted when new sewing books come out because I love to see new people learning to sew and the sewing teacher side of me likes to look at the structure of the book and the projects. If Lauren’s new book brings more people to sewing that’s fantastic, but it’s highly unlikely I will find anything in there to make it a worthwhile buy for me. Commercial couture sewing patterns, private commissions such as recycling a wedding dress into a confirmation dress and working with new fabrics keep me on my learning curve these days.

  23. Jude webber says:

    Karen, I love your blog and have long lurked but rarely comment on blogs in general – I get so much pleasure from making things, but being pressed for time makes my output slow, and as I don’t have a blog I don’t feel I have much to share. What I would love to see, though, is a book, edited and much of it written by you, aimed at the intermediate sewer, but with guest appearances – perhaps on favourite techniques – by some of the other greats in the sewing blogosphere. So a book with many voices, each teaching skills in their own way, with you bringing it all together and providing direction. Those of us lucky enough to have learned from our mums would, I think, like such a collaborative approach – it would feel accessible – like learning not only from your mum or friend, but from lots. People would have to be team players to do it – it’s hardly a vanity project – but I’d snap up a book like that in a flash. It could include so much – not just techniques but also that nemesis, fitting; how to.start on turning your ideas into patterns (think the amazing GBSB’s Chinelo) and so much more. It would be a feel-good sewing nerds’ equivalent of Granta, or like curling up in a comfy chair with a cuppa and a jam-packed best-of compendium of favourite bloggers and much admired and envied sewists… Hope we can all twist your arm!! All the best and keep up your inspiring and thought-provoking blog!

  24. Karen (and everyone else who has commented) I agree with all that you say. Lauren’s book looks very pretty and will surely attract a lot of new people into sewing, but those of us who have a few (ahem!) garments under our belt yearn for something a bit more advanced.

    Another book I’d like is one aimed at girls of around 9-11 years old. My partner’s daughter is 11 and has been interested in sewing for a few years now. We made a simple dress together a couple of summers ago and then a skirt last year (http://janessewandtell.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/spring-skirts/) and she is now in the process of making a t-shirt. I couldn’t find any patterns which were her size (children’s patterns stop at around 7-8 years old and then there is a gap until they reach adult size) so I drafted the dress myself, the skirt is very simple with an elastic waistband and we have copied a pattern from her favourite t-shirt for the latest project.

    The book I would like would have simple projects that can be quickly put together with spectacular results. Saskia likes sewing because she is interested in being fashionable and likes showing off what she has made to her friends. So, the projects need to show how easy it is to tailor a pattern to suit your taste.

    I’d love to know if anyone has a recommendation which would fill this gap.

  25. Dianne says:

    For a great intermediate sewing book, have a look at “You Sew Girl” and “The Better Bag Maker” by Nicole Mallalieu. Terrific sewing tips, and patterns aimed at intermediate level sewing. Nicole also sells her own patterns, teaches sewing, runs classes, and has great sewing tips on her blog ” you sew girl” PLUS if you scroll down to the very bottom of her blog, she has a really good lst of sewing books she has written reviews of, ranging from beginner books for children, to couture sewing and pattern drafting. I have picked up lots of great tips from her blog and book and have her zip purse pattern which has been used quite a bit. Plus she lives in Melbourne, Australia like me, so I have met her several times and she is just lovely!

  26. gingermakes says:

    I’ve enjoyed a few vintage books that are a step up from beginner’s sewing books (I love “How to Make Clothes that Fit and Flatter” by Adele Margolis… it’s a really great book on fitting that offers multiple ways to make fit adjustments). I’ve also enjoyed the Laurence King Publishing patternmaking and draping books. They’re at a much more reasonable price point than textbooks and are easy to understand. But I’ve gotten lost in higher-skill level books- I bought David Coffin’s Shirtmaking book, which I’m sure has great information, but it’s completely overwhelming and a bit too in-depth for me.

    Also- can I just throw in another vote for a book by Ann???

  27. I have my grandmothers “big book of needlecraft” It just assumes you can sew and talks to you like an adult! I love to sit and read and try and fathom out the instructions. I feel the much the same way about sewing classes. There are lots of very expensive classes near me aimed at absolute beginners. Well I am a beginner relatively speaking (only been sewing and blogging a year), now I want the next step up to aspire to confident beginner and beyond. But there is nothing locally at all.

  28. Ros K says:

    I would like a sewing book for the more advanced amateur. Since starting sewing again (after a 13 year break) I have been using a couple of the GBSB generated books as I like the patterns. I would like more on changing pattern features (I try to do this but it’s a bit hit and miss).

  29. Carolyn says:

    I completely agree with you and the other commenters that the market for more advanced sewing books is wide open. I always leaf through the new beginner books at my local bookstore, but I always wind up putting them back on the shelf.

    Recently I purchased Claire Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing Techniques (mentioned by at least one other commenter above), and it is definitely for the more advanced among us. I love it! I also like that it’s jam-packed with technical information, as opposed to having lots of pretty “filler” pages with full-page photos.

    I’ll be waiting for another advanced book to spend my precious dollars on. Congrats to Lauren though! I loved her on GBSB. 🙂

  30. Thanks so much for your lovely review of Lauren’s book, which looks gorgeous and full of beautiful patterns. From watching her on the Sewing Bee I can imagine she’ll be a brilliant teacher for new sewers, and I really love her style too.

    Thank you so much though for also raising the issue of a complete lack of books to challenge intermediate/advanced seamstresses, in contrast to the over-saturated market for new sewers.

    I think to some extent Japanese pattern books offer more complex patterns that usually look very well drafted – I think that the garment looking perfectly constructed and fitting well on the model is essential in order for the book to feel aspirational and to give confidence that it’s worth investing time in sewing a pattern together and on these points they tend to always get it right. However, while the lack of written instructions feels like good brain exercise, I really love reading geeky, authoritative theory and instruction, as well as seeing gorgeous pictures and so yearn for this kind of thing in English. And sometimes, Japanese patterns can just be a bit drapey and voluminous for my tastes, so they don’t really tick every box for me.

    So I totally agree: as a sewer, I’d really love a book from someone with years and years of experience, maybe who’s worked in the industry or been sewing for the last 40 years, and where it feels thoroughly exciting to think that they are capable of dispensing gems of wisdom that we’re yet to learn and which could make us better seamstresses or provide the odd penny-dropping moment over some small issue of construction that’s always previously felt like a sticking point. In essence, I really want to buy books written by people who can sew with far greater skill than me. Often it feels like much of what’s available is written by peers, rather than experts. I’m not saying the former isn’t valuable, because it is – it just isn’t what’s needed to fulfil the gap in the market for intermediate/advanced sewers.

    I know much of this more in-depth information may be easily available on the internet, but like many people, I value having it all beautifully curated and presented in book format.

    I’m sorry to leave such a lengthy and wanty reply to your post, but I was so pleased when I saw that you’d raised the issue and really hope that publishers take note of it (and that if they, understandably, don’t feel sufficiently immersed in more skilled dressmaking to confidently commission such a book, that they invite you to curate it for them on their behalf!). I’m absolutely sure there’s a commercially viable idea in there somewhere for more advanced sewers.

    Florence x

    Ps. Reading through the comments, I just wanted to say that I completely agree – children’s books are a constant source of delight and publishers generally seem to produce things of an incredibly high standard for this market – perhaps knowing that children are a tougher audience than adults, who will form their opinions based solely on the content of the book. Despite bulging shelves in the children’s section at our local bookshop, it’s a market that rarely feels over-saturated with ‘samey’ content.

  31. kristonlion says:

    I look for good projects. Not home-ec looking stuff. This one looks excellent!

  32. I totally agree, would love to see more intermediate books, have looked so many times for something beyond beginners that doesn’t break me out in a sweat with complexity. I’ve ended up going to a seeing teacher instead :-S shall eagerly wait to hear you have decided to do it and in the mean time will keep reading your blog! X

  33. Karina says:

    A beginner myself, so while I don’t yet have the desire for more intermediate books, I can understand that others may have it! I really like those shorts though!

  34. Pingback: An Open Letter To The Publisher of Sewtionary | Did You Make That?

  35. Sara says:

    I don’t get why anyone who isn’t a beginner needs a book as such. Certainly not one with projects in as there are patterns galore everywhere and in a far more manageable format than most books (where they have to be pulled out, traced, enlarged etc etc.) When I sewed first time around, there was no internet. I bought an excellent book on dressmaking techniques and which answered all my questions that I needed addressing as I became more experienced.

    I never assumed there was anything I couldn’t sew, between the book and the instructions on the commercial patterns I used (as well as some published in magazines) I found my way through. I didn’t ever go to classes or need special lessons in a book before I made an item. I just got on with it and learnt through doing. I learnt a lot and was making tailored suits by the end of my time making stuff which I suppose was over about a 6 year period.

    It was all put away, but now I have restarted inspired by the sewing bee on TV. I love Lauren’s book as the patterns are lovely. For me that is the important thing. You will come across different techniques simply by making the clothes that appeal to you, you don’t need to plan for it. You don’t need a book to give you permission to go onto the next stage. Just keep making and you will learn, improve your skills and get better technique. It’s all a learning curve.

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