Lauren Guthrie Learn to Sew with LaurenTwo easy picks from my TBR today. Now – does everyone treat sewing or other craft books like people do cookery books, buying them, poring over them, deciding what to make … then not getting round to it for ages? Or is that just me? Anyway, I bought both of these books on 6 September last year, when I dashed between two book launch parties, one (Lauren’s) fairly local to me, at her lovely shop, Guthrie and Ghanie, and the other (Stuart’s) in House of Fraser’s haberdashery department in Birmingham City Centre. And they seemed to deserve to be read and reviewed together.

Stuart Hillard Sew FabulousThey’re quite different books, although both aimed at the beginner. Lauren’s has some household items but also simple clothes for adults and children, and Stuart’s concentrates on home decoration, with an emphasis on quilting – and this of course reflects the specialities they displayed on the Great British Sewing Bee. Both books are beautifully edited, I’m pleased to say, especially after my disappointment with the Sewing Bee book itself, and the personality of the author shines through in both. I did make sure to ask both Lauren and Stuart about this aspect when I caught up with them at their launches, but was very pleased to find this was the case when I read them.

So, on with the reviews, and a sneaky confession under those …

Lauren Guthrie – “Learn to Sew with Lauren”

The aim of this book is to take you through first steps of sewing, with a large section on basic skills and materials, which sensibly tells you when to consult your sewing machine manual or pattern and when to follow the general instructions. The projects then run from “Easy Peasy” beginners’ projects through to more tricky pieces (with pockets, yokes and a dress), in a sensible and well thought through progression, and the instructions link back nicely to the Techniques section at the beginning.

Full-size paper patterns are included in a pocket in the book, with some more simple templates in the back and instructions on measuring for blinds, etc. There are good, clear illustrations, and some pictures of Lauren as well as models. I was a little disappointed to see a pretty girl’s summertime set which mentioned little girls getting involved in sewing (why not boys?) then some “Adventure Shorts” which were very firmly aimed at boys – I would think that any active child would like these, so that was a bit of a shame, but didn’t ruin the book for me, of course, and was only a minor point in an otherwise very good book.

It was hard not to compare these books as I read them so close together, and I think Lauren’s has a slight edge in terms of explaining techniques, especially making bias binding and creating piping. I will certainly be trying out some pyjama bottoms and one or two of the bags from this book, and it’s an attractive buy that would make a good present for the novice at sewing (male or female!). I would pair it with one of the starter sets you can buy from the shop as a good gift set.

This book would suit: Anyone learning to sew, brushing up their skills, or looking for some simple to challenging projects to complete reasonably quickly.

Stuart Hillard – “Sew Fabulous”

As I mentioned above, this book concentrates on furnishings and decorations for the house and garden, with inspiring room sets at the beginning of each chapter. Instead of being arranged from easy to difficult, this has a chapter per room, from the entrance hall to the garden, with a chapter on gifts at the end – each project is marked as being of one of six difficulty levels, from no-sew to challenging. This works well and it’s easy to see which projects you’ll be capable of (although I found bunting being marked as a little more difficult than I find it!).

The pictures are very good and Stuart appears in a few. I have to say that this one had me in stitches (ha!) at times, as Stuart’s voice and personality very much shine through in little asides and comments. It’s rare to find a craft book that actually makes you giggle, so extra points there! There is also a very good explanation of the types of fabric to choose for these projects.

As implied in my other review, some of the explanations in the basic skills section are a little more perfunctory than in Lauren’s book – however, this is not designed specifically as a learn to sew book; the explanations work and there are plenty of resources online etc. for learning how to do these things (or just buy both books and flip to Lauren’s if you’re confused about bias binding!). And the instructions in the beginning section and by specific projects using quilting are very good (and if I was doing Lauren’s quilting projects, I’d check on details in here, so swings and roundabouts).

Again, there are full-sized patterns in a pocket and templates to copy, too. A really good book if you fancy making fabric gifts or items for your home, including simple lined curtains.

This book would suit: People looking to brush up their skills with furnishing fabrics and home decoration.

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Paul Magrs Mrs Danby and CompanyA quick confession – well, it would have been rude not to order the new Paul Magrs novel, “Mrs Danby and Company”, given that I’ve read pretty well all of his other books (apart from the brain-eating one, as I am contractually obliged to mention whenever I mention Paul’s books) and he’s gone to the trouble of creating this one himself. It appears very steampunk from the look of the cover and should be a well-written romp through time and space, if the blurb on the back (which is a bit difficult for the older eye to make out) is to be believed. Because this is only just out, I’m going to promote it up the TBR and read and review it soon, to bump up those online reviews and help people get to know about it.

No disclaimer needed: Although I know and have met all of the authors of these books, I bought all of the books myself and have not been asked to write reviews.