Category Archives: My Reviews: Books

Bestselling Books!

In the midst of drafting patterns, making samples, writing instructions and drawing illustrations for book number 3 it’s heartening to see books number 1 and 2 doing so well; both in Amazon’s top 10 bestselling Dressmaking books!

beginners dressmaking book

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Possibly The Most In-Depth Book Review in The World Ever!


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Beginner’s Guide to Making Skirts Blog Tour

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Win a Copy of Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking

***30/6/16 – this competition is now closed, a big thanks for all your thoughtful and inspired entries, the winner has been announced here***


Have you seen the fishtail skirt that Winnie aka Scruffy Badger recently made from my first book “Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking”? I do love that skirt in denim and wear mine regularly.

beginners guide to dressmaking

Well Winnie loved the skirt so much she asked if she could host a giveaway for the book. We’ve come up with a cunning plan to make this more interesting that a boring old “share and leave a comment” competition, so here’s what you need to do if you want to be in with a chance of winning….

My aim when writing this book was to create a collection of patterns from which you can easily create a wardrobe of everyday basic garments. I tried to create patterns with enough adaptability for readers to make basic changes / additions to really make each garment suit their own style, with suggestions and instructions for how to adapt the basic patterns and inspirational photos of different versions of the garment. Of course all your basic dressmaking techniques are also explained in detail.


So, what Winnie and I want you to do to be in with a copy of the book is to describe a dream outfit that you could make from the patterns in the book!

Here are the 6 patterns included in the book, along with examples made in different variations:

beginners guide to dressmaking projects

If you need a bit of inspiration, here are some outfits from the book:

beginners guide to dressmaking outfits

and if you need more, have a look through my Me Made May weekly summary posts as I regularly wear a lot of samples from this book!

Once you’ve decided which are your favourite patterns and have your dream outfit in your head, share your ideas in a comment. Just tell us your favourite 2 patterns from the 6 in the book and then describe your dream outfit that you would make using those 2 patterns.

Winnie and I will pick our favourite and the winner will be announced on Monday 27th June.

If you can’t wait that long and need a copy of the book for yourself or as a gift for a new stitcher you can buy it here.

Craft a Creative Business by Fiona Pullen – my review

I’m really happy to have been asked to review Fiona’s brilliantly titled new book “Craft a Creative Business” which is published today and has already reached #1 in the Amazon bestsellers list for “Starting a Business”! Now there’s proof of the usefulness of the information in this book.

I’ve been working with Fiona for over 3 years and she’s been enormously helpful and supportive. She runs the successful website – a one-stop site for anything sewing related.

As a sewing teacher I meet lots of people honing their existing skills and learning new ones with the hope of one day being able to make those skills earn them a living. If this sounds familiar, this book is a must for you.


The first thing you notice about Fiona’s book is how accessible it is, being broken down into 6 broad sections which are colour coded so you can quickly find your way to the bit you need. These 6 sections cover: self-employment, legal, presentation, social media, selling online and selling offline.

craftabiz-contents craftabiz-colourcodedpages

Each section contains practical activities to get you started on actually putting the advice into practice…


…real-life examples and interviews with people who are running their own creative businesses…


…and a super-useful links page at the end of each section.


I speak to many enthusiastic people (including myself!) who are either already running a creative business or would like to start. There is always a gap in their knowledge of running a business, be it in using social media or how to properly cost their products and services. Craft a Creative Business has every aspect covered.

It’s shocking (and often a bit overwhelming) just how much there is to running a successful business, especially if you’re doing it all yourself. It’s not all wafting around taking lots of lovely photographs and being all “creative”, you are your own finance department, marketing manager, social media manager, PR department, sales department, product development manager, not to mention cleaner and general dogsbody!! This manual enables you to go into your new creative venture with your eyes wide open. Let’s have a look at each section.


The first section on self employment covers, among other things, 2 crucially important subjects you will need to consider: writing a good business plan including how to keep reviewing it and how to correctly cost your products / services. I find it amazing how many people don’t appear to do this. You can’t have a successful business without doing these 2 things I promise you!


Fiona has written the next section which covers all the important legal matters you need to consider, in a really thorough but non-scary way, ensuring you don’t overlook anything vital.


Looks at how to present your business and your product/service and covers branding along with some useful tips for taking better photos and demystifies some of the tech-y side of digital photography including file sizes and resolution.


A chunky section of the book! Fiona explains the jargon and gives you a good overview of all the various platforms available to use and takes the main ones (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) in detail, explaining how and what to post using examples from real businesses.  You’ll also get a little guide to social media etiquette to help you avoid any faux pas and this section will easily get you up and running on the platforms that are right for you.

Have a look at Fiona’s Twitter account for the book @craftabiz


Another meaty section which starts with a summary of all the legal implications, then moves on to suggested platforms for starting your online shop. Also covered in this section is setting-up your own website and a super-useful idiot’s guide to SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). You need to know how to do it and I’m sure you will be able to tackle it once you’ve read this bit. In fact Fiona explains this subject so well that I wish I’d had it a few years ago, it would have saved me a lot of time and frustration!!

Have a look at the website which accompanies the book


How to sell your wares at craft fairs and shows including planning your stand, what to do while you’re there and what to do after the event. What’s involved in getting your products stocked in shops and what you need to be aware of such as whether you would be able to produce the quantities involved. Finally, ideas for promoting your business offline through magazines, advertising and networking.

The book ends with Fiona’s list of top 10 tools she regularly uses in her business. I’m relieved to see that I use a similar 10 in mine!


I would recommend this book to anyone who is thinking of starting their own business, or even those that already have – you can’t possibly know everything! This is a thorough and accessible guide thanks to it being written in a jargon-free, friendly style and through the use of lots of real-life examples and interviews. Each section sets you small tasks so that you can go and put the theory into practice yourself.

It’s broken into manageable chunks so that you can dip in and out and find the bit that’s relevant to what you’re working on right now.

To overcome the risk of ever-changing information about digital tools and resources becoming quickly out of date, Fiona has included extensive links and further reading and an active website and twitter account to support her book: and

I’m not surprised that Craft a Creative Business has reached no.1 on Amazon already. Well done Fiona!

The book is published by Search Press and is available on their website and on Amazon.

Which Sewing Book to Buy?

sewing booksA cull of books I had last year at a MIY Workshop sale!  Yes you can have too many craft books.

So, the Great British Sewing Bee is back for its second series and the production company are already scouring the country for potential contestants for series three.  It looks like the sewing bug is a stayer.  Obviously that’s a good thing in my book.

Talking of books….(!) as I’m writing a sewing book at the moment (see previous post), the subject of sewing books has been pre-occupying me now for quite some time and I’ve also been thinking a lot recently about craft book authors.

Lots of my students ask me if I can recommend a sewing book.  Here are my tips to finding a good sewing book.

The most important starting point is to be honest about the skills you’re starting with.  Have you had a go on a sewing machine and now feel ready to tackle some dressmaking, have you been sewing for years and now looking for some new ideas or does the sight of a sewing machine bring you out in a cold sweat?!

If you’re right at the beginning of your sewing adventures, you need a sewing book that will have really well explained techniques and easy but inspiring  projects that you will actually want to make and can work your way through step-by-step.  If inspiration is what you’re after, have a look at some of the Japanese sewing books – beautifully designed, inspiring patterns, but usually needing some good existing skills.

What kind of things do you want to make with your new found sewing skills?  Do you want to do mainly patchwork, do you want to make bags and cushions and accessories or do you want do make clothes?  Choose the book that contains the kind of projects that you actually want to make!

Just like novels, the author of the craft book will make a huge difference to the content.

Here in Brighton there is a little hub of expert craft book authors; the lovely Liz of Quilty Pleasures had her first patchwork and quilting book published last spring:

beginners guide to quilting


Wendy Dolan is another Brighton based tutor who is an expert at machine embroidery and has been teaching for many years.  She is currently writing a book all about her style of machine embroidery.  Last but not least, Fiona Pullen of the Sewing Directory (OK she’s not in Brighton, but is everywhere in the world of sewing!) is in the process of writing a book about how to build a craft business. (Have a read of Fiona’s fascinating blog posts about her book writing process.)

The common thread linking all of these authors is that we are professionals and experts in our particular field.

What are the benefits of choosing books written by experts?  

A book written by an expert, an experienced teacher or someone with years of experience working in an industry means that you will benefit from that experience, they will share hints and tips with you that they have picked up along their travels, or unique techniques that they have devised for themselves.  You will also find practical how-to books written by these authors will contain instructions that are pitched at exactly the right level because they know their audience – they have been working with people just like you for years.

The way I look at it is this……would you want to learn to drive a car from someone that had just passed their driving test?  No, me neither!

Incidentally, one of my trusty old favourite sewing books that I’m always recommending to students is the “Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing”.  You can read my review of it here.

Happy sewing!  And safe driving….!!!

Book Reviews: Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing

Here’s the first in what I hope will be a fairly regular series of posts to review books I own, use or have seen.

So, here goes, first up a trusty old tome of techniques:

The Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing.  My copy is a first edition published in 1978, it has since been updated.  In my opinion the old ones are the best when it comes to sewing technique books.  I’ve used this book for both classes and in my own sewing and the explanations and diagrams are crystal clear.  It’s informative, easy to use and thorough.

The first things to look for in any reference book to see if it’s going to be useful –  comprehensive contents page and index.  The index in this book is 11 pages long!  That means you’re likely to find exactly what you’re looking for quickly without having to rifle through the whole book.



Each new topic has a good overview.  Here’s the one on zips; we have an explanation of the different kinds of zips, their uses and the various methods of zip insertion.  This section then goes on to describe step-by-step how to do each method of zip insertion over 13 pages!


Everything is clearly explained in step-by-step instructions and really clear diagrams.  Often I think a diagram is much clearer than a photograph – details can be highlighted that can be easily lost in a photograph.


As well as comprehensive how-to instructions for all aspects of dressmaking and sewing, there are also really useful sections on choosing styles that suit your shape, explanations of different fabrics and how to make basic fitting adjustments to dressmaking patterns.

There’s also a section at the end with projects.  As mine is an edition from the 70’s the projects are very much of that era which actually look like they’d appeal to today’s sewers, if you ignore the slightly dodgy styling of the pictures!  The only drawback of the patterns is that they use scaled down pattern pieces on squared paper that you have to scale up yourself……..does anyone actually do that?!


Look out for a copy in charity shops and second-hand book shops.  I can guarantee you will grow to love it!

Book Reviews – Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

Unpacking this book from its cushioned delivery box yesterday was a treat.

McQueen had a rare talent to produce beautifully crafted pieces and alongside a handful of other designers, past and present, is a designer whose work I respect and find inspiring.  This weighty tome is published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to accompany their spring 2011 exhibition in celebration of McQueen’s work.

The cover has an eerie holographic image of McQueen morphing into a metallic skull.  The book is beautifully bound in brown fabric with metallic embossed title down the spine and when you open it…

…these endpapers greet you.

There are lengthy and interesting introductions by the curator of the exhibition Andrew Bolton and by the respected fashion journalist Susannah Frankel, but the book is dominated by beautiful photographs of some of McQueens key works alongside quotes from the man.

In future, when I feel in need of a little creative pick-me-up, I know where I’ll be going.

Book Reviews – numbers 1 to 3 of many

Here’s the first in what I hope will be a fairly regular series of posts to review books I own, use or have seen.  Prompted by my shameless book-buying habit and a recent spring clean and resulting organisation of said book collection.  I wonder how many books you need to be able to call your collection a library…?

So, here goes, first up a trusty old tome of techniques:

The Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing.  My copy is a first edition published in 1978, I believe it’s since been updated.  In my opinion the old ones are the best when it comes to sewing technique books.  I’ve used this book for both classes and in my own sewing and the explanations and diagrams are crystal clear.  It’s informative, clear, easy to use and thorough.  Look out for a copy in charity shops and second-hand book shops.

**22/7/13 – I’ve since reviewed this book in more detail here.**

Next, a bit of history:

Dior by Dior – The Autobiography of Christian Dior.  A fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at the goings-on at the house of Dior during the golden age of couture during the 1940’s.  Interesting chronicle of the life of the man and the life of his collections, from early ideas to the showing of collections at intimate salons.  Made me wish I could travel back in time.

And finally:

The Sartorialist – Scott Schuman.  The book version of Schuman’s popular blog which started in 2005.  A fascinating and strangely addictive documentary of fashion from around the world, Schuman photographs anyone on the street whom he considers to have an interesting style of their own or an individual interpretation of a current trend.  Although the book and the blog teem with the beautiful, a few normal faces get in there too.  As the photos aren’t styled or posed or set-up in any way you can focus on the clothes without distraction. Inspiring.  Be warned though – addictive.