BOOK REVIEWS: Great British Sewing Bee books
With GREAT BRITISH SEWING BEE fever rising at Fold Line HQ, we wanted to reminisce about all the three series that have been. Let us not forget the Overlord, some bromance and that the look in 2015 was definitely the skanklet. Patrick Grant event got a little “flabbergasted”. With a few weeks to go, we thought we’d look back at the books that have accompanied each of the three series and review them.
Series 1 // The Great British Sewing Bee by Tessa Evelegh with forewords and practical tips by Patrick Grant and May Martin. Photography: Laura Edwards.
The book to accompany the first series of the #GBSB is still my favourite. I like the styling and range of dressmaking projects, which includes a mixture of women’s, men’s and homewares. After all we can thank the first series of the Great British Sewing Bee for starting the sewing revolution that we are still enjoying today. In total there are 28 projects, the book comes with one fully printed pattern ready to cut out but the rest can be downloaded as PDFs.
There are 28 women’s, men’s and homeware projects in total. The book includes:
Women’s: Tunic, Pyjamas, Button back blouse, Edge-to-edge jacket, Pencil skirt, Summer dress, Circular skirt, Tea dress, Prom dress, Hacking jacket, Camisole, Boyfriend Shirt, Basic dress and Blouse with collar. Also: Girl’s dress.
Men’s: Pyjamas, Bow tie and Waistcoat.
Homewares: Floor cushion, Laundry bag, Basic curtains, Tie cushion, Cook’s apron, Window panel, Patchwork throw, Roman blind, Tote bag, Butcher’s apron and Ruffle cushion.
The skills needed to make the projects in this book are varied. For absolute beginners you could try out the Tote bag, cushions and laundry bag. If you are new to dressmaking then the tunic and circular skirt would be good options. If you have more sewing experience then you can develop new skills with more advanced projects such as the hacking jacket, waistcoat and prom dress (to master the art of boning). There are also some more intermediate level projects include the summer dress, tea dress and also the button back blouse. I think the selection of projects provides a good opportunity to improve your sewing skills from basic to more advanced techniques. It is mostly aimed at women, with the majority of projects suitable for women’s dressmaking but of all three books it has the most homewares and accessories projects.
The book is divided into three main sections: Starting to Sew, Basic Sewing Skills and The Projects. In the first section, topics such as essentials for your sewing box, using your machine, understanding patterns in general, finding fabric and what fastening to use are covered. The bit I love best is that the pages are interjected with short written pieces about The Queen Mother’s sewing bees, Mr Beeton (who put the first dressmaking pattern into women’s magazines) and Beau Brummell (the father of modern tailoring). This section is quite basic, when compared to the same section that would be dedicated in a sewing book printed now. The next section on basic sewing skills covers several tacking and hand stitching techniques including lots of ways of dealing with seams and guides to inserting zips and adding bias binding, which are accompanied by photographs.
The book then moves onto The Projects, here is the basic tunic, ideal for dressmaking beginners. All patterns are only available in sizes UK sizes 8 – 16 although the sizing chart on page 77 lists a size 16 with Bust 38″, Waist 30″ and Hip 40″. I think we would all consider this to be more like a size 12, when looking at sizing charts from most Indie and Commercial pattern companies. This pattern is included as a large printed sheet at the back of the book, which can be cut straight out. There is much more emphasis put on labelling patterns now and you will find that the pattern included has very basic labelling of the pattern pieces (for example the pattern doesn’t actually have a label saying what the name of the pattern is). The rest of the patterns can be downloaded as PDFs here.
Each pattern lists all the materials you need, with fabric suggestions and page references to the skills to complete the project. The instructions are listed step-by-step and accompanied by illustrations. There is also a lay plan for each pattern and an image of the pattern pieces you can scan to enlarge by 500% in a print shop for home printing.
The women’s garments cover a mixture of pieces suitable for work, parties and being out and about.
The summer dress above is one of the pattern i’ve made from the book and it fitted really well. The bodice is fitted with a high waist and the pleated skirt with large pockets gives a flattering shape (empire line). I lined the bodice and used an invisible zip in the side seam.
Here is one of the homeware projects from the book and these large cushions have no buttons or zips, perfect for beginners to tackle.
This is my favourite project and one of the most challenging in the book. The fit was again really good. Instead of using satin for the cuff I used a vintage scrap in mustard (and matched it to the under collar) to contrast with the brown wool I chose for the main jacket. I lined it with a cotton lawn print. Although it was not a quick project it was well worth the effort. It was recently featured in Sewing Made Simple magazine as one of my favourite ever makes.
Final thoughts: There are some great projects in this book and ones that I consider some of my all time favourite patterns. If you already have sewing knowledge or read blogs with tutorials on the basics of sewing then I don’t think it matters that the introduction section is not as comprehensive as it could be. There aren’t any tips for fitting so for the more advanced dressmaking projects I think you would benefit from having some experience in this area.
Series 2 // The Great British Sewing Bee: Sew Your Own Wardrobe by Tessa Evelegh with forewords and sewing masterclasses by Patrick Grant and May Martin.
The book to accompany the second series of the #GBSB was the first to contain a separate pack of paper patterns (five sheets of pattern pieces). The styling is more modern and just includes dressmaking projects. It groups projects based on skills, including fabric, fit and finish. In total there are 24 projects, both womenswear, menswear and patterns for children.
There are 24 women’s, men’s and children’s projects in total. The book includes:
Women’s: Aztec leggings, Silk tunic, Anorak, Prom dress, Easy-sew short skirt, Draped top, Pencil skirt, Fitted shirt dress, Fill-skirted dress, 1960s’ coat, Wrap dress, 1930s’ blouse, Box pleat skirt, Simple t-shirt, Yoke skirt, Slip dress, Bowling shirt.
Men’s: Waistcoat, Men’s shirt, Men’s trousers.
Children’s: Teddy pramsuit, Baby dungarees, Baby dress and knickers, Girl’s dress.
The skills needed to make the projects in this book are based around fabric types, fitting and finishing touches. For absolute beginners you could try out the Silk tunic, Short skirt and T-shirt. If you are new to dressmaking with some sewing experience then the Box pleat skirt, Draped top and Pencil skirt would be ideal. If you have more sewing experience then you can develop new skills with more advanced projects such as the anorak (using water-resistant fabric and seam tape), men’s and women’s shirts, a slip dress (using satin and lace), men’s trousers or a 1960s coat. There are also some more intermediate level projects include the Fitted shift dress and 1930s blouse. There are less beginners projects in this book and more varied challenges using different fabric types. Again it is mostly aimed at women, with the majority of projects suitable for women’s dressmaking.
The book is divided into two main sections: Basics and The Projects. The Basics section is more comprehensive, including advice for picking and choosing fabrics and details for measuring and choosing your size and getting a good fit with pattern adjustments. There is also information on finishing seams, trimmings and fastenings. This section is more detailed than the first book but does not go into a lot of detail. The projects are categorised into fabrics, where you can test your skills using everything from stretch jersey to waterproof nylon. The next section of projects focuses on fitting garments from bust darts to coats and trousers. The final group of patterns focuses on the finish with skills such as bias binding necklines, inserting piping, adding a lace trim and buttonholes.
All patterns are available in sizes UK sizes 8 – 18 and the sizing chart on page 26 lists a size 16 with Bust 38″, Waist 30″ and Hip 40″. Again I think we would all consider this to be more like a size 12, when looking at the sizing chart of patterns from most Indie and Commercial pattern companies. This book is accompanied by a sleeve with 5 sheets of patterns pieces, which will need to be traced first.
This is the menswear anorak pattern which requires waterproof nylon fabric.
Each pattern lists all the materials you need, with fabric suggestions and design details. The instructions are listed step-by-step and accompanied by illustrations. There is also a lay plan for each pattern. This full-skirted dress is a project from the fit patterns section.
Each pattern is accompanied by illustrated step-by-step instructions and photos of the design details. The 1960s coat is one of the most challenging patterns in the book.
The yoke shirt is from the finish patterns section, and the sewing process includes adding piping detail.
Final thoughts: This second book also has some great projects and you can practice a wider range of skills using different fabric types as you work through the book. It has less projects for absolute beginners and more challenging garments to make such as a coat, waistcoat and trousers.
Series 3 // The Great British Sewing Bee: Fashion with Fabric by Claire-Louise Hardie with forewords and sewing masterclasses by May Martin and Patrick Grant.
The book to accompany the third series of the #GBSB has the most modern projects to date. The 30 dressmaking projects are categorised into the fabrics you should use to sew them. The book is also accompanied with a sleeve containing paper patterns for the projects in the book. It has the most comprehensive introduction of the books to date with the start of every fabric chapter including details of the different fabric types (e.g. for cotton, lawn, poplin etc.), a glossary and any specialist tools needed. The projects are mainly focused on women’s dressmaking but there are also some menswear and children’s patterns.
There are 30 women’s, men’s and children’s projects in total. The book includes:
Women’s: Sleeveless shell top, Button-back blouse, Capri trousers, Shirred elastic maxi dress, Walkaway dress, Jumpsuit, Camisole top, Casual trousers, Vintage curtain maxi skirt, Silk woven tee, Shift dress, Leather jacket, Tweed and Faux-leather jacket, Drapey knit dress, Sleeved stripy knit dress, Three-hour slouchy cardigan, Woven kimono cardigan jacket, Lace pencil skirt, Tweed A-line mini skirt, Vintage-inspired blouse, Sleeveless collared blouse, Corset gown, double-layered skirt, Demin bustier top.
Men’s: Men’s cargo shorts, Men’s kilt, Men’s classic t-shirt.
Children’s: Girl’s shirred elastic dress, Kids’ board shorts, Elephant ballerina.
The skills needed to make the projects in this book are entirely based around fabric types. For absolute beginners you could try out the projects designed for cottons, including the sleeveless shell top. If you are new to dressmaking with some sewing experience then you could try sewing with wools and make the Shift dress or Silk woven tee. If you have more sewing experience then you can develop new skills using more advanced fabric types such as the vintage inspired blouse, corset gown and denim bustier blouse. There are also some more intermediate level projects using fabrics in the stretch fabric chapter, for example the Drapey knit dress. There are beginners projects in each fabric category moving onto more challenging projects that you can worth through to build your skill set. Again it is mostly aimed at women, with the major of projects suitable for women’s dressmaking.
The book is divided into five main sections: Introduction followed by chapters on patterns for cottons, wools, stretch and luxury fabrics. The introduction section is quite basic, covering briefly topics such as common sewing terms, choosing fabrics, using patterns and making clothes that fit plus some finishing tips and how to use your machine. The sizing chart has been updated and patterns included are in size range 8-20. The measurements for a size 12 are Bust 36.5″, Waist 29.5″ and Hip 40 1/8″, which are more in line with standard UK size charts.
The projects are accompanied by illustrated step-by-step instructions along with detailed ‘core skills’ tips and instructions.
Several of the patterns are accompanied with pattern hack options, for example the Jumpsuit has the option to create a Camisole top (see below).
Each pattern has a list of materials needed, fabric suggestions, design notes and lay plans. They also have finished pattern measurements, specific to each pattern.
These Men’s cargo shorts are in the Cottons chapter.
This is a hack of the tweed and faux0leather jacket in the wool and other animal fibres chapter.
This is the Drapey knit dress, an ideal beginners project in the Stretch fabrics chapter.
The Kid’s board short would also be another good beginners option to sewing with stretch fabrics.
In the Luxury fabrics chapter covers using chiffon, as in the example of the Vintage-inspired blouse above.
Final thoughts: There are many more style options with this book because of the hacks you can create for several of the patterns. The sizing is much easier to follow too and you have details of the finished garment measurements for each pattern. There are more top/jacket and trouser patterns in the book, as a opposed to dresses and almost all have a very modern style.