Category Archives: Book reviews

Book Review: Sew…The Garment-Making Book of Knowledge

Just to be up-front, I am a bit of a Barb Emodi fan-girl. I actually think Barb and I are kind of like two halves of the same person. We both have been sewing since right after the dawn of time, have children + grand-children, love to sew, and maybe most importantly, love to experiment with fabrics and sewing tools, and products. I climb up on my soapbox about lots of stuff in today’s world, and one of them is I think there is a great shortage of tinkering with real, tangible things that make you mutter, “Huh. That is how it works.” Experimentation is a great teacher, and I think loads of people could benefit from a bit more of it.

But enough digression. The real thing I want to say is I LOVE Barb’s new book, Sew…The Garment-Making Book of Knowledge. I have actually said many of the same things she writes to my students. Sometimes.Using.The.Exact.Same.Words. See why I think we are two halves of the same person?

Her book is both very enjoyable to read and filled with plenty of tips and advice about the nuts and bolts of sewing. Not exactly a technique or how-to-sew instructional guide, you still will definitely learn a trick or two about the process of sewing clothing (no quilting here, thank you very much!). Or maybe you will get inspired to start sewing again, or possibly sew in a different way. And all of those are great things, IMHO.

“When you sew, I think what you make most often is a life, not just clothes. Sewing is deceptive that way. As an activity, it looks practical and seems sensible. That is just a cover. Sewing gives those who engage in it so much more than something to wear.”

YES! That is a great summary of why I sew. Why I am active in The American Sewing Guild. In Facebook sewing groups. Obsess over fabrics, tools, and products for sewing. Because sewing is one of the most important structures of my life, and it definitely gives me more than clothes to wear. Thank you, Barb!

Barb has a chapter on

  1. what you should sew (duh – what you love!)
  2. some ideas on how to pick a good pattern for your sewing level or what you want to sew
  3. reminds you how important it is to MEASURE your body + use those measurements to help you alter a flat pattern to improve the fit for your shape
  4. describes some common fabrics types and how to handle them before you even cut out your pattern pieces
  5. the “gear” side of sewing (tools, machines and stuff)
  6. how to create a sewing strategy that works for you
  7. and…sewing for JOY

I laughed out loud while reading this book. Plus it brought back many memories of sewing with my mom when I was very young, as well as reminding me of recent sewing adventures with my students. Do yourself a favor. Pour a beverage of your choice, and curl up with Sew…The Garment-Making Book of Knowledge.

Happy sewing!


Book Review: 50 Ribbon Rosettes & Bows to Make

The next best thing to actually writing a book of your own is knowing someone else who is a real, live, published author! What an accomplishment to design and work thru multiple projects, write clear instructions, commit to publishing deadlines, work with an editorial staff, and plenty more.

Ribbons Rosettes review by Sew Maris

I met Deanna McCool at a sewing conference  about a year and half ago, and we hit it off right away. I just knew this lady was something special from the moment we said ‘Hi” to each other. There are loads of adjectives that could be used to describe her (smart, funny, compassionate), but the one I want to concentrate on today is talented. Her latest book, 50 Ribbon Rosettes & Bows to Make, is chock full of eye-candy to help you add a pretty bow to nearly everything in your life!

And if you consider yourself to be a bit challenged when it comes to crafting embellishments, this book will serve as a great source of both inspiration and clear-easy-to-understand instructions..

Ribbons Rosettes review by Sew Maris

Pretty ribbons make gift packages seem extra special and exciting!

RIbbons Rosettes review by Sew Maris

Adding a colorful bow or clip to a child’s hairdo is fun for the wearer as well as viewers!

Ribbons Rosettes review by Sew Maris

Decorating a venue with pretty, decorative ribbons always adds to the festive atmosphere of an event.

Ribbons Rosettes review by Sew Maris

Love the bumblebees! REALLY love these!

Deanna walks you thru the entire process from start to finish. There is a full run-down on the best tools to help achieve a professional look, as well as the steps to properly fold and adhere the ribbons to any kind of base. I particularly like the skill level and size of finished bow information that is listed right at the top of every instructional process. Helpful!

Wouldn’t 50 Ribbon Rosettes & Bows to Make be a delightful addition to your home library?

Happy sewing!


Dressing as a Downton Lady or Gent

Along with many others, I am totally addicted to Downton Abbey. Lady Edith just can’t get any kind of break, Lady Mary lost the love of her life, and poor Lady Sybil! I love the characters and the drama of their lives, but really. The CLOTHES! It is not exactly all about the clothes, but….well, actually it is. 😉


Andover has created a line of Downton Abbey fabrics, and now Interweave, owned by F&W, has produced The Unofficial Downton Abbey Sews, which is a magazine chock full of modern versions of Downton Abbey fashions, accessories, and home dec items. Most of the patterns are available through free downloadable PDFs. I haven’t had a chance to make any of them up yet, but I have definitely been drooling over some of the designs.


I have no idea where I would wear this lovely lace creation, but I.Want.It. Sooo pretty and feminine. Since it is a “tabard” (kind of like a pinafore) I could take it off before I clean the toilets or teach a sew camp, right? 😉


Pretty pillows!


I wonder if I could get my husband to wear that vest? Very Tom Branson, eh?


Hahahahaha. No. Just no.


I have no flapper vibe, but I still think this is stinkin’ cute. I would totally wear it if I were in my roaring’ 20’s!


Both of these designs are totally wearable, don’t you think?


SOOOO smart! Love the blazer and double-heart the jeans. Look at those front pocket zips; smashing, right?


I am wearing that headpiece on the right to my next ASG meeting. Or maybe grocery shopping. I AM a sewing goddess, after all. 😉


Accessories too!

Now the kindly folks at F & W Media sent me an extra copy of The Unofficial Downton Abbey Sews magazine, and I am dying to give it to YOU! Leave me a comment about your favorite outfit and why you love it, and I will send you this magazine quick as can be. You have until July 11 to leave a comment (include your email please!!), and sorry, but U.S. shipping only.

In case you are not the lucky winner, you can also purchase the magazine online too!

Happy sewing!





Review: BurdaStyle for the U.S. Market

“The arrival of BurdaStyle U.S. fills a unique market niche for the fashion-forward American sewers. Known around the globe since 1949 as the premier sewing magazine for fashion and style, BurdaStyle is available in 90 countries and published in 17 different languages. is the largest global fashion and sewing community online, with more than 850,000 members and 7 million page views each month.”

Press release from BurdaStyle US, publisher F+W Media

Burda Cover

A few weeks back I was asked if I would be interested in reviewing the first-ever U.S. edition of BurdaStyle on my blog. Years ago I sewed extensively with Burda patterns and even subscribed to the English version of Burda magazine, but for no particular reason I drifted away. Reviewing their flagship edition seemed like a good way to jump back in!


You only get one chance to make a first impression. The gold, black, silver and white color combination used on the cover was modern, glam, and definitely festive.

Under the cover

Candy coated article


Modern Sophisticate article

Fashion. I love this section! I am a garment sewist. I don’t give 2 hoots for quilting, and only sew home dec items under duress. There were 6 articles listed in this category, tho Star Studded hardly qualifies as an article. More like a teaser. No instructions, just an image and a short paragraph short on details. I can definitely see the younger crowd going for the look, and not being stumped by the lack of specifics. Candy Coated featured six patterns sewn in eye-popping colors; all of which are included in the pattern pull-out section. The selection ranged from an easy skirt to a more complex jacket and trouser duo, and also included a dress, skirt + peplum top, coat, and cape. I thought all the garments were wearable and stylish, and the skirt and peplum top just might get added to my wardrobe. The Art of Great Style showcases 7 different ensembles in plus sizes. All of the garments were styled in black and white, and looked attractive and modern. My favorite was a really pretty wraparound pencil skirt. Legends of the Fall featured South American-inspired garments. The ethnic look is not really my style, but the inverted pleat dress was adorable and depending on fabric used could have a wide range of looks. The Modern Sophisticate was just that. Edgy. Urban. Modern. Sculptural. I want every one. Showstopper was disappointing. I thought the design lines of most of the garments were, frankly, dowdy and seemed oversized. Shine On was a fun article because it featured one of the garments (a silver sequined mini skirt) from Showstopper, and styled it in 3 different ways. The selection of accessories was fun and fresh.

Graphic Lines article

Ebony & Ivory article

DIY Trends and Styling. Beauty. Umm, a little superfluous to my mind. The rest of the articles are categorized as “runway DIY”, and I like seeing how the over-the-top runway looks can be incorporated into something actually wearable on a real person living a real life. Graphic Lines was a really fun little tutorial about painting bold graphic stripes on a metallic skirt. I can TOTALLY see my daughters doing this! Again, I can envision lots of young women I know DIY’ing Knit Necks onto T-shirts, but that is not a project I am going to take on. However, I loved getting some inspiration for using feathers in the Bold Plumes tutorial. Not sure how/when I might use it, but I still liked it. The Cinched Waist project was a quick method of adding some shaping to a RTW garment, which was not that useful to me. Duh. Because I SEW the shape I want into my garments and hardly ever buy RTW. Ebony and Ivory and Easy Rider were accessories/styling pages, and the faux pearls and diamond clutch by Aldo has to go on my Christmas list. I really love seeing these kinds of articles – fun eye candy!

Timeless article

In Every Issue. Denise Wild of The Sewing Studio New York and is the the editor of BurdaStyle, and bubbles with enthusiasm for her role as Editorial Director for BurdaStyle. (Hmmm, maybe we should hear more from her!) is just a little blurb encouraging us all to go online. Like any of us needed encouragement for more screen time. I enjoyed reading tips from members about making buttonholes. Maybe I will try using perle cotton one of these days! I loved, loved, loved the vintage re-work featured in the Timeless article. Channeling Jackie O!

Sewing. The latest sewing products are supposed to be featured in New & Now, so I would like to see products people who sew would actually want to use to make sewing easier/faster/more fun. A beaded sequined flower? Really? Burda Patterns gives you the low-down on how to work with Burda patterns. Duh. Machine Master featured working with sergers – and since most of us overlock seams and roll a hem now and again this kind of info is always useful. My general take on this section is, meh, not too much compelling here for an advanced sewist.

Patterns pullot

Pattern section. The guts of the magazine are the pull-out patterns. Lots of intersecting lines on these babies, but color and line style changes help to distinguish one from another. At least I hope they do, and they did when I used to trace them years ago. As of this writing I haven’t stitched anything up, but now that my sewing room is finally cleaned up and re-organized I want to give a few of the designs a try. Lots of people rave about the Burda fit, so it will be interesting to see how they work for my body type now. The main thing I think is unique about the magazine is that it offers patterns for designs that I see in RTW, but not in the pattern catalogs. One of the things that is still true is the “40 full size patterns included” claim on the cover is a stretch IMHO, as some patterns are merely length variations of others. While technically true, you are not really getting 40 unique full-size patterns. But if you consider the prize of patterns, still a bargain. It’s also true that some (all?) of the patterns included in the magazine are downloadable on All of the patterns included in Vogue Patterns magazine are included in their catalog, too. If you prefer full-size patterns to printing out a million sheets of paper on your home printer that then must be taped together, the magazine is a big bargain.


I really enjoyed the magazine and likely will subscribe. BurdaStyle definitely is not going to add anything to my sewing skills, but it could step up my style quotient. If you are looking for a magazine with an emphasis on fashionable, unique full-size garment patterns with interesting styling tips, BurdaStyle has something for you. However, if you want a magazine focused on sewing techniques, read Threads. Different audiences, different missions. I for one am glad to see a sewing magazine like BurdaStyle available to the U.S. market, and think it fills a hole in the marketplace. If you are interested, you can also download a digital version of BurdaStyle US and save a tree!

Happy sewing!


Aack! How did I miss it?

OK, my bad. I missed reviewing McCall’s summer sewing patterns. But since I live in the PNW and we only have 15 minutes of real summer weather I can be forgiven for that oversight. However, missing Diana Rupp’s first pattern for McCall’s in the summer collection is definitely a venal sin, if not a mortal one. Aaack! Please forgive me, Diana!

Look how adorable this sundress is.


This pattern is offered in the street length shown here, as well as a maxi length and a tunic top. And lucky for you the pattern is rated as easy, so even if you live in climate with a minimal  no summer you can still complete this cutie and enjoy it. So what are you waiting for? Just do it!

If you want more from Diana, be sure to check out her awesome book, S.E.W. Sew Everything Workshop. I reviewed this book last June, and gave it the 2 thumbs up for beginning students. If you already own S.E.W, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this sewing resource.

I hope we see more of you in the months to come, Diana, and happy sewing!

Maris Olsen

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Perfect Fitting — a mini review

Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting












I recently ordered Sarah Veblen’s new book, The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting, and I have to say that at first blush it looks appropriately named. Some concepts are not new. Making muslins, or test fitting garments, is hardly revolutionary. Though I was a little surprised that Sarah makes from 4 to 10 test garments to get the fit just right. Ten! It seems she is indeed striving for perfection. She shows photographs of fitting issues on real bodies, not stick thin models, so that is also helpful to illustrate specific points. Again, other fitting books have done this as well. The part that was new to me was her method of showing fitting problems related to length issues. Sarah visually shows the impact of too much or too little length by having sewists draw a horizontal balance line, aka HBL, on all fitting garments. For example, on pants this line should be drawn across the hip area. If the HBL dips down toward the floor, the crotch is too short and the solution is to add more length. Doh! Just by having this visual marker you can instantly see a fitting problem, AND you can also see when you have corrected it sufficiently. Nicely done, Sarah! I am going to try this method to adjust my jeans pattern since I am not at all happy with my current fit. I promise to post again after actually using her techniques and provide details. Maybe once I get my own jeans fit corrected I can stop looking at everyone’s butt to see how well THEIR pants fit! 🙂

Happy sewing!

Maris Olsen

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Couture Sewing Techniques- a (mini) book review

Are you a Claire Schaeffer fan? I am. She knows how to lay down some pretty awesome instructions for complex sewing tasks. I own and regularly read her original Couture Sewing Techniques, so I was definitely intrigued by Couture Sewing Techniques, Revised and Updated, published in May of this year.

Let me say I intended to read the new version, cover to cover. But I seem to be alternately obsessed about preparing for and uselessly hopping about on one foot over the VERY IMPENDING birth of my first grand-daughter (due December 3rd – eeeck!). So I didn’t read the revised version cover to cover. I did pretty darn thoroughly skim thru most chapters. I did compare the table of contents. I did compare the index. I found one complete new section in the updated book, entitled Designing with Fabric. I found new index entries, but all the ones I checked were a result of an improved index – not actual new content in the book.  And I guess it makes sense. Since these couture techniques have been around for a long while, umm, maybe there isn’t all that much new to say? I’m just saying…

I think both of Claire’s books are superb references. I think either would be a great addition to many sewing libraries. Either, but not both. Do you own one of Claire’s books? What do you think? How often do you use it?

If you are looking to add a great resource to your personal collection, you can purchase either edition below:

disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links that earn commissions for Sew Maris.

Happy sewing!

Maris Olsen


S.E.W. review

S.E.W. Sew Everything Workshop

I do not think THE perfect sewing book exists. Maybe that is my justification for owning so many reference books about sewing, but there are so many different levels of sewing ability and so many topics to cover that the one perfect book seems to be elusive. That said, there are lots of great sewing books, and I think Sew Everything Workshop: The Complete Step-by-Step Beginner’s Guide with 25 Fabulous Original Designs, Including 10 Patterns , by Diana Rupp is one of them. If you are a beginning sewist I would suggest you take a look at this book. I think it might also be a good reference for someone who is beyond the absolute beginner stage, but has not had many classes or much training and still has lots of questions.

Here’s what I like about this book:

  1. Lots of good prep material before you even sit down at the sewing machine.  Chapter 1 is Gearing Up, and covers organizing a sewing space, assembling a tool kit, and shopping for a sewing machine. I particularly like her comment on page 19 regarding the right kind of machine for basic sewing, “You need something as solid straightforward, and plastic free as you are“.  Hits a nerve with me – plastic in sewing machines is evil.
  2. Great pictures, and lots of them.
  3. The “tip” callouts are actually useful tips, and generally next to a picture of a technique. For example, on page 37 she includes her Curve Tip: Pssst! You’ll get much better results if you move the needle up and down with the flywheel when things get tricky. It gives you more control than if you use the foot pedal alone.” Nicely done. I always tell my students they could sew an entire garment turning the flywheel by hand. Slowly and tediously, but still….!
  4. I love her Ten Fabric Commandments on page 65. “1. Only buy fabric you love.” Right on.
  5. In Chapter 4, Laying and Cutting Out, she does a great job of covering the basic information included in commercial patterns. This is something every beginning sewist struggles with, and I think Diana’s coverage of this topic is particularly informative.
  6. I love, love, love the way the projects are presented. On the first page of every project she lists the difficulty level, materials, tools, amount of yardage needed, techniques that will be employed AND where each one is defined (sweet!!), the seam allowance used, and the pattern pieces needed. GREAT overview of the project clearly outlined right up front. Seriously – this alone makes the book worth the purchase price.

Things I would do differently:

  1. I think a glossary of sewing terms in one concise location would be helpful. She does define a lot of terms, but they are sprinkled throughout the book (and indexed so you CAN find them), I just like central glossaries.
  2. Not enough fitting information. Many (most?) people who attempt garment sewing are frustrated with how their completed garments fit. I get that it is a whole topic worthy of a separate book, but she skimped too much in this area.
  3. I would not have included some of the “fashion garments” (i.e. the Girly Go-To Dress) in the projects section. IMHO, there are much better designed dresses available commercially, and WAY too many figure variations on real bodies to get much real success with this kind of project in a book for beginners. See #2 above.

I found Diana’s projects to be reasonable. I am a tough critic in this arena – I think most projects included in sewing books are stoo-pid and ugly – and with the exception of the Lucky Scrap Scarf – her projects are definitely well above that bar. One caveat: I did not use any of her patterns so I have no idea how well drafted they are. I will leave that task for someone else. 🙂

Overall, this book is WELL worth the price and would be a good addition to most home sewing libraries. If you own it or have used it, I’d love to hear what YOU think. Post a comment and let me know!

Link to purchase S.E.W. from Amazon
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Happy sewing!

Maris Olsen