Typically, sewing books are like little journeys into the minds and worlds of pattern designers. You come for the innovative designs and gorgeous photos, and stay for the expert tips and little anecdotes about where the author found inspiration. Even as many designers approach their work as more process than product, the products are ultimately what define them. Think of Carolyn Friedlander’s Savor Each Stitch, a book that we love. Anyone with even basic knowledge of quilting’s bigwigs would recognize that book as uniquely hers (both for her slow-cloth process and her amazing designs).
Shea Henderson’s School of Sewing, the brand new “It-Book” from Lucky Spool, takes a markedly different approach to the traditional sewing guide. The book is, as the title implies, a back-to-basics guide for beginners offering twelve projects of gradually increasing difficulty, from a pillowcase at the beginning to a quilt at the end. And you know what? It actually is a head-over-heels love song to the whole messy, silly process of learning to sew. The book is based on Henderson’s year of teaching group lessons to friends and acquaintances, all with little to no sewing experience. Their learning process converges with the reader’s as Henderson addresses the sticky issues that actually came up in each lesson and includes quotations from her students about each project. The photos (by Lauren Hunt) are gorgeous, and the projects themselves (some designed by Henderson and some by others) are simple and straightforward. They provide the perfect templates for beginning sewists, introducing skills without unnecessary details yet still leaving students with polished, grownup products like tote bags and tablet cases. No baby blankets here!
If you’re already an experienced sewist with no desire to teach others, a) what are you, a Communist?; b) you probably won’t be interested in this book, which is fine since it wasn’t written for you. But for people who are new to sewing or who want to teach others who are new to sewing, it’s an innovative approach to the teaching and learning process. What makes School of Sewing different from other sewing books is that the pattern designs themselves are awesome, but they’re not the focus; they’re the path to learning technique. Want to practice stitching straight lines and making French seams? Make a pillowcase! Want to learn how to make and attach bias tape? Construct a pillow with bound edges! Henderson is pretty genius, precisely because she doesn’t insult the adult tastes, time, or intelligence of her students and readers just because they’re new to the craft. If we’re going to sew, we want to sew something that’s worth our time—something we’d actually want to use or give as a gift.
The other awesome element of this book, and the one that speaks the most to me, is its focus on sewing as a communal endeavor. The book is geared toward not only beginning sewists (whom Henderson enthusiastically encourages to sew with a “buddy”), but also their instructors. School of Sewing and its supplemental website (forthcoming!) offer teaching tips, lesson plans, and a solid curriculum for those who want to teach its content. It all works, too: you could learn to sew these projects by yourself from this book, but all the pictures of Henderson’s students having such a great time make sewing alone seem kind of…incomplete. Sewing has so much history and context as a collective activity, and Henderson definitely recognizes this and promotes community as an essential element of modern craft.
Bottom line: If you want to learn how to sew but aren’t sure where to start, or if you know someone who wants to get into it, I can’t recommend School of Sewing enough. It’s informative, fun, and inspiring. The learning and sewing processes—the laughter you share when you sew your entire elastic casing closed (not that I’ve ever ever done that HAHAHAHA), or the commiseration over a stubborn zipper foot—are the very clear focus here, and the book definitely makes the argument that sewing is about much more than needle and thread. School of Sewing‘s tagline: “Learn it. Teach it. Sew Together.” Damn straight. Sewing together, in the end, is what it’s all supposed to be about.