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May Martin’s Sewing Bible – Review

September 18, 2014

Last week HarperCollins Publishers sent me a copy of May Martin’s Sewing Bible to review.  May Martin, judge on BBC2’s The Great British Sewing Bee (alongside the delectable Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant), has been teaching in the textile business for over 40 years, and her new book aims to share with the reader ’40 years of tips and tricks on how to make your own fashion, home furnishings and crafts’.


I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book given the plethora of sewing books there are these days, but I was pleasantly surprised by its quality.  Released on 28th August 2014, I can see that booksellers will be promoting this hardback for Christmas, and rightly so, for this is an in-depth and impressive reference book that I think would be useful to anyone interested in sewing, whether they are beginner sewers or more advanced.

In the introduction, May discusses the wonderful bond between people that a shared hobby and skill such as sewing can create.  We have seen it through blogging, through social media, through meet-ups – she has seen it through teaching and through The Great British Sewing Bee (and no doubt in other ways, too).  She talks about how the ‘tips and tricks’ in the book are borne of 40 years’ experience, both personal and professional, and especially through teaching.  She says she has learnt from her pupils – and being able to say that is the sign of a good teacher.  Teaching is not just imparting knowledge; it’s helping, sharing, learning more, reflecting, being challenged and constantly improving.

The ‘Tips and Tricks’ section only spans about a third of the book; the rest is devoted to specific projects.  However, these pages are among the most useful I have encountered in a book such as this.  The breadth of focus is impressive, and whilst not every aspect is fully in-depth (how could it be? – the book has to draw the line somewhere), the basics are definitely covered.

The projects are organised into sections: home furnishings, accessories, adults’ fashion and kids’ fashion.  The one strange thing about this book, though, and possibly its downfall, is that some projects are based on pre-existing sewing patterns that are for sale – patterns by McCall’s, Butterick, Vogue and Kwik Sew.  I suppose May Martin is a teacher and not a pattern cutter, but I still find it strange and disappointing that the projects are not all available within the book, or at the very least, downloadable.  It means if you want to make these particular projects then you will need to find the pattern and buy it.  Other, similar sewing books have set the precedent for the inclusion of patterns within the book, and it is not obvious from leafing through the book that not all patterns are included, so I think this will be an unexpected (and unwelcome) feature.  I presume that May’s instructions are more in-depth than those that come with the patterns themselves, and that they are presented differently with photography and additional diagrams – but I cannot attest to these facts as I don’t own any of the patterns and so I cannot compare.

May states ‘My aim has been to try to bring them [the sewing patterns] alive by focusing on particular techniques […] which you can use again and again on other projects, building your skills all the time’.  I can understand her reasoning, but I have to say that when these techniques are not available to practise in the context in which they are being presented, the learning opportunity is wasted.  In Tilly Walnes’ book ‘Love at First Stitch’, published earlier this year and reviewed here, the principle is the same in that you learn techniques within the context of a specific project, but the added bonus of Tilly’s book is that the project patterns are included within the book.

The look of the book is clean, fresh and modern.  Thankfully, it doesn’t fall into the sickly-sweet everything-floral-all-the-pastel-colours trap.  The photography is nicely styled yet unpretentious.  I love the pattern paper prints and vintage pattern prints which are interspersed throughout the book.

The book is well written, well organised and the tone is professional and not patronising.  The only nit-picking thing I would say is regarding the project for a ‘Man’s Apron’…you know what I’m going to say, don’t you?!  Why does it have to be for a man?!  It’s an apron!  It’s unisex!

I would definitely recommend this book for a Christmas gift or for your Christmas list.  The publication date is canny in its timing and the projects for a table runner, napkins, napkin rings, placemats, decorations and stockings would all be fantastic to make in time for the festive season.

Thanks to HarperCollins for providing the review copy, which I am going to add to my ever-growing collection of sewing books.

  1. September 18, 2014 2:55 pm

    Thanks for this, I’ve been wondering if her book is any good! I’m not sure about buying the patterns too though. That is a bit odd.

  2. Simona permalink
    September 18, 2014 10:05 pm

    Thanks Louise! Your review actually answered a few questions I had about this book and helped me decide to buy or not to buy the book!

  3. September 24, 2014 7:53 pm

    I was interested to read your review. Like you I think the no patterns but referencing existing patterns is a bit odd. You make me smile with saying how it avoids “the sickly sweet…” I am starting to reach capacity on that style! X

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