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Saturday, July 2nd, 2011
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1, 2, 3 Sew: Build Your Skills with 33 Simple Sewing Projects

by Ellen Luckett Baker

The Only Book on Beginner Sewing You Will Ever Need (Really)

A review by Megan Zabel

If you consider yourself an avid consumer of instructional craft books, you've probably figured out by now that most of them harbor a dark secret under their attractive packaging and glossy pages. There is almost always at least one fatal flaw preventing them from being "The Only Book on Needlework/Butter-carving/Candle-making You Will Ever Need." Claims like this are invariably lies. Ninety-five percent of DIY guides will fail you in some way, and that will compel you to buy more DIY guides to compensate for their shortcomings.

I commonly find three different types of offenses:

1. Even though the book claims to contain "simple" projects for "beginners," it features projects that are well beyond your skill set -- except, you won't figure this out until you're in too deep to turn back. You'll sew a zipper on upside down, and the accompanying sense of dejection will potentially push you to turn your back on the craft forever.

2. No one seems to have proofread the instructional manual. Important descriptions have been glossed over or whole steps omitted entirely. It's alarming how frequently this occurs in books from publishers who have the resources to spring for top-notch copyeditors. You'll find yourself Googling "rustic market tote HELP ME" to figure out why, after you've followed the directions to a T, your finished sack doesn't have a bottom.

3. This one is the worst, the cruelest of the craft-book faux pas: You flip open the new one you've been waiting for only to discover that at least half of the included projects are laughable in their absurdity. Giant hobo bags lined with tassels. Spats. Patchwork pants made from recycled dish towels. They're hiding in there. Even the most reputable designers will throw you some head-scratchers. When the models showcasing the wares can't even do it with a straight face, you're in trouble.

The good news is that sometimes the stars align, and then materializes the craft book that has it all. The instructions are clear; the skill level is accurate; and the projects are practical and stylish. One, 2, 3 Sew is a dream come true. It's the book that I wish had existed when I decided I wanted to learn how to stitch.

Author Ellen Luckett Baker presents a "building block" approach to sewing where projects are presented in groups of three, and each one expands on skills learned in the previous one. Beginner to intermediate sewers are guided through basic stitches and even get to dabble in more advanced techniques like quilting, applique, zippers, pleats, and pin tucks, while more experienced users will find ample opportunities to expand their skills by riffing on Baker's designs.

And those designs! They're refreshing in their simplicity: no tassels, no extraneous pockets, no overdone embellishments. The book's jacket copy states that usability was valued over everything else, and it shows. Patterns include everything from versatile bags, to stylish decor, and accessories for every member of the family. You'll actually want to make and use these projects, and you'll be proud to give them as gifts.

If you're looking to learn how to sew or to hone your beginner to intermediate skills, do yourself a favor and pick up this book first, before you've had your craft-loving heart broken by countless others. The folks behind 1, 2, 3 Sew defied the odds and hit this one out of the park.

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