Book Review: Seams to Me by Anna Maria Horner

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Anna Maria Horner's first book, Seams to Me, is exactly what you'd expect from this popular fabric designer.

One of the sewing books that I’d really looked forward to much of this year is Anna Maria Horner’s Seams to Me: 24 New Reasons to Love Sewing, which was released by Wiley in October. Anna Maria is one of my favorite fabric designers–I love the highly artistic graphics she utilizes in combination with vibrant colors. The result is a rich, bold and distinctive aesthetic that’s modern and fresh. When Seams to Me arrived in our mailbox, I was not surprised that the cover practically screamed “Anna Maria.” And the contents follow suit.

The first section, “Getting Started,” is a great introduction for new sewers and offers lots of tips and reminders for those of us old hands. For example, there’s an excellent page and a half of guidance on choosing and buying a sewing machine. My mother happened to be looking for a new machine after killing hers in a very abusive fashion right around when I got Seams to Me, and she found this advice very helpful:

The best machine for you is the one that keeps you inspired to try new things but doesn’t overwhelm you.

While that’s fairly simple advice, it is also advice that really holds true–and it proved helpful to my mom as she was making her decision about a new machine. This section also contains some excellent thoughts on setting up a comfortable sewing area, particularly making sure your setup is ergonomically appropriate. Anna Maria also covers some important concepts often overlooked in sewing books that are geared toward a broad audience (as this one is): good pressing, cutting tools and importance of using the right tools for your pinning, sewing and marking needs. Even advanced sewers and sewists need this reminder every so often. She even shares her clever trick for making perfect circles–which she dubs “Super Circles.”

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A page from the "Cooking with Color" section of Seams to Me. Anna Maria explains how three basic formulas can create wildly different effects, depending on the tone and pattern of your chosen fabric.

The final piece in this first section that really stands out to me as unique is her Anna Maria’s focus on combining colors–which she calls “Color Recipes.” She has three basic formulas for “Cooking with Color”–Monochromatic, Monocromatic with an Accent and Multicolored–and demonstrates quite well how these recipes can be applied in various ways to create radically different outcomes. While my initial impression was that these formulas would primarily benefit quilters and home decorators, after reflecting on it some more, I can definitely see some applications in the garment sewing that I do–especially when planning trims and accents.

Of the twenty-four projects in Seams to Me, seventeen are for home accessories or decorating items–only seven are garments or fashion accessories, two of which are (extremely cute) little girls items. As primarily a garment sewer, this is somewhat disappointing, although not surprising. This seems to be about the ratio in every general sewing book. It’s much more difficult and expensive to produce patterns for clothing with all the sizes required, and much more room for error in pattern drafting. With that said, the items in the “Stylize” chapter are really quite attractive, with one notable problem that I’ll discuss in a minute.

First, both bags are über-cute. (Because you can never, ever have too many bag patterns.)

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Taxi Tote: I really like the simple shape of this bias tape-trimmed shoulder bag. (I also think that the model in this photo may have stolen one of my outfits. That so looks like a combination I would put together.)

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I'll Have One of Everything Bag: This bag is constructed using small pieces of eight different fabrics--a great way to experience with the "Color Recipes" in Seams to Me.

I was also happy to see that the skirt “pattern” in this book is actually a formula, much like that in Sew What Skirts, for making a custom A-line skirt for your exact measurements. This is one of those things that really everyone who sews with any regularity should know how to do, in my opinion. I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed someone at the pattern counter who is wanting to learn how to sew who is asking the (often grumpy) salesperson for recommendations on an A-line skirt pattern so they can learn to sew. The custom skirt route is so much more forgiving fit-wise (since you draft it for your measurements), and I think that the investment in time creating a well-fitting skirt pattern can potentially encourage people to keep at sewing. Whereas so many of the big pattern companies have so many crazy fit issues that a beginner is fairly likely to get frustrated–especially when they find out that their measurements equal three or four sizes larger in sewing pattern sizing than they do in ready-to-wear. Two big thumbs up for this!

With that said, however, Anna Maria should have either 1) omitted the “Smashing Smock” or 2) given it the attention it deserves. It’s a very cute sleeveless yoked top, but it only comes in a medium (no size chart included, that I could find). As we know, one person’s medium is another’s extra-large is another’s small, so the label “medium” is essentially meaningless. Also, while Anna Maria included very comprehensive and methodologically-sound instructions for enlarging and shrinking the pattern, it’s such a fussy maneuver that I fear it will turn most readers off of this particular pattern. And, while the pattern will be modified successfully using those instructions (since it’s a loose, boxy style), it bothers me that the modifications don’t include a discussion of the fact that for most pattern you would need to grade the pattern to modify it, rather than just enlarging it. I would hate for someone to apply this technique to a fitted blouse because it worked for a boxy smock. You would end up with gaping armholes and a neckline that folds over onto itself.  The child’s “Prairie Blouse” (which is adorable) is modified the same way, and measurements are also omitted for that pattern as well. I realize I’m far more advanced and particular about fit in garments that most people who will be using Seams to Me to make either of these tops, but it’s still somewhat disappointing. (I also wish that the “Prairie Blouse” was the adult blouse because I love raglan sleeves, but that’s just me being wistful.)

The “Organize” chapter is really fun, with loads of items that would be great to make for a sewing room especially, including organizing cubes, a magnetic inspiration board, wall pockets and even a garment bag. These projects would be particularly rewarding for a new sewer who could simultaneously work through these projects, build his or her skills and organize and decorate a sewing space. There is one item in particular that I absolutely love–the “Pin Cushion Caddy.”

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Pin Cushion Caddy: This is fun project requiring small bits of fabric to create a pin cushion that also helps contain clutter in your sewing space.

I also absolutely love the items in the “Domesticate” chapter, which range from beautiful appliqued and embroidered dishtowels to a fun patchwork ball (which our dog has requested I make for her). Each of the items in this section would be thoughtful wedding or housewarming gifts, too. (I always keep in mind simple projects that would make good gifts for various life events.) These are my two favorites:

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The "Doggie Dreams Bed" (which you make using a formula based on your dog's size!) and the "Full Contact Cooking Apron" (which I need to make ASAP). Both of these designs from Seams to Me would be well-received housewarming gifts.

You’ve often read me gripe about how hard it is to read the print in many sewing books and how their design often doesn’t think about the end user. I have to tell you, I am 100% thrilled with the readability and usability of this book. It has sewing-friendly spiral binding, clear, dark print on a light background (yay!) and clear, understandable instructions with appealing, clear drawings. And, even better, they haven’t sacrificed the book attractiveness to make it accessible. It has loads of color on each page, beautiful photography that really shows the projects in detail (and you can get a good sense of the size of the items, too, as they’re shown with other items in each photo). Also, the people used throughout the book look like real folks, and the settings feel very familiar–like the pictures were taken at your friend’s very stylish farm. This total package makes Seams to Me one of those sewing books that’s really fun to flip through and admire.

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An example of an instruction page from Seams to Me (this page is for the "Right Off the Cuff" project. Each project has easy to read text and clear drawings and most have multiple photos. Finally someone who really understands sewing designed a sewing book!

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Playing Along Quilt: This is an example of the attractive, yet familiar, nature of the photography in Seams to Me.

Seams to Me is a fun book, and if you’ve followed Anna Maria’s blog and are familiar with her designs, you’ll see her mark all over this book. There are definitely enough projects that have a special twist that make it worth the $24.99 price tag, and the introductory section really stands apart among the rapidly-growing catalog of sewing books that are on the market. With the holidays coming up, this could be a nice gift for a sewer or sewist in your life–especially if they’re an Anna Maria Horner fan. It’s also another one that would be a quality addition to a “learning to sew” list, because of the clear instructions, variety of projects, tips and techniques and the fact that it doesn’t appeal strictly to the younger set–to me, Seams to Me has a wonderful universal, ageless appeal.

You can check out projects people have made using Seams to Me over on flickr. There’s also a free pattern download available from Wiley, if you’d like to take Seams to Me for a test drive before purchasing.

~Sarah

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7 thoughts on “Book Review: Seams to Me by Anna Maria Horner

  1. Your mom killed her sewing machine in a very abusive manner? Tell all!!!

    My sewing right now consists of trying to fix a Vogue v-neck dress that turned out way LOOOOOW (showing my womanly assets at work is not my preferred mode of dress) and a loud poinsettia Christmas vest requested by my husband.

  2. enlarging on a photo copier isn’t going to work at ALL for clothing.

    But, I love that quilt pattern! So pretty. (too bad I use a duvet, all those cute quilts will remain unmade!)

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  5. just thought I’d chime in here to say: thank you for such an amazing long review. I bought Seams to Me as my “learn to sew book” I am a L/XL in ready to wear, and the first project I ever made (other than some xmas ornaments for practice) was the Smashing Smock. I actually found her instructions awesome and i made tons of mistakes, but it turned out super duper cute. The first read through of the pattern I was disappointed that it wasn’t all layed out for me, but after trucking through it, now I know more about the mechanics of sewing, so i think its made me a better sewer in the long run. I wanted mine a bit shorter and more fitted than the photo, and the guidelines she gave helped me figure out how to do that :) the fit is so universally flattering and it is SO comfy (not to mention the fact that I didn’t realize i was using tablecloth material) but hey, i got a super cute top for $2 plus it only took me a total of 3hrs to make from cutting out the pattern to sewing on some buttons. I just wish she’d included more photos (you can’t even tell there are gathers at the front and back until you read through the pattern, etc)

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