Review: Merchant & Mills Sewing Book

22 May 2014

Merchant & Mills Sewing Book

Merchant & Mills Sewing Book arrived in my mail recently, all gorgeous with its thick, untreated chipboard cover, embossed title, rounded corners, and vintage-style design. I was immediately intrigued.

I hadn't heard of Merchant & Mills – it's a UK-based purveyor of sewing tools and notions, fabrics, patterns, and finished goods. It operates under the guiding principle above, with an emphasis on careful craftsmanship, clean lines, and no frippery. Their website is well worth a look.

The purpose of this book, as stated in the introduction, is:

"This book is a condensed volume of the Merchant & Mills take on the art of sewing and the joy of making. It is a response to the questions we are most often asked, and is by no means definite, yet it clearly reflects our unique way of doing things."

Merchant & Mills Sewing Book

This is definitely a volume aimed at beginners, with a 14-page chapter on sewing tools and sewing machine operation. I'll admit, I was tempted to skip past this material, having seen it in so many other sewing books. But if you read the descriptions, there are fascinating tidbits for the intermediate sewist. The author, Carolyn N.K. Denham, has deep experience in sewing and tailoring, and a lot of wisdom to impart.

Merchant & Mills Sewing Book

Merchant & Mills Sewing Book

There's a chapter on basic sewing techniques and one on handling patterns, and both are intelligent, straightforward, and well illustrated. The techniques chapter covers darts and gathers, several seam finishes, set-in sleeves, buttons, zippers, hems, and facings.

The Patterns chapter explains pattern handling, marking, and fabric cutting, along with a number of common pattern alterations. And again, it's very intelligent and straightforward. I do have a tiny quibble, and that's the fact that, with all this beautiful garment-making instruction, there are only two garment projects in the book (one of which is more of a shawl). But I'll get to that in a moment.

Merchant & Mills Sewing Book

The chapter on pressing is worth the price of admission by itself. It's a subject that seems to get glancing treatment in so many sewing books, and here, the author goes deep, covering pressing tools and techniques, plus how to press various kinds of fabrics and seams.

Merchant & Mills Sewing Book

So, let's get into the projects. There are 15, and they're designed as useful, simple items: five bags, three pillows, a throw, four sewing tools, an apron, and two garments.

I loved that there were instructions for making your own pressing ham, sleeve roll, and ironing board cover – talk about useful!

Merchant & Mills Sewing Book

This project is called a "hussif," which was originally a uniform-repair kit carried by soldiers. This version is a generous roll-up pocket case for sewing supplies with a built-in needle book.

I have to say, I do love the simple visual presentation of these projects.

Merchant & Mills Sewing Book

Merchant & Mills Sewing Book

I do have a slight quibble with the project set – not that it's a bad project set! But as an avid sewing book reader who looks at a lot of titles… well… I see a lot of pillows and aprons in a year. I know this book is meant for beginners, and these are time-honored beginner projects (and well-designed ones at that). I just found myself wishing for more projects I'd be interested in making. Like that beautiful throw above . Or the bag below:

Merchant & Mills Sewing Book

Since a third of the projects are bags, I'll tell you that these include a simple messenger-style shoulder bag, a basic tote, a large duffel, a small travel bag for documents, and this Flight Bag, which I need to make for my next trip.

Merchant & Mills Sewing Book Merchant & Mills Sewing Book

Here are the two garment projects. One is a quite-ingenious woolen shawl with a collar and pockets. The other is a simple, boxy top with a stand-up collar. And again, I do wish for more garment projects from Merchant & Mills. Take a look at the patterns on their website - some intriguing pieces there.

Merchant & Mills Sewing Book

There's an envelope in back with paper patterns for the two garment projects. (The other projects have instructions for drafting your own simple pattern, or they're based on cutting fabric rectangles.) These patterns have to be enlarged on a copier, or can be downloaded full-size from the book's website.

I need to wrap up with one final quibble, but it's more of a quibble with sewing books in general. I want to be fair to Merchant & Mills Sewing Book, which really is an excellent beginner reference. But this book does beautifully illustrate something I've felt about sewing books for a long time.

As an intermediate sewist, I find that nearly every sewing book that crosses my desk is aimed at beginners. Which is great – I want more people sewing – but honestly, my bookshelf groans under the weight of information I already know. I adore the Merchant & Mills approach to sewing. This kind of depth and professional detail is something I hunger for as an intermediate reader. If Ms. Denham were to write a beyond-beginner book – one with deeper professional techniques and more challenging projects, I'd snap it right up. This one, I'd gladly gift to a beginning-sewist friend.

(Disclosures, of course: Chronicle Books sent me a review copy. The title links above are affiliate links.)



Oh I hear you on the beginner books. And yet at the same time, I've had periods of time where I'm looking for a beginner book as a gift and can't find one with the right set of projects or aesthetic.

Very interesting looking book. Thanks