Book review: “A Field Guide: Serger 101” by Katrina Walker = 3*

I don’t think I am saying anything controversial or new to say that a Serger (an overlocker) can be scary – I fully put my hands up and say I am daunted! Katrina’s book, however, is just the accompaniment to help!

This book aims to help people become more comfortable, and also more confident, with their serger. To begin with, Katrina expertly guides you through learning the basics (how it works, the needles, the parts), how to thread it and choosing your stitches.

Now, the detail in this section is phenomenal. Quite often the very act of threading a serger puts many off because of how detailed and complex it feels in comparison to a sewing machine. This book, however, is incredibly at providing a comprehensive guide to threading your serger with detailed instructions, photos and digital images to help you along the way. This ‘serger basics’ section is lengthy (pages 7-49) but this just demonstrates exactly how detailed the book’s instructions/guides are so that you, as the reader, do not feel overwhelmed or intimidated. It breaks it all down for you in an accessible and easy-to-follow format.

The book then presents a handful of projects so that you can begin to get comfortable using the serger in real-life.

At the start of this section (chapter 4) Katrina talks about accurate seams, using the differential feed and serging corners before then proffering projects to put these techniques into use: a coaster set and drawstring bags.

This layout continues throughout the book with Katrina presenting the serger techniques/stitch, setting up the stitch on your machine, troubleshooting, top tips and a project to put-into-action what you’ve learnt for each chapter.

Chapter 5 discusses flatlocking (with a table runner project to try the technique), chapter 6 explores ‘rolled hems’ (with a scarf project), chapter 7 covers ‘safety stitch and coverstitching’ (with a tote project), chapter 8 covers ‘knit construction techniques’ (with a knit t-shirt project and leggings project), chapter 9 discusses ‘woven construction techniques’ (with a kimono style project) and chapter 10 presents ‘serging sheers and delicates’ (with a shrug project). Chapter 11 covers any additional and speciality tools that you can get with your serger (lace foot, beading foot etc).

The detail in this book is incredible. Personally, I found the projects incredibly dated and not very inspiring. I did, however, love the depth of detail that Katrina went into for using your serger so if you’re looking for something informative to further your knowledge of your serger, and how to use it, then this is the book for you!

UK book stockists: https://www.searchpress.com/book/9781617459214/serger-101

US book stockists: https://www.ctpub.com/serger-101/

Katrina Walker: http://katrinawalker.com/

Book review: “Crazy Quilting: Dazzling Diamonds” by Kathy Seaman Shaw = 4*

Kathy has done it again and created another fabulous book! Think you know all there is to know about embroidery and crazy patchwork? Then think again as this book offers a new and novel twist: crazy diamond patchwork!

This comprehensive book expertly guides you through Kathy’s process of how to create dazzling diamond crazy patchwork!

The section on creating the quilt blocks (supplies, construction and embellishment) is clear, accessible and easy to follow which step-by-step instructions alongside photos so that you feel supported and inspired to make along too!

Following the block constructions, Kathy then guides you through a whole host of fiber embroidery stitches, silk stitches, combining these stitches and adding beads.

Again, I adore how each of those sections not only has the written instructions but digital images to show how to create the stitch as well as a photo of the completed stitch. This combination really helps to build a comprehensive guide for creating the stitches.

Kathy then shows you how to combine what you’ve learnt (block construction, fiber embroidery, silk embroidery and embellishments) to create her blocks. I love how these are laid out! The block is broken down into the materials/stitches used (with clear digital diagrams) as well as a photo of the finished block – utterly genius and absolutely inspirational!

This is a truly sumptuous and inspirational book and I’d highly recommend it for anyone with an interested in stitching, embroidery, and patchwork!

UK book stockists: https://www.searchpress.com/book/9781617459016/crazy-quilting-dazzling-diamonds

US book stockists: https://www.ctpub.com/crazy-quilting-dazzling-diamonds/

Book review: “Cross Stitch Christmas: 20 Beautiful Designs for the Festive Season” = 3.5*

I always aim to be honest in my reviews and that means I will rave about a book when it is incredible, but I will also say where I found a book lacking. To give a “star rating” for this book was really hard because the cross stitch designs themselves are an absolute 5* but the book’s layout and presentation wasn’t cohesive. This meant that I gave ‘Cross Stitch Christmas’ an overall review of 3.5*.

As you can see from the contents page, there is a wide range of cross stitch designs from festive foliage to Christmas animals, and from advent to alphabets. Each design is so beautiful, classy and fabulously photographed.

Alongside each cross stitch design there is a page of writing and this is where I felt the book was not cohesive. The introduction doesn’t explain what these writing pieces are about and they seem to be tips and ideas for festive activities but as there is no information, it isn’t easy to follow or to understand.

The charts for each cross stitch are not located alongside the project. Instead, you have all the photos of the designs with the festive tips/ideas/activities alongside them and once that’s presented then you have 20 pages of cross stitch charts.

This then makes it difficult to navigate the book as you have to flick back and forth between the charts and the photo of the finished design (so for the ‘Those Little Extras’ project you are then flicking back and forth between page 64 for the chart and page 15 for the project). Having reviewed lots of Search Press books, they typically present the instructions alongside the photos of the project so it feels at odds with their usual, reader-friendly, layout.

Following the photos of the projects, and then the charts, there is a “techniques and making up” section. Again, the layout means that I didn’t find this book reader-friendly as it feels counterintuitive to include instructions at the end of the book on preparing your fabric, tips for whilst you are stitching and ‘how-to cross stitch’.

So, all in all, this book has some really and truly stunning cross stitch designs but, as it felt that it lacked cohesion, I averaged it out to a 3.5* review.

Book review: “Quick and Easy Christmas: 100 gifts & decorations to make for the festive season” by Search Press Studio = 5*

Quick and Easy Christmas, a new Search Press Studio book, is absolutely incredible! It is an amalgamation of projects, taken from the Search Press ’20 to Make’ series, which is a sure-fire winner of a Christmas book for multi-crafters!

There are 7 crafting themes within the book (stitching, papercraft, knitting, jewellery, crochet, sugarcraft and polymer clay) and each theme is colour-coded so you can easily identify the craft groupings by sight.

I also absolutely LOVE their contents page as they give you the photo of the project as well as the project title and corresponding page number.

To me, this is an absolute genius move by Search Press as it makes it much more reader-friendly! It is easier to navigate, be inspired by, and browse the projects all by sight and in one place!

I also love how each craft grouping starts with the corresponding ‘know-how’ pages to introduce you to the techniques you’ll use during the following projects. Again, this really helps in making the book accessible, effortless to navigate and easy to find the basics for the craft alongside the projects associated with it.

I had a go at knitting the ‘Snowflakes Mug Hug’ project as it looked so fantastically festive!

The instructions are clear, easy to follow and result in a fabulous make! I can’t wait to sew lots of Christmas buttons onto the mug hug!

With 100 projects and an RRP. of £9.99 (which means that it works out at less than 10p per project), this is an absolutely fabulous Christmas craft book which will inspire you for years to come!

Book review: “The Kew Book of Embroidered Flowers” by Trish Burr = 5*

The Kew Book of Embroidered Flowers is a beautiful book exploring botanical textile art through needle painting (a form of surface embroidery).

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew have a special place in my heart (after I got engaged there) so I had high expectations of this book to do justice to such a beautiful setting with a vast collection of botanicals and botanical illustrations. The botanical illustrations within Kew’s Library, Art and Archives collection have offered inspiration for many makers, crafters and artists since it was established in the mid 19th century.

Trish Burr offers a new and inspiring insight into Kew’s botanical illustrations through her 11 embroidery projects.

The book starts off with a beautifully detailed section explaining terminologies, materials, tools and preparation activities.

Trish then begins to explain the different stitches. I found these pages not only visually stunning, but really clear and really accessible. Each stitch is explained with clear tips, methods, diagrams and photos both of the how-to for the stitch and also for the finished flower using that stitch.

Once all of these areas have been covered, Trish then starts to guide you through the projects!

These projects are grouped according to their difficulty and range from “simple projects” through to “advanced projects”.

Each project is so sumptuously presented with beautiful stitching, a clear information list (about materials, project size), information about the illustration that inspired Trish’s textile interpretation and a step-by-step guide for stitching the botanical for yourself.

I love how each project also has an accompanying, reusable transfer sheet (with information about how to use the transfer sheet) so that you don’t have to worry about getting the botanical shape correct…you can just start stitching!

This really is a breathtaking book and whilst it is definitely an expensive book (with an RRP. of £25) it is absolutely worth it because the photography, the information, the projects and the overall feel of the book is absolutely flawless! A true 5* book which is going to be a beautiful book for anyone interested in art, making, botanicals, Kew, sewing and creating!

Book review: “Creative Calligraphy: Prompts, Tutorials and Practice Pages” by Mary Noble and Janet Mehigan = 4*

Creative Calligraphy is a new Search Press book which is your go-to handbook for calligraphy!

At an RRP of £12.99, this book is an absolute bargain as it has a whopping 224 pages! It is HUGE!

You can see how vast this book is which gives an indication of just how much it includes! I also really love how the different sections are colour coded so at a quick glance you’re able to flick to the section you want!

The book starts with a really comprehensive guide to the book’s layout, tools and materials, marks, pressure, pen angles and problem solving. This helps to give you a solid foundation before moving on to the projects!

The book has seven “alphabets” and each alphabet starts with information about its origins, structures, pen angles, spacing, uppercase and lowercase guides.

Once those areas have been covered, there are then practise pages for you, as the reader, to use so that you can explore, experiment and practise what’s been taught.

These pages have multiple lines on to guide the shape height (uppercase and lowercase) which is really helpful. There is space for you to practise each letter of the alphabet individually and the authors have included accompanying individual examples of each letter on the page which is a really big help (so that you don’t have to flick back and forth between the main instructions and your practise page).

Following the practise pages, there are then colour pages with designs already made for you to continue to practise your calligraphy on (minus the line guides so it is another step up). These pages are absolutely phenomenal! The designs are so beautiful, so vibrant and so stylish – they’re just waiting for the calligraphy to make them personal to you!

If you’re interested in calligraphy, this is a really fabulous, colourful and hugely detailed book which is a real bargain for £12.99! I gave it 4* because it is so comprehensive, so beautiful and so vast! What I would have loved is some accompanying videos to match the book and to show the alphabets and the pen angles happening in real, moving time because I found it quite hard to follow in the book. I know Search Press have done this with some of their books so it is possible! If there were those videos, it would have been a 5* review for sure! All in all, this really is a beautiful and inspiring book and is available from Search Press here.

Book review: “Watercolour Plant Art” by Nikki Strange = 5*

Watercolour Plant Art review…where do I start?! This book is INCREDIBLE!! Nikki Strange is an inspirational and extremely talented artist who expertly guides you through her own methods for creating Watercolour Plant Art!

The contents page is clear and accessible – it doesn’t feel overwhelming at all! The book has a wide variety of projects which allows you to explore different styles, colours, techniques and layouts so there is sure to be something that will catch your eye!

Before starting the projects, Nikki guides you through paints, papers, brushes, palettes, colour-theory and different watercolour techniques in an easy-to-follow style which is also really helpful to continue to refer back to as you work your way through the projects!

Each project starts off with a clear photo of the painting along with a list of materials, colours and colour mixes. As someone who doesn’t have a huge variety of paints (I’m very new to watercolour), I found it really helpful when Nikki specifies the colours, what each mix is made up of and also how Nikki uses only a handful of colours to do all of the projects in the book! It makes it really easy to follow and really accessible.

The project is broken down into step-by-step actions (colours, what brush to use and what technique to use) so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming!

I had so much fun working my way through the projects and playing with different techniques, colour mixes, plants and projects!

I’ve never done watercolour before so it was a real learning curve for me to try these projects but it didn’t feel overwhelming at all. Nikki speaks of letting go of control and letting the water work its magic with the paint and it is such a good mentality because it helped me to get lost in the process rather than worrying about the finesse of the painting!

The book comes with a sketchpad with the outline for each project so that you can watercolour directly onto the outline.

I used the sketchpad for the first project that I tried from the book but, in all honesty, I found that the paper really didn’t work well and ended up quite furry as it didn’t withstand the water and ended up ripping through the paper!

That’s not to take away from the book as the book itself is INCREDIBLE! I just used the book as an instructional guide and painted onto my own watercolour sketchpad instead. You could use the sketchpad with a lightbox to draw the design onto proper watercolour paper too.

All in all, this is a phenomenal book and I would recommend it to anyone interested in watercolour from those starting out to those who’ve been painting for much longer! It is clear to follow, understandable, detailed, accessible, inspirational, creative and utterly beautiful! An absolute 5* book!

Links:

Watercolour Plant Art book

Nikki Strange’s website

Nikki’s Instagram

Search Press Instagram

Book review: “Love Acrylics” by Courtney Burden = 5*

If I could give this book more than 5*, I really would because it is absolutely phenomenal! I am going to start by saying that I am not an acrylic painter (or any sort of painter really!) and yet, after working my way through the activities in this book, I am counting down my working hours until I finish so that I can start playing with paints!

Love Acrylics, by Courtney Burden and published by Search Press, is absolutely jam-packed with ideas, inspiration, challenges, activities and prompts for making creative acrylic art!

You can see from the contents pages exactly how vast this book is – from colour to texture, design to process, exploring to finished projects…this book has got you covered!

Courtney starts the book by exploring supplies, tools, materials and brush care (and manages to make these pages look inspirational too)! With 100+ activities, prompts and inspirations, this book will leave no stone unturned! From dry brush painting…

to abstract creations…

and from abstract mirror image printing with splodges…

to finding calm within a chaotic world/painting…

…to say this book has got you covered is an understatement. This is THE book for anyone who wants to begin to explore, create, make, play, experiment, let loose and have fun!

I am going to sign off this book review with a quote from Courtney which sums up this 5* book so beautifully:

“My hope is that it inspires you to be more creative, colourful and whimsical every day of your life. This bool isn’t filled with just a bunch of rules or traditional painting techniques: instead, with each play, prompt and project, I encourage you to create freely, like you’re a kid again – not focused on rules or the final outcome, but enjoying the process and soaking up the fun along the way!” ~ Courtney Burden

Book review: “Four-Step Watercolour” by Marina Bakasova = 3.5*

I found it difficult to decide on a number of stars for this review as there were parts of the book that I thought were amazing but also parts that I felt were lacking…so I averaged it out at a 3.5* out of 5.

‘Four-Step Watercolour: 150 Skill-Building Projects to Paint’ is immediately enticing by the title and offer alone…watercolour projects in 4 steps? I’m in!

Following the contents page, the book starts with meeting Marina, the author and creator, before moving on to materials, tools and techniques.

The technique pages are amazing and I really, really love how Marina covers a range of techniques in a bitesize, accessible manner. Once you’ve had a play with the techniques, you can then move on to the four-step projects!

The projects are broken down into a variety of themes including vegetables, drinks, flowers, animals, and more! I think it is incredibly clever how each theme is assigned a colour so you can flick through the book and visually identify the theme by the colour on the page’s corners!

I also really like how each project says the ‘skill level’ as easy, medium or high. In reality, however, I didn’t feel the labels were that accurate as it very much depends how you classify “easy”.

The palm leaf is categorised as ‘easy’ so I presumed this would be suitable for beginners and it was my first attempt at watercolour. I found the “four step” instructions too simplistic and unclear. As a beginner, I really struggled to know what to do (how to apply it, what brush to use, what technique)…so whilst I tried to follow the instructions, I ended up being unable to, and did my own thing instead!

I had another go with the tulip too but I found the same problem…it just didn’t have enough instructions to make it accessible if you’re new to watercolour.

So, with that being said, I averaged this book at 3.5*. If you’re fairly confident with watercolour and you’re looking for an ideas sourcebook then this would be a fantastic book for you! If, however, you’re not familiar with watercolour and you’re looking for an easy-to-understand, accessible book on watercolour then I wouldn’t recommend this book (Search Press do have some amazing Watercolour books that are definitely more accessible so check out my other book reviews and, in particular, the Search Press ‘Love Watercolour’ and ‘Watercolour Plant Art’)!

Book review: ’10 Step Drawing: Nature’ = 5*

There is a new addition to the Search Press ’10 Step Drawing’ series and what a fabulous addition it is!

’10 Step Drawing: Nature’, by Mary Woodin, aims to guide you through creating your own nature images (animals, flowers, trees and more) within 10 steps!

Now, I’ll be honest with you here, when I flicked through the book and saw the sumptuous images I really didn’t believe such detailed drawings could be created in 10 steps…well, I was wrong! Mary really does expertly guide you through each image in 10 achievable steps! Before we get onto the drawings, I just wanted to show the contents pages:

The book is divided into 3 different ‘nature’ themes including: ‘Meadows and Wetland’, ‘Forest’ and ‘Coast’. I was really impressed at the wide variety of nature drawings within each theme (there are 60 options). and even the contents page is beautifully illustrated. So, from wildlife to plants, this book has you covered!

The instructions and the layout of each drawing is really well placed and easy to follow. Each of the steps are numbered along with their corresponding instructional image and short textual instructions. I love how accessible this is by making each step a short, achievable step which doesn’t feel overwhelming.

I also love how under each title, there is a little extra info to inspire, encourage and inform! The final image is the largest image and I think that really helps for clarity so that you know what you are progressing towards. I also really like that the colour palette is at the end underneath the final image as it means you can focus on the actual mark marking in steps 1-9 before exploring colour in the final step. That really helps to make sure we’re not getting distracted by colours in the earlier steps and that we can then focus on the structure, the marks and the shapes!

I’ve really enjoyed looking through this book and I have cracked out my pen and paper to start the 10 steps too! These are my steps 1-9 for drawing the ‘Juniper’ from the book and I am now looking forwards to step 10 and adding the colour!

This is a really beautiful, accessible and inspiring book which is full of creativity and ideas for drawing nature!

To find out more about Mary Woodin you can head to her digital platforms:
Website: https://www.marywoodin.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/marywoodin/?hl=en

The book is available on the Search Press website here: https://www.searchpress.com/book/9781782218555/10-step-drawing-nature