Diane's blog

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.)


Logan Quilt Front

I've been hard at work on assorted T-shirt quilt samples for my upcoming CreativeLIVE class, and couldn't resist sharing them.

The one above is for my nephew, who as you can see has excellent taste in T-shirts. I love how this one came out - the T-shirt blocks were quite busy-looking when placed next to each other, so I added some black sashing, and then cut leftover scraps from the shirts into LEGO-like blocks to go between. It's backed in a LEGO yellow solid.

Stephanie Quilt Front

...And this one is for my sister in law. These shirts come from the company she's worked for for a long time. They presented an interesting challenge, because even though they say the same thing, they're really diverse in terms of color and mood. I ended up grouping them tightly together and surrounding them with solids, trying to balance the various hues. Symmetrical asymmetry!

This is what makes T-shirt quilting so much fun for me: each pile of shirts has a story to tell, and it's fascinating to find that particular arrangement that lets them tell it.


Next up, a quilt for my brother. It promises to be extremely manly! I'm trying to decide whether to introduce some color, or let it be all neutral like this. We'll see....

(If you'd like to RSVP and get a reminder of when my class is broadcasting, you can do that over here.)


I know I've been quiet this week - I'm in deep quilt-making mode at the moment, but will have a couple new things to share soon. Meantime, here's a new video in my EPP Basics series. It covers two good ways to take the paper templates out of an EPP project. Enjoy!


I've been adding new videos to my YouTube channel week by week, and trying to remember to share them here as well. So here's the latest, a little how-to for sewing two panels of PC together.

If you're of the YouTube persuasion and want to subscribe to my channel, you can do so over here. New vids every Friday! (Generally speaking.) :-)

Quilting With a Modern Slant

Storey Publishing sent me this review copy way back in January. I've been waiting to review it here because I haven't finished reading it yet. And that is because it's one of those books I really don't want to finish. You know when you're enjoying a book so much, you hate to lose the experience of reading it for the first time? That's what I'm having with Quilting with a Modern Slant: People, Patterns, and Techniques Inspiring the Modern Quilt Community.

This is also a notable book in that I actually do want to read every word. That's not always the case with craft books for me. Sometimes I pay more attention to the pretty pictures or how the techniques are documented. I refer to them over and over, but I don't really read them deeply.

Quilting With a Modern Slant

To give you some idea of what kind of book this is, here's the table of contents. As you can see, it's broken up into thematic chapters. And within each theme, there are interviews with quilters, tutorials for techniques, full quilt and small project patterns, and interesting bits of quilting history.

…That's a phenomenally ambitious amount of content to put between two covers! And Rachel May and Storey have pulled it off magnificently.

Quilting With a Modern Slant

The central question here is: How do we define modern quilting? And I'm in love with this book's meandering way of answering this question. Not only that, every snippet is presented in a thoughtful way that gets my wheels turning.

Just to illustrate a point, I'd like to quote from the intro to the chapter titled "The Personal is Political:"

"We all know this phrase from feminism's second wave, and it seems apt to mention it here in the context of quilts and quiltmaking, an art (or craft, depending on your politics!) that is deeply connected to world history, the textile industry (and therefore the environment, labor, and slavery), domesticity, and the idea of "women's work." …How do your quilts and the choices you make in composing them speak to who you are and what you value? How does what we do when we quilt translate into the rest of our lives?"

…Which tells you why it's taking me so long to read the book! I read a passage like that, and there are so many big ideas I want to unpack and mull over before I continue.

Quilting With a Modern Slant

The interview pages reveal samples of each quilter's work alongside their stories. It took me a while to realize how each interview is presented through a specific angle that blends with its chapter theme. Some interview-based books can get a little repetitive, but not here. Each quilter's story transitions beautifully into the next. Not to get too literal or anything, but it's almost like a patchwork of stories that make up a unified whole.

Quilting With a Modern Slant

Quilting With a Modern Slant

I should mention at this point that there's also a technique book wrapped in all these big ideas! There's a section of quilting basics at the start, and photo tutorials for a whole bunch of interesting techniques: improvisational piecing, paper piecing, making a bias binding, hand quilting, applique with fusible webbing, and so on.

Being the instructional-quality nerd that I am, I'm impressed that so much care was lavished on these presentations when they're one part of a larger whole.

Quilting With a Modern Slant

There are also nine full projects, including quilts and two pillows, that are presented in nice, organized form, with diagrams and text.

Quilting With a Modern Slant Quilting With a Modern Slant

Quilting With a Modern Slant Quilting With a Modern Slant

…And this brings me to the diversity of styles to be found in this book.

Please forgive me one tiny rant: I can't help feeling like, in the quest to appeal to niche markets in a broad way, craft books are somewhat prone to boiling craft movements down to a few universally-approved design choices or a handful of "cool kids." So I have to stand up and applaud the wide range of visual ideas represented in this book.

Yes, I saw people whose names come up again and again in quilting, but I also discovered so many new-to-me quilters. I saw quilts I couldn't relate to visually, but read stories about them that made me think about quilting differently. And most importantly, I expanded my ideas about what modern quilting means.

(The quilts above were made by Jacquie Gering (top left), Kim Eichler-Messmer (top right), Sherri Lynn Wood (bottom left), and Kelly Bowser (bottom right).)

Quilting With a Modern Slant

I'll just wrap up with a sample of the history bits. What I wouldn't give to be able to wander around the amazing display!

Seriously, as much as I love craft books in general, I have to stress that this book is doing something very different and very special. And so I'll go back now to finishing it very, very slowly.

(Usual disclaimers: as mentioned before, Storey sent me a review copy. The title link above is an affiliate link.)


I thought you might like to see the new video for my upcoming T-Shirt Quilting class for CreativeLIVE. Man, they did an excellent job. And Pushkin's in it! (He had to be; it's in his contract.)

I'm getting so excited to teach this class. You should see the boxes of tees accumulating over here!

You can RSVP over here - either watch live, or get anytime access.


new books

Image by Megan, via Flickr

So, Spring book-release season is upon us, and I've been receiving invitations to join blog tours. I love craft books and I want to support authors and publishers where I can. So I'll always review books on this blog. But I'm giving up on the blog tours.

I thought I'd share my reasons here, partly so I can point people to this link instead of explaining myself over and over. And I also hope that, by sharing the ways that the blog tour model is too labor-intensive and broken for me as a blogger, maybe we can come up with better ways to spread the word about new books.

Let me break down my biggest blog-tour pain points:


Image by C/N N/G, via Flickr

Those Crazy Link Lists

So, when you join a blog tour, the publisher will generally send you a long list of links to the other blogs that will be in the tour. The purpose of these lists is twofold: they're supposed to give the reading public a way to follow a blog tour around and get more detail on the book in question. And supposedly, these links also bring all participating bloggers lots of new traffic.

These lists are, to be a little blunt, a waste of time. (Okay, maybe a lot blunt. Sorry.)

As a blogger, I never, ever see a bump in traffic for participating in blog tours, and I've participated in a whole lot of them. As a blogger, there isn't any concrete benefit for me in being part of a blog tour. I blog about books because I'm also a craft book author and want to support the craft book industry.


Image by Wayne Keegan, via Flickr

…And the idea of readers being able to follow the blog tour around via these links? Nope. When those lists are sent out, the links all point to the homepages of the participating blogs – not each blog's review. So if someone comes to my blog tour post, say, three months from now, not one of those links will point directly to the other bloggers' coverage – they'll land on homepages, and my reader is forced to go hunting for the book post. And not all bloggers have a search box installed on their blogs, so that hunt becomes too time-consuming, and most readers drift away.

Many times I've asked publishers to update the list with permalinks to each blogger's coverage and re-send it out after the tour, but no one has ever followed through on this request. I get it - the tour is over and everyone's on to the next one. But seriously, why bother with these lists, then?

Longleat Maze

Image by Jon Candy, via Flickr

One other small peeve about the link lists and I'll shut up: the other way they waste time is in formatting. Book publicists nearly always send these lists out in the form of a rich-text email, which means I have to do a whole bunch of work to convert them into an HTML format that my blogging platform will read. I've tried requesting the list in HTML in many cases, but not everyone understands how to generate that code. Frustratingly, reformatting this link list (which, as we just established, brings me no traffic benefits) can take upwards of an hour.

I know that's a lot of angst to spill over a harmless link list, but honestly, they're 90% of my reason for giving up on blog tours. Although there are others...

Skeeball & Prizes

Image by debcha, via Flickr


I've noticed that publishers' invitations to blog tours have increasingly emphasized giveaways over the past year. To my mind, this has harmed blog tours greatly. What publishers have done (not intentionally) is to train the public that Blog Tour = Giveaway.

You know what that does? It draws a readership who cares only about getting a free book. Increasingly when I participate in blog tours, I get lots of comments, and most of them say things like "Great review! Thanks for the chance to win this book!"

…Except that I don't do giveaways on this blog; I stopped that several years ago. But people who've been trained that Blog Tour = Giveaway aren't reading my review; they're assuming and entering. My favorites are when I put in bold at the top of my post: "I am not doing a giveaway" and they all still try to enter a giveaway. Oy.

As a blogger, this all becomes a huge pain in the patootie, and a big reason to avoid blog tours. It's tempting, I think, to consider any traffic as "good traffic," and to assume that giveaways bring more eyeballs to a book. But as both a blogger and a book author, I would much rather have people taking a thoughtful look at my content than doing a drive-by giveaway entry.

chuck heel

Image by Rachelle, via Flickr

OMG, So Much Overuse

I feel like it's high time that we (meaning bloggers and publishers) starting playing around with this blog tour thing a little. The traditional model (if you can call something less than five years old "traditional") has been repeated with so many new books, it's gotten fomulaic. Line up bloggers, set post dates, send link lists, rinse, repeat. It's become boring to create and boring to read.

I do agree that having some kind of formal launch period, in which we make an effort to get a chunk of online coverage, makes sense for building good word-of-mouth about a new book. But does it always have to be one week or two weeks long? Does it always have to involve a blog post every day?


Image by Jari Schroderus, via Flickr

…And I totally agree that it helps to create some kind of structure where bloggers commit to actual post dates. (I know how easy it is for an unscheduled review to slip down the To-Blog List.) But do we have to always make that into a kind of pageant? Heck - does book promotion always have to involve blogs? Can we find promotion events based in social media, or Amazon, or Goodreads?

I think we could also benefit by thinking about the point of all this coverage (to encourage book sales), and then asking ourselves: what information do crafters want and need in order to make an informed book-buying decision? Is a single project excerpt enough information? Is a review that only uses the three publisher-approved photos enticement enough? Have we thought about the different craft-book-reader niches, and what coverage each one might appreciate? (For instance, a deep technique craft book delights me, and many lifestyle craft books leave me a little flat. Plenty of people feel the opposite. So what kind of online coverage would appeal to each group?)

I'd love to hear your thoughts. There's gotta be more interesting and effective ways to do online book promotion – right?

(And let me reiterate: I'm always open to blogging about your new book. Just please let me do it outside the bounds of your tour. If you're experimenting with a fresh form of tour, then let's talk about it.)