So what's the problem - why not the full five stars? Well...
Since I took up smocking and needle arts in 1997 I have subscribed to SB for one year and bought issues off the stand intermittently since. As a beginner and an intermediate level sew-er, I rarely find anything do-able in the pages of SB. The projects, patterns and features are really geared toward quite advanced heirloom sewers/needleworkers. It can be quite overwhelming, even intimidating, to admire for instance a lovely christening gown ensemble that requires high-level handstitching skills, and several tricks on the sewing machine that I can't begin to fathom without hours of instruction. Often, obscure specialized tools and machine feet are required. And how many beginners want to practice on the hard-to-find and pricey fabrics and trims so casually recommended, like swiss nelona and dupioni silk? Alternatives like plain old imperial batiste and cotton floss are so seldom mentioned as to give the reader the impression that they just aren't suitable for heirloom sewing. After my subscription ran out I was left with the feeling that I may never "catch up" enough (or be wealthy enough) to attempt most of the gorgeous items in SB.
I have seen a few other magazines that address this problem by providing illustrated, step-by-step guides in the back sections to the handwork stitches that are required for the projects. This is very practical and reassuring for newbies. One Australian magazine even has kits available by mail order or internet for all their charming projects. It would be great to see more of that in SB, as well as more projects that you don't have to have advanced skills to attempt.
On the whole, SB is nicely done and I could recommend it for the more advanced level smockers and needleworkers.-Andrea, aka Merribelle.