When I started sewing, I was clueless. I was very 2-dimensional in my thinking when it came to how the whole “sewing thing” works. I hated patterns and pretty much thought I could draw an outline of what I wanted on some fabric, sew the side seams together and Voilà. Of course, this type of sewing only works on flat paper dolls, not real people. After my 3rd or 4th attempt at squeezing my hips into a much too narrow pencil skirt (with a zipper, HA!!!!), it finally occurred to me that 1) Taking measurements first is not such a bad idea. 2) A really good sewing book is not torture at all. In fact, it can be a lot of fun once you begin seeing your progress 3) Later, I also learned that muslins (though still tortuous for me), can be a good friend (well, a nice out of town friend that visits only on occasion).
Over the last 5 years I’ve read through A LOT of sewing books. I’ve had a few inquires recently about which books have had the most impact on my sewing technique and skill level, so I thought I’d share a little about my reference library with you today.
I consider myself to be an intermediate level sewer (on a good day). It just depends on the task at hand. But, I will tell you this about sewing: No matter how difficult the technique, you can usually find a tutorial, book, friend, grandma, somewhere, who can break it down for you into bite sized chunks. I’ve learned that even if I have to chew on something a little bit at a time, eventually, it will make sense. And before I know it, I have a new skill under my belt, and I’m feeling a little more confident to take things to the next level. I try not to say that something is “too hard”. I sew based on what I like, not on what I think I can do. This is what pushes me forward.
Most of the sewing books that line my shelves are vintage. I love extra details and just seem to be drawn to the teaching style of older books. Another advantage to using vintage/older books (for me) is that I don’t get too caught up in trying to design or imitate style-wise what I see in the books. This pushes me to think “outside” the box when designing. This is the same reason why I generally don’t read a lot of fashion magazines ( I read tons in my teens and 20′s). I’d much rather be influenced by personal style rather than what’s “in” at the time, but that’s for another blog post at another time.
Today I want to share some of my favorite sewing books with you. These are the ones that I use most frequently and have learned the most from. I have a few vintage basic sewing books from Vogue, & Better Homes and Garden,. These books cover many of the same techniques, but in different ways. When I’m learning a new technique (eg. bound buttonholes), I’ll look it up in all of the books and then choose the explanation that makes the most sense to me.
These books are both great for learning the basics of pattern drafting for women. Pattern Drafting and Dressmaking by Dorothy Moore drafts from a person’s measurements straight to the pattern. In Finally It Fits, the author goes from pattern checker, to a sloper that you can adjust to create different patterns. Both methods work well. It just depends on personal preference. Pattern Drafting and Dressmaking outlines more design options, while Finally It Fits focuses on getting the sloper to fit really well so that you can create your own designs.
My absolute favorite book for drafting patterns for children is Metric Pattern Cutting for Children’s Wear by Winifred Aldrich. My book is from 1980-something, but there are updated versions. It took me awhile to purchase the book because I thought the switch to centimeters would be a bother, but for me it’s been great. I actually prefer centimeters now because of the precision. Aldrich does a great job explaining how children’s bodies grow and develop and the necessary adjustments that must be made to accommodate their growth. She starts off with a pattern block and then shows you how to adjust the block for different designs.
The second book is Vogue Sewing for Your Children. This is a fairly recent purchase for me, but I wanted to mention it because there are lots of great tips and tricks for sewing children’s garments. The book covers topics that you might not find in a general sewing book like adding “room to grow”, fabric selection for children’s garments, and more. It’s a great reference book to have on your shelf. This is another book from the 80s (1987). I was able to purchase an unused copy for just a few dollars.
Here’s a list of books I use less frequently but love nonetheless:
Guide to Fashion Sewing (Third Edition) by Connie Amaen-Crawford (Great general sewing guide)
Singer Tailoring (Great information for making tailored jackets)
The Vogue Sewing Book of Fitting, Adjustments, & Alterations (Great tips for altering garments)
501 Sewing Hints from the Viewers of Sewing with Nancy (Nancy Zieman )
Coser en Casa (en español, fundamentos, técnicas, etc)
It’s taken me years to build up my sewing library. I wouldn’t recommend going out and stocking up on a ton of books that you may never use. If you’re new to sewing, take baby steps first. Check out a ton of sewing books at your local library and work through them to see which teaching style works best for you. I’m in the library every few weeks scouring the craft section and checking out the new releases. Depending on the area you live in, many libraries are becoming responsive to the sewing community and filling their shelves with the latest releases which is really nice. I’d much rather know exactly what I’m getting before paying $$$. If your local library is not a good resource for you, pull the book up on Google Books or Amazon and use the “Look Inside” feature. Of course, you can’t read the entire book, but you can usually tell within the first couple of pages if the author’s teaching style is going to work for you.
I didn’t think I was going to write this much about books. (Ha! I’ve changed a lot since the start of my sewing journey.) A good personal sewing reference library is indispensable for me now. Online tutorials are fine, but I prefer holding a book in my hand and thumbing through its pages.