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Tools & Supplies

Vintage Sewing Books Make Great Modern Teachers

Collection of vintage sewing books

I have a serious soft spot for all things kitsch and vintage. So, when I was recently gifted a few vintage sewing books, I felt as though I had come across my own personal treasure.

Vintage sewing books can be found at thrift stores and garage sales, although mine were hand-me-downs from relatives and friends. Their retro illustrations and photography make them invaluable to me, not to mention the amazing information found inside.

Aside from discovering several haircuts from the ’60s that I desperately need to try, I found countless embroidery stitches that I had never even heard of in my Good Housekeeping New Complete Book of Needlecraft from 1971. This book runs the craft gamut from sewing, quilting and smocking to rug making, macrame, weaving, knitting, and crochet. It’s actually amazing how many techniques are explained in detail in this 550 page book.

My ever-expanding collection of how-to books is slowly taking over my Brooklyn apartment, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I feel as if I have my own personal reference library and when I find an older edition to add to the collection, it’s as though I have also found an old friend full of experienced knowledge.

My recent vintage finds include Sewing Made Easy by Dorothy Sara (1977), Butterick’s Ready Set Sew (1971), and Sandra Betzina’s More Power Sewing (1990). Although Sandra’s book isn’t really all that old, I love comparing it to my new edition.

Do any of you have older books you can’t let go of, too?

In addition to these wonderful vintage sewing books, if you are looking for Great Sewing Books, we have a collection of our favorites!


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  1. magentapixwix | | #1

    I totally agree with you about how great these vintage books are. I was lucky enough to find the complete set of Golden Hands books at an op-shop and I've also picked up some knitting booklets from the 40's and 50's with photos of handsome men leaning on gates smoking pipes will modelling their smart new sweater!

  2. mdacko | | #2

    I'm keeping a dozen and selling the rest at the next sewing group meeting!

  3. Virginia_Burnett | | #3

    A friend gave me a complete set of Time Life's Guide to sewing (published late 1970's?) that her husband rescued from the local library's throw away pile. An absolute treasure, indeed. If you ever come across a set, grab it!

  4. sewfungirl | | #4

    I picked up a great vintage sewing book at a thrift shop that I just love. It's 1940's era and many of the fashion details can be used on fashions of today and the illustrations in the book are so charming. It tells how to refashion clothes that you already own plus lots of projects for home and family.

  5. nichan | | #5

    The front book, ready-set-sew, that's the BEST book ever!
    I have a lot of reference but I found this book, although it's not as big as others but the content...the content...it's packed!
    It put basic techniques, yet GREAT, up-front. It's doesn't said itself as a "handbook" but it's definitely a handbook. Whenever I want to search for some technical information, this book is the first destination

  6. nichan | | #6

    that ready-set-sew should be republished.

  7. maggiecoops | | #7

    I have a 1940s pattern drafting book, which though dated, is is still the best one I've come across, everything is in it. I find now that "how to" books tend to give the equivalent of what a single chapter offered in the older books. I have a McCalls sewing in colour book circa 1964, when I compare the flat pattern alterations in the Fast fit books, they are all in the 1964 McCalls sewing book. I did have the Singer sewing book, but that got "borrowed" never to be seen again. The Time Life Art of Sewing books, are full of helpful tips, I have the complete collection of Golden Hands, a facsimile of an 1882 Dictionary of Needlework an absolute gem.

  8. idoweddings | | #8

    My favorite vintage sewing book is "Butterick's Home Sewing" from the 1930's. As other's have said, it has wonderful illustrations and it is written so clearly! I collect vintage sewing machines and this book tells me exactly how to use them and create replica vintage fashions just as they were made originally for the historical reinactments that my husband and I participate in.. I love it!

  9. User avater
    Igraine | | #9

    I have the Time Life series from the 70's. My mom bought them and I use them al the time. It has lots of great corture techniques along with tones of pictures. If anyone has a chance to pick them up, I hightly recommend them.

  10. rmmhayes | | #10

    My favourite out-of-print book is 'Quilt Restoration - A Practical Guide' 1994 by Camille Dalphond Cognac. I also recommend the following books that I have collected at yard sales etc:
    Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing 1976
    Singer Sewing Book 1949
    and The Vogue/Butterick Step by Step Guide to Sewing Techniques 1989

  11. violet_fairies | | #11

    My favorite book is the Vogue sewing book from around 1972. It has good basic sewing skills included. The thing I really miss are the free little booklets that the pattern companies had at the pattern counters. In addition to showcasing the new patterns, there were always some good sewing hints included. I found the best way to make bound button holes in one of them. I've kept that for over 30 years.

  12. FoxyLady | | #12

    I have a vast collection of antique & vintage sewing books. One set of books is a correspondence sewing course from The Women's Institute of Domestic Arts & Science dated 1912 which includes the patterns. There are 13 books that belonged to my DH's (he is 66) grandmother. I even have the original mailing envelope for these. I also own a set of Singer Sewing books written by Mary Brooks Picken dated 1915 that I found at an antique shop. I used to own the Ready, Set, Sew book & loaned it to a friend back in the late 1970's when I taught her how to sew. She has since died & her children don't know what happened to the book. I would love to get another copy. I have many more in my 100+ sewing book collection. I read these like novels. When I'm in a hurry & want to check out a technique, I turn to the http://www.vintagesewing.info website. It has a wealth of information. Can you tell that I love to sew?

  13. MSBSantaFe | | #13

    I learned to sew from my mother's copy of Fryer's Easy Steps in Sewing for big and little girls or Adventures among the Thimble People. That book has been reissued in paper back fairly recently. I highly recommend the Womens Institute of Domestic Arts Correspondence school booklets - they are very useful. I found mine on EBay. I also treasure all of my sewing manuals from the 1930s - many ideas there.

  14. sewdolly | | #14

    I love old sewing books, and have quite a collection, including several editions of the Sewing Made Easy that I see in the picture. It's interesting to see how the pictures change with the editions!! LOL

    My oldest sewing book is from, if I remember correctly, 1923. Most of them are from the 40s and 50s, though. And one (title escapes me, and it's downstairs at the moment) has the most charming illustrations--I just HAD to have it!

    A couple of books I inherited or was given; most have come from used book stores. And SOME of my "vintage" sewing books come from my own early years of sewing!! :-O


  15. Jenerator | | #15

    I got two books when I was cleaning out my parents' house. One was probably my mother's, the other was my older sister's. The first is the McCall's Easy Sewing Book, published in 1962, so a couple of years older than me. It's a regular sized paperback book with line drawings only in black and white (no photos)
    The other is the Simplicity Sewing Book Updated. It's copyrighted 1975 and printed in Britain. The cover has a woman in a yellow hat and top, with a "flower" made of a pin cushion and scissors and a tap measure on the hat, and a necklace made of thread reels. This book is a larger format paperback, with colour photos and two colour drawing illustrations. The fashions in the photos belong on the TV series Life on Mars ;-)

    My most useful sewing book, however, is my copy of the Readers Digest complete book of sewing (I've actually forgotten the name, and it's not accessible right now). I know with that book that if I ever need to know a particular technique, I can almost certainly find diagrams and clear instructions on how to do it!

  16. Starwolf | | #16

    I have so many vintage books and magazines I had to create a library just for them. Fortunately my husband is hady with a hammer. When I saw vintage 70's I figure mine must be antiques.Some go back to the 50's. I'm looking forward to retirement and browzing all day.

  17. MommyEvie | | #17

    I love the Vogue Sewing Book too! I picked up a copy in a used bookstore at least 15 years ago for $3 and still reference it often. It's a great one stop shop for all those little things that make a difference in a finished garment.

  18. User avater
    umjudis | | #18

    I have that Good Housekeeping book on needlework. I just used a pattern in it for a baby sweater. I bought it brand new in the '70's. I also have Better Homes & Garden sewing book from the '70's. It's a 3-ring binder like the cookbook. A few years back, I used that to make a slip cover for a chair for my daughter's apartment when she was in college. The instructions worked just fine.

    Yes, these books may be old but they work. I am glad others hang on to theirs as well. I also check my library's used book sale. You can find things in there from 25 cents to a dollar and help your local library out at the same time.

  19. KBTsewer | | #19

    I have quite a few vintage books, mainly from the 70's.Also two booklets relating to crochet patterns which date from the 60's, the price displayed in shillings.Pounds, shillings and pence disappeared from the UK in 1971 when decimalisation took it's place.
    My mother gave me a booklet on tailoring which also dates from the 60's but the oldest fashion related item I have is a cutting from a wartime newspaper which shows how to make a pair of French knickers.You had to make your own inch squared paper.My mother used newspaper as there was nothing else.The idea was to reuse old underslips etc to introduce some much needed glamour into women's lives.

  20. Herring | | #20

    I'm just recovering from a major panic moment when I thought I had lost my favourite vintage-ish sewing book. Found it! Thank goodness.

    It's a Sunset Book publication called Slipcovers & Bedspreads.

    I bought it 2nd-hand in about 1980 for $1 when I was living in the US. It's original price was $3.95. Don't know when it was published as the first page is missing.

    I started making fitted slipcovers with this book - 100 pages of step-by-step instruction - and in nearly 30 years of making I haven't found anything to better it. Best $1 I ever spent. It has earned several thousand times its cost.

  21. AMcCombs | | #21

    The most ASTONISHING sewing book I've ever found is "Singer Instructions for Art Embroidery and Lace Work", in a reprint facsimile edition (Reprinted by Robbie Fanning 1989, ISBN 0-932086-19-5, Open Chain Publishing, PO Box 2634-BK, Menlo Park CA 94026). The original Singer edition apparently dates to 1911, with many reprints at later dates. This book consists of 125 very concise illustrated lessons on embroidery done entirely with a STRAIGHT STITCH TREADLE sewing machine that puts to shame anything a modern computerized embroidering machine can do today. Imitations of virtually every type of lacemaking technique. Cross stitch, needlepoint, raffia, rugmaking, macrame. Embroidery on WOOD! This has to be seen to be believed!

  22. analizabeth | | #22

    "Vintage" is pretty relative. We do historic re-eanctment, so I look for books from the 1800's and early 1900's. I found a scanned copy of the "Workwomans Guide" published in 1835 through Google - tells how to make caps and gowns and such from that era. I used a Dover reprint of a 1905 Butterick book, originally "Dressmaking, Up to Date," to manufacture a bustle for an 1870's walking dress. Fascinating stuff, and the handwork is very detailed. I also like the books that present original garments from the 1700 and 1800's, with detailed drawings and construction notes (Janet Arnold, for example). The 70s and 80s don't interest me as much - I lived through them, don't need sewing books to remind me.

  23. dreamlady | | #23

    I have a wonderful book called G. Profilly he is italian author it was my mother's book it was published on 1949 he used the two parts method pattern followed by all the illustrations you want to sew a garment it's great and you can take your own measuements and sew any style you want

  24. pinkpanther | | #24

    I have a McCalls Sewing in Colour first published in 1964 - my edition dates from 1971. It was purchased using my Mum's spare cigarette coupons (wouldn't get those now would we!!!) It gives tips on what to wear for what occasion. For working in the home you can wear slacks or shorts but they must fit well otherwise your morale will be lowered (loose pants and an old T short are much more comfortable!) You shouldn't wear slacks or shorts to shop in a city department store! It also has advice on how to construct a myriad of clothes and illustations by the dozen.

    It's now a historical thing as much as a reference book.

    I also haved a wonderful Good Housekeeping Encyclopdedia of Needlecraft from the 1980's - great reference work.

  25. User avater
    Bellbird | | #25

    I have the McCall's Step by Step Sewing Book and the Simplicity Sewing Book, both published in 1969. I still refer to both for my sewing and a couple of years ago I taught one of my young co-workers to sew using the Simplicity book as a reference guide. I had a hard time recovering the book from her - she loved it too.
    The photos in the Simplicity book are great and I find it hard to believe that I used to make and proudly wear some of the styles that are pictured.

  26. Avigail | | #26

    I'm so glad to see that others love sewing books too. Ive got quite a few.

    The one I treasure most is a copy of the Simplicity Sewing Book 1954. The cover shows a mother in a red and white striped apron and a daughter about to cut out a pattern. The price is on the cover: 35 cents!

    I also have some books and the entire newsletter series of The Silver Thimble by Jane Shaner. She's probably the one most responsible for my love of sewing tips. Still helpful and fun to read.

  27. Boblynn | | #27

    My favorite is my 1940's Complete Book of Needle arts. It is complete, lovely illustrations. Includes sewing and remaking clothes in the beginning and then every kind of needle art you can imagine, embroidery, tatting, knitting,crocheting, lace making and so on... each with great patterns and projects. I have spent many happy hours reading this book and remembering my grandma who taught me to sew.

    I also have many of the books mentioned by you ladies in my personal collection and in the bookstore my husband and I own. I love the vintage trims and such too. I just acquired a sewing stash of a 100 year old lady who moved to the nursing home. I even got her working treadle sewing machine. She used this machine to make clothes for her family and many, many wonderful quilts. It was never electrifies. It has an interesting set of attachments too! Included in this collection were vintage patterns from the early teens To the 1980s. I don't know why she had so much, but I also got probably 200 packages of rick rack, some priced at 5 cents a package. A recent issue of one of the sewing magazines had an article about people who collect rickrack, maybe she was a collector -- me I use it cant beat that real cotton rick rack.
    I love estate sales you never know when you will hit the mother lode. lol!

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