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My Favorite Sewing Books

gailete | Posted in General Discussion on

This is an initial list of my favorite sewing books at the request of some of the readers here. I have a large sewing reference library and have found that some books are better than others. Not all of you may agree with me as to the worth of these books. I suppose part of that is just because of your own knowledge base and experience and some books are better just because of the author and the editing. These books are basically basic sewing and sewing reference books that I have on my own shelves in my sewing room. I have found though that the very best resource I have found for learning techniques in sewing is Threads magazine.

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  1. More Fabric Savvy: A Quick Resource Guide to Selecting and Sewing Fabric by Sandra Betzina ISBN 1561586625. This book sits right by my sewing machine for exactly what the subtitle says. Whenever I am about to sew a garment in fabric that is unfamiliar to me, I can usually find it in this book. There is a color picture of a garment made in the fabric and on the other page across from the picture a simple guide to how to preshrink, layout, mark, cut, interface the garment. What types of thread, needles, presser feet, stitch length, etc. are also given. Seam finishes, pressing, topstitching, closures and hemming for the fabric are also noted. Each fabric guide sheet is set up the same way, so you don’t get lost looking for the detail you need. I find it extremely handy for the needle size and type, presser foot and stitch length. Of course, this is general information and you might need to change settings depending on your fabric, garment style and sewing machine, but it is nice to have a quick guide handy to get you into the ballpark especially if this is a new fabric for you.
  2. Fabric Sewing Guide by Claire Shaeffer ISBN 089689536x. This is a large, heavy book. I have only recently purchased it and so have not looked up much in it. It is cross referenced so that you can look up the information you need by fabric type, fabric structure, fiber content, sewing techniques you want or would like to use. Lots of color pictures and LOTS of detail, some of it repeating itself depending on what part of the book you are in, but that saves you flipping through the book to figure things out. In Claire’s usual thorough style you get check ff sheets for sewing the fabric and fabric characteristics so you can judge if the fabric is suitable for what you are wanting to make. As noted I have only recently purchased this book and haven’t used it much yet. The only detriment for me using the book is the weight of it and my arthritic hands. The content is excellent though. If you don’t have problems with heavy duty books and you sew with all types of fabrics and want a good guide for sewing with them, you will want a copy of this book.
  3. Shirtmaking: Developing Skills for Fine Sewing by David Page Coffin ISBN 1561580155. When I first had this book in my hands, it was a library copy. I read the first couple of pages, shut the book and went and ordered in on line so I could read the book at my leisure and be able to refer back to it. Maybe it is just me, but I think more men should write sewing books. Too many books I come across the women writing them make these huge intuitive leaps and assume you know how to get from point A to point G without help. This book was very detailed. I learned things I had never know before about ironing cloth. I got an idea on how to set up my iron spot for more efficient use of my ironing space. I learned about luxury men’s shirts and walked into the closet to compare my husband’s shirts with what David was writing about. You may think that this is a book about making men’s shirts and so doesn’t apply to you. If you ever make tops or blouses or shirts for yourself or others, there are a lot of great ideas and techniques in this book. Very well written.
  4. Sweatshirts with Style by Mary Mulari ISBN 0801983924. Is this the best sewing book on the market. NO way, but it is one of the first sewing books I ever purchased that I have used the information in it for years. I like making lightweight jackets out of sweatshirts and this book showed me how. I’m a disabled stay at home kind of person. I don’t need (nor do I like wearing) tailored jackets, but I do like having something lightweight to keep from getting drafts on my joints. I have made many little jackets following the ideas in this book. If you have a loved one in a nursing home type facility a sweatshirt cardigan makes a perfect gift as it can be made to be pretty and feminine and yet is washable and easy care. I’m hoping to have a good supply of these made for myself long before I can’t sew anymore.
  5. Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire B. Shaeffer ISBN 1561584975. Many of us have never had any formal training in sewing other than a miserable home ec class way back in the dark ages. Mine in particular stands out due to how many times my teacher made me replace my zipper and redo my hem. Were these classes set up purposefully to get kids to hate sewing? Hearing about couture techniques is not the same as sewing them in action. I have never owned a couture garment and doubt that I ever will. My budget is on the Walmart side if I did shop for clothes so the only way to see couture techniques is to read about them in a book. I enjoyed this book as it not only gave historical information but gave the information in making these techniques ours. We see pictures of designer garments inside out with the special finishes noted, then we are shown how to do them. Obviously you aren’t going to want to use couture techniques on easy to make clothes for doing yard work, but when you are making something special, you want to make it the best it can be and this book tells you how. I love books that inspire me and this one certainly does.
  6. Palmer/Pletsch Couture: The Art of Fine Sewing by Roberta Carr ISBN 0935278281. I was very happy to find this book at a library book sale. It also shows many couture techniques only without the background and pictures of designer garments as the previously mentioned book. Instead the author uses garments she has made to demonstrate her techniques and designs. Lots of color pictures and black and white diagrams. Many of the garments are a bit dated looking by you can still see the inspiration behind the designs. There are lots of techniques in this book that can help you finish off your garments in novel ways or just in nice ways so you don’t go around with that ‘dorky homemade look’. I think none of us want our sewing to devolve into looking like something we had whipped up the night before when we should have been in bed. I know I am constantly looking to improve my sewing habits and reading books like this one and taking notes of the ideas have been a big help. I don’t get nearly as many “did you make that?” questions as I used to.
  7. All About Machine Arts: Decorative Techniques from A-Z from Sew News, Creative Machine Embroidery and C&T Publishing ISBN 1571202277. This is good basic guide for when you want to make your garment or project have a little more oomph. However, I must caution you, if you are a long time subscriber to Sew News and Creative Machine Embroidery you will find many of the articles have been taken directly from these magazines or books published by C&T Publishing. It is nice having all the information in one book, but if you have already seen most of the information, do you really want to buy the book? If you want to be sure, borrow it from the library first to decide if this is a reference book you want. I know I have referred back to it many times since it is much easier than trying to find the old articles, but I do remember thinking I was losing my mind when I first looked through the book since so much of it seemed familiar. That being said, this book is full of ideas and inspiration in an easy to read format, set up in alphabetical order so it is easy if you are looking for ideas on using entredeux to look it up under E.
  8. Encyclopedia of Sewing Machine Techniques by Nancy Bednar & JoAnn Pugh-Gannon ISBN 0806963654. First a note of caution, this book has been published with two different covers. Both have the exact same information. Don’t buy it again if you already have a copy of it—ask me how I know this! This is a great book for checking out how to do different sewing machine techniques. There are a lot of color step-by-step instructions and at the beginning of each section it tells you how to set up your machine, stitches, presser foot, needles, threads, tensions, etc. If you need to make your own entredeux, this book shows you how. If you want to make fake hand loomed embroidered insertions you can learn with this book. Want to learn how to use that ruffler that has been sitting in the box since you brought it home? Again this book shows you how. If you want a handy reference for machine techniques this is a good one. Even though they may not walk you through the entire project using each technique, plenty of pictures of the finished projects are shown so you can make your own version.
  9. Fine Embellishment Techniques: Classic Details for Today’s Clothing by Jane Conlon ISBN 1561584967. If you are looking for some unique ways to use beads and braiding on your garments, this book tells you how and gives you the steps to accomplish it. Sometimes it is just one special technique that turns a so-so garment into a wow garment. Beads are all the rage these days and to make a fine bead detail on a special garment is a great idea and this book will give you the great ideas. If there is one thing I was disappointed in with this book is the lack of finished projects using the techniques that were written about. Most of the ‘finished’ garments were just rendered in a color drawing. I would have like to have seen many more full color photo illustrations which would have nudged this book from theoretical to practical. Nevertheless, I liked the great ideas and truly wish I had events in my life that necessitated a garment with this type of embellishing.
  10. Sewing Companion Library: Easy Guide to Sewing Tops & T-Shirts ISBN 1561582395, Easy Guide to Sewing Skirts ISBN 1561580880 Easy Guide to Sewing Blouses ISBN 1561581089 Easy Guide to Sewing Linings ISBN 1561582255 the first two by Marcy Tilton and the next two by Connie Long. I’ve included them altogether as they are part of a series. There is also one on pants and recently three of the books have been republished in one volume. These books are all set up the same way and walk you step-by-step through making each kind of garment. No only will you learn the basics but you will learn how to alter the pattern to get the effect you want. You are shown how to adjust the patterns for correct fit. All the techniques are there for making a correct fitting and looking garment. Whenever I’ve about to make a garment, I pull one of these books down to check for techniques I can use to make my project turn out lovely instead of shabby.

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I haven’t gotten to the point of all my sewn garments being wonderfully made and fitting clothes yet, but I’m sure past the point were I was 10-15 years ago where everything I made looked homemade. Now of course, since my clothes were made to last, you may still see me wearing the homemade looking clothes, but my newest garments that I have made are much better made that before. I credit these books as part of the reason that my sewing has really been improving. I have been educating myself once I realized that no magic was going to happen when I sat down at my sewing machine. You really do have to plan, measure, study, and take your time if you want a good looking garment. I hope you enjoy this list and that it is helpful to you.

Edited 7/14/2009 12:38 pm ET by gailete


  1. User avater
    ThreadKoe | | #1

    Thank You Gailete for your thoughtful, and thorough evaluations on these books. There are two books I have been pondering the purchase of, and as I would have to order them without browsing them first, I was wondering if they would be worth the rather hefty price tag in CDN funds. Seems they are going to be my next splurge as funds become available. (If I can keep out of the fabric store....)

    My Sewing References of Choice are:

    The Vogue Sewing Book, circa 1981, which is around here someplace, as I have wandered off with it again. Was my college sewing textbook, and is still my most valued resource. Newer updated versions are still available, and I keep meaning to buy a couple more, so I do not have to keep searching for this one....

    The New (1979) Simplicity Sewing Book. Usually lives with my Vogue Sewing Book. Replacement one that I picked up for the one I wore out from Junior High School. Just as valuable as the Vogue, but less in depth.

    Textiles 4th edition, by Norma Hollen and Jane Saddler, McMillan Publishing, 1973. This was my Textile Textbook. A fiber to thread to fabric book. A book about fabrics and how they are knit or woven, and most of the names and types of weaves. Good solid basic information that I have found almost no where else. If I could find more books like this I would be in heaven....

    The Bishop Method of Clothing Construction (Revised) by Bishop and Archer, 1966, Lippincott
    Many of us "boomers" learned to sew by this method, just did not know what it was called, so it will feel very familiar. Very clear and concise directions that explain why not just how things are done. Very clear pictures and illustrations, even if they seem dated. Great explanations of grainlines, staystitching, fabric pretreatments, and all the stuff that is often glossed over or given short shrift in modern sewing manuals.

    I have more, but these are the ones that follow me everywhere and live right beside the sewing machine, not on the book shelf. Cathy

    1. gailete | | #3

      I picked up the Bishop book at my last library sale and still have to take the time to really read it. Looking through it though, I would say it is a very thorough, step-by-step illustrated book on how to sew starting with the easiest project to the most complex. If you work through the book in order, by the time you are done, assuming you follow all directions precisely you will be a very knowledgeable seamstress!

      I have the last two editions of the Vogue books here by the computer as many times while listings patterns I get stuck on what a particular collar, skirt, jacket, etc. is and they have a good glossary on that info. So basically they haven't found their way yet to the sewing room.

      If you need to know any more info in particular on the books I had mentioned, just send me a PM. I'm glad this has been of help to others. I will try to most some more later. I love to read and I especially love to read books on sewing and other needlecrafts. Physically I can't do the sewing I would like to but am happy to be of help to others. Books are very expensive and so I have been fortunate enough to pick up many at library book sales, thrift stores, yard sales, etc. My kids always know mom is happy to get gift certificates to book stores. The question is always which books to buy this time, not whether to buy a book! :)


  2. katina | | #2

    Thank you for taking the time and all the trouble to give us this useful information. Much appreciated!


  3. jane4878 | | #4

    I've collected quite a few texts. My first (and I still go back to it) is Sew Basic from Taunton.

    Fav's so far:
    More Fabric Savvy (Bezic)
    Bishop Method (Fashion Sewing and Clothing Construction)
    The Complete Serger Handbook (James)
    New Complete Guide to Sewing (Reader's Digest)
    The Art of Kiltmaking (Tewksbury and Stuehmeyer)
    Shirtmaking (Coffin)
    Fabric Sewing Guide (Schaeffer)
    Cool Couture (King) hugely inspirational
    High Fashioned Sewing Secrets (Schaeffer)
    Fast Fit (Betzina)
    The Perfect Fit (Creative Publishing Int.)
    Pants AND Jackets for Real People (Palmer/Pletsch)

    Haven't needed yet:
    Classic Tailoring Techniques (Cabretta/Meyers)
    Dressmakers Technique Bible (Knight)
    Tailoring (Creative Publishing Int.)


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