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Sewing book junkie

Michelle | Posted in Gather For A Chat on

Hard as it is to admit,  I think I’ve become a ‘sewing book junkie’ – I just love reading sewing related books and the more I read the more I need to lay my hands on!

I’m sure that I’m not the only one in this group who loves reading, and would love to know which your favourite (sewing related) books are.  Which are the ones that have had the most influence on your particular approach to sewing.


Shelly in Jerusalem


  1. Elisabeth | | #1

    Hi Shelly,

    I love books and I would quickly become a sewing book junkie that owned them all if I let myself! When my bank account gets healthier I am sure I will succumb. Of what I do have I am listing a few good ones I keep going back to for pleasure reading. Of course there are some other good ones that are I use lots for reference.

    My favorite is Claire Shaeffer's Couture Sewing Techniques. I can read it again and again and be inspired every time. I like hand sewing so the couture methods described make sense to me.

    Classic Tailoring Techniques a Construction Guide for Women's Wear is fabulous for technigue although not nearly as much fun reading as Shaeffer is. I like seeing the classic methods used.

    Historical Fashion in Detail is a wonderful eye candy escape and gives me ideas too.

    Now, I hope you are going to tell us which books are your favorites!


  2. SewNancy | | #2

    I too am a sewing book junkie.  My favorite basics are anything by Sandra Betzina.   When I came back to sewing her first books became my bible.  I didn't have the time to use the older methods and found her methods to really expedite my sewing and at the same time turn out professional looking results.  For fitting I loveFitting and Pattern Alteration , A Multi-method Approach.   For hard to do details, I love High Fashion Sewing Secrets by Claire B Shaeffer.


  3. kayl | | #3

    Oh, oh... another book junkie... if you like old sewing books, poke

    around over at http://www.vintagesewing.info -- quite a few out of copyright titles there, some with some very interesting details and/or

    methods. I've been having fun with Harriet Pepin's 1942 pattern

    design book... look at the section on sleeves, for instance.

  4. suesew | | #4

    I have so many books that I have made a recipe box into a box file box - this after I purchased the same book twice. One of my favorites is Colette Wolfe's The Art of Manipulating Fabric. I not only have sewing books, but quilting, costuming, doll, doll house , polymer clay and often magazines to match. I need to retire just to begin to even think about using them all properly.

  5. carobanano | | #5

    YES! The world has more sewing book junkies than I thought! ;D

    I collect old sewing books, actually. Most are cast-offs from old ladies at church. :D One is from.....oh, I'd say mid-20th century, and it's all about making clothes from feed sacks. Fabulous!

    As embarrassed as I may be to admit it, I am indebted to The Complete Idiot's Guide to Sewing. It was the first book I got when I was just starting to teach myself sewing, and definitely was my launchpad. I'm also a big fan of the DK Sewing Encyclopedia. It has everything you could ever need to know, very clearly written. (Except all the photos have right-handed sewers, bah.)

    And though it's not a sewing book, per se, I love Haute Couture- the accompaniment to the Met exhibit in the 90's. Remember the blizzard we had back on President's Day, 2003? Well, I was NYC then, and we ended up being stranded there. So there I was, sitting in the train station, surrounded by utter chaos, reading Haute Couture from cover to cover. It's a lovely book, although the descriptions of get a bit....frilly, you could say.

    1. carolfresia | | #6

      I love the "Idiot's" and "Dummies" guides--we have them for golf, Pilates, purchasing and home, and learning magic tricks, among others, and they've always been informative and well presented. I'd be willing to guess that the sewers' guides would be very helpful, too.

      Re: left-handed sewing: check out the photos in Pamela Ptak's article "Graphic Fabric Insertions," in No. 114. That shows the author sewing--left-handed. But remember that if you have to reverse everything in your mind, you're probably  mentally a lot more flexible than the rest of us regular old right-handed folk.


    2. stitchwiz | | #9

      Books, how would I ever survive without them!  My children used to have 'discussions' with their teachers about the quality of books available for school projects since we have a vastly more extensive collection than the school library.  My sewing library rivals the rest.  My other half just sighs (and inwardly, I'm sure,groans)when we need to move them - half of a 45' trailer, last time.

      Having lots of lefties in my family, it has been easy for me to be ambidextrous.  I found that the easiest way to teach them a skill I haven't mastered, was to sit in front of a mirror.  Try holding the pictures in front of a mirror when you are studying details, it may help put the picture into your mind the way you want it.

      Nothing better than a good book when you're travelling.  Can't think of a better way to spend time stuck anywhere than to feed the quest for knowledge...Enjoy!

  6. louise | | #7


    My favorite are the fashion in detail series from the V & A

    Fashion in Detail - used a detail from a doublet for my niece's communion dress

    Modern Fashion in Detail is fab

    Madeleine Vionnet, by Betty Kirke - it has scale patterns!  but if you try to buy it beware! It is out of print and my bookseller could find me a "mint" used copy for $1400.00!  And I did not make a decimal point error!

    Then Claire Shaeffer Couture Sewing

    Fun enquiry!



    1. User avater
      Thimblefingers | | #8

      Out of print and older (1948), I paid a fortune in 1983 to get a copy of this book:

      Dress Design - Draping and Flat Pattern Design by Hillhouse and Mansfield

      A couple books I saw an Enland-trained cutter use in the Theatre and  I managed to get ahold of in the 1980's, don't know if they still available:

      Dress Pattern Designing; and More Dress Pattern Designing by Natalie Bray.

      All of these books have unique and interesting ideas that I have never seen anywhere else.  I've tried or adapted designs from all of them with stunning sucess.

      "Singer Sewing Book" by Mary Brooks Picken copyright 1948 picked up at a garage sale.  Has instructions for beautiful intricate details and even a colour chart  very similar to the more modern "Seasons" draping (everything old is new again!)  But the best part - some quotes from the "To Sew Successfully " Section (you gotta' love this!)

      "Never approach sewing with a sigh or lackadaisically.  Good results are difficult when indifference predominates.  Never try to sew with the sink full of dished or bed unmade.  When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do these first so that your mind is free to enjoy sewing."

      "When you sew, make yourself as attractive as possible.  Go through a beauty ritual of orderliness.  Have on a clean dress.  ... Have your hair in order, powder and lipstick put on with care.  Looking attractive is a very important part of sewing, because if you are making something for yourself, you will try it on at intervals in front of your mirror, and you can hope for better results when you look your best...Again, sewing must be approached with the idea that you are going to enjoy it, and if you are constantly fearful that a visitor will drop in or your husband some home and you will not look neatly put together, you will not enjoy your sewing as you should."

      "On the days when you are sewing, make the dessert in the morning; plan a quick-to-get dinner so that your afternoon can be given to the full enjoyment of sewing."

      I have a couple hundred sewing books and I still don't have enough!  Is there such a thing?

      1. lpip | | #10

        I'm glad to hear from another sewing book junkie.  It's a good thing I live in a county with a library system that provides access to just about every municipal library in the county so that all I have to do is get on the internet to order any sewing book that's out there.

        Even so I have a big collection.  Unfortunately, I sometimes buy books sight unseen and am disappointed in the book, then have to take the book to the library for the annual book sale.

        I loved the quote from the Singer book.  I'm one of the fortunate sewers with a large room devoted almost solely to sewing.  No mental preparation, facial, dressing up or getting the cooking out of the way necessary for me to spend a few minutes (or less) working in my sewing room.  I don't even have to dress at all. 


        1. User avater
          Thimblefingers | | #13

          Hee, hee!  They have a "naked Chef" out there somewhere don't they?  Think a "Naked Sewer" would bring some attention to sewing?!

          1. carolfresia | | #14

            The only problem with the Naked Sewer is that I'd wonder what she (or he) was sewing, if he/she is still naked!!


          2. mimi | | #16

            Carol:  I'm envisioning a Threads TV show, The Naked Seamstress, with the sewing machine large enough to hide behind, a la Calendar Girls.  They would be wearing half glasses, of course, so that they could see what they were sewing.


          3. HeartFire | | #17

            there was a cartoon I saw somewhere - its a Trekky thing,
            Captain Picard is standing in his skivvies with Data sitting at a sewing machine with Picards uniform on the machine - Picard is saying "Make it Sew Data"
            Now, you have to be a Trekky fan to get this, I had it pinned up on my fridge for a long time! - Ah, here's a link-

          4. mimi | | #18

            Oh, that is soooooo wrong <he he>


          5. carolfresia | | #19

            I love that! I'm not a Trekkie, but "Make it so" was always a favorite line (I guess I kind of had a crush on Picard, I admit it). But Make it sew is much, much better!


          6. carolfresia | | #20

            Ummm, I guess I won't be hosting that show. No matter how big the sewing machine. After all, we know that pressing is a very important part of garment construction, and it's not advised to use an iron when you're in the altogether!


          7. Elisabeth | | #21

            Now that is something to think about. Hmmm. Sometimes I am the Naked Seamstress, but definitely minus the cameras. Why put anything on when you are trying on your garment in progress over and over. So you don't think the show would be a hit? Maybe if Jean Luc did the intro...

          8. stitchwiz | | #23

            My husband was stunned to come in from the barn one day to find me at the machine in my underwear.  I told him that I wasn't the only one who sewed in her underwear, he looked very skeptical.  His reply was that he would never work with so little on.  Well, I should hope not, considering what he does all day and where he does it!

            It's just not not something one discusses around the dinner table or when we're out for the evening with friends!  However, he was surprised one day to find our daughter doing the same - "like mother, like daughter" he says, with a grin.

            Thanks for the confirmation and the chuckles!

          9. sueb | | #24

            your post made me chuckle !  I've been known to sew in my underwear occasionally too !  Especially when I'm working on a project that needs to be tried on again and again during the construction process.  I thought I was the only one who did this !

          10. SewNancy | | #29

            I too sew in my under wear. It is so much faster. In the winter I add a robe.

      2. mimi | | #11

        I loved your quote from the Singer Book, circa 1948!!!  I am trying to remember the last time I got that dressed up and stayed in the house to do something domestic...I don't think I ever have :)  That description was from another time, another planet.

        My husband recently found a copy of Vogue Sewing, circa 1975, for our daughter.  It is still very informative, probably better than anything we could find in the local book stores.


        1. User avater
          Thimblefingers | | #12

          I also have the 1975 version of the Vogue Sewing Book - got it while I was in High School (in 1975!).  It's a great book.  A few years ago I purchased the up-dated version and it's not nearly as good. 

          For just straight sewing techniques, the old Readers Digest Sewing Book is excellent, too.  Again the new one is "dumbed down".  I gave my daughter the new one for her birthday, but i think I'm going to check out used book stores for the older version.

          I also love the Singer Sewing Series - have the whole set. 

          And I too have done the "order a book without knowing what I'm getting" thing.  I've come up with a few for the book sale, too.  But I've also come up with a few gems.  Doing this, I discovered Fairchild who publishes (will did a few years ago, anyway) the texts for Fashion Institute of Technology.  Some of those books are excellent.

          Oh, and seeing as we're on the Threads site! - I have to say that I have a number of the Taunton Press sewing books and they're all excellent!

      3. liselaure | | #22


        Regarding "Dress Design - Draping and Flat Pattern Design" by Hillhouse and Mansfield, I was lucky to find one for only $6 in a local bookstore in 2000. Once in a while, you can get one at a very good price on eBay.com - I bought one for my mother for around $25 about 3 years ago.


      4. sewanista | | #26

        I have Natalie Bray's three books - Dress Pattern Designing, More Dress Pattern Designing and Dress Fitting. I bought mine new in the late 80's early 90's. As a professional patternmaker, I found them to be one of the best resources. They were published by Blackwell Professional Books, a division of Blackwell Scientific Publications Ltd, which has a website, and also publishes books by Gerry Cooklin whose patterncutting books are excellent. He has written one about designing and patterncutting for the Plus sizes. They are aimed at industry, so use standard sizing, more than personal sizing, but the principles are the same.
        My other favourite patterncutting books are by Winifred Aldrich. She has done one for women'swear, one for menswear, one for childrenswear, and my current favourite is "Fabric, Form and Flat Pattern Cutting", which analyses fabric qualities such as weight, drape, shear, thickness and stretch, and then demonstrates with very comprehensive photos, how these factors affect a garment. It's BRILLIANT!
        My quirky favourite, probably more for sentimental reasons than anything, is the book my Nana used, called Successful Dressmaking by Ellen and Marietta Resek. I used to pore over it every time I visited, partly because the information was interesting to a 12 year old wannabe designer, and partly because the illustrations were cute and each chapter started with a really bad poem eg: "Don't be scared to learn to draft, It's the basis of this craft. Little knowledge is required, For the style which is desired."
        I even use a picture on my business card, because it describes my work so perfectly and looks like me.

      5. louise | | #27

        Dear Thimb (!)
        No, one cannot have enough sewing books. There is a series I found in the library here and ordered from my bookseller. Some are out of print and some are still available either new or as good used copies. I'll append the messages from Britnell's including titles, etc. By the way BRITNELL'S IS A FABULOUS RESOURCE FOR FINDING and buying books. They can and will look for anything and offer an international service. Fantastic guys! You can access them by phone or email or regular mail, will also include those addresses for you. Cheers
        **************** ****************** ******You had also asked about several fashion books.]Fashion Design on the Stand looks like it is still avaialble from the UK. Price would be approx. $35.00Figure Templates for Fashion Illustration is alos available from the UK. Price would be approx. $46.50Lingerie Design on the Stand is Out of Print. There is a used copy avail[able, described as like new, that would cost approx $39.00Cutting and Drapping Special Occasion Clothes on the Stand is also Out of Print. Unfortunately I was only able to find 2 copies on offer and the are both very expensive, the cheapest, also described as like new, would be $125.00.If you would like me to pursue any of these books for you I would be please to do so.Sincerely,
        Greg Keen
        Britnell Books
        100 Adelaide Street W., #908
        Toronto, ON M5H 1S3
        Tel 416-362-0022
        Fax 416-362-9177
        [email protected]

        1. User avater
          Thimblefingers | | #28

          Thanks for the info on Britnell's.  They will definitely be hearing from me!

    2. sosewnem | | #30

      In regards to Madeleine Vionnet, by Betty Kirke, I just did an eBay search and came up with 4 listings.  Prices are $54.00 with Shipping an exhorbitant $20.01.  Then, $66.17 with $4.95 shipping.  Third is $74.80 with Free shipping.  And fourth, there is a listing for $649.00 with $5.00 shipping.

      As far as my own sewing book collection, much of it is in boxes since we moved at the end of August last year.  I don't have space to put them out, however, I labeled every box with all the titles that are in the box and that has proved very helpful!

      I like the Singer Reference sewing series for their clear photos and instructions.  I also have Natalie Bray's book Dress Pattern Designing, which has been helpful at times.  Another one I bought was Fitting & Pattern Alteration:  A Multi-Method Approach.  I appreciate books with illustrations to go along with the instruction since I am a hands-on type learner and have a hard time figuring out how to do things if the instruction is only written.

      1. FitnessNut | | #31

        FYI, the Vionnet book by Betty Kirke has just been republished in paperback (just before Christmas, I think). Amazon.ca has it listed for $85.80 CDN. (I paid $118 CDN for the hardcover version when it first came out...significantly less than I've seen it going for.) If you do a search, you may find it available cheaper somewhere. It is a fabulous book and well worth having in any collection.

  7. janeknisely | | #15

    Hello, have just joined and here is a book discussion! I recently reduced my weight from nearly 200 to 135 pounds and bought a new sewing machine. Then I realized its been over twenty years since I did any serious sewing. While overweight I did of course sew necessities to allow me out of the house, basic skirts and loose tops in dark colors, you know. But the joy of sewing with fine fabrics and creative designs-none of that. So books are really important to me now because you can imagine how much innovation I have missed in twenty years.

    Anyway, now I have some book ideas, will keep watching for more!

    1. User avater
      Thimblefingers | | #25

      Hey, Jane!!  Congratulations on your awesome weight loss!!  That must have taken a lot of willpower!  Now you will enjoy sewing even more because those clothes you make will look so great on you! Plus, you'll be feeling so much better, that you'll have more stamina for sewing!  Enjoy your new healthy lifestyle!! 

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