I enjoy reading about sewing almost as much as I enjoy actually sewing. Is there anything better than curling up in bed with the new issue of Threads or a lovely vintage sewing book? As you can imagine, I have quite a collection of sewing books. But out of all of them, there are a few gems that I come back to again and again.
But before I begin, a couple tips for building your library:
- Buy used. This cuts down on cost, and you can find out-of-print books pretty easily as well. My favorite site is Alibris.com.
- Look for older editions. The book nerd in me loves having the first edition of sewing books. Plus, if you're sewing vintage, these older books correspond well to vintage pattern instructions.
- Focus more on technique-based books rather than project-based books. It can be hard to resist fancy new books filled with tons of trendy patterns, but I find that these are the books I use the least. You'll get more bang for your buck if you focus on skill-building books.
- SEW: Sew Everything Workshop by Diana Rupp. This is my absolute favorite beginner's book. Even if you've never sewn a stitch in your life, this guide will make you comfortable with the basics of sewing. And lots of cute projects as a bonus.
- The Reader's Digest Guide to Sewing. This is the classic guide that tons of sewists use and it's a fantastic supplement to your pattern instructions. Drafted your own Peter Pan collar but don't know how to sew it properly? Want to use a lapped zipper rather than a centered one? Make a simple waistband for a skirt without a pattern? This is your book!
- The Sewing Book by Alison Smith. This is a DK guide, which are known for their clear pictures on glossy pages. This is an all-in-one reference like the Reader's Digest Guide but with photos rather than illustrations. I use this as a second reference, after my RD guide.
- Design Your Own Dress Patterns by Adele P. Margolis. I'm obsessed with this book, as you've probably noticed. I have a 70s edition of this book, but it's available currently as Make Your Own Dress Patterns. If you're interested in making design changes to your patterns or drafting your own elements like collars, yokes, and waistbands, this is a fabulously accessible book that you must own.
- The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot. Published in 1943, this is the oldest sewing book I own. I love it for the illustrations as much as the time-tested techniques.
- Fit for Real People by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto. This is the fitting book I recommend to anyone who asks. It teaches you tissue fitting and how to address every fit issue you can think of. This covers dresses, blouses, and skirts.
- Clare Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide. Whenever I'm sewing an unfamiliar fabric, I look it up in this book. It gives all the info you could need from recommended needle size, care guidelines, best finishing techniques, and more.
- Easy Guide to Sewing Linings by Connie Long. The bad news first: this book is out of print, hard to find, and quite pricey. But I got my used copy for around $30, which is an excellent price. I have to say, it is so worth it. Lining always brings up a lot of questions, and this book answers them all. I love her method of quick lining. (See the technique here on the Threads website.) Update! This book is available as a pdf download here for only $13.99. Thanks to the commenter who pointed this out!
- Threads back issues. Okay, this isn't a book, but I've learned SO much from perusing my back issues of Threads magazine. You can order back issues directly on the Taunton site (watch out for their 50% off sales), but I bought most of mine on the cheap on eBay.
- Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer. The classic text on couture sewing at home.
- Tailoring: the Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacket. All the tailoring I did on my red coat, I learned from this book. It is fantastic. Trust me.
- Pattern Drafting for Fashion Designers by Helen Joseph-Armstrong. If you want to get deeper into drafting patterns, this is an excellent resource. It's geared toward fashion students (and it comes with a textbook price), but still accessible to the home sewer, I think.