50 Favorite Sewing Books

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I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time, since I’m frequently recommending books to people.

I really wanted to put together a list of all-time favorites from my own shelf. Each one of these is from my collection, and is something I use frequently, or find really inspiring and fun. These are the books I own and love.

You may notice some of your favorite books are missing, but this is in no way intended to be a slight to any of the fantastic authors not present! I just wanted to keep it to books I own, and I’m sure there are many fantastic ones I haven’t got my paws on yet.

This selection leans heavily towards the vintage, because I collect them and find them extremely useful. I think you’ll like them too, once you know about them. In most cases, used copies of these books can be found on Amazon (links provided), or check out your local library. You’ll be surprised at what you can find.

For beginners

Sewing reference

Design

  • Fashion Design Drawing Course by Caroline Tatham and Julian Seaman: A great, short intro to drawing and ideation for pattern design. This book is set up like a course, with individual lessons and exercises to help enhance your skills. A fun way to boost your creativity! (see our previous review with photos)
  • Fashion Sketchbook by Bina Abling: This is a great, practical hands-on guide to sketching for fashion, and also a wonderful reference book for design details. The author shows some very useful examples of the right and wrong ways to sketch common design elements, like pleats, gathers, and sleeves.
  • Theory of Fashion Design by H.L. Brockman: One of my favorite vintage books to reference while designing, not just because of the concepts it covers, but because of the plethora of design variations it demonstrates in the form of early 1960s styles. Just lovely. I could make every dress pictured and be a happy lady.

Fabric and textiles

Fitting

Home patternmaking

  • Make Your Own Dress Patterns by Adele Margolis: Are you interested in trying your hand at patternmaking at home, or just want to learn the basics of how patterns work, get this book! You’ll learn a lot and even be able to approach fitting in a new way.
  • Patternmaking in Fashion by Lucia Mors de Castro: Most of the patternmaking books I own are big, thick technical volumes. This one is nice and compact, covering some of the real basics. I think it would be a handy reference for many home dressmakers.
  • How to Design Your Own Clothes and Make Your Own Patterns by Claudia Ein: Similar to the Adele Margolis book above, this book covers creating your own blocks and adding and adjusting for various designs. It’s a nice supplement that includes specifics on things like designing a knit dress.
  • Pattern Magic Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by Tomoko Nakamichi: For the more advanced, adventurous, or those who just want some fascinating eye candy, the Pattern Magic books offer astoundingly complex three dimensional designs, and shows how they’re built from a two dimensional pattern. Simply breathtaking.
  • How Patterns Work: Learn the principles of patternmaking and how to apply them from this 500-page book. This is a more technical alternative to some of the vintage books above.

Details and embellishments

  • The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff: Definitely one of my very favorites. This book covers a huge variety of fabric manipulation techniques, from pleating to ruching to tucks. You will find endless inspiration here.
  • The Anchor Manual of Needlework: This large book covers a wide variety of needlework techniques, many of which can be applied to garments. This book is a great reminder of the type of intricate needlework human hands are capable of.
  • Encyclopedia of Sewing Machine Techniques by Nancy Bednar: I love this book of heirloom and embelishment techniques that are possible using a machine. I’ve used the techniques in this book countless times to do things like hemstitch napkins or add trims to blouses.
  • Decorative Dressmaking by Sue Thompson: Look past some of the weird sample garments in this book (it was produced in the 80s) and you’ll find an absolute treasure trove of ideas and inspiration for enhacing any sewing project. Combine this book with a simple dress like our Laurel shift and you could have 100 different dresses from one pattern. (see my previous review with photos)
  • Stitching for Style by Nelle Weymouth Link: If you can find this booklet, get it. Beautifully illustrated fabric manipulation techniques like ruching and smocking, shown on black and white illustrations of garments from the 1940s. You’ll definitely want to try some new techniques after flipping through. (see my previous review with photos)

Menswear

  • Tailoring: The Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacket: With over 400 photos, this tailoring book packs a punch. You’ll learn a wide variety of techniques, and it really is the perfect guide to go along with a tailored jacket like the Anise.
  • Shirtmaking by David Coffin: This book will improve your sewing skills immeasurably. Mainly focused on men’s shirts, it can be used with women’s blouses as well. This book is more on the text-heavy side, but has so much great infomation packed within. A great choice to go with the Negroni pattern.

Lingerie

Other Specialty Techniques

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

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Comments 34

Paula

Thank you for putting together this wonderful annotated bibliography. This will be a great source to return to as I build my sewing library.

Natacha

Thanks for the precious info. One or two books are gonna end up on my Amazon order and the Colette Handbook is my Christmas list !

Tatiana

The book Easy Guide to Sewing Linings is great, and is now available as a pdf download, no need to buy used copies…

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Excellent, thanks for the update on that one! I love this book.

Tiffany tiffanysnotionsandknits.blogspot.ca

A few others can be found on Google Books too – like “The Perfect Fit” (http://books.google.ca/books?id=1gSsXUEIJwIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=the+perfect+fit&hl=en&sa=X&ei=4paoUuLbBo_woATt-YKgBA&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=the%20perfect%20fit&f=false).

If you are stuck on a sewing problem, it pays to do a Google Book search and see what there is.

Kelly flowercatdesigns.wordpress.com

Whoa, thanks for this list! I feel a little overwhelmed, but this is such a great reference!

Aimee aimeemajor.com

Thankyou! I love these sort of reviews! I have a lot of the ones you mentioned but several caught my eye for my wish list, and I simply had to immediately get a $2 “very good” condition “Encyclopedia of Sewing Machine Techniques”. Much thanks!

Diane @ Vintage Zest vintagezest.com

This is a great resource! I’m definitely adding many of these to my wishlist and sharing this with my beginning Facebook sewing group. :)

Lauren of Rosie Wednesday rosiewednesday.blogspot.com

This is wonderful!! Thank you so much for posting it. I would also add to that list The Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing. There are some techniques in there I haven’t seen a lot of other places that are really beautifully. It also really is complete!

Gaenor bygaenor.blogspot.co.uk

I second this! I inherited a copy from my grandmother (given to her on her wedding anniversary in 1978 by my grandfather) and it is my go-to book for solid information and step by step instructions – like every time I want to insert a zip!

Kristen

I love that book! It was actually used as a textbook in one of my college sewing courses.

Emily thecuteoctopus.com

I also like the Readers’ Digest Complete Guide to Sewing. I will often pop it open as a reference!

http://www.amazon.com/Readers-Digest-Complete-Guide-Sewing/dp/0895770261

Catherine sewingthe60s.blogspot.com.au

I’m on that boat! I love my readers digest book!

Stephanie erniekdesigns.blogspot.com

Ah, the Adele Margolis library! I found her Dressmaking book in the library, and have been collecting her titles ever since. There is a wealth of really good information in the older sewing titles, and a day at the library in the 646 (dewey decimal) section, just poking around and seeing what serves your needs today…that is my mom’s day off agenda. Grab a pile and just leaf through them; it’s a nice little vacation for the sewist!

Lady ID peppermintandpaisley.com

Great list. I have a few of these already but will add some others to my wishlist

Ginny darlingadventures.com

Sweet – instant Christmas list. I’ll just go ahead and forward this to all my friends. Thanks!

Amy Peck ampersandenvy.com

Thank you so much for this list! Adding to my Amazon wish list now… and I may hit up my local used book stores, too!

And on a different note… what type of Bernina would you recommend? I have a 20 year old Viking which I adore (and works like a champ), but new ones are very expensive and have way too many unnecessary bells and whistles. Would love your recommendation for a new machine for an experienced sewist!

Sarai colettepatterns.com

This is a great question! Maybe I will work up a blog post on various models, with help from some local Bernina specialists.

Amy Peck ampersandenvy.com

That would be awesome! Thank you!!!

Shaerie sew-la.com

That Bra Making book by Beverly Johnson is insane. I’m still digesting my copy – haven’t ventured any sewing yet – but it WILL happen! This is a wonderful list, Sarai.

Danica

I credit The Colette Sewing Handbook for inspiring me to start my sewing odyssey. I had never bought a pattern nor had any idea how to begin to use one until I bought the Handbook. It gave me enough hand-holding that I was able to gain confidence in my beginning skills while working through each pattern. Thank you for this book; it’s a gem and a must-have in anyone’s sewing library.

Faye Lewis fayessewingadventure.blogspot.com

I’m such a book fiend. This is such a beautiful list!

Shirl

Nice list!! I have a few of these on my shelf and just went to order The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1968) from Ebay! I also have a couple of Adele Margolis books that are simply wonderful!

Lize cartridgedmess.blogspot.com

Love this list, now I finally know what I want for Christmas! :)

Catherine sewingthe60s.blogspot.com.au

Such a great list! Claire Schaeffer’s Fabric sewing guide is another good one – its Bible size and talks about almost every kind of fabric in great detail. My favourite book that taught me almost everything is the Readers Digest Complete guide to sewing. Pretty comprehensive!

Helen!

Yes, what a fabulous bibliography! Not only did I enjoy your two-cents for each book, but clicking on the links and researching the books was so much fun. I learn something new everytime I’m on your site. Thanks much!

Letitia ellelittleblog.blogspot.com

Thanks so much for posting this list! I always have such a hard time deciding which books to buy and which to skip. You are certainly cutting down on my research time.

SewSewcial thesewcialist.blogspot.com

Do you have any suggestions on books for pattern grading?

Sarai colettepatterns.com

I haven’t come across any that explain the concepts really well, but this one is a good reference that covers a lot of basic grading scenarios: Grading Techniques for Fashion Design.

Christine earthapplestudio.com

This is a fantastic post. I especially appreciate that you divided them into categories. Now to make the time to read, say one…. sigh…

Tammy pinksparkleandlace.com

This is such a great list! Besides fabric, I also hoard books and I can’t wait to go through each one of your recommendations. Amazon is also my favorite place to purchase or add to my many paged & still growing wish list. I just recently purchased your book and I love it.

Thank you!
Tammy

Claudia Miller diasdays.blogspot.com

Thanks for this list! It will be a nice reference of so many great books all in one place! I see that you have a few “vintage” books listed. They are my favorite because they are well written and the illustrations so attractive; I’m glad I have a few of them from your list!

Ginte

Love your list of books – had some on my shelf already and ordered a few more… Just a quick note under Sewing Reference -Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers by Jules Cole and Susan Czachor – the authors are actually Julie Cole and Sharon Czachor. Sharon was my sewing teacher and one of the best I’ve had! I agree with you that it is a great book – I use it all the time.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Awesome, thanks for the correction! I fixed it. Odd that Amazon has Julie Cole’s name wrong.

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