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.
- Sew Everything Workshop by Diana Rupp: An approachable, easy to understand guide to sewing for the true beginner! Diana makes sewing easy.
- Bend the Rules Sewing by Amy Karol: Blogger Amy Karol of Angry Chicken gives great instructions with an easy and laid-back approach. Reading Amy’s writing is like having a friend in your living room showing you the basics.
- Sewing Made Easy by Dorothy Sara: This is a classic book first published in 1950, with many updates and revisions. It includes over 1000 step-by-step illustrations! The instructions are clear and go over concepts not usually covered in more modern books,
- Fashion Sewing For Everyone by Adele Margolis: For my money, Adele Margolis wrote some of the most approachable and informative sewing books around. This one is aimed at Beginners, simplifying the concepts of sewing for those that are new.
- The Dressmaking Book: A Simplified Guide for Beginners by Adele Margolis: Another fantastic book for beginners by Adele Margolis!
- Dressmaking Made Easy by Laura Baldt: I believe this book was used as a Home Economics text years ago. It does a good job of covering the basics, including basic alterations and tools and supplies. (see my previous review with photos)
- The Colette Sewing Handbook by Sarai Mitnick: I’m a wee bit biased on this. My book covers everything the new sewist should know, breaking it down into what I consider the five fundamentals: planning, patterns, fit, fabric, and finishing. Comes with five exclusive patterns that help teach the skills covered.
- Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers by Julie Cole and Sharon Czachor: This mammoth text book is pricey, but you truly get what you pay for. This is my favorite sewing reference, because it is so incredibly comprehensive.
- The Singer Sewing Book: Another classic text. I have a vintage copy from 1940, and it is chock full of gorgeous and inspiring illustrations. Highly recommended if you can find an older copy.
- The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot: A wonderful older reference books with over 45 chapters describing some old school techniques.
- The Art of Dressmaking by Butterick (1927): A gorgeous book from the early 20th century, worth owning for the illustrations alone! (see my previous review with photos)
- The New Encyclopedia of Modern Sewing: This is another beautiful reference. My copy is from 1943, and covers a number of very practical topics, from making curtains to doing mending properly.
- The Sewing Machine Attachment Handbook: Ever wonder what various attachments and presser feet are for? This handy little book will help get you sorted.
- Sew News Timesaving Tips: I picked this book up randomly at a thrift store and ended up liking it a lot! It’s just an assortment of quick tips, everything from speeding up your sewing to getting organized.
- Sewing Shortcuts from A to Z by Elizabeth Musheno: This handy little book from 1978 is actually less about shortcuts, and more of a slim little reference glossary.
- The Art of Sewing: The Classic Techniques: This is part of a series of Time-Life books on sewing, all of which are kind of awesome. This volume covers basic and classic techniques. Also, amazing hot pink cover. I hope to own the whole series at some point.
The Mode In Dress and Home: This isn’t the most comprehensive or even informative sewing book. In fact, it seems more of an early Home Ec text focused on sewing and directed at young ladies. But the illustrations make this beautiful volume more than worth picking up. (see my previous review with photos)
- 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
- A Field Guide to Fabric Design by Kim Kight: Ever thought about designing your own fabric? Kim walks you through everything you need to know, including techniques for designing digitally.
- More Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina: Definitely my favorite book on Fabric, this is Sandra Betzina’s update to her previous book, Fabric Savvy, and replaces it. It covers all kinds of fabrics and how to sew them, including special techniques, needles, and thread.
- Bend the Rules with Fabric by Amy Karol: Try printing, stamping, and dyeing your own fabric using Amy’s easy to follow techniques. This is a great book for beginners or anyone who just wants to play.
- Woman’s Institute Library Of Dressmaking: Sewing Materials: You’d be hard pressed to find a modern book with this level of detail on sewing materials, including fabric, lace, trims, and findings. Absolutely fascinating and inspiring. (see my previous review with photos)
- Pattern Fitting With Confidence by Nancy Zieman: We all know how great Nancy Zieman is. This book brings her knowledge of fitting to you along with tons of step-by-step photos.
- How to Make Clothes That Fit and Flatter by Adele Margolis: This book takes a broader approach to fit than most. It does address the technical, but also takes a good look at how and why things work on our bodies. (see my previous review with photos)
- Fit for Real People by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto: It seems everyone has an opinion on this book! The great thing about it is that it shows fit techniques on a wide variety of bodies, and that it focuses on the fast and easy (well, easier) method of tissue fitting.
- Fitting and Pattern Alteration by Elizabeth L. Liechty, Della N. Pottberg-Steineckert, and Judith A. Rasband: This is a giant textbook with about a million alterations, and three ways to do each of them! This is invaluable if you are serious about fit, and my absolute favorite fitting book.
- The Perfect Fit : An easy to use guide to altering standard patterns. (see our previous review with photos)
- 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)
- 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.
- Sewing Lingerie that Fits by Karen Morris: While there aren’t a large variety of styles here, this book gives a good introduction to the basic techniques of lingerie making, like installing elastics and fitting. This is a great place for the beginning lingerie seamstress to start.
- The Bra-Makers Manual by Beverly Johnson: If you are serious about bra making, this pricey book aimed at the custom bra maker is full of valuable information on drafting, fitting, and materials. Like a master class in book form.
- Pattern Cutting for Lingerie, Beachwear, and Leisurewear by Ann Hagar: This is another more advanced book aimed at the designer and focused on patternmaking, but it’s a very useful reference and will help you draft several basics.
- Vintage Lingerie: 30 Patterns Based on Period Garments Plus Finishing Techniques by Jill Salen: Gorgeous lingerie from a variety of eras is presented, along with patterns! Sizing is non existent and the instructions are minimal, but it’s useful even just to see how the garments are made. Gorgeous stuff.
Other Specialty Techniques
- Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer: This is one of those books that belongs in every seamstress’s library. Claire Schaeffer reveals many couture techniques, many of which revolve around hand sewing, along with example of beautifully constructed couture garments.
- High-Fashion Sewing Secrets by Claire Schaeffer: If you like the book above, this one also by Claire Schaeffer offers even more sewing techniques used by high end designers.
- Easy Guide to Sewing Linings by Connie Long: An invaluable reference for lining any sort of garment, including dresses, jackets, pants, and skirts. Currently out of print, but used copies are available.
- Sew U Home Stretch by Wendy Mullin: Want to learn about sewing with knits? This book by the designer of Built by Wendy has you covered. A great intro to the subject that includes patterns.
- Mary Johnson’s Guide to Altering and Restyling Ready-Made Clothes: Before refashioning became popular, there was this book. A great reference on altering clothing that you purchase, an often forgotten aspect of sewing.