I’m a sucker for a good sewing book and many of the best can be found at charity shops or second hand book shops. Rather than looking something up online, over the years books have been my go to for sewing information.
The world wide web is fantastic, a whole world of information at our finger tips, YouTube is amazing for seeing sewing techniques in action but sometimes you just can beat an old-fashioned book.
When my students are searching online for how to do something I always caution them to take care over the quality of the source. There are many sewing bloggers and vloggers who have set up a channel or blog with little or no sewing education and/or experience.
I’m going to take you through a few of my favourites that I definitely think you should look out for in book shops and charity shops or wherever you buy your books.
1. Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing
This is my all time favourite and I can’t remember where I got it from or when, but it is a really useful reference book. My version is from 1981 and has a £1 sticker inside the front cover but there are more recent revisions out there, that are a bit more up to date.
I love this book for it’s simplicity and ease of refence. Like any of these books I have never read this from cover to cover, I just dip into it as required. The index makes it really easy to look stuff up.
It really is quite comprehensive and although some of the fashions, tools and fabrics available to us now has moved on a bit since 1981, the basic theory of sewing and dressmaking has not changed.
The photos are mainly black and white, but the illustrations are really clear and easy to understand.
This book covers sewing techniques, such as zips and applications for those as well as information of fabrics and getting the right fabric for your project, basic pattern drafting and alterations and the final chapters are some garment and home sewing projects for you to try.
Even as I picked up this book to write this article I learnt something new about single and double fold bindings that I never knew before. If you only have one sewing book – this is the one to have!
2. Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire B Shaeffer
This is another book that’s chock-a-block with techniques and tips. The techniques in this book are very different from the Reader’s Digest book as they are couture techniques, rather than home sewing techniques, but many of them translate well to home sewing.
As the introduction to the book states: “If you can sew, you can sew couture. Very few techniques are difficult but they require time and patience”.
I enjoy this book as it’s very different to the type of sewing I was taught during my BTEC and Degree, which was mainly industrial sewing techniques.
There are colour photographs often with close ups of details of gorgeous couture garments. Technical illustrations and instructions take you through techniques and stitches step by step.
The book is in 2 parts; part one is “The Basics of Couture Sewing” and part two is “Applying Couture Techniques”.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys hand sewing, or slow sewing projects and who wishes to elevate the finish of their garments. There are lots of technical aspects that a home sewist can use to their advantage.
3. The Overlocker Technique Manual by Julia Hincks
This book is amazing at not just overlocker basics, but everything else that you never realised you could do with an overlocker. In the book she uses a Janome overlocker, so some of the settings are specific to Janome machines, however don’t let this put you off!
There is heaps of good information and techniques that you can use whatever your brand of overlocker. You may just have to fiddle with the settings if you don’t have a Janome, but that’s not a bad thing as you will learn so much more when you have to play about with your machine.
There are plenty of clear colour photographs to help your understanding and the book covers the basics as well as advanced techniques and even some overlocker projects for you to get your teeth into too.
I learnt so much from this book.
4. The Vogue Sewing Book
This is the most recent addition to my library, I picked it up from Barter Books in Alnwick when we were on holiday in Northumberland over the summer. I paid £12.60 for it second-hand, this edition was published in 1981 too.
With styles and fashions from the late 70’s and early 80’s it might look dated, but again the information in there is top notch. There is a segment on figure analysis, saying which clothes are not appropriate if you have certain “figure problems” which I find a bit problematic in the days of body positivity, but if you can ignore that there is so much here for dressmakers and garment makers today.
I admit I haven’t used this book as much as the others in this list, which is why it is number four on my list, however that’s probably only because I haven’t had it as long.
This book takes a bit more of a fashion stance than the others in my list, helping you treat fashion sewing as an artform. Going through a more holistic approach, with regards to colours, fabrics and proportions and silhouettes.
There are lots of useful charts, illustrations and photographs as well as a glossary of terms that taught me a thing or two! An handy reference book for a new or a more experienced sewist.
I don’t get much time to read for readings sake, but these books are full of a wealth of information that you can dip in and out of as required and you can look up anything you might possibly need to know.
If you want good quality video tutorials from someone with years of training and experience, check out my YouTube Channel or join my Online Learn to Sew Membership Club.