In today’s age of technology, having a library of physical sewing books may never have crossed your mind. Perhaps it’s old school, or impractical, or simply unnecessary. Whatever the reason, if you’ve never considered building a sewing library, it’s something you should start doing, regardless of your sewing level.
I began sewing before the age of Google. To learn new techniques, I relied on books I found at the library, JoAnns, or Borders (now I feel old!). This trend continued in college when I was earning my degree in fashion design: naturally, we needed textbooks for class. A lot of those textbooks were actually staples of the garment industry, and they’ve continued to be vital resources for me throughout my post-college sewing adventures.
Even with the advent of Google and the popularity of online sewing tutorials, I still find myself consulting my books more than anything else. Typically, instructions are well-written, diagram illustrations are provided, and the methods are tried and true. I can follow along at my own pace, rather than trying to keep up with a YouTube tutorial. And there’s just something about having a real book open next to you as you craft that’s oddly inspiring…
Okay, maybe it is old school, but just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s bad!
In this post, I’ll be sharing the benefits of having a sewing library, along with recommendations for the sewing books you should definitely include. Whether you’re into historical costuming, fashion design, recreational sewing, or cosplay, there’s something here for everyone!
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Reasons to Have a Sewing Library
Whether it’s a single shelf or an entire bookcase, cultivating a personal library of sewing books is so worth it!
- It’s convenient. Rather than having to search through Google results, you can easily answer your question by consulting a dedicated sewing book. Just look it up in the table of contents or index. Voila: there’s the info!
- It limits distractions. Have you ever been in the creative groove and had to pause to find information online… then got stuck checking social media or wandering down the Pinterest rabbit hole? Suddenly, you’ve lost an hour of crafting time to pinning other projects. The second I have to open my browser to look up info, I’ve lost the battle.
- It gives you clear goals. Not sure what you want to make next? Need a new skill to practice? Congratulations: you have books filled with ideas to try! It’s really inspiring to open a book to the back pages and see more advanced projects to work towards.
- It teaches you the “right way” to sew. This is vital as a beginner; learning proper techniques will give you the foundation to succeed. A verified source ensures you’re learning to sew “the right way,” rather than learning bad habits you need to unlearn later. (Obviously, if you only want to sew for recreation, this isn’t important. But if your goal is to be a designer, sell handmade garments, compete in costuming, or otherwise sew as a professional, you need proper technique.)
Lastly, you may be questioning if it’s worthwhile to invest in physical books when there are so many free online resources. Obviously, if you’re on a budget, rushing out to buy a ton of hardcovers may not be feasible. But where there’s a will, there’s a way! There’s no time-limit that mandates you need to fill your entire library quota at once. Consider building it book by book as your budget allows, or highlight the resources you want the most and make those your priority. Just like with any craft expenses, pace yourself. Use your couponing skills. Look for secondhand sources and deals (especially from used textbook retailers).
At the end of the day, is it a worthwhile expense? Yes. It is. Consider this an investment in your personal growth and developing your skills in something you love to do. It’s okay to invest money in yourself! In fact, it’s probably the best investment you can make, especially if that investment involves a skill that brings you happiness.
Are you convinced? Yes? Awesome! Let’s move on to the books you should have on your shelf.
Recommended Sewing Books
Again: you don’t need every book on this list. That being said, every book on this list is here for a reason. They all have merit in their own way. Find the books that suit your needs and goals, and make those your priority!
(Last updated October 5, 2017.)
1. New Complete Guide to Sewing by Reader’s Digest
If you only get one book from this list, let it be this one. This is one of the most comprehensive guides to sewing available; consider it a bible of techniques that you’ll always want to have on hand. Each technique has step-by-step diagrams and illustrations, making it easy to comprehend these necessary foundational skills for garment construction.
2. Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers by Julie Cole & Sharon Czachor
Perhaps the most comprehensive book of sewing techniques available, this one is worth every penny. There are plenty of line drawings and illustrations, and it will walk you through the creation of the garment from draft to wearable.
3. Couture Sewing Techniques, Revised and Updated by Claire B. Shaeffer
If you want to truly refine your garment construction skills, pursue the art of couture sewing. Not only will you learn the skills, but this book teaches you how to apply them. You’ll learn the art of detail work and the importance of paying close attention to your sewing. Many of the techniques involve hand-sewing, which provides some of the best, cleanest seams and elegant embellishments. This book will honestly revolutionize your approach to sewing and truly help you “level up!” (And, if you’d like to go even further, check out her second book: High-Fashion Sewing Secrets.)
4. The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff
Fabric manipulation is an often-overlooked aspect of sewing that can transform your garments from simple flat pieces to three-dimensional, textured works of art. More often than not, you can do so with fabric and a simple combination of needle, thread, and patience. This encyclopedia covers “gathering, shirring, ruffling, tucking, pleating, quilting,” and their many variations.
5. Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph Armstrong
A staple of fashion education. Prior to utilizing this book, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of knowing what a pattern is, how they’re generally assembled, and how you want to incorporate its use into what you’re trying to make. You should also understand the structure of the human body and how it moves, taking and applying measurements, and how to use certain drafting tools (such as French curves, hip curves, and so on). If you’re still on the fundamentals, I’d recommend checking out How to Draft Basic Patterns (4th Edition). Otherwise, proceed to explore this book if you’d like to delve into the construction of intricate garments.
6. The Perfect Fit: The Classic Guide to Altering Patterns by Editors of Creative Publishing
If altering patterns is more your style, this is the book for you! This guide will teach you how to alter existing patterns to achieve the perfect fit for any figure. You’ll learn to create a full-sized body drawing, determine your body type, understand industry fits, and make a wide range of alterations and adjustments for different areas of the body.
Industry & Terminology
7. In Fashion by Elaine Stone
This book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in fashion design or working within the fashion industry. It’ll teach you all about the process of garment construction and fabrication, manufacturing, marketing, and more. For costumers and recreational seamstresses, this book still has value! Having a thorough understanding of fabric types and their qualities is necessary for all of us, whether we’re sewing a kid’s jumper or an 18th-century ball gown.
8. The Fashion Designer Survival Guide by Mary Gehlhar
A thorough look at the world of fashion design. There are mixed reviews on this book, especially because it’s directed towards aspiring high-end designers. Regardless of what area of fashion you aspire to design for, it’s important to understand the business aspect of what occurs at the runway level, as much of that affects the rest of the fashion world.
9. How to Speak Fluent Sewing by Christine Haynes
Oriented towards the beginning seamstress, this is an excellent little glossary to have on-hand. It provides a clear understanding of the most common terms you’ll encounter in your sewing adventures, even supplying illustrated references. If you’re just diving into sewing or otherwise feeling a bit overwhelmed, this book will help alleviate your confusion!
Design & Inspiration
10. Fashion Designers’ Sketchbooks by Hywel Davies
A comprehensive look at the design process from start to finish, this collection provides mood boards, research materials, illustrations, and finished garments from avant-garde designers. It thoroughly explains the creative steps a designer takes to bring their vision to life. This book is an excellent resource for students and other aspiring fashion designers, as well as costumers looking to flex their original design skills.
11. Singer Sewing Book by Gladys Cunningham & Jessie Hutton
As a vintage tome, the techniques covered in this tome are rather out-of-style (as are many of the garments). That being said, not all of it is outdated; some techniques haven’t changed, so you can certainly still learn sewing skills, too. However, as more updated and comprehensive resources exist, I keep this one around for charm. It’s a true classic, and the illustrations are wonderfully inspiring!
12. The Snap Fashion Sketchbook by Sharon Lee Tate & Bill Glazer
Often overlooked, one of the most important skills for designers to have is the ability to draw a fashion flat. Unlike an abstract illustration, a flat is a technical drawing of a design that allows manufacturers to understand the construction of the garment. This book covers virtually every traditional and modern design element found in the fashion industry, teaching you how to render them in your flats.
13. Fashion Illustration: Inspiration and Technique by Anna Kiper
A fantastic resource for fashion illustration principles and foundational skills, such as drawing the human body in different poses, drawing men and children, drawing different fabric types, and more. Anna Kiper’s talent with color and dynamic posing is very inspirational and you’ll certainly benefit from the tips and tricks she shares!
Crafting & Home Sewing
14. How to Show & Sell Your Crafts by Torie Jayne
As someone who enjoys both couture garment construction and making stuffed animals out of fabric scraps, it’s important to me that a crafting book respect its reader. Many authors of crafting books talk down to the reader, treating them like they’re either completely incompetent or just not “serious” about sewing. This book isn’t like that. Instead, it treats the reader like an intelligent being and actually offers useful information about starting an entrepreneurial crafting business. Whether you want to post a few pieces on Etsy or start traveling to trade shows across the country to sell your creations, this is an excellent resource!
15. Fabric Art Workshop by Susan Stein
I was gifted this book by an old friend, and I have to say: it’s just pure fun! There are so many techniques that will teach you how to transform fabric through the use of every medium imaginable. I’ve found it especially useful for more “artsy” fantasy costumes, especially those that need a more handmade/rustic finish. You can do so much with texture to transform a garment!
16. Sewing for the Home by Editors of Creative Publishing
I usually don’t opt for “project collection” books as a resource, but this one is so handy that I love having a copy nearby! It covers more than fifty of the most useful tutorials for home decor projects. It’s divided into four sections: Windows, Pillows, Tables, and Bed & Bath. If you’re looking to spruce up your space, this collection will give you tons of inspiration and instruction!
Historical Costuming & Cosplay
17. Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques by Jill Salen
What’s a historical costume without a properly-constructed corset? This book covers corsets from the early 1700s through 1920s, providing patterns, general tips, and the history behind the garments. One caveat: the written instructions are a bit unclear, so it’s suited primarily for intermediate and advanced seamstresses.
18. The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress by Ninya Mikhaila & Jane Malcolm-Davies
Huzzah for historically-accurate Tudor clothing! With detailed patterns, visual guides, stunning photographs of real garments, and more, this book offers a wonderful amount of information on the clothing of this era. It’s a resource and history lesson all in one, and reading it cover to cover will leave you feeling so inspired (and ready for your next Ren Faire)! This is one of my favorite keepsakes.
19. Victorian Fashions and Costumes by Stella Blum
Let me preface this: it is not a “how-to” or tutorial book on how to sew Victorian garments. Rather, it’s an amazing book of references and visual imagery of garments from that time period. It has an incredible level of detail, and it delves into explanations of different fabrics, how garments were worn, and the purpose behind construction decisions. It’s absolutely something you want to have on hand before your next Victorian-style project!
What are your favorite sewing books? Let me know in the comments! I’m always looking to add new resources to my shelf.