Sewing books – Hidden gems

There have been hundreds of books written about sewing over the years; some good, some bad but more importantly, some hidden gems.

The techniques used in sewing have hardly changed from one decade to another. Apart from the sewing machine, all the other tools of the trade have remained practically unchanged. This creates a problem as the majority of sewing books are just re-writes of a previous book. Yes they might have added pretty pictures and a cleaner layout but overall are just providing the same thing.

While we are talking books, the same thing is happening in sewing magazines. They are constantly repeating the same articles. Whilst the lure of a free pattern or gift might appeal to many, the bulk of the content is adverts and regurgitated content. Many of them are not cheap either. It is common for a monthly magazine to cost £9.99 but it’s OK as you get 2 or 3 (generally old/dated) sewing patterns! Hmm.

There have been a few ‘new’ magazines pop up in the last few years. Sew Now, the sister magazine of Love sewing, looked as if it was going to offer a different take. Focusing on fashion and style trends. Indeed I had a regular column in the magazine, sharing skills and techniques. Sadly things changed and they have become a generic sewing magazine like so many others.

La Maison Victor is another new magazine to appear. A Belgium publication that has become available in more countries. Firstly it is not full of adverts! It also comes with many patterns: Not the same old patterns found in other magazines either. No the patterns are their own designs. Issue 1 came with no less than 9 patterns! Women’s, Children’s and even a pattern for men! Can’t remember the last time I saw a mans sewing pattern in a magazine. Also for £5.99 this magazine is a bargain. The only problem is it’s sometimes hard to find in newsagents/shops. Hopefully it will get easier to find as it becomes more established.

OK my magazine moan is over. Perhaps I should do a proper post about them all one day? Anyway…


Lets get back to Sewing books.

Sewing books fall into several main genres:

The ‘Beginners’ books. There are so many to list here but they are all very similar in content. Aimed at people, starting their sewing adventures, everyone who sews will have something on their bookshelf.

Sewing ‘Disciplines’. There are so many ‘threads’ to sewing (see what I did there?), Clothing, quilting, bag making, toys, home furnishing etc. These books are written specifically for the discipline; as a consequence they are, generally, not just a re-hash of a previous publication.

‘Make Me’ Sewing. Books that contain a range of patterns and instructions on how to make them. These are great for sewers that want to break away from making commercial patterns and try something new.

‘Technical’ Sewing. As I have said previously, many techniques in sewing don’t change, however, there are many techniques that are rarely discussed in books: Couture techniques, Tailoring, Bridal etc. These books feature heavily in my ‘Hidden Gem’ collection.

So what are my hidden Gems?

I have written a few book reviews before, such as ‘The Fox, the Bear & the Bunny’ and ‘Make it, Own it, Love it’ but the books I’m about to list are possibly not on every sewers bookshelf. So here we go.

As a all-round go to reference book I don’t think you can beat:

The Readers Digest – Complete Guide to Sewing

This book, first published in 1978 is a must have for every sewer. It contains practically everything you will ever come across when sewing and is a hefty 528 pages.

This book has been published and reprinted in various editions over the years. You can pick these up often in charity shops or through Amazon really cheap. My preference is the earlier editions that have clear line drawings to instruct.

Intentionally written for beginners into the craft, it is still a fabulous reference and one you can dip into when needed, regardless of your experience (we all forget how to do things at times, don’t we?)

Next we have Complete Dressmaking by Jules Fallon.

A recent publication from 2017. I think this book is particularly suited to the beginner; with nice clear photographs and easy to understand text, spread over 256 pages. Jules is an experienced dressmaker and you can feel her enthusiasm in the book.

Moving away from beginners books now.

Couture Sewing – Tailoring Techniques by Claire B Shaeffer.

Not a huge book at 121 pages but it covers a lot of detailed couture techniques: Handworked buttonholes and converting darts to ease, for example. Its a good step up for those wanting to try new techniques and couture methods. The photos are clear and text easy to follow (provided you have reasonable sewing vocabulary). It also features a DVD demonstrating the skills in the book.

For those venturing into the realms of pattern drafting then Pattern Design and Adaptation by Pamela Lee and Rozanne Hawksley is a good place to start. Published in 1981 it looks at how to create patterns from a simple block through to more adventurous designs.

There are also a lot of features describing how to alter a pattern to create a different design. Useful for those who wish to experiment with commercial patterns. At 229 pages with clear diagrams, it is a good book.

Now we are heading way back in time and 2 books from E Lucy Towers. Standard Processes in Dressmaking  from 1948!

This is a great reference book demonstrating clear techniques such as inserting an invisible zip (closed seam method). Who knew invisible zips have been around that long. Its a small, 122 page book but the concise nature is what I love – Straight to the point.

Her second book from 1968, Techniques of Dressmaking and Soft Tailoring is a brilliant book if you want to start playing with tailoring. With plenty of techniques to whet your appetite.

As her previously mentioned book, it contains clear technical drawings and clear descriptions of the techniques being employed.

Now for some technical books.

Ever wanted to make a corset? Of course you have and The Basics of Corset Making by Linda Sparks is a great place to start. It might be a small 77 page book but covers every aspect of corset making a beginner needs to know.

With a combination of line drawings a photos, the book takes you step-by-step in the processes of Corset making.

What about Tailoring?

Now any aspiring Tailor will want the following books in their library:

Classic Tailoring Techniques for Menswear by Roberto Cabrera and Denis Antione.

First published in 1983 and now on its second edition, this 280 page book is a must! It covers every aspect in tailoring from marking, cutting, ironworking and finishing details. A combination of photos (shame not in colour) and line drawing are abundant and plenty of text for each step.

And tailoring for Women’s wear? Well yes. Written by Cabrera and Patricia Flaherty Meyers. Classic Tailoring Techniques – Construction guide for Women’s Wear.

And we must not overlook Vintage Couture Tailoring by Thomas Von Nordheim. Published in 2012.

The book features the construction of a Woman’s jacket in clear precise detail. Smaller than the Cabrera books at only 159 pages, it is concise and well illustrated throughout.

Upcoming Reviews

I have a few books that I will be reviewing in the next few weeks (when I have finished digesting them!)

How to Start Sewing by Assembil Books is a whopper at 618 pages. It certainly deserves a complete review as it is pretty special.

Also by Assembil How Patterns Work, again worthy of review so watch this space.

Finally Bridal Alteration Techniques by S L Harbour will be reviewed soon. Published this year I received a copy just a few days ago. Having had a quick glance through I can already see what a good book it is.

Phew! There we go! That was a long post but hopefully might draw you attention to a few different books for your sewing space? Do you have any favourites? Please comment and recommend below.

So until next time…. Happy Sewing!

14 thoughts on “Sewing books – Hidden gems”

  1. You are certainly right about the Reader’s Digest book. It was one of my textbooks in design school (the original version) and I have recommended it to students when I taught sewing. It’s especially good for someone wanting to learn some basic tailoring techniques—but I think the later editions left out the menswear!! Get that ’78 version if you can. I think they also changed the color of the illustrations which to me are harder to read.

  2. Not everyone teaches and not everyone learns the same way. The trick is to find your best match/matches when it comes to learning. When I want how-to or any information, I look for whomever will best convey that information to me. I would say go to the library or browse the bookshops if possible. Find an author who speaks to you.

  3. I totally agree with you about sewing magazines. They don’t tell you anything new or that you can’t find on the internet. They are usually promotion for the same group of designers and bloggers too.
    I shall look out for some of the books you mention – good article.

  4. A great review of the magazines and books, thank you.
    I too find the magazines all very samey and the free patterns are all identical! I occasionally purchase Threads magazine which is old fashioned but the techniques are usually more advanced.
    I have a wide selection of books, including some of the ones you have mentioned. I shall look out for the bridal wear alterations book.
    I have recently purchased the makers atiler book & Mills & merchants wookbook.
    I haven’t made anything from them yet but they both get great reviews.

  5. Have been mulling over buying ‘How Patterns Work’ for a while now, so am really looking forward to your review of this book. Just about to start a pattern drafting course (waist hanging) in September and have decided to explore ‘Pattern Designing and Adaptation for Beginners’, mentioned by you above, so thank you Jamie for your worthwhile insight 🙂

  6. The only sewing magazine that I have found worthwhile is the Burda Style magazine. Each of them comes with loads of patterns, clear instructions, and they are relatively free of ads.

  7. Yes please ! Please do more about sewing magazines. I agree, when a new one comes out they start off promising. The only ones I really like is Simply Sewing and now La Maison Victor. As for books I’ve got two editions of the RD book and the ones I like on my bookshelf most is The Beginners Guide to Sewing and The Beginners Guide to Knits for the technical stuff and some of the patterns. David Coffins shirt making book wasn’t what I expected and a bit too technical for me, I suppose I should try his first shirt book? Actually I thought that you were going to write a shirt making book? That would be good!

    1. Thanks. Yes I still have a shirt book being written but so many things take up so much time. I will get it finished I promise. I will do a mag post soon too!

  8. I love a good sewing book, so thank you for this post! The two I use most are Vogue Sewing (which I use a bit more than my Reader’s Digest copy), and a book called Tailoring: A Step-by-step Guide to Creating Beautiful Customized Garments (no author’s name mentioned on the cover, but it’s published in the UK by Apple Press) which was really helpful for my first tailored coat.

    I’d like to find a good reference book about sewing knits if anyone can suggest one? I know Tilly Walnes and Wendy Ward have written ‘Make Me’ books about knits recently, but neither is really my style and I’d like more of a knits reference book.

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