Thursday, August 23, 2007

My Ten Favorite Sewing Books

I have been collecting sewing books for about 20 years. I started my collection with the Singer Sewing Library books back when there was an independent fabric store in every town! I really treasured these books and at $14.99 per book they were an added expense for a family of five with two little girls in diapers! So my titles were carefully chosen by what I felt I needed to learn at the time.

After a few years, I became a serious collector and since that time I have purchased as many sewing books as I could afford. Now years later, my sewing library is pretty extensive. Of course, there are still a few books that I want to add to my collection, but my list isn't half as long as it used to be. Besides, I am mostly collecting "vintage" sewing books now...y'know books written in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

Here are my top 10 favorite sewing books:

1. Vogue/Butterick Step by Step Guide to Sewing Techniques

2. The Busy Woman's Sewing Book by Nancy Zieman published in 1988 by Open Chain Publishing.

3. The Complete Book of Sewing Short Cuts by Claire Schaeffer published in 1981 by Sterling Publishing.

4. Mother Pletsch's Painless Sewing by Pati Palmer & Susan Pletsch published in 1975 by Palmer/Pletsch Associates.

5. Clothes Sense - Straight Talk About Wardrobe Planning by Barbara Weiland & Leslie Wood published in 1974 by Palmer/Pletsch Associates.

6. More Power Sewing (the original version) by Sandra Betzina published in 1990 by Sandra Betzina.

The next few books are series and I have listed the books in the series that I own.

7. The Singer Sewing Library
~101 Sewing Secrets
~Color & Design on Fabric
~Creative Sewing Ideas
~Sewing for Special Occasions
~Sewing for Style
~Sewing Lingerie
~Sewing Specialty Fabrics
~Sewing with an Overlocker
~Sewing Update No. 2
~The Perfect Fit

8. The Taunton Sewing Library
~Easy Guide to Sewing Skirts by Marcy Tilton published in 1985
~Easy Guide to Sewing Jackets by Cecelia Podolak published in 1995
~Easy Guide to Sewing Blouses by Connie Long published in 1997
~Easy Guide to Sewing Linings by Connie Long published in 1998
~Easy Guide to Sewing Pants by Lynn MacIntyre published in 1998
~Easy Guide to Sewing Tops & T-shirts by Marcy Tilton published in 1998

9. Weekend Sewers Guide Series by Kate Mathews and published by Lark Publishing
~Weekend Sewers Guide to Sewing Dresses published in 1998
~Weekend Sewers Guide to Sewing Blouses published in 1998
~Weekend Sewers Guide to Sewing Pants and Skirts published in 1998

There is a fourth book on jackets but it is not a favorite like the other three. I did buy it to complete the set but rarely refer to it, preferring the Cecelia Podolak book from Threads more.

And the final book is:
10. Decorative Dressmaking by Sue Thompson published in 1985 by Rodale Press.

Over the next few weeks, I will "chat" about these books explaining why I like them so much and why I think they are must haves when building a sewing library...which by the way, I believe all sewists should have.

I would like to tell you a little about the last book on my last "Decorative Dressmaking" because this is one awesome book! This book is out of print and a little difficult to locate and obtain. If anyone has a copy and loves it as much as I do please let me know!

The blurb on the back of the book says:

"In the 1920s and 1930s, dressmaking was still an art. Beautiful fabrics were cut into intricate shapes with clever hand-detailing; now the clothes are avidly collected for occasional party dresses and musuem display. Unhappily, the skills and experience of the dressmakers has vanished along with their fragile silks. But Decorative Dressmaking is your chance to change all that, to bring a fresh, new approach to traditional techniques, while making yourself a complete wardrobe! Each chapter concentrates on a classic form of decoration. Clear text, bright drawings and photographs, with suggestions and sketches for inspiration, tell you how to make your flounces whirl, topstitch a classic suit, pipe a fine seam, applique a skirt, band a trouser suit, pleat a ruffle, ruffle a ruched dress and open-stitch a jacket...Decorative Dressmaking has been made with care and love for everyone who loves fine clothes."

And that about sums the book up in a nutshell.

Here are a few pages to show you what's happening inside.

I love this book because of the way it breaks down how to use a pleat, a flounce, interesting places to put piping and for a person who loves trim as much as I do ~ it is the dream book. Now this is not a "how to learn to sew" book but a how-to decorate your clothing and use your fabric in extraordinary ways book. If you ever get a chance to get your hands on a copy of this book, buy it! You will be glad that you did!

Finally a few sources that I use for finding out of print books:
Please feel free to share any other sources and to let me know about your favorite sewing book!


  1. I have many/most of the books on your list and love them too. I especially like Painless Sewing. When I first started getting back into sewing, this was a great resource for me.

  2. What a great idea for a post!

    I have all but 2 of the books on your list! My sewing, craft, and fashion books take up almost a full wall of my sewing room. I guess when I'm not sewing, I'm reading about sewing...

    I'm looking forward to your posts that go through each book!

  3. You have a great collection! I have several of the singer books and love them!

  4. Great list, Carolyn. I have all the books except for the Weekend Sewers series. Yes, I even have Decorative Dressmaking which I love and would never part with. I would like to add two other books which I find invaluable, Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide and David Page Coffin's Shirtmaking.

  5. I think this list would be a great and useful addition to your sidebar.

    I only have The Reader's Digest Guide to Sewing and I've never read it cover to cover. I've only used it for reference though it has gotten me out of many a jam.

  6. This is a very good list of sewing resources. I gave my Reader's Digest Guide to Sewing along with a sewing machine to my daughter-in-law a few years ago--I freaked when I saw the machine sitting on the floor--but I don't believe she has used them yet. To be fair, a family of 4 lives in the tinest home of about 600 sf.

    One of my favoite books, which I have had since he mid-80's is "The Custom Touch," Creative Guide to Sewing Techniques by Mary J. Wadlington. It is still available at at a very reasonable price. This books teaches, in a very friendly, common sense manner, how to take your basic block and draft your own patterns and then provides you with construction order.

    I'd love Decorative Dressmaking, but can't afford right now.

  7. There are a lot of sewing resources on My favorite sewing book is Make It Your Own, by Ronda Cheney.
    This was the first book I ever saw that explained and showed how to change patterns to add pleats, godets, and other decorative details.

  8. Thanks for posting your list. I've just started to get sewing books and some of the ones listed are already on my "to get" list.

    I think the Decorative Dress Making will have to go near the top!!

    Can't wait to read your thoughts on the others.

  9. Carolyn - I have that Decorative Dressmaking book, I also have the same 3 Weekend Sewers books which I love. My next book purchase is going to be the vogue book. I recently sent that to friend who is just getting started sewing. g

  10. What a great library you have! I plan on adding some of these titles to mine.

  11. I must have scored big! I just bought Decorative Dressmaking (hardcover) 2 weeks ago from an seller for only $3.99! There are about 12 copies available right now on Amazon and some have reasonable prices, I think (less than $30).

    Someone at Pattern Review was gushing about it and when I found it for only $4, I decided to add it to my collection. It is extremely inspiring, isn't it?


  12. Great post - I have a few of those. The two I really like and use in my sewing are Bridal Couture by Susan Khalje and Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Schaeffer.

  13. You have a wonderful collection, and you've pointed out a few I'll have to look for. I would include in my Top 10: Clotilde's Sew Smart and David Coffin's Shirtmaking. For Best Supporting Role in a Series: the Time-Life books published in the 70s. Each one is bound in a fabric appropriate for the book topic: tweed for Tailoring, Corduroy for sportwear, snakeskin vinyl for Novelty Materials, etc. Some of the info is outdated, but as collector's items, they're fun to have. I've been finding them at used bookstores online and locally. Ah, the thrill of the hunt!

  14. I am really in trouble now. I peeped in at your blog today and when I saw the title I said "oh no". I am a real book fiend. I am leaving this comment even before I read the post. I'll let you know later what your list inspires me to put on my MUST HAVE LIST.

  15. Wow, Carolyn, I have a lot of the same books. Your last book I have never seen or heard of before that I can recall. It looks like a great book to have as part of a sewing library. I really look forward to your "book reviews".

  16. Great collection. My favourite jacket book is the Cecelia Podolak book too. And I have a few others as well. You are tempting me with that Decorative Dressmaking book!

  17. I have just been over to Amazon and Decorative Dressmaking starts at $104!! I think you have just increased the

  18. fantastic list, Carolyn. "Decorative Dressmaking" looks like a real prize - and now there are hundreds of us searching for a copy!

  19. Well, thanks to you, Carolyn, I'm a little poorer than I was 10 minutes ago, having tracked down a reasonably priced copy of That Book. At least it's not my fault. ;-)

  20. "Decorative Dressmaking" is one of the best for brainstorming. I include along with it "Easy Style" by Elsebeth Gynther and the Kate Matthews books you mentioned. I think there is something about the way these books are designed that makes them so inspiring. The variety of illustrations and photographs and the degree to which they are…unclear or simple, allows the mind toreally take the information and run.
    My latest library addition: "Patternmaking for Fashion Design" by Helen Joseph Armstrong.


  21. great list, made a note to check a couple of those out, Thanks!

  22. Carolyn, this is a great list.
    When I restarting sewing for myself I wanted to acquire more skills. Till then I only had two basic Knip and Burda books, which are fine for basic techniques, but I wanted more information on fitting and the more advanced techniques.

    As I could not find good Dutch books I started with Power sewing from Sandra Betzina, which was so inspiring.
    Now I own a few books that are helpfull to me and mention those in the sidebar of my blog (I second the idea of Beth to do that too).

    Your dress making book seems to me a 'must have'. Look forward to the other reviews of your books, so that I can extend my wish list. It is so difficult to buy (expensive) books when you have no idea if it is worthwhile (but more than $100 is too expensive for me).

  23. You have a great selection of sewing books! I already have most of the books you listed as favorites since like you I've been collecting them. My favorites are the Claire Chaeffer's books (I have most of them) and the Susan Khalje's. I also love vintage sewing books and the one I treasure the most is Clothing Construction by Evelyn Mansfield.

  24. How come I want everything I see in your blog? Are you the Joneses that I'm supposed to keep up with?

    I'm glad you don't live next door! I'd go broke trying to be just like you!

  25. You're a bad influence on me. First I bought a new sewing machine, then a dress form, then I got a new job (so I could afford more stuff ;-p), and I just ordered this book. Yours is still my favorite sewing blog.


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