I have a bunch of sewing books that I keep handy. I have a lot more that I keep in the spare bedroom (AKA the cutting room) and reference when needed. I thought it would be fun to share which books I have and hear what other reference books folks find invaluable.
The A List – Books I keep close at hand. These are divided into two groups – technique and inspiration. First up is technique:
Vogue Sewing, 1980 edition. This is my all time favorite sewing reference. The pictures are totally groovy, and the pattern styles are so vintage they’re back in. The DVF wrap dress is pictured in this book in all its glory. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of how to construct clothing. This book has it all. I love it, and I think it should be on every sewer’s bookshelf.
Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer. I know that several folks whom I respect don’t like Claire Shaeffer, but I find that this book is invaluable. The hand sewing techniques and the interfacing information are particularly useful to me.
Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong. A great all-around reference for patternmaking. I’m not a good patternmaker, at all. But if I need something in a pinch, I look to this book. It is clear and well-illustrated. I keep it in my cutting room/spare bedroom for when I need it.
Terry Fox Fashion Collection. This is one of the best all around references for couture inspiration. I bought mine used on eBay. Supposedly it comes with patterns. My copy didn’t, which is probably why it was so cheap, but there are good illustrations, and I can use the ideas in it on other patterns.
Fabric Sewing Guide by Claire Shaeffer. This is an encyclopaedic guide to different fabrics, their uses, the technical aspects of sewing them, etc. It’s an excellent reference. She’s publishing a new revision early next year. This book is definitely worth getting.
Great Sewn Clothes by the Editors of Threads Magazine. I think this book may be out of print. It’s a collection of articles from Threads in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It has some great information on adjusting collars so they lie properly, interfacing, working with wool gabardine. It’s an excellent reference.
Fitting and Pattern Alteration Leichty, Pottberg and Rasband. This book illustrates common fitting problems and three methods of solving each: pinned pattern, measurement, and muslin. They show different ways of slashing patterns and muslins to get the fit you want.
Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina. This is a great “desktop reference” for solving common fit problems. I keep this one next to Helen Joseph-Armstrong’s book in the cutting area. Great, clear, concise instructions.
Then there are the inspiration books. These have great pictures and carry some interesting historical context in several instances.
Jackie, the Clothes of Camelot by Jay Mulvaney. This is a great retrospective of the clothes that Jackie Kennedy wore during the White House years. I was fortunate to see the exhibit of the same clothing at the Kennedy Museum.
Chanel , the companion book to the Costume Institute exhibit. This was an amazing exhibit, and I was fortunate to see it with my fellow Sewing Divas, Georgene and Phyllis. It was great, and the book is a must-have for anyone who is interested in Chanel’s progress through the years. And by Chanel, I mean not only Mlle, but the company as well.
The Art of Haute Couture by Victor Skrebneski. Not much text worth reading, and no construction information. But this book has sumptuous photographs that give you a good feel for the sensuous nature of the fabrics and the clothing. I drool whenever I see the photographs. Skrebneski can photograph silk like no one else.
Vionnet by Betty Kirke. Probably the definitive biography of the couturiere’s work. The photographs are stunning, and the book includes scaled down patterns for the garments shown.
Dresses from the Collection of Diana, Princess of Wales, Christies Auction catalogue. I was less than a year older than Diana, and her clothes held endless fascination for me when she was in her heyday. Much like Marie Antoinette (whose biography I am reading right now), she was defined in the public eye by the clothes she wore, even more than by her deeds. It’s interesting to see how dated many of the looks are. But the closeups of beading and embroidery are awe inspiring.
Haute Couture and Our New Clothes by Richard Martin and Harold Koda. These catalogues from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute have breathtaking photographs and explain the historical significance of the clothing that the Met has acquired through the years. These may be out of print, but I think you can get them on Amazon and eBay still.
I’ll share some more of my book collection with you later. In the meantime, happy sewing!