Readers, when I say I have a lot of sewing books, I mean I have a lot of sewing books -- many dozens. I bought some of them new, purchased even more used online, stumbled upon others at the flea market...I even found a couple in the trash!
I'm always looking for that sewing book that's going to both inspire me and bump my sewing skills up a rung or two, but it rarely happens. Usually I leaf through a new (to me) book enthusiastically when I first get it, and then maybe -- maybe -- I'll remember to dig it out of the pile when I need to research a new technique for a sewing project.
What happens more often is that I'll find myself perusing, say, TheReaders Digest Complete Guide to Sewing at 3 a.m., and, bleary-eyed, stumble upon some very clear section about, I don't know, welt pockets, and wonder why it didn't occur to me to refer to the book when it could have helped me. When you have so many sewing books, they start to cancel each other out, or you don't remember which book describes what.
One of my frustrations, as someone relatively new to sewing, is that my knowledge of fabric is not very good. As you know, I shop for fabric in stores barely one step above the dumpster, and the people who work in them know less about fabric than I do and nothing about sewing. There's no guarantee you won't ask for cotton voile and be directed to acetate linings. YOU have to know the difference.
I was re-reading Bridal Couture yesterday at the cardiologist's -- my mother is having hip surgery tomorrow and this was a recommended precautionary visit; everything's normal, it turns out -- and while Susan Khalje is pretty good about describing the most popular bridal fabrics, some of them are hard to grasp and a photo just isn't enough (for me). I'm honestly not sure I get the difference between dupioni and shantung, for example. (This was something I liked about the McQueen show last week: the fabric was identified for each dress; I was like, So THAT'S silk taffeta...embellished with human hair and vulture skulls.)
Sometimes I'll go to Etsy and look at vintage dresses to see what a particular fabric looks like sewn up. There's some great photography on that site, though that's not a perfect solution.
I just ordered a used copy of Claire Schaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide, and I'm hoping it will be the fabric book of fabric books. Do you know it? I didn't get the latest edition, as I'm a sucker for old editions that cost less than shipping and handling.
There's also a series by Julie Parker -- All About Cotton, All About Silk, and All About Wool. These reference guides include actual fabric swatches that you insert in the book itself. I've read good things about this series, though it's not cheap at roughly $50-60 per book. And they don't cover synthetics.
My other option is to make a date with some fabric guru here in New York and, perhaps in exchange for lunch, make them tour me through some high end fabric store and show me what's what. Does this sound like your idea of fun? Let me know!
Readers, did you learn about fabric from a book, or did you learn by taking on projects that use a wide range of different fabrics? I have certainly picked up a lot these last two years just by sewing, and only rarely mistake denim for taffeta. But I'd like to know more and I'm hoping the Schaeffer book will prove indispensable.
So how about you? Do you own any fabric reference guides and if you do, which is your favorite? What are their strengths and drawbacks?
I'm a native New Yorker and self-taught sewing fanatic! I've been sewing obsessively since 2009 and today make all my own clothes using mostly vintage patterns and vintage sewing machines. Welcome to the warm and whimsical world of Male Pattern Boldness, where the conversation is sewing, style, fashion, fabric, and more!