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May 28, 2013

Can You Have Too Many Sewing Books?

Readers, this is a big week for me: the completion of my 4th year of sewing --  it's like my college graduation!

Partly to celebrate, I treated myself to a new sewing book yesterday -- new to me, I mean -- Roberta Carr's "Couture: The Art of Fine Sewing" from 1993, which I cannot believe was twenty years ago but whatever.  Did I also treat myself to her somewhat-pricey-even-though-second-hand couture sewing DVD too?  You'll just have to wait and find out.

I can't really remember how I stumbled upon the Carr book -- I know: it was recommended by Susan Khalje in the appendix of "Bridal Couture."  I read some reviews on Amazon, then more on Pattern Review, and the next thing I knew I was clicking "Proceed to Checkout."

It's not like I need another sewing book, but it's not about need.  I read sewing books (and watch sewing videos) the way some people consume mysteries -- as escapist entertainment.  Yesterday I watched Claire Shaeffer's "Couture Techniques Workshop" video and found it as enjoyable as a Deanna Durbin musical.  Am I actually learning anything?  I think so -- if only where to look when I need to thread trace my stitching lines -- couture-y stuff like that.

Confession time: I already own approximately FIFTY sewing books (I keep unearthing more as I sort through various piles, so the list keeps growing).  Many I've purchased, some I've been given, a few I've even found in the trash, but somehow they all ended up in my possession.  I would say that of these fifty, I probably refer to roughly ten on a regular basis.  But I still like to have the others.  As I said, they're my entertainment.

Here's my book and video list, unsorted.  An asterisk means I refer to it often (and if I don't that doesn't reflect on the quality of the book so much as how relevant I find it to my current projects and interests).  Sometimes I've added an author if the book has a somewhat generic title or one that's similar to others.

Any of your favorites on the list?   Any glaring absences?

Fit For Real People (Palmer, Alto)
10-20-30 Minutes to Sew (Zieman)
The Practical Guide to Patternmaking for Fashion Designers, Menswear (Knowles)
The Complete Book of Sewing (Talbot)
McCalls Step-by-Step Sewing Book
Kwik Sew's Beautiful Lingerie
Gertie's New Book For Better Sewing
How to Make Hats & Accessories: Introduction to Making 1940's Fashion
Easy Ways to Sew & Save (Vintage booklet)
How to Make Clothes That Fit & Flatter (Adele Margoles)
Vogue's New Book For Better Sewing
Fine Embellishment Techniques (Conlon)
Fashion Design On A Stand
Patternmaking for a Perfect Fit
Precision Draping: Using Vintage Techniques to Create 1940's Fashion
Making Trousers for Men & Women (Coffin)*
The New Sewing Essentials (Singer)
Sewing Magic (Hellyer)
Pattern Review's 1,000 Clever Sewing Shortcuts
Dorothy Moore's Patternmaking & Dressmaking*
The Art of Couture Sewing (Nudelman)
Singer Sewing Book (1969 edition)
Kwik Sew Method for Menswear
Make Your Own Dress Patterns (Margoles)
How to Make Sewing Patterns (McCunn)
The Bishop Method of Clothing Construction
Creative Clothing Construction (Bane)
Sew Everything Workshop (Rupp)
The Vogue Sewing Book
Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (1995)
Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (1978)
Shirtmaking (Coffin)
Serger Secrets
Patternmaking for Fashion Designer (3rd Ed., Armstrong)
Claire Schaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide*
Couture Sewing Techniques (Shaeffer)*
High Fashion Sewing Secrets from the World's Best Designers (Schaeffer)*
Tailoring: The Classic Guide... *
Encyclopedia of Sewing Machine Techniques
Simplicity Fabric Guide
Singer's How to Sew Fashion Knits
Singer: The Perfect Fit
Classic Tailoring Techniques: A Construction Guide for Menswear*
Singer: Sewing For Special Occasions
Cool Couture (King)*
Singer: Sewing For Style
How to Make Men's Clothes (Rhinehart)*
Bridal Couture (Khalje)*
The Dressmaker's Handbook of Couture Sewing Techniques (Maynard)
Modern Pattern Design (Harriet Pepin, PDF)
Designing Men's Overcoats (Harry Simon, PDF)
Tailored Jacket (King, PDF)*
Sewing for Men & Boys (Simplicity, 1973)

I also own a few videos!

Industrial Shortcuts for Home Sewing (including "Shirts, Etc.): Margaret Islander
Jackets for Real People: Tailoring Made Easy
Couture Sewing Workshop - Basics
Linings A to Z (Betzina)

Given that I own ten times more books than videos, I guess I enjoy books more.  What I don't like about videos is that you often have to sift through too many two-minute segments when you first watch it to get the gist of it.  Generally I prefer a video that takes you through a specific project from beginning to end ("Shirts, Etc" is particularly good at this); for a single technique I'm more likely to refer to a book.  (For learning hand stitching, however, I prefer video; drawings usually leave my puzzled.)
In closing, readers, do you have a single favorite sewing book (or two or three) or video that truly made a difference in the way you sew?

What makes a sewing book (or video) work for you -- or not?

Jump in!


  1. I have many of the same books too and several that you refer to regularly, I refer to as well. They are the stand-bys. I'm noticing a very sad trend with sewing books these days though. Unfortunately, alot of the books being published today seem to be big on "projects" or "patterns" and less so on technique. I don't know if its just me but there seems to be an inordinate amount of these books on the market today. Most of the sewing books I own now and that I actually use are those that focus on a specific technique/garment or sewing style and not just a closet full of sewing projects with poor instructions. Most of these books are either out of print or old too - like published in the 90s or before. So I think that up and coming sewing book authors (and publishers) should take a cue and start focusing more on the old way of writing sewing books and stop this madness with the "project book" revolution. Just my two cents, but something I'm feeling very strongly about these days.

    As for videos, I don't own hardly any, but I am a Thread's Insider and there are several great videos on there that are truly worth the membership. All of Louise Cutting's Industry Insider Techniques are on there and they are fabulous! I love seeing things in action, its soooooo very helpful. But I, like you, like to flip through a book rather than trying to find my place in a video.

    1. I suspect that many books are project-oriented because people no longer have basic sewing skills and they'd have no idea where to start with a text that focused on techniques. I myself used to bounce from book to book, fascinated by everything, but unable to decide what to work on first. I gave up and started taking sewing classes.

    2. I agree. Many people are starting to sew without anyone to teach them the basics; presumably the project-oriented books help them to make something from start to finish without having to refer to other sources.

    3. If I'm not taking a class my head still spins. Any time I see an interesting project, I save it. Needless to say, I will never have the time to sew 80 cotton bags, zippered pencil cases, or other craft projects.

      I have to focus on clothes.

    4. Ok, I think you all have a great point! I do remember when I got back into sewing several years ago and I purchased one of those project making books. It is really useful when you're first learning how to sew (actually a great idea to give to those who are just starting out). I've just noticed lately though that there are an awful lot of them.

    5. I got also started with one of the project books "Sewing in a Straight Line" by Brett Bara. In my case, I had a specific project I wanted to make, and the book had something close to it. It was helpful, but now the book collects dust on my shelf and I'm glad I didn't buy more project books. I get way more use out of the techniques books in my collection.

  2. Sewing magic, by Mary Brooks Pickens. Singer Sewing from 1940s has oodles of her advice, as does Mending Magic, also Mary Brooks Pickens. the illustrations are what keep me going back for more,but her advice doesn't hurt.

    I've gotten rid of most of the current sewing books I own. I like techniques as opposed to projects. I've read most books on patternmaking, and owned several, but the one I find most useful is by Donald McCunn.

  3. Well I actually DO think you can have too many sewing books which is why I put most of them up on Amazon last week. But's it's not because the books aren't good but because I've read most of them and internalized most of the knowledge.

    The three books I wouldn't consider selling.

    Shirtmaking by David Coffin
    Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina
    Tailoring from the Singer Sewing Library (I think they republished under a different title)

    I did decide to keep the few bramaking books I had just because they are harder to find.

  4. Oh but the two sewing adjacent books I bought this week was Electric Fashion for using Illustrator to do technical flats and the Spec Manual for doing specification sheets.

  5. I have most of the books on your list, plus a lot of others you don't. Of course, I've been sewing for more than 30 years, so your list is certainly impressive for just 4 years. Many of my books have come from thrift stores, garage sales, or overstock stores.

    I've gone through my collection a few times and the only books that I was able to part with were the duplicates (you know you have a lot when you start buying the same book again). I'm adding your list (especially your essentials that I don't have)to my Amazon wish list. I'd better check collection first, though, so no duplicates!

  6. The Time/Life sewing series is good...particularly the volume on Tailoring.

  7. Bridal couture is one of my favourite books to refer to - I used to do alot of custom bridal work and it was a god send. I also refer to my aldrich drafting books the most . I'd recommend the pattern magic books - those I've been reading for inspiration that I'll hopefully find time to put into practice!

    1. I'm too traditional for the Pattern Magic books, but am looking forward to using other Japanese pattern books. I may start with Stylish Dress Book. I need to develop a sloper first.

    2. I would suggest buying the Bunka Fashion series they come in English now. A little pricey but they have the info you need in a very succinct form

    3. I agree. I ordered it about 3 years ago when I saw another seasoned blogger/seamstress mention how good it was and that it really taught sewing. My skills aren't quite there, and yes, it was pricy (I went through amazon, but all other sites had it pretty much priced the same. I just trust amazon). It was WELL WORTH the price! :-)

  8. Power Sewing...can't believe I don't see it on your list!

  9. Not applicable to you but I love Barbra Deckert Sewing for Plus Sizes, a little dated maybe but so helpful for fitting larger sizes and different body shapes! I even took her craftsy course because I liked her advice so much.

    BTW Never posted before but I've been reading you're blog for a while. Your recommendation to read Diana Rupp's book was very important for me. Even though I didn't sew, I bought a pink vintage machine several months ago (I
    am a thrifter like you!) As part of the bargin I promised my wife I would actually learn to use it.

    I had a few hours of a basic sewing training course and I still wasn't sure what I was doing. Thankfully I found your commendation! What a fantastic book, to learn the basics! Did a few projects from it and then was confident to move on to commercial patterns. Thank you! :)

  10. The only one I have is Easy Guide to Sewing Linings by Connie Long. I have never used it.
    It is not on your list. I also vintage sewing books by pattern companies like Simplicity etc.
    The Easy Guide to Sewing Linings is too advanced for me, it dates back to the 90's.

    If you love books then it is never too many. I keep my books too a minimum though.

  11. Probably the most useful book to me getting started, and that I use now as a reference, is Nancy Zieman's "Sewing A to Z". It's basically an encyclopedia of basic sewing techniques. I found it way more accessible than the Reader's Digest guide, which was the first sewing book I bought and completely overwhelming to me as a newbie. The "A to Z" book is especially useful along with its companion DVD, which shows how to do many of the techniques.

    I also found "The Complete Serger Handbook" by Chris James very helpful in understanding my serger. It has a solid description of how thread tensions affect stitches, and how to troubleshoot stitching issues.

    1. I love her show. Learned a lot from it. I need to get her book. I make mainly non clothing projects, but I am sure it will be of a great help to me. Thanks for mentioning it.

    2. Pattern Fitting with Confidence with Nancy Zieman is an excellent, clear presentation. It's a good choice for anyone learning the in's and out's of pattern fitting.

    3. I love Nancy Zieman. She's very generous on her facebook page and blog. I've checked out a couple of her books in recent weeks from the library. She's very non-intimidating and very encouraging. Even though I don't need another book, I'll probably make an excuse to treat myself to at least one. I also found her PBS shows online and have viewed a few. Very good! :-)

  12. I own just about the same number of books, but different titles. We share 15 titles. My go-to comprehensive books are dThe Sewing Book by Alison King and The Complete Book of Sewing. They are both published by DK and are very similar.

    I love all 5 of Louise Cuttings DVDs for Threads magazine. The techniques she demonstrates are foolproof!

    1. Hey Elaray. Thanks for the L. Cunnings suggestion. I'm still learning about various ones and recall seeing her name a few years back, but since you said her demo's are FOOLPROOF, that sounds like it's right up my alley. :-). Thank you.

  13. I own the Carr book (good information, hideous garments) and some other things not on these lists:

    Most useful to me right now:

    Hand Stitches for the Fine Custom Tailored Garment
    Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing
    Classic Tailoring Techniques (Men)
    Classic Tailoring Techniques (Women)
    Couture Sewing (own both editions)
    Couture Sewing Basics Workshop
    Vintage Couture Tailoring
    Designing Apparel through the Flat Pattern
    How Patterns Work
    Shirt Making
    The Art of Manipulating Fabric
    Ribbon Embroidery
    The Dressmaker's Techniques Bible
    Home Sewn
    The Complete Book of Sewing
    The Sewing, Stitch, and Textile Bible


    Sew U
    Cool Couture
    Tailored Jacket
    Elegant Stitches
    The Complete Book of Sewing Shortcuts
    The Entrepreneur's Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing
    The Art of Fashion Draping
    Fitting Finesse
    Fit for Real People
    The Perfect Fit
    How to Make Sewing Patterns
    Make Your Own Sewing Patterns
    Make Your Own Patterns
    Pattern making for a Perfect Fit
    A Guide to Fashion Sewing
    The Sewing Machine Guide
    Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide
    Couture Sewing: Tailoring Techniques

    I think that owning too sewing books can be overwhelming if you're not disciplined.

  14. I must be either arrogant or cheap, but I don't own any sewing books. My Mom taught me how to sew by making a kilt without a pattern when I was nine, and I took it from there.

    Last year I discovered the sewing blogosphere, and I've learned so much from blogs like yours and online tutorials. Every time I think about buying a book, I realize I really only want a couple of chapters at most, and I just search for what I want to know on the net. Never been disappointed yet.

    Another reason I'm reluctant to buy a book is I like to travel light/use less. (Maybe I should say I can find greener substitutes for books than for my fabric addiction!) As the Internet becomes more awesome, I've been letting my actual books go and keeping as much as I can on my computer.

    Thank you for your blog. It's the first one I look at every day. I appreciate all the work that must go into it, and it's inspired me to take bigger chances and do better work.

    1. Hi there. Good post. I enjoy the internet and blogs too. When I re-entered sewing 4.5 years ago, I followed (and even more now) dozens of sewing/crafting blogs. I also LOVE books because (in some cases, not all), books can be more detailed and if the book is spiral, I find that easier than moving my mouse or non-mouse (even using my laptop). But my main love for books is that as a child, I LOVED to read (and still do). Parents are retired teachers so reading was stressed and I enjoyed it then just like I do decades later (just won't say how many decades) :-). Also having been on public transportation for several years, I would actually use my commute time to work to read books (before I got back into sewing).

      I hear ya on the space thing and going green. :-), but I guess a book will also have some sort of sentimental memory for me all around. :-)

    2. Thanks!
      I'm the daughter of and relation of a lot of teachers, too, so I get what you mean. I haven't gotten rid of ALL my books:/ There's something about holding a book,that I'll always like. Plus somehow I just feel more comfortable flipping through a book, looking for a passage I read, than I ever feel looking for something i remebered liking on a computer.

  15. The Bishop Method was my first book and the way I learned to sew. The author had a connection to Pittsburgh - my hometown.

  16. To answer your first question, no it isn't possible to have too many sewing books or any books. At least for me. I have around 170 sewing (most were purchased used), and I read them all. I love them.

    My absolute favourites are:
    Sewing Basics by Patricia Moyes, published by Taunton Press.
    Sewing Lingerie That Fits by Karen Morris published by Taunton Press.
    Sewing Knits by Connie Long published by Taunton Press.

    This is to Josette, if you ever want to find a home for your Guide to Sewing Linings, drop me a line 8-).

    1. If you want it, it's yours. Send me your address and I will mail it off. My email is

  17. I think we have about a 75% overlap in our book collections... I really need to stop myself. The books I like I don't see on here are the wonderful "Easy Guide to Sewing" from Taunton Press—there's one on jackets, linings, pants, tops and T-shirts, etc.

    I used to own Bridal Couture and STUPIDLY sold it on Amazon a long time ago figuring it was only good for making wedding dresses and I was already married.

    1. Too bad: you could have used it as a down payment on Baby Z's college tuition! ;)

    2. I know, seriously... I sold it for just $10 or something. ARGH!

  18. I'm curious to know what the difference is between the two editions of the Readers Digest books you list? I have one that's yellow with outlines of sewing stuff on the cover. Not sure what edition it is, but I felt very lucky to buy it when I found it for sale in a newsagency in a small country town I happened to be passing through many years ago, because I think it was out of print at the time. (My older sister's copy is navy blue with reels of thread on the cover.)
    I also have a book called Simplicity Sewing Book Updated! from 1975 with VERY 70s fashions throughout. The cover has a girl in canary yellow wearing a necklace made of small thread reels. And my Mum's McCalls Easy Sewing Book from 1962.

    1. Reader's Digest took out the chapter(s?) on tailoring at some point after the 1975 edition.

  19. I LUV Threads Magazine!

    Have a Reader's Digest book, great basic reference book, and an 80s book on Easy Style (Lark Books), those and the magazines are my library.

    I may have to become an "insider" with Threads to gain access to all those wonderful videos.

  20. I am jealous, and I own quite a few of these already. However, my default way of exploring any subject is to buy, borrow or read all I can about it, so...


  21. I own quite a few, but the only ones I've actually used (and would not sell) are my 1978 Vogue Sewing book, and books by Claire Shaeffer, Kenneth King, and David Page Coffin. If I had to choose one book to keep, it would be Shaeffer's Couture Sewing.

    Lately, I've been enjoying some Craftsy classes. To be honest, I think I may have made the switch from learning from books, to learning from video.

    1. I enjoy both. So many free detailed tutorials on you tube, even crafsty has some great free ones for us to try before diving in. PR (Pattern Review) has excellent and affordable video learning too. Burda's offering a free webinar this Thursday. :-)

  22. I admit, sewing books are one of my indulgences and I have a lot on your list.

    My go-tos are: the Claire Schaeffer fabric guide and couture, high fashion books. I use these fairly often as references, also her "complete book of sewing shortcuts" (really a reference not a shortcut book, OOP but on Amazon). Real Fit for Real People was also a revelation for fit and I refer to it often.

    For jackets: Tailoring Ladies' Jackets by Flury, not on your list.

    My one pet peeve--I find some of the others somewhat redundant and lacking in uniqueness. By now I sort of know the basics, and am looking for something really useful to take me to a new level. Coffin, Shaeffer and Palmer/Pletsch really have something to offer.

    I'm liking the Coffin shirt-making book which I just bought a month ago, but am looking for other menswear oriented books--will check out these on your list. Will check out his others-he inspired me to buy a felling foot and to make a traditional shirt.

    I find video too slow-don't need this much detail and it's a mixed bag in finding the useful ones.

  23. The Victorian Tailor by Jason Maclochlainn is just the best book for brilliant mens tailoring with lost of lost but perfect techniques. Its the book I use the most.

  24. Very nice and interesting post Peter! I only need you or your readers to choose only two among them for me. I´m a beginner and my mother is visiting London next july, but I don´t want her to come back with the suitcase full of books. :-)Thank you in advance.

  25. Peter, is there one book on tailoring for menswear you can especially recommend? A friend who is training to be a tailor and who has just found a great training position has got her birthday coming up and I think that would make a nice gift.

    1. "Classic Tailoring Techniques: A Construction Guide for Menswear" is heavy-duty and not cheap but it's thorough and addresses mens tailoring (i.e.,suits) at a very high level.

  26. I had only very beginners sewing knowledge when I found Coats & Clark's Sewing Book Newest Methods A-Z in my Grandma's basement. It says in the very first chapter that it's meant to help you through pattern instructions, not replace them. It has so many great techniques and advice I find something new every time I read it. For me it was like having a live in sewing teacher. I love it. I wish I had a collection like yours though!

  27. 145 books, not counting the quilting books. mostly courtesy of the friends of the library sale and the used book store. And yes, you can have too many books when it becomes easier to do an internet search for a tutorial than try to find which book has what you want. Or when most of the things are duplicated between books. I'd guess that 80-90% of the content of the vintage general purpose sewing books is duplicated between the books, but then it seems they throw in a couple of techniques that the others don't have. Or even the same book can have items added and deleted over time.

    I refer to the Fabulous Fit for Real People most right now. But no way am I giving up my David Coffin, Susan Khalje or Claire Schaeffer books.

    The Singer sewing library book "The Perfect Fit" has indeed been republished, but with no reference to Singer. Others from that series may have been as well.


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