books · crafts · Sewing

Books for sewing beginners

There’s one question I’ve been getting repeatedly since I’ve started sewing – “What books are you using to teach yourself?”  I thought it was worthy of a blog post, so that I have somewhere to send those questions!  These books are mostly for garment sewing – for quilting I’ve been using the instructions in “Last minute Quilted and Patchwork gifts.”

For the absolute beginner, there are two books I own and love, both recommended to me by fabulous blogging friends.

Sew U, by Wendy Mullins, is probably the more popular of the two.  It contains excellent directions on everything from threading your needle to sewing a pair of pants.  I made the skirt, and it turned out pretty cute.  I really appreciate her “make it your own” attitude – the patterns included, for pants, a skirt, and a blouse, are basic, but she encourages you to think outside the box and improvise on a basic design, an attitude that I’m trying to keep in mind!  She also has a book for knits, which I own, and which I am awaiting my serger for, and she has a new book on dresses coming out this week(you had best believe I will be buying that one.)

SEW: The Sew Everything Workshop by Diana Rupp is actually my favorite of these two beginner books.  I don’t know why – something about her tone just speaks to me more, I feel like she’s the one I would rather take a class from, and if I lived in NYC you’d better believe that I would (our local sewing classes are almost entirely quilting or heirloom sewing.)  This book has a bunch of projects, and mostly they are super cute (a plus!)  Some of them are included on paper, and others teach you to draft your own pattern.  I haven’t made any of them, but I do have plans to make “Tender is the nightie,” a draft your own nightgown pattern (note: I will not be modeling that one for the blog!)

Moving past the beginner books, you need a basic all-in-one reference book.  I like Vogue sewing.  This is the edition I have – it’s pretty clear, and I like the vintage style graphics and design.  I hear that some of the tailoring techniques are not in this newer book, but I have Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Schaeffer to explain many of the more “high end” touches.  I love this book, even if I don’t understand it all yet – it’s worth it for the look inside couture design studios, and the beautiful photos of the insides of classic designer garments.  I got them on a “buy both, get a tiny discount” deal from Amazon.

I also have 2 editions of the simplicity sewing guide.  The one I have has hilariously outdated fashions – you too can learn how to finish your 80s style track suit on the serger!  You can “fix” your lopsided shoulders by giving yourself 3 shoulder pads on one side (hello linebacker…) But the info is great, and sometimes it is more clear than the Vogue book.  The edition I have is still for sale at my Hancock’s, so I assume it is the current one.  I have one from the late 60s also, which is fabulously mod, and which takes you chapter by chapter through making different garments (similar to the “Vogue New Book of Better sewing” that the fabulous Gertie is working her way through on her blog.)  It offers recommendations for simplicity patterns of the time.  The late 60s aren’t my favorite, so I won’t be making my own project, but it is fun.  I’m looking to get some older (1940s or so) sewing books as well, for reference with my vintage patterns.

Finally, as far as sewing garments go, the next big challenge is fit – learning to fit your clothes is hard!  I just got 2 fitting books.

These two books have different approaches, and are both nice to have.  I like Fast Fit the most – Sandra Betzina recommends making a muslin, which I always do.  The illustrations are cute, and the amount of information isn’t overwhelming.  Fit for Real People is also excellent, despite my dislike of the term “real people.”  I used the tissue fitting technique on my plaid Simplicity blouse and found it helpful in choosing a size, though I confess that I still made a muslin.  If I had to make a criticism of both books, it’s that the styles being fitted are pretty outdated, and not always so flattering.  Fit for Real people seems to really love shoulder pads too.  But of course, it was written awhile ago, and styles do change.  I appreciate the positive message of the book.

So there you go… a selection of books that are good (in my beginner’s opinion) for a sewing library.  I hope you find it helpful!

31 thoughts on “Books for sewing beginners

  1. Such a helpful post! P.S. I was about to suggest the other day that you add “and sewing” to your blog subtitle! I see you took care of it in a less wordy way. Ha ha.

  2. Thanks! I’ve been wanting to tackle some more sewing but have been leary because I’m a strange shape. Hopefully these will help get the fit right.

  3. Thanks so much for these recommendations! I have placed a hold on all of them at our public library. I have been doing a little more sewing, but am starting with kid stuff since fit isn’t so crucial. I’m trying to work up the courage to sew for myself, and I think these books will be useful.

  4. The Built by Wendy: Dresses book is AMAZING. I preordered it and received it yesterday–I hope you love it as I do!

  5. A friend of mine sent me your blog and it’s a delight! I’ve been dabbling in sewing here and there for years and thought I’d ask this here since it is book related. I still think of myself as a super beginner so I was checking out the first pair of books and noticed a review that mentioned the sizes of the projects are mostly for smaller woman. Have you come across a book with projects for more full figured girls? Just thought I’d ask! I’ll be browsing around myself but still not discount your recommendations! You do some fab work and I appreciate you making this post!

  6. I have an love the couture sewing techniques book particularly the advice on putting zips in – so much better than doing them on the machine – my pet hat!

  7. Thanks, as a man – the sewing world has kind of been foreign to me. Recently, as in the past couple of years, I’ve been changing my relationship to my clothes, by becoming my own tailor and picking up more and more sewing beginner techniques. I’ve been going to Joannes, and finding ways that I can challenge myself beyond a simple hemm. Thanks for this post, I found it helpful.

  8. thank you for this! I’m going out right now to buy Diana Rupp’s book–just bought my first sewing machine, it’s arriving in the mail shortly. I have no idea how to use it yet but looking forward to the challenge.

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