Sewing Books

Kate recently wrote a lovely post about Charity Shops which got me thinking about sewing books.  But first I should start my a confession.

Hi, my name is Jane and I am a book addict.

IMG_0912I come from a family of book addicts and I live with a book addict, so it’s quite a hopeless case. This is a picture of part of our library

We spend hours of our lives in book shops.  I love new books but when it comes to sewing books I nearly always find second hand shops are a much better bet.


Look at this beauty – Dressmaking Made Easy  – a 1920’s sewing book complete with lovely 1920’s ladies. Apart from zips (rarely used before the 1930’s) this tells you everything you need to know about sewing.

IMG_1924IMG_1925..and what about this one?  McCall’s Treasury of Needlecraft from 1955 has chapters on embroidery, knitting, crochet, Glitter (who can’t resist “How to Use Sparkle in Decoration”?), Hair lace and Tatting, Home Beauty (about bedspreads and household linens rather than face creams) and Gifts.  I love this Norwegian cardigan.

Not all my books come from McCalls, I have a couple of Nancy Zieman “Busy Woman’s” books from the 1980’s. This one is about sewing and I have another about fitting.

These are the books I turn to when I get stuck with a particularly thorny problem. They’re straight forward and detailed, turn to any page and it will be packed with information.  Want to know how to sew a placket or 8 different sorts of collar, knit 11 basic stitch patterns, crochet with sequins or elasticised yarn or adjust a pattern for a large bust, or small bust? Then these are the books for you.

I IMG_1927love modern sewing books too, however I get frustrated that so many are very basic with a greater focus on pictures than proper instructions.  I suspect this is because sewing and knitting are no longer considered basic life skills that everyone should know something about.  Hugo’s Father learnt how to knit at prep school when he was around 6 or 7, that would have been in the 1930’s.  I was given weekly sewing classes in the 1970’s and still use the needlecase I made when I was 8 or 9.  I also sewed with Mother and my Grandmother taught me how to knit.  I learnt how to crochet on the school bus after we’d got bored of French knitting (does anyone do this now that thread is wound on plastic reels rather than wooden ones?).

I should add that there are some great modern sewing books which buck this trend for style over substance.  Alison Smith’s DK Sewing Book is about as comprehensive as you can get.  Helen Joseph-Armstrong’s Pattern Making for Fashion Design is a classic and the Pattern Magic books can’t be beaten for making you think.

Do you have a favourite sewing book? Have you managed to find any treasures in second hand book shops or do you stick to new books?




8 thoughts on “Sewing Books

  1. Oh, I love this post! And I totally agree about sewing books. Modern ones are more about photos than substance, which is why I’m rather hesitant about buying them. I inherited one from hubby’s gran, and I love David Coffin’s books. I grew up next to a sewing machine, still remember my first bought trousers – a pair of dark blue narrow corduroy Levi’s I got in 6th grade – as I’d had homemade ones only until then. I had sewing in school, mum taught me loads and I sewed with both my grandmas when visiting. And I’m thoroughly shocked by the abysmal level of craft knowledge my kids have from school. We had both sewing and woodworking (with a bit of metal put in) and I loved it. My aunt taught me to knit (I should say she was the one who succeeded, because she had a story to go with it), grandma taught me embroidery, I had weaving in school, dad and grandpa taught me woodworking… As I type this I realise I come from crafty stock, and it’s a blessing.

  2. I can’t pass a charity shop without checking its book selection. I have a number of old sewing books now – some so old they smell a bit funny – and love them all. Much better reference books than more recent volumes.

  3. What an interesting post and what a lovely home you have. I am almost the opposite of you. I find the heaviness of books to be a burden and much prefer reading my book a week on the Kindle. I have a few sewing books but I don’t think I will hang on to them forever. My best buy were a set of Women’s Institute sewing books from the 1940s. They answer every question I ever had.

  4. I’ve got a house full of books too. So much so that I’m trying to buy more things on the Kindle because we’re out of space and my partner hates to give a book away.

    My favourite sewing book is Ann Ladbury’s Dressmaker’s Dictionary which came from a charity shop in Otley and dates from the 80s if not earlier. But I also use a modern edition of Vogue Sewing quite a lot and I learnt a lot from the Fabric for Fashion swatch book which is very recent. So there are some useful modern books in my library!

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