Wednesday, November 18, 2009

book week: sewing reference

I've been on the hunt for a really good sewing book to recommend, and I'm very picky. I don't like the books that start with a few pages about the tools you'll need and then immediately start talking about sewing patterns and how to use them. Are you kidding? I'd never teach you how to drive by showing you the controls of the car and then telling you we're going to drive to Chicago on the freeway for your first lesson, and in my opinion giving someone their first sewing lesson with a sewing pattern is akin to that long-distance beginning driving lesson. I feel strongly that your first few projects need to start very slowly, teaching you how to operate a sewing machine, how to stitch a straight line with an seam allowance (what's a seam allowance, anyway?), how to backstitch, etc. If you start with a sewing pattern you'll quickly be overwhelmed and frustrated. So there. (But that's just my humble opinion...)

My favorite book for many years now has been the Bishop's Method of Clothing Constructions, but I only like the reprinted 1966 edition because it contains what is called "torn projects" in which you learn to sew by using simple fabric rectangles to make basic projects like an apron without a sewing pattern. The book builds from there and is an excellent resource for many garment sewing techniques, even if the projects themselves are a bit dated. You can still find the book at used bookstores, but I wanted to find a new book to recommend. The Sewing Bible, by Ruth Singer, fits the bill.

It covers all the basics, showing you how to sew a seam and the variety of ways to finish a seam allowance:

How to stitch and clip curves:

How to stitch and turn corners:

And it delves further into a wide variety of techniques, if you want to learn how to do a particular type of finish or want to perfect a particular method:

I was surprised to also find more elaborate fabric manipulation techniques like this section of various ways to pleat fabric. Calvin Klein used some of these methods in recent collections:

It also contains quite a few project for a wide variety of skill levels, and it's not at all like driving to Chicago since the projects vary in difficulty and gradually expand on basic sewing skills. It's a sizeable manual (300 pages), and it also makes a terrific reference book. I've been keeping it next to my workspace at the studio so I can refer to it when I'm writing instructions, and it's come in handy on several occasions already.


  1. Great article! I had not heard of the Sewing Bible - must add that to my list immediately!

  2. I must have that book! There's always something new to learn:). Great review!!!

  3. Thanks for the lovely review! I'm a big Oliver + S fan too!


  4. I've never heard of this title, but I totally share your irritation with the way many sewing books are written--which was the inspiration for the book I've got coming out next fall with F+W! Will have to make a note to send a copy for you to review--I can only hope it will meet your high standards.

    Off to see what else I can learn about this new title...

  5. This and DK's Complete Book of Sewing are my favs!

  6. I have the english (Uk) version of this but it's called "Sew it up". I have to agree it is fab, and easy to follow clear instructions and lovely illustrations.

  7. This is an excellent review. Thank you! I reblogged it here.