Sewing books can be mesmerizing, with pages full of inspiring garments, tricky techniques made easy through illustrations or photographs, and possibly even some free patterns. But when you’re learning to sew, how can you pick just a few titles from the hundreds that are available? Wouldn’t it be quicker just to Google what you need to learn?
In episode 93 of the Seamwork Radio podcast, Sarai and Haley share a simple framework for building a sewing library, including three types of sewing books that are worth buying. By selecting a few titles from these three categories, you’ll have a well-rounded, inspiring sewing library.
Are Sewing Books Worth It?
Having a sewing book you trust is so helpful. Sure, you can always Google a sewing technique, but that will give you hundreds of resources—videos, blogs, forum posts, and listicles. Flipping through a book that you trust can help you make decisions quicker, especially as you are just learning how to sew.
Plus, how do you even know what you’re supposed to know when you are first learning? A book will create a path for you to start learning the vocabulary from the endless list of techniques you can pick up throughout your entire sewing journey.
So if you’re just learning how to sew (or just starting to build your library), here is a framework for buying sewing books. All you have to do is pick a title from these three categories: reference, fitting, and projects.
The first category is reference books. Think of these like sewing encyclopedias. They’ll define terms and walk you through essential techniques. Open up your reference book anytime you get stuck or come across a new concept.
Here are some of our favorites.
The Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing: This is a great basic reference book that has pretty much every technique that you'll run into as a beginner and intermediate sewer. You can find fun vintage editions in thrift stores, but they continue to update this book today. That’s how special it is.
How to Start Sewing by Assembil: This book is thick. It’s so comprehensive that it will last you many years, well beyond the beginner stage. If illustrations resonate with you, then you will love this book. It doesn’t have any photographs, just straightforward, well-made illustrations. Sometimes illustrations can actually be a lot clearer than photos—which is why we use illustrations for our pattern instructions.
Having a fitting book is really helpful because fitting is just a reality of sewing clothing. There are so many different approaches to fitting out there, so it helps to subscribe to one school of thought and stick with that until you are comfortable enough with the process to compare it to other fitting methods. There are many different ways to fit, and picking one can demystify it as you learn what works for your body.
Here are some fitting books that we trust:
Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina. This is just an excellent, easy-to-understand fitting book for beginners. It has plenty of illustrations, photos, and step-by-step instructions, working with most learning styles. Here at Seamwork, we often recommend anything written by Sandra Betzina, so consider her a vetted resource!
You can’t really talk about fitting without mentioning the iconic Fit for Real People by Palmer/Pletsch. There are many versions, including the new, updated, and expanded Palmer/Pletsch Complete Guide to Fitting. The Palmer and Pletsch method shows you how to fit pattern tissue to your body. It’s a well-trusted method for getting a quick, accurate fit.
The third category for your sewing library is project-based books. These books contain patterns, but they also take you on a linear journey so you can learn as you sew. This can be a really helpful structure for beginners since you are learning with your hands and not trying to conceptualize all these new techniques without actually doing them.
Here are some of our favorite project-based books.
Tilly and the Buttons might be the ideal resource for beginners. You’ll find one of Tilly’s books in sewing rooms worldwide because her teaching method is so empowering, you always know what to expect from her patterns, and she teaches you how to sew with total joy.
The Act of Sewing: Sonya Phillips designs lovely and simple patterns that set such a strong foundation for your wardrobe. She really captures that simple but elegant style that is perfect for beginners, and her method is about so much more than learning how to sew. It’s about making your clothes work for your lifestyle and ensuring that you wear everything you make.
Ahead of the Curve: This book by Cashmerette’s Jenny Rushmore is a project-based book that also focuses on fitting for your curves.
The Colette Sewing Handbook is Sarai’s out-of-print book that walks you through the skills you need to start sewing clothing. Written years before Seamwork launched, it includes several designs for Colette. You’ll also recognize the thoughtful approach to nurturing a creative mindset like we have here at Seamwork. Since it’s out of print, it’s fun to find used online! And here’s the introductory blog post from the archives, way back in 2011.