What’s Publishing Ever Done For Us?

Craft Books

Some of you might be wondering why I recently decided to offer up my copy of The Great British Sewing Bee book as a giveaway. Lovely though it is, I have quite enough lovely yet unopened books cluttering up my shelves.

I’ve noticed some bloggers talk about having a cull, and getting rid of those craft books they’ve bought but never refer to. This made me consider that there’s a divide between what we need, what’s available and what we want. Gorgeous book with beautiful photos about vintage fashion? Lovely muchly, but it sits there gathering dust. Dated workhorse reference brick about the minutiae of sewing? That’s the type of friend I might ignore for months on end, then lunge towards in the face of a sewing-induced nervous breakdown. Niche book on left-handed sewing, as recently gifted to me? I can’t say I’m going to use it all the time, but I love the fact that it even exists.

I can’t decide what I think about the bells and whistles. Ring-bound titles? Just not sure I care that a book lies flat for those few seconds’ reference. Paper patterns in the back? Some have been life savers, other languish pristine and ignored. Design templates? I always like the idea of them, but then rarely trace. I know I never blow a pattern up by 500% on the photocopier.

If I had to choose two recent favourites, they would be Sew U Home Stretch and DIY Couture. Sew U Home Stretch does exactly what it says on the tin. This I like. DIY Couture is innovative yet accessible. I’m old enough to have parented the slender young models and am a bit past the cutting edge fashion, yet there’s something in Rosie’s approach that still inspires and doesn’t make me feel excluded. The book is fresh and imaginative. I think what I like about both of them is that they feel sincere.

What do you look for in a craft book, what do you hate and what do you think could be better? For anyone who’s bought my recent e-book (a sincere thank you!), did it feel as though it genuinely filled a gap? Do you even bother with physical craft books any more? Or does the thought of an e-book make you shudder?

I don’t like disingenuous blog posts, so I’m not going to pretend these are just random witterings. I’ve worked in publishing all my life. This is what I do, it runs through my veins like blood and I can’t help being fascinated. What could craft publishers do better for you?

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46 Responses to What’s Publishing Ever Done For Us?

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Great thought-provoking post. I too don’t like flash in the pan books. I’m not old and I’m not young, so most of the books coming out lately are not geared to my demographic. I’m not a vintage-a-phile and Peter Pan collars would look out of place one me. But I do value a good sewing reference book. Like yours, they sit on my shelf until I’m in a desperate sewing moment. But at least they have the answers when I need them.

  2. Interesting question! I find I like the very detailed reference books – I must have four or five – and things like Pattern Magic and Drape Drape which are so utterly different from anything I’d find in the mainstream of sewing patterns. I’d trace patterns but certainly not photocopy and tape. And recently I’ve discovered a cheap local large format printer, so a book with a CDROM of full sized pattern sheets would appeal if I liked the patterns themselves.

    • LinB says:

      Yes, technical drawings and esoteric instructions charm me most. I love to find out the “why” of patterning and sewing. Line drawings are usually more useful than photographs. I like to know details about costume design and construction of shoes and hats, even.

  3. I like spiral bound books for things like knitting books, because then I try not to photocopy it, but work directly from the book. However, my friend calls my craft books craft porn, because mostly I just look at them for fun … but one day, I’ll get around to tracing the patterns from the Burda Style book, one day … just not today ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I’m a real book worm, and am a sucker for buying books on sewing (and other topics) so thank you for asking this question! Personally I find there are too many books giving the same information; The Great British Sewing Bee would be very useful if you were a beginner but it’s really not all that different from the Colette Sewing Handbook or Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing and actually there are more comprehensive books like DK’s The Sewing Book (which I refer to whenever I get stuck). Whilst in theory the patterns at the back of these books are useful, in practice I’ve never made anything up from them.

    The books I tend to turn to (either to read for general information or for inspiration or to use as a guide to a particular technique I am working on at that time) are more specialised. For example I have several books about fitting, pattern cutting, unusual effects (Pattern Magic) and have just ordered my first book on tailoring. I have a few e-books but generally don’t use them that much. In theory they should be good, particularly as I have an iPad but in practice I find they are awkward to jump around in, are often formatted poorly or have print which is too small to read with my bad eyesight. I did start to document my favourite books here http://janessewandtell.wordpress.com/book-reviews/ but didn’t get very far!

    Can I ask another question back? Where do you get your books from and where do you hear about them? I generally pick up comments on blogs and then order the book on Amazon but I’d love to find a shop in London where I could have a good browse. Raystitch http://www.raystitch.co.uk/ has a few books (and yummy cakes) as does Our Patterned Hand http://www.ourpatternedhand.co.uk/our-shop-books.asp, do you know of any others?

    • Yes, I know both of those shops for stocking books too – and I think lots of other places are missing a trick. I think Liberty stocks books. Not so sure that John Lewis do. Independent shop owners, take note!

  5. verteadeliewp says:

    I love very technical reference books. Even when a book is project based, I take it as a technical book, because I rarely want to follow a project to the letter anyway. I was a tester for Abby Glassenberg last book on how to create your own stuffed animals, I just got a review copy and the result is jam packed with highly technical methods and details, I love that. The kind of book that teaches you how to fish rather than giving you a fish, you know? I also appreciate her very honest book reviews, like this one, where she talks about the dreaded and inane “pattern to be enlarged by x%” http://whileshenaps.typepad.com/whileshenaps/2012/10/book-review-how-to-make-stuffed-animals-by-sian-keegan.html . Oh, and perfect example of technical books that are also pure eye candies? The three books by Natalie Chanin http://www.amazon.com/Natalie-Chanin/e/B001JRYYZK .

    I used to buy more craft books, especially american ones, but now that I live in the USA, I appreciate being able to borrow them from the public library first (I suppose a lot of them must be available in England too, since the language is the same?). Sometimes, I realize I want to buy my own, but in most cases, I don’t. Sew Home Stretch is next on my list to borrow since I just got my Brother 1034D! I also think every publisher could take lessons from japanese books: isn’t it wonderful they are so well made that so many of us are able to sew from those without even knowing the alphabet they are written in? The technical view of the garment with simple arrows and numbers indicating the order of the steps, for instance.

    About the ebook vs physical book question: I do still prefer buying paper versions of non fiction books, because there’s still no way you can leaf through a book in an iPad (or any other device) like you do with paper (I bought the ebook version of a “… for dummies” recently – it’s great to have videos in it, but I will probably buy the paper version too to be able to put post-its all over it). I admit I bought yours both because I was glad to support you in that very small way, and to have it on my virtual shelf for the day I need it.

    Sorry for being so long!

    • Jen (NY) says:

      I like the Japanese Books too (at least the ones that I have and the ones I aspire to getting)! The technical drawings/instructions are great. They are doubly nice because they often have beautiful pictures and styling. So, they are great references plus entertainment. Beyond that, I prefer technically oriented books generally.

  6. aisling says:

    I have a vision disorder (disorder cos the lenses are fine but the muscles don’t like to coordinate to produce a single image) which means that my criteria for books are different to a lot of people. Detailed written decriptions great, line drawings great if they are more technical then artistic in style, but glossy modern books with lots of photos are more problematic. For instance, If a demo piece has not been done in strong contrast (i.e. thread that blends witht he fabric being sewn) then I’m in trouble as it’s very easy for things to blur out. My sewing books are full of older books as a result because they are more easy to use. I also find the bunka books and the Liechty fitting book easy to use because of the style of illustration. The only problem is I don’t have a sewing book that deals with knits or invisible zippers well or other more modern ways of sewing. I recently bought a sewing book that showed how to sew an invisble zipepr but the instructions were rather truncated. I also tend to sew more for process, learning how to do things, and trying new techniques so I think my books reflect that as well. There’s also the fact that I will read technical books for fun and I may have no intention of ever actually using the information. My husband calls me an information pack rat for a reason.

    There’s a couple books I wish were ring bound as they would stay open when I was trying to use them but on the whole I know I have a tendency to damage some types of ring binding.

  7. Clare says:

    I DEFINITELY see where you are coming from, and after a duck over to the bookshelf, I have to admit to myself (and everyone else) that of the 13 sewing related books sitting there, i probably only use 3, maybe 4, regularly (and even then, can be not so regular!).
    I think my problem comes from two different sources. First, i am a sucker for a nice, hard cover, pretty picture, hobby/interest related book. So yes, I probably do buy too many (a part of the problem is that I am often able to pick them up in charity shops, so they’re dead cheap and all the more enticing for it). But my real problem is that if i get stuck on something, the internet, not a book, is my first port of call. I hate to admit that, as i love (love love!) books, but i suppose the net is just too much a part of my everyday life for me not to turn to it when an answer is needed!
    I’m not then sure where the answer lies!

  8. Susan says:

    I have returned to sewing after quite a long break and really wanted to improve my skills this time. There are only very basic sewing classes available where I live, so I have found books like Claire Schaeffer’s couture sewing books, David Coffin’s books on making shirts and trousers, Thomas Von Nordheim’s Vintage Couture Tailoring, and Sarah Veblen’s Perfect Fitting invaluable in helping me take my sewing skills to a higher level. However, I have also been guilty of buying quite a few craft books because they were popular without any thought of whether they were actually relevant and most of them are now collecting dust.

  9. Sally says:

    Well I’m a book junkie! Every new thing I tackle or get interested in, I get a book or three for inspiration and information. I am also an avid reader so I actually read most of the books I buy.

    I love novels too, and like to keep some of the best around (I have read books that belonged to my parents and even grandparents! And my children have read many old family favourites too.) I also have a Kindle and that has reduced the turn over of quick read novels lying around the house – but only by a little because I think I just read MORE now that I have the Kindle!

    As for reference books – I have lots for almost anything I might want to do. I have reference books for sewing, cooking, health, meat preservation, jam making, climate change, evolution, travel, languages, gardening, horses, dogs, dog training, farm management, apple grafting, bee keeping and on the list goes. I refer to them all, but not constantly. These sorts of books do not transfer well to the Kindle in my view. I much prefer a real book that I can flick through easily.

    I guess it’s nearly time for a book cull again. Most shelves are two deep again with the slim ones slid in horizontally above them…… Maybe tormorrow! ๐Ÿ˜›

    • alison says:

      Sally, we would definitely be friends. At least I wish my friends were book collectors like you!

      I need to have a couple of books on each subject I’m interested in. They’re like my comfort blankets – when I first arrived in this country (2006) I’d panic on a daily basis because my shelves were sooo empty. I’ve been collecting ever since, and am now the library for my friends who need a sewing book, a travel guide or a good novel.

      I’m not one for project only books though. I like them to be predominantly technique based, with projects illustrating the techniques. That’s the craft titles. In the marketing and business ones I need stories. Real case studies illustrating theories. And those ones I’m fine to have as ‘e’ only…

  10. Philippa says:

    My sewing books fall into two categories. One is reference, such as Readers Digest and Sewing Pattern Answers. They are referred to less frequently due to the Internet, but still get used for when I really need to understand a technique and absorb it. The other category is eye candy, then I am a sucker for beautiful pictures of items that are a little bit different. These are for inspiration and pleasure as well as use and I do make items from them, but I will only buy books now with full size patterns or instructions to make your own. I know from the past that I will never photocopy or scale up a pattern, and I would rather trace than download and spend ages taping pages. Oh, and I love spiral bound. If you are following a project step by step the book can lay flat next to the sewing machine, rather than trying to weigh down the pages. Feels thought through, and decreases frustration!

  11. Sam says:

    Interesting post. I have a number of sewing books, and yes, I agree with other commenters in that a lot of them have the same information. But it tends to be explained in different ways, or some photos are clearer in one book than another. I have some books I would refer to for some techniques, and others I would refer to for other information.

    I love to look at books like Drape Drape, although I’m not sure I’d ever make anything from them.

    Basically though I love books, pretty much ANY type of book. So I’m almost guaranteed to love a book about sewing, especially if it’s got gorgeous pictures as well!

  12. I do love books, but have also had a cull lately as itโ€™s easy to feel swamped by too much stuff!
    These days I tend to dive on the internet if Iโ€™m in a fix and need someone to tell me what to do immediately… but I donโ€™t think the internet/kindles will kill paper publishing.

    I think the most important books for me are ones focused on a speciality- my Aldrich drafting book, or my book about different sewing machine feet and how to use them (sounds tedious- but has been amazingly helpful!). I think your idea of doing very in-depth books (electronic or otherwise) on specific how-to techniques is great- weโ€™re unlikely to get 40 pages on how to make a bound buttonhole in a โ€œhow-to-sewโ€ book! I think a series of little speciality books printed and sold in shops for a couple of pounds each could be a winner… Can you sell it in to your publishing house?! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  13. superheidi says:

    Well, for sewing I only use one book and that’s an old Burda reference book with drawings of the common sewing techniques. And the booklet that came with my sewing machine. Most of these books (fashion, crafting, home decorating, etc.) are just like mainstream fashion, only attractive for a short period. Those are the books that pop up at flea markets and in thrift stores afer several years, only to get rediscovered by some when fashion recycles decades later.
    I know, because 25 years ago I felt “inspired” to buy some books like that, only to discover that very soon, they were collecting dust.

  14. I wrote a super long reply but it seems to be lost ๐Ÿ™ Basically: I feel like publishing houses are spewing out loads of books on sewing and crafting because it’s hip, but most of those books don’t go beyond a very basic level and not much thought seems to have gone into them. I prefer books on specific subjects or vintage sewing books that do explore a wider range of techniques beside the very basic ones!

  15. I own two types of craft book (1) Reference books – might not be the most exciting, but it sure as hell helps you out of a sticky situation. (2) Inspiration books – Pattern books with 90%+ patterns I’d actually want to make…. and if they’re beyond my current capabilities at least they’re nice to look at and aim for.

    Some craft books are atrocious either latching onto a trend without any substance (all chat and no patterns) or full of hideous things that no-one in their right mind would wear!

    I also love a good retro throwback – I have a 70s pattern book that was my grandma’s chocker full of boldly-colour, kitsch insanity! Good for comedy value and well-constructed garments ๐Ÿ™‚


  16. Lizzy says:

    I love books that have very clear instructions for technical construction – I’ve got the Courure Sewing book but much prefer Kenneth King’s Cool Couture. The instructions are much better illustrated and explained. I find many books could have done with a better edit and written with less assumed knowledge – and I’m quite a knowledgeable stitcher & crafter!

  17. i like sewing books with patterns in. therefore it’s really useful to have them spiral bound. i know there are certain books (i don’t have a huge number) that are good for certain things – Colette is great for clear tutorials with photos, so if i need to do something i haven’t done for a while i refer to that, Gertie is good for pattern alterations and things like bound buttonholes (altho I am totally going to buy your book when I make another Anise in wool for this winter). Fit for Real People is probably my most referred to one – on fitting obvs! I have used the Burda book once (and could probably get rid of it – the Burda level of insutrctions with hardly any pictures aren’t going to tempt me back!). I do need to dig out Sew U Home Stretch. I think i got put off as she basically says you need an overlocker (which I don’t have).

    I was recently gifted some amazing 1970s pattern drafting books which are worthy of a place on the shelf for the covers along!

    i have a couple of others I like – Chloe Owens All Sewn Up is fab for applique and decorating – and has lovely templates to use, as does Cath Kidston Make. but I do have a few (normally bought either in a charity shop or the The Works for a couple of pounds) that have lots of pretty things and lovely pics, but i’ll probably never make anything! There’s only so many sets of insutrctions on how to make a lavender bag that you need!

    • Pat says:

      Dig out your Sew U and start cutting the patterns! The beauty of the book is that she includes instructions for people that don’t have an overlocker. I don’t own one and I have made several of the patterns. It’s a great book not only as an introduction to sewing knits, but a building block for making great knit garments.

  18. Nyssa Jayne says:

    i think there’s a lot of books out there that repeat information. i love my colette book, but then when i got gertie’s book, i noticed there was some overlap. i’m not disappointed as i bought them for the patterns anyway, but i need to remember it in the future.

    i like books that concentrate on a niche, because there’s more room for detailed information. right now i have 2 books about tailoring out on the library, and i’m seriously considering buying at least one of them.

  19. Ginny says:

    Another book junkie here! And not just in terms of craft related books. I studied English Literature at uni, to give you a clue. I also NEVER get rid of a book (with the exception of one or two of the course texts that were utterly dull, lol). I have a full shelf of craft books, many of which are pattern books rather than technique books. Of the instructional books, though, the old ones are my favourites. The Reader’s Digest ‘Complete Guides’ are always a good go-to, and I have a few vintage books from the ’50s and ’60s that seem to cover a lot more techniques than most modern books do, including methods that today would likely be termed as “couture” but were more common in home sewing in years past. Crow’s foot tack anyone? Bound welt pocket?

    As someone else mentioned I think there are far too many books that cover the absolute basics, even in books that, to judge by the title, ought to cover a more specialised topic. This really irritates me to be honest. If I buy a book on pattern fitting I don’t want to have to wade past fifty pages of basic techniques that I mastered 8 years ago! Since sewing has become popular again the publishing companies do seem to just keep churning out books without much actual substance, or anything aimed at the higher skill levels. Many seem to be aimed at these new-come sewers, assuming the most beginner level of skill ion their readers.

    And I am a staunch believer in the real-life book. None of this e-book nonsense! The idea of them just annoys me, and I’m not quite sure why. Probably something about the amount of my life I’ve spent with my nose between the pages, and how much I love the sight of a full bookcase. And of course, if you drop a paperback on a concrete floor you don’t lose your favourite book to the ether! Anyone who ever bought me a Kindle would likely be politely given it back immediately lol. Go buy me something useful, like a new bookcase for all the volumes spilling across the bedroom floor!

  20. Graca says:

    I am one of those geeks (Disclosure: another English Lit and Communication major here) who will compare techniques described on a commercial pattern with my go-to reference books (Readers’ Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, Vogue Sewing and a 1950’s vintage Singer Reference Book). Not everyone or every book uses the same words or illustrations to explain a technique. I find it fascinating how some techniques seem to be taken as a given knowledge in vintage patterns were they might have more detail how to construct in modern patterns. I will admit that I did enlarge a pattern sloper from one of the Pattern Magic books last year but I have still yet to use it. Yet, I don’t see it as much different from printing a PDF file. And the whole PDF file patterns I don’t get–you pay to have the pattern and then you pay again to print it at home and then you spend your valuable sewing time putting it together. I would much rather go buy a commercial pattern. I guess it is about the perceived convenience factor. And I’m a hard copy kind of gal, not a ebook reader (sorry, it is just me). I don’t want to remove the sense of touch from my page turning reading experience even if it would mean that I can enlarge the type. As far as ring-bound books go, I might take them off the shelf at the bookstore to look at, but I won’t buy it. If I’m going to spend my hard earned cash on a book. Well, lets just say presentation is everything. And I want a book that is going to last over the years not one that will fall apart over time. Wow, I feel like a book snob.

  21. bessiemae says:

    Like others, I have accumulated a dizzying array of sewing, quilt, and craft books due for a purge. For some things, I do prefer an ebook as I can easily access it when out and about and enlarge the text/images. Other texts are simply too wonderful to worry about changing technology becoming obsolete. My 1978 copy of the venerable Reader’s Digest is hardbound…what if it had been published on a 5″ floppy?

    Not keen on books that give poor renditions of basics and over reliance on trendy fads. Add my vote to ” Loathe to Enlarge” contingent! I understand the financial constraints in publishing, but give me a full sized pattern and I’m likely a repeat customer.

    I’ve stalked various vintage publications : “Unit Method Construction” and “Bishop Method”, as other commenters stated, Old Skool is Now Couture. “Fabric Savvy” is a handy resource. Alabama Chanin for unusual. Sarai Mitnick is a modern go-to’s (and patterns!). “Vogue Sewing” taught my husband to do lovely hand bound buttonhole. My next sewing books will be ” Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers” and ” Patternmaking for Fashion Design” current textbooks for university design classes.

  22. I started sewing last year and over the first few months bought many books thinking they would be a great source of easy projects. But as it turns out, the books I return to over and over again are the giant reference books or the fitting books I have. I NEVER look at those that are project based. I made one tote as a early project and then put the book, and many like it, aside. I like books organized by topic, not a lesson contained within a project or garment that I’m not making. I will refer to the giant reference books and compliment that with an internet search.

  23. stgilbert says:

    Great post, Karen! I never trace and would not go to the trouble to blow up something on the photocopier, either. Printed patterns in books are the way to my heart. I love my Reader’s Digest guide, as well as my Colette Handbook. YouTube is my go-to for crafty help, too. Your book collection is just glorious!

  24. Elle C says:

    I (like all sewists, apparently) love sewing/craft books. Digital books would be okay for novels but never for a book that you would use for reference. I sometimes pull a sewing book from my library and sit down and read it from cover to cover, because I do this I don’t like ring-bound books, they are noisy and sometimes it’s hard to turn the pages without tearing. I have never had an issue keeping a page open for reference while sewing.

    My favourite sewing books are from Taunton Press, the publisher of Threads. Unfortunately they seemed to have stopped publishing the kind of books that I love. Some of my favourites, Shirtmaking, Couture Sewing Techniques, The entire Easy Guide series, Sewing Lingerie that Fits. Easy Embellishment Techniques, Sewing with Knits, Sewing Plus Sizes, Sewing Basics etc. These books are inspiring and instructional, and of course the photography is excellent.

    I have and like quite a number of the books with patterns in the back, because of my size, I have never sewn any of them, but hope to one day. My current favourite (other than Taunton) is The Colette sewing book, great instructions and it is beautiful.

    I have had enough of sewing books that have instructions for pillowcases and shoe bags, how many of those are really needed?

  25. Prawn says:

    I buy books and split my research between the books, and the internet, depending on whether my internet is down, how clear the online stuff is and how clear and consistent the books are. I liked trying out different methods for bound buttonholes by going to several places for instructions on several different projects. But I am irritated by the number of pages of basic “this is a fabric” text you get when you buy virtually any modern book. I haven’t tried any of the patterns in Gertie or Colette yet (although I do intend to) – but it’s never the case that I like them all or they would all suit them, so I try not to tell myself I’m buying 6 patterns if I’m only going to like 2 of them (I with the patterns were pictured on the amazon review page). And I slightly resent that so many books these days really don’t go into the real detail of what you really need to do and how much time it really takes to produce something that actually looks good enough to want to wear. I suspect alot of people get sucked in thinking it’s all so easy and then are disappointed at their first project and don’t come back to sewing? It’s not a natural fit for my personality so I’ve really had to train myself to be methodical, more precise, and take my time, before I get results I’m genuinely happy with. In most cases it doesn’t seem to matter if you are doing an easy technique or a hard one, you still need to take the time and do the prep work for it to look good.
    I’d be interested in a series of small, focussed handbooks – e.g. “fastenings” or “linings” or “seam finishes and hems”; – which were comprehensive and went into the real detail of how you make decisions about which technique to use, and exactly what you’d do to achieve the absolute highest quality result. I think such a series, if done well, would stand the test of time. Accompanying it with multi-media – e.g. a CD of well produced video tutorials – would make it even more valuable.

  26. Vicki Kate says:

    I guess, having just looked at my bookshelf I have two types of books; project and technical. My fitting and Susan Khajle (I am never sure I’ve spelt her surname correctly) as well as technique books are my technical library. My Colette Patterns book and Gertie’s are my project books as they have patterns in them.
    I dislike intensely any photocopy by x patterns. An envelope with some proper patterns in the back can’t break the bank, can it?! I don’t mind tracing as that’s what happens with anything that isn’t a PDF anyway.
    Specialist books that concentrate on a singular technique are fine as an e-book as I’m not going to be jumping around in it and they’re short (in the general scheme of reference books!) so an e-book that is purely welt pockets yes, couture techniques as a whole I’d go for in hard copy. I love your bound buttonhole book, thorough, specialised and a fabulous price!
    A pet hate is bad proof reading, something that ‘craft’ books seem to fall foul of. Maybe because of the way text gets interspersed with images?

  27. I’ve gone through my share of book-buying phases, but I rarely open them. I find that it’s much faster and easier to search online for tutorials and tips from other sewing bloggers. These tutorials are usually easier to follow than the instructions in my books anyway, and it’s faster to type my question into a google box than it is to dig out several reference books, find my topic in the index, then find the correct page…and videos are always more helpful than illustrations. I still love having them though – I’ve always been a book junkie.

  28. Susan says:

    I haven’t read all the comments above, so some of this may be duplicated, but I have tons of sewing books (along with pretty strong opinions about the subject) so I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents… First of all, I completely disagree on the spiral binding: I find this invaluable in a book that I am using for reference, glancing at while performing a sewing technique which almost always requires both of my hands! I prefer full-size patterns or PDF downloads by far to the “expand by 243%” nonsense, though please don’t give me a pattern piece for a rectangle, just cutting dimensions! Lastly, and this is my single biggest gripe with crafting books… Many (not all) clearly do not invest the time to do testing. A few minor errors are understandable, but with some, it’s obvious that little to no quality checking was done, which is inexcusable in a book designed for instruction! Which leads me to my final point: every single crafting book with patterns should have an easy-to-find errata page online! ๐Ÿ˜€

  29. Patty says:

    I have inherited my mother’s Encyclopaedia of crafts from the 1970s, with patterns and all, and I keep this for reference but mostly for nostalgic reasons. I’m at a point when I know most basic tricks of the trade and I’m looking for specialised information. It was for this reason I bought your ebook, which I must admit printed immediately — I cannot read on screen…

    I agree: the generic, coffee-table books do not appeal anymore. – basic information is only a click away. Where the added value lies is in the step-by-step explanation of a relatively difficult and tricky part of sewing.

  30. redsilvia says:

    My sewing book collection pales in comparison to my knitting book collection…but funnily enough I tend to use the same type reference books from both crafts. One solid general instruction, one on tailoring, one with shortcut sewing and then Power Sewing. If I had to pare down my knitting books I’d keep the Barbara Walker stitch treasuries, the Montse Stanley comprehensive primer (can’t do a buttonhole without it!) and Knitting From the Top. Luckily there is still room in the garage for all the rest of the books, but one day I’ll have that clear out too. Now what to do with the Burda Magazines from the 90s?

    P.s. Your eBook is the way to go imho. It’s there when I need it and doesn’t take up shelf room. Plus it’s an awesome tutorial ๐Ÿ˜‰

  31. AnotherKaren says:

    I have a list of things that publishers need to do to make me buy an Other-Than-Ann-Ladbury* book (no relation!)

    1. An index at the back. Compulsory, no excuses.

    2. Ditch the first chapter illustrated with photos of scissors and fabric – I want appendices, appendices, appendices – eg pressing different fabrics; identifying different fabrics; suggested stitch lengths for working with fabric whether in seams, darts and/or sleeves etc.

    3. Recognise that craft books have a global appeal and that we sometimes need translations for US, UK and EU terms (what is broadcloth, anyway? what’s the American name for winceyette? A knit fabric that only goes by the letters ITW or something like that?)

    4. If the chapter has detailed step-by-step photos, this means that it is written like a workbook – so why isn’t it designed like one? (Yes, I’m talking to you Nancy Zieman with your “Pattern Fitting With Confidence”. I’m trying to pivot and slide this flimsy pattern while spread out on the floor with a ruler in my mouth, a pencil behind my ear and a French Curve under my knee – and I can’t keep your floppy, heavy blimmin’ book open!) Spiral bound instruction books please.

    5. Photo illustrations have their place but you can’t beat a good drawing. If there are photos AND drawings, I will love you forever, dear Publisher. To me, the drawing says: “this is the theory…” while the photo says: “….. and this is the bird’s eye view of what it looks like.”

    6. I don’t always want an instruction book. For instance, I love an offbeat but fascinatingly useful ‘tips’ book to read in bed. Insiders’ secrets. Things learnt from experience. Hot tips, whether from factory sewers, RTW buyers, hobby sewers, professional dressmakers, tailors, Fashion Houses, couturiers; pattern makers; machine manufacturers; teachers, Ann Rowley, and Ann Ladbury* (honest – she’s no relation) Shortcuts and wisdom, with line drawings, photos and an index? Ah, bliss..

    * Ann Ladbury (I keep telling you – she’s no relation).
    Legendary TV presenter of Sewing Classes on both the BBC and ITV from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Wrote straightforward, thorough books to accompany the various TV series, eg ” Making Things Fit”, “Improve your Dressmaking” and the reference book “Sewing”. Lives in the Yorkshire Dales, I believe. Watch some of her programmes from the BBC archives if you are in the UK – great instruction and some mind-blowing vintage patterns (and people).

    • AnotherKaren you are spot on! I couldn’t agree more with your publishers request list. I suggest we make a petition from it and use it to harass publishing companies to comply with our requests ASAP. I will be checking out Ann Ladbury as soon as I have time.

  32. Helen says:

    Interesting post! I keep getting craft and sewing books as presents these days and although they are beautiful to look at, not many of the projects appeal. I even apply this to Colette’s book, TBH! I totally agree that the most used books are the reference “how to” books. Although, for indie patterns, sewalong a and online tutorials are the best!

    Not sure that answers your question, but it’s my 2p’s worth anyway!

  33. Paola says:

    I buy a lot of sewing books. It’s my weakness (as are books in general). My workhorses are the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing bought years ago, and a little book by Barbara Weiland called something like “Sewing Answers” (sorry it’s at the other end of the house and I’m feeling too lazy to check). I also refer to Sandra Betzina’s “Fast Fit”, but having a few fit books in my arsenal, I am finding fit is not something you learn from a book. It’s very tactile, just not a skill you can convey on a page, at least for this learner.
    Pattern books like Colette’s and Gertie’s I love but haven’t sewn one thing from yet. Similarly, the Sew U series and Pattern Magic. I have sewn from some other Japanese pattern books. Don’t ask me why my sew rate is so low. I turn to these books for moments of inspiration, but when it comes to actually making the patterns I just don’t go there. But I do sew downloadable patterns. Go figure.
    Recently, I reviewed a book on Pattern Review called the Vintage Pattern Selector. Now, there was a hodge podge of a book. I was seduced by the 15 patterns it promised, but if I’d looked closely, the patterns were fairly humdrum and only peripherally vintage, the presentation wasn’t great (no photos of the patterns made up, not even artist’s illustrations) and the text bore little relation to the patterns. From what I can gather, the whole book was written by committee. Not a good result.

  34. Coming from a quilting perspective, I love my books and while I may not have made many quilts from them, love looking at the projects, the pictures and reading the histories in the ones on antique quilts. Keep ’em coming, I say!

  35. SKP says:

    Not in publishing, but I love books, so I have a lot to say about this! Unfortunately for publishers I don’t buy that many books due to space constraints, budget constraints, and the fact that craft books are easily available from my local public library (in the US). The only sewing book I currently own is the Vogue Book of Sewing circa 1969. I refer to its line-drawing-illustrated instructions for basic and advanced techniques all the time. If I were going to buy another sewing book, I would buy another reference book for “second opinions”, because Vogue BoS is quite didactic about methods, and sometimes they don’t tell you about all the different ways to do things (especially time-saving methods). The internet is good for second opinions too, but I’d still like to have another book.

    Generally, I’m put off contemporary sewing books if they use photographs in place of line drawings, if they are based around projects instead of techniques, and if they don’t go beyond the basics. I do like books like DIY Couture that teach you how to sew without patterns, though I didn’t buy that specific book because in my case I learned most of the same lessons out of secondhand books from the 70s and 80s.

    I also like the Little Black Dress book by Simon Henry. OK, it’s based around projects and it uses photos, but the projects are designed to teach techniques, and the dress designs are generic and customizable. The photos are not ideal (esp with black fabric), but they get it across.

    I prefer physical books for craft purposes because I tend to find the section I’m looking for based on my visual memory of the page layouts. Ebooks are much slower to navigate.

  36. Adrienne says:

    I’ll be more inclined to purchase a book in e format rather than physical format, being concerned with space as a person who moves a lot. I really appreciate electronic books. I personally think they are the way forward in publishing. Not to speak of the whole environmental sustainability aspect to the issue.

    Re: your bound buttonholes e-book, I love-love-love that you saw a gap in the literature and that you took it upon yourself to fill that gap. Really wonderful initiative. I also love the tone of your book, well, I just love your overall approach to things and life in general! I haven’t made bound buttonholes yet, but it will be a pleasure to give you more detailed feedback once I do try it — I have a feeling it’s going to a lifesaver.

  37. Burke says:

    I don’t have an e-reader, and I really prefer a physical book. But, most sewing books are similar – I mean how many different ways do you need to read how to insert a zipper? Although my go-to is the Readers Digest which has photos even though my copy is probably from the 70s. I bought Gertie’s book, which I love, but the patterns aren’t really my style. Still, the book is helpful, but I’ll most likely never make a single pattern. But, kind of like buying every new Colette or Sewaholic pattern, I do like to support the independent businesses out there. It’s a fine line.

  38. stitchnpurrl says:

    I have been taken in on occasion by books with pretty covers and even prettier pictures inside, but that’s all they are. Style over substance. I have culled those books from my collection, and now I am very particular about the books I purchase.

    A couple of my favourite sewing books are ‘The Dressmakers Technique Bible’ and ‘Sewing Tops and T-Shirts, Skirts and Pants.’

  39. Oh my god, there’s a book on left-handed sewing? I think I need to get my hands on a copy of that tout de suite!

  40. Pingback: Verte Adelie | Stuffed Animals, by Abby Glassenberg (part 1): a book review, and a general plea for useful and usable craft books

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