How Do You Use Sewing Books?

sewing books

I love my sewing books. Love seeing them sat together on a shelf. (Oddly, in the kitchen!) They range between:

  • Reference Guides
  • Technique Bibles
  • Brand Sewing – buying into a lifestyle with Liberty, Sew Over It, Tilly And The Buttons, DIY Couture

And, of course, there’s a lot of crossover in between. One book can be all three of the above. The books often come with added extras. Pattern packs, accompanying DVDs, ring bound spines, slip cases, expandable pockets. Buyers get a lot of bang for their book buck, especially if they take up a deeply discounted offer from an online website.

So, how often do I use these guys? To check a technique – sometimes. The New Complete Reader’s Digest Guide To Sewing remains my definitive technique bible. To sew projects from? Rarely – this dress being a joyous exception.

flicking through sewing book

I can appreciate the massive undertaking that every single one of these books represents, but I still go automatically to my bulging pattern drawers when I’m looking for project inspiration. Why? Honestly, I’m not sure I entirely know. Variety of range? A more accessible package? Level of instructions? No need to trace from nested patterns? Greater access to online reviews? Brand familiarity? Or all of the above?

books and sewing patterns

I’m not going to stop buying or cherishing sewing books. Heck, I also have a lot of cookery books, city guides and hardback novels on my shelves that I barely pick up. I still like having them there. I can’t imagine a home where there aren’t any books on display. Books are covetable objects that we like to stroke and gaze on. Use? Maybe less so. The big question is, if they still manage to inspire does it matter how often we pick them up?

Beginner Tip: support your local library by checking out reference materials if you’re unsure whether or not to invest in a book at the start of your sewing career.

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32 Responses to How Do You Use Sewing Books?

  1. Great Minds think alike! I’ve just scheduled a post about whether or not the great British sewing bee books are worth the money!


  2. Lois Higgins says:

    I really buy too many books on Sewing, but they are used very frequently so I don’t feel too guilty. I , like you, don’t make anything from them either. All for the reasons . They are you mentioned. They are really for reference , much easier to work from than watching on line tutorials ( and sewing away from my laptop gives less chance for distraction).

  3. Sarah says:

    I love my sewing books, and have a couple that speak heavily to technique, and some of the same lifestyle books you mention. I have made some quilts from books, and have some other makes from books in the queue… I like the straight skirt in the Colette book, and the bags and the dress in Anna Graham’s new book, Handmade Style. I have yet to make it though.
    We’re book people in my house too. A home without books is just sort of… empty. Not completely a home.

  4. Hélène says:

    I wish there was a place where we could sell/exchange sewing and knitting books. Do you know of such a platform?

  5. Robin says:

    You have struck a chord here, too. I love my sewing books, love to sit on the couch and daydream about all the wonderful projects I am going to make. But usually head for the patterns when it comes down to actual sewing. But I also love to page through my cookbooks with the same result-not to use the recipes but for inspiration. Wouldn’t want to live without my books!

  6. Carolyn says:

    I love my sewing books too and have shelves of them! Being an old school sewist, I always go to my books first for new techniques or to revisit how to do a technique. I only look up a technique on the Internet for a blog post. Especially love my older sewing books so much information contained in those slim volumes.

  7. dr P says:

    The Readers Digest is my favourite reference book.

    The other books I treat a lot like cookery books. If I see a project I want to make I mark it with a colour coded tab (control freak….? Me…?!?). That way if I’m looking for inspiration I can just look for the right coloured marker sticking out of the top of the book.

    I am trying to move with the times and have started to use Evernote to track projects I want to make. That way I have all the details with me when I go to the fabric shop too.

    • dr P says:

      I also second your idea of checking books out of the library before buying them….I got a much hyped book out by a well known sewing teacher, people raved about her first book so I got the second one out of the library. TBH I’m so glad I didn’t just buy it….it was proofread by a drunk (if at all) there was no sizing charts, instructions were missing, incorrect or just didn’t make sense. The project I attempted, a collared jacket should have been straightforward enough but the instructions were all over the show so readers digest and I had to figure it out alone. It nearly went out of thd window several times

      But I learnt a valuable lesson, don’t get sucked in by celeb books and library before buying!

  8. Elle says:

    And then there’s the nighttime, propped-up-in-bed reading.

  9. PsychicKathleen says:

    I’m trying not to go absolutely crazy with sewing books! There are SO many temptations 🙂 I just bought the little black dress book which includes patterns and ideas for dresses. Some books are just about inspiration but others I carry around with me for a couple of weeks because there is so much really practical and helpful suggestions like Knits for Real People – that one sits right beside my reading chair!

  10. I pretty much only sew from books! I especially love Tilly and the Buttons love at first stitch – that book pretty much taught me how to sew! I do find having multiple patterns all on the same sheet a bit annoying but the value for money is insane!! All those patterns and tips and tricks all bundled together usually for a lot less than it would be to buy an equivalent number of patterns separately.

  11. carmenross88 says:

    Wow, I feel exactly the same way. I, too, have a large collection of sewing related books and I love every single one of them. The Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing is the best! I also have a ton of pattern books, some of which I’ve used and others I just like to comb through the photos now and again. Like you, I always go straight to my big 4 patterns. It’s way easier to just cut out your pattern rather than trace it. Plus, if I make a mistake I don’t care because the pattern only cost a few dollars anyway. But I’m not likely to stop buying pattern books. I think pattern books are lovely.

  12. Ros says:

    Just today I got out the Bag-Maker’s Bible from which I have not made a single project in all the years I have owned it. But I wanted to see how she recommends making piped handles for a project I’m doing. Much easier and quicker (and more reliable) than finding exactly the right youtube tutorial.

    • Ros says:

      Oh, but I meant to say that I really do try to resist the ‘brand’ books because they’re almost all aimed at beginners and the projects tend to be ones that I’ve already got good patterns for or would never make. Plus the ones with patterns rarely include my size, so they aren’t useful to me at all.

  13. Joanne says:

    I definitely use mine just for reference. Since my sewing room is overflowing I think I have to downsize a bit. The books with patterns like drape drape I use the least.

  14. Robin says:

    I too have a shelf full of sewing books. Most are not new, and most were gifted to me by my eldest sister who sewed her own wardrobe for many years, and then had her own fashion design business for ten years. My favorites, those most used, show various fitting techniques, which I need since my shape began to change a few years ago. I also leaf through them for ideas on technique ideas, such as varieties of seam finishes, as I don’t have a server. I borrow newer books from the the library, and copy projects for my own personal future use. I especially love the ones that show you many ways to use a yard or less, as I have trouble letting go of those bitty pieces… I was raised on embroidery and so have a certain nostalgia for needlework books as well.

  15. norma says:

    I love my books. That’s where I look up techniques – my Vogue Sewing Book is my main go to book. It hasn’t failed me yet.
    I have never used a pattern from a book but it doesn’t stop me looking and dreaming

    • Catherine says:

      So glad someone’s mentioned the Vogue Sewing Book. It’s fantastic. My parents gave it to me as a special treat, in 1976, and I still enjoy it and learn from it.

      I take patterns from all sorts of sources now, don’t mind PDFs with all the cutting and sellotaping (and love the Tessuti patterns), but tracing drives me bananas.

      • Sara says:

        Ditto to Vogue Sewing vintage editions! I got mine at Powell’s Book Store, it’s a 1970s hard copy. I think the older versions are better than the more recent ones.

        I also regularly use the Threads Sewing Guide book a great deal, very well illustrated and organized, and Claire Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing Techniques book and would recommend them to anyone.

        I love to look at Gertie’s books and have used them for techniques, but have yet to sew a pattern from any of them.

  16. Mags says:

    Yes me too I love my books, but the reason I don’t make the garments is simple, I rarely like any of the patterns as much as my other patterns, and so I want to use me precious time sewing things I love.

  17. Tee says:

    I have many, many sewing books. My top go-tos are: Reader’s Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing Book, Susan Khalje’s Bridal Couture, and Sandra Betzina’s Power Sewing Step-by-step & Fast Fit!!!!

  18. I have a ton of sewing books but really only buy them for the pretty pictures. I do use the “Fast Fit” Sandra Bettina book, the Reader’s Digest one and a couple of vintage ones which have got some good techniques in them and a lot of information on tailoring. I think that a lot of the modern books are too simplistic and definitely aimed at beginners. I will probably buy the new GBSB book though. I really quite liked the last one. Xx

  19. LinB says:

    I like to browse them, just for fun. I have a few that I rely on for seldom-used, hard-to-remember techniques. I have some that are invaluable for making fit alterations. I have some that are w – a – y out of date, and those illustrations are good for a laugh when I am feeling blue.

    Stacks of books make excellent paperweights, are good for straightening out wrinkled papers, drying leaves and flowers, making end tables when you drape fabric over them, making bookshelves when you span a shelf between two stacks of books. Some reference books are heavy enough to use as a murder weapon (not a recommendation, just an observation).

    Some are only good to shred and use for garden mulch, or to put in a compost bin. I have done both with a few sewing books. Uncoated paper breaks down better for compost. Coated paper holds up better as mulch.

  20. corrineappleby says:

    I’ve made a minimum of one pattern from each of the sewing books I own. It makes me feel slightly less guilty about them sitting on the bookshelves knowing that I have had at least some value for money out of them.

  21. I have soo many sewing books too. WHen I found out they were available in our local library it was a waste of money…But some books which are not available in Europe, I buy via Amazon so invest in those that cannot be bought in the local stores. I even have books not even read yet…Gr, Linda

  22. Eliza- sew-little says:

    I have a couple of reference books that I use about once a month. I do use you tube and blogger tutorials too but with a book it’s easier to keep the page open.
    I have a Palmer Pletsch book which I read cover to cover and refer to regularly.

    I also have Tilly’s books and last years bee book which I have made numerous garments from and several versions. Apart from the obligatory ‘How to’ section in almost every book. ( why?) I seem to get inspired by the patterns in these. I’m currently working my way through this year challenges on GBSB using the new book. ( wouldn’t have bought it otherwise )

    However some have sat unused eg Sew over it and Bag making bible. Style over substance. Sorry guys.

    Yes I love books. . Full stop. But I do use sewing books as well as enjoying having them on my shelf!

  23. MARIE DONNELLY says:

    I swear by the Sandra Betzina books but my two favourites are the Vogue sewing book that my mum bought in the seventies as well as a needlework book that my grandmother gave my mother when she started sewing in the early sixties. I don’t do any needlework at all but I open it every so often to see the loving words my grandmother wrote to my mum when she was in Ireland and my mother was a new mum in Canada. Both are gone now but I feel them both when I touch the pages that they touched so many years ago.

    • LinB says:

      Oh, what a lovely remembrance! So much more personal than even a photograph — you get the essence of the person when you read a person’s words, not just the person’s outer appearance.

      I kept some old Workbasket needlework magazines from my grandmother for years and years, until I realized that someone else might actually get some use from them — she was a thoroughly practical woman, and would want her things to go on giving joy, not stuffed in a box in the back of a spare-room closet. I can remember the memory of those memories.

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