Sewing reference library

I went to a show at Craft Victoria yesterday and was mortified to see that one of the artists had chosen, as his medium, decades-old textile and sewing books. He had carved sewing tools – thimble, scissors, seam unpicker – into the book cover and pages. I had to leave.

Like many sewing geeks, I love old sewing reference books. They contain techniques from an age before adhesive hem tape and velcro; they are often lyrically written and amusingly old-fashioned; more often than not, they are beautiful objects in their own right. I collect any and all I can get my hands on. So to see eight of these books destroyed in the name of art pissed me off, frankly. For example, a book about British textiles that was published around time of the Festival of Britain and a lovely book called Custom Tailoring for Homemakers. Art, schmart. I grieve for those books.

sewing reference library

This is part of my sewing book collection. Inspired by Gertie’s post on building a sewing library, here are books I use all the time for reference.

From top to bottom, with links where I could find them:

  1. How to make pants and jeans that really fit by Barbara Corrigan – nice little 1970s book that explains all those mysterious wrinkles and crinkles.
  2. Shirtmaking by David Page Coffin – nothing I can add here that hasn’t already been gushed by 23,525 other sewing bloggers. Wanna make a shirt? You wanna get this book.
  3. Tailoring by editors of Creative Publishing – I bought this when Gertie was making her coat upon her recommendation. She should take a commission.
  4. Timesaving sewing edited by Janice Cauley and Bernice Mauhren –  features cringeworthy early 90s fashions but dang, in among the dross are some truly handy tips.
  5. Couture sewing techniques by Claire B. Schaeffer – a total contrast to #4, a book that tells you how to do everything the beautiful, luxurious, labourious, time-consuming way.
  6. Practical home mending made easy by Mary Brooks Picken – from 1946. I love the tips on how to rework your frocks during wartime rationing.
  7. Complete dressmaking in pictures edited by Constance Howard – this one’s fascinating for its 1940s conservative dowdiness.
  8. Pattern design by Gloria Mortimer-Dunn – I reckon this must have been the standard text for Australian home ec classes in the 1960s.
  9. Successful dressmaking by Ellen and Marietta Resek – Moggy and I reckon this book is a local secret all you overseas people should know about. It’s published right here in Melbourne-town and is one of my absolute favourites. Beautiful little pictures throughout, and really common sense advice. I’ve seen it for sale a few times on eBay Australia. If you see one, bid high and bid true!
  10. Singer sewing book by Mary Brooks Picken – this is the 1950s edition which is lovely because it has Victoria era illustrations interspersed among more contemporary pictures.
  11. Make your own dress patterns by Adele P. Margolis – this is the Dover reprint of a classic book. Again, the sewing blog world have waxed lyrical about this one, and I agree!
  12. Modern pattern design by Harriet Pepin – this one is brilliant. And, lucky us, it’s available online, it its entirety, at
  13. Dress fitting by Natalie Bray – I’d forgotten I owned this because its slender black spine is easy to overlook. Then after patternmaking class #2, in which the teacher said, “you people all need to go read a book by Natalie Bray called Dress fitting”
  14. Readers Digest complete guide to sewing – the big, fat, friendly bible that will walk you through all kinds of things you need to know with clear instructions and ace diagrams. I have a 1970s edition. The older ones are better for vintage sewers because they describe the fabrics of the era, many of which you just don’t see for sale anymore.

There are a couple more but these are the most-thumbed ones. Did I miss any classics?

I sewed up the new bodice pattern but I’m so discouraged I can’t bring myself to report back yet. Maybe tomorrow.