Let’s imagine that you love looking at and petting pretty fabric, but you don’t feel like talking fat quarters and batting choices. Instead of thinking about your next quilt project, you’re imagining a new dress or skirt. Does this sound familiar? A lot of new sewists are attracted to garments for their functional value. Many of my friends who are new to sewing bought their first machines purely for utilitarian reasons: hemming kids’ pants or sewing up burp cloths. But unless they’ve worked on creating a garment from scratch, a lot of them can’t get far past threading the machine.
Then there’s the other camp: quilters. I started out as a quilter and lived there for a long time because I preferred to sew straight lines in two dimensions. All the funky presser feet intrigued yet terrified me; they looked more like medieval torture devices or miniature replications of the Starship Enterprise than actual sewing accessories. Sewing garments horrifies a lot of quilters; there’s a fair amount of technique involved, more “hardware” (what with all the zippers and buttons and grommets and such).
If you or your customers fall into one of these groups, you might be in need of a book (or five) geared toward beginning garment sewists. There are lots on the market, and they offer different benefits to those who are learning how to construct tops, bags, skirts, dresses, and pants. Here’s our list of the best books for beginning sewists, along with some rationale.
Best Overall Beginner Guide
The Colette Sewing Handbook by Sarai Mitnick. This book is pretty much the bomb; if you’re interested in creating your own garments but don’t exactly know where to start, START HERE. This book clearly and thoroughly covers each step of the sewing process from fabric selection to general techniques, but it’s not overwhelming. There are five basic projects (three dresses, a skirt, and a blouse), and each gives you slightly different exposure to techniques and sewing terminology. The patterns are included in the back (no downloading or printing), and like Colette’s other patterns, they’re adorably retro-inspired without looking weirdly dated.
Best Reference Guide
The Singer Complete Photo Guide to Sewing. Everyone who sews garments needs a good reference guide. There’s a lot of vocab and technique to remember; even more experienced sewists need a refresher now and then on bias bound finishes or pattern adjustments. The Singer Guide is a great go-to reference for those times when you need to know a little about a lot of stuff. The best part? There are more than 1200 pictures in this book, which are so helpful when you’re trying to remember how to sew a set-in sleeve or a collar facing. The book also has a handful of simple projects ranging from apparel to home decor. They’re not incredibly imaginative or stylish, but they can help if you need to knock something out quickly.
Best Bang for Your Buck
Sew Everything Workshop by Diana Rupp. This book is a total hoot to read and work from; the copy includes headlines like “Drop It Like It’s Hot: Letting Down a Hem.” Rupp’s tone is casual and conversational, and she makes sewing truly non-intimidating for the beginner. I’ve seen SEW recommended many times for teen sewists, who can easily get into Rupp’s vision for what sewing should be like: fun. SEW has a great collection of projects and patterns for new sewists; the 25 projects and 10 patterns include the classics (pencil skirt, hobo bag) as well as menswear (boxers and tie) and fun stuff like dog coats. The sheer number of projects alone make it a great value for the price, but the general sewing info and glossary make this a strong book too.
Best Non-Garment Sewing Book
Bend-the-Rules Sewing by Amy Karol. During the times we don’t feel like making another dress, we really like this book. The “rules” Karol refers to are the ones that force you to measure twice and cut once, use rulers, sew perfect hems, and press all your seams. This book is about improv and embracing the perfectly imperfect, which makes it perfectly perfect for new sewists. This is a project-based book, so there’s not a ton of textbook “introduction to sewing” stuff; you’ll need other books for that. Instead, there are a lot of really fun (and kid-friendly) tutorials for bags, aprons, tea cozies, bibs, and more.
Best “Advanced Beginner” Handbook
The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook by Nora Abousteit and Alison Kelly. I wrestled with including this book on the list, not because it’s not awesome but because it’s a bit more sophisticated. If you are a true beginner (“wait, where’s the On switch on this thing?”), this book is probably going to be a bit overwhelming for you. If you have some basic knowledge of garment construction, though, and you’re looking for information about modifying a pattern or sewing with more advanced techniques, I can’t recommend it enough. The book includes clear introductions to sewing and to working with famously fabulous Burda patterns, which do not include seam allowances to allow for easier modifications; you add your own when you trace them out. It features five basic patterns, each with two modifications for a total of fifteen projects. I followed one of the blouse modifications and it really gave me a taste for “how the sausage is made” when it comes to changing a pattern. I feel like I’ve learned more from this book (and have become a better garment sewist in the process) than any other.
What books have we missed? Which books would you recommend for a new sewist?
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