In the past, I used to make all my own clothes, but these days, children’s clothing tends to take up more of my time. The ability to make your own clothing is such a valuable skill, both in terms of money, quality, creativity and style. Good clothing can be so expensive, and while there are many cheap clothes on the market, often the quality of craftsmanship, life expectancy or material used is poor.
Dressmaking is incredibly satisfying on so many levels! It is such a thrill, knowing that you have actually made your own clothing; it will be totally original and well constructed, and finally, it is ethically sound, as so much of today’s fashion is created by lowly paid Asian workers.
In this post are a selection of books about dressmaking, which I have found very useful in the past, starting with two general sewing guides to make your dressmaking journey easier!
Sewing and Knitting: A Reader’s Digest Step-by-Step Guide 1993
An excellent and comprehensive general guide to sewing and knitting techniques and very well-used during my sewing career with clear instructions, supported by colour photographs, illustrations, and inset boxes, tables and diagrams.
Part One: Sewing covers everything from :
Sewing supplies: Measuring and marking tools; shears and scissors; threads, pins and needles; pressing equipment; zippers, studs and buttons; tapes and trimmings; elastics; sewing and overlocking machines; and sewing rooms;
Patterns, Fabrics and Cutting: Taking measurements and pattern selection, style and size; colour and texture; using commercial patterns; fabric fundamentals (characteristics, uses, types and care, structure and finish); fabrics A to Z; underlying fabrics (underlining, interfacing, interlining and lining); fabric preparation, pinning and cutting, including special considerations ( directional fabrics, plaids and stripes and designs with large motifs); and marking the cut pieces;
Pattern Alterations: Figure types; fitting; and basic and advanced pattern alterations;
Basic Construction Techniques: Hand sewing, tacking and hemming; seams and darts; tucks and pleats; gathering and ruffles; shirring and smocking; neckline finishes and collars; waistlines and belts; sleeves and cuffs; pockets; hems, bindings and finishing corners; zippers; and buttonholes and fabric closures (buttons, hooks and eyes, snap and tape fasteners;
Sewing for Men and Children; and
Sewing for the Home: Loose covers; cushions; bedspreads and bed covers; and curtains, drapery and blinds.The second section of the book, while smaller, is equally comprehensive, covering yarn selection and knitting needles and aids; casting on methods and basic stitch formation; casting off techniques and selvedges; knitting machines; knitting patterns and charts and following instructions; knitting terminology; tension and gauge; increasing and decreasing; circular knitting; correcting errors; knitting stitches; knitting garments; decorative finishes and embroidery; and a small section on crochet.
The Complete Sewing Machine Handbook by Karen Kunkel 1997
An even more detailed guide to the use of sewing machines, this book covers sewing machine types and selection; the main parts of the machine and accessories; sewing equipment and workspace; and needles, threads and threading before launching into the basic operations: stitch selection; straight and top stitching; twin needles; zigzag stitching; buttonholes; blind hemming; and decorative stitch options (appliqué; silk ribbon embroidery; scalloped edges; quilting and smocking; and lace insertion, pintucking and fagotting!)
There is a chapter on special presser feet and accessories, as well as computer technology, machine maintenance, and a trouble shooting guide and metric conversion chart. A very useful book for all sewers!Classic Clothes: A Practical Guide to Dressmaking by René Bergh 2000
A wonderful guide to wardrobe planning and dressmaking! In her first chapter, René discusses the classic ingredients of successful dressing: colour, cloth and cut, before a detailed examination of wardrobe planning, including modern and traditional classics, in the second chapter.
Fitting, figure analysis, measurement taking, flattering and unflattering choices and pattern adjustments for differing body types and proportions are the subject of the third large and crucial chapter, while Chapter Four describes basic construction techniques for different garments from T-shirts, golf shirts, sweatshirts and classic shirts to casual and tailored jackets; trousers; tracksuit pants; and lined skirts and dresses.
The last two chapters look at finishing touches and accessorizing with hosiery, shoes, belts, bags, jewellery and scarves, as well as clever combinations to make the best use of a basic wardrobe.
Sewing the New Classics: Clothes With Easy Style by Carol Parks 1995
This book has some wonderful patterns for classic clothes, all still very wearable today. The brief introduction examines similar content to the first book in this post: tools and equipment; natural and synthetic fibres; linings and interfacings; and fabric preparation, before concentrating on the separate patterns, each with detailed notes on materials; cutting guides; construction and variations, with lovely colour photographs of all versions.
There are ten basic patterns, reduced to 25 per cent in the back of the book, with sizes from XXS to XL: a Shirt with a Convertible Collar; a Collarless Tunic; a T-shirt collection; a Straight Skirt; a Full Skirt; Leggings with an Elasticized Waist; Tailored Trousers; a Jacket; a Fitted Vest and a Large Vest.
Throughout the book are notes on sewing with knit fabrics; making pockets of different types; embellishments; creating a wardrobe; working with patterns; and sewing techniques.Once the basic skills have been mastered and a measure of confidence gained, most dressmakers are keen to try their hand at designing their own patterns, so a few books on drafting your own patterns from scratch can be very useful. Back in the day, I was always on the lookout for pattern drafting guides, so I own a few, though I am sure most of them have probably been superseded by the advent of CAD (computer-aided design). Still, the old guides are useful if you prefer designing with pen and paper, lack computer access or are overwhelmed by computer technology!
The next book is also an excellent introduction to basic drafting skills, though, like the previous book, it also contains basic pattern blocks in three sizes, based on standard body measurements and scaled to one-quarter scale in the back.
Make Your Own Patterns : An Easy Step-by-Step Guide To Making Over 60 Patterns by René Bergh 1995
This guide is so well-titled, as it does make the whole drafting process very easy to understand and execute, as well as delivering on the promise of a wealth of pattern variations. Tools and equipment, as well as the correct way to take body measurements, are discussed in the introductory chapters, including a chart of standardized sizes and body measurements.
The bulk of the book gives step-by-step instructions for drawing up patterns from scratch, using your own body measurements, including dress bodices, sleeves, jackets, blouses with or without darts and skirts and trousers. Variations and details for each body area (necklines, bodices; sleeves) and garment (blouses and tops; jackets; skirts; dresses; and trousers) are discussed in depth.Because everyone has a different style of learning and every teacher has a different approach and teaching style, I have included two other guides to manual drafting.
Creative Cutting: Easy Ways To Design and Make Stylish Clothes With Over 1000 Variations by Diana Hawkins 1986
Another excellent book, which promises even more variations to the basic patterns than the previous guide! It discusses making the basic pattern blocks (Bodice; Sleeve; Skirt; and Trouser), before giving plenty of ideas for variations.
Fabric selection; costing and pattern lays; pressing; interfacings; haberdashery; pattern cutting equipment and construction techniques, including the order of making, are discussed in detail, supported by plenty of photographs and illustrations.
It is a very comprehensive guide to the art of drafting!
Magic Drafting: An Easy Step-by-Step Guide To Making Any Pattern Fit You by Gabriella Kovac 1994
The main aim of this book is to make drafting fun, so the whole feel of this book is very conversational and personal and the instructions are simple and easy to understand. Step-by-step instructions are given for making pattern blocks for skirts, bodices, sleeves and collars; fitting and creating patterns from calico; pivoting darts; problem solving for longer backs and larger midriffs; and finally, the creation of a range of patterns, based on those blocks from gored or flared skirts to tops with a variety of sleeves or collars and shirt dresses. While the fashions are definitely outdated, it is still a good basic drafting course!
Fashions are constantly changing and every dressmaker’s library should have at least one book on the history of fashion!
Decades of Fashion by Harriet Worsley 2000
This book examines 20th century fashions from those of the Belle Epoque (1900-1914) and the years of the First World War (1914-1918), through successive decades to 2000. There are some wonderful old black-and-white photographs and is a fascinating historical record, not only of changes in fashions, but also daily life, work, pastimes and sporting activities and prevailing social attitudes!
I particularly love the fashions of the period between the late 1890s and 1920s, so adored the next book!
Pattern Designing For Dressmakers by Lyn Alexander 1989
In this book, Lyn explains that patterns can be created using three methods: Drafting using body measurements, as already discussed; Draping by moulding fabric to the body or dress form; and Flat Pattern, where basic patterns are manipulated to add design details.
This book employs the latter technique, in which the basic original master pattern is transferred to a interfaced muslin, which is then assembled into the required garment using basting and adjusted for fit and design details.
Pattern alterations; darts; gathers, tucks and pleats; closings, extensions and facings; bodices, yolks, collars, sleeves and skirts are all discussed, particularly with reference to the fitting standards and fashions from 1860 to 1930, which are supported by illustrations from period fashion magazines of the time.
A particularly useful book for stage costume designers and antique doll dress makers!Another excellent source for vintage patterns is Folkwear (https://www.folkwear.com/), which has an extensive collection with garments from the late 1700s/early 1800s, all the way up to the 1950s. There are some beautiful patterns for Gibson Girl blouses and Edwardian underthings; walking skirts and English smocks; vintage bathing costumes and beach pyjamas; Monte Carlo dresses; and Poiret Cocoon coats and Model T Dusters.
Folkwear is also a wonderful site for anyone interested in ethnic clothing. Collected over the past forty years, their collection includes patterns for historic and every-day folk garments from 32 countries in six continents, from Turkish coats and French cheesemaker’s smocks to Nepali blouses and Tibetan chupas; Austrian dirndls, Scottish kilts, Flamenco dresses and belly dancing outfits; and Hong Kong cheongsams and a range of Japanese clothing from kimonos, field clothing and hapi and haori to michiyuki, tabi, and hakama and kataginu. There are also patterns for men and children.
It was also the inspiration for the next book, which is based on the six most popular ethnic garments produced by Folkwear: the Seminole Skirt; the Polish Vest; the Moroccan Burnoose; the Syrian Dress; the Tibetan Coat; and the Japanese Kimono.
The Folkwear Book of Ethnic Clothing: Easy Ways to Sew and Embellish Fabulous Garments From Around the World by Mary S. Parker 2002
A beautiful and fascinating book with fabulous photos of traditional garments from around the world. In its overview of ethnic clothing in the first chapter, it examines the construction of typical ethnic garments: the unconstructed rectangle; the pullover cloak or tunic; the sleeved shift; the pull-on pant; the full skirt and apron; the front-opening coat; the short vest and the yoked shirt.
Chapter Two focuses on the embellishment of ethnic clothing: woven embellishment; braids and trims (plastrons and coat trims); surface design (mudcloth; stamping and stencilling; and appliqué (Seminole patchwork; molas; Hmong squares; and felt appliqué) and embroidery (hand and machine).
It is followed by a gallery of ethnic embellishment motifs from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Jordan, Palestine, Turkey, Syria, Bahrain, Egypt and Poland. Throughout both these chapters are projects using each technique.
Finally, there are the key patterns themselves with their history, pattern layouts and detailed sewing instructions. I would love to try making the Seminole skirt one day and the Japanese kimono is also quite appealing!!
For dressmakers interested in more contemporary Japanese clothing, there are also some cute Japanese pattern books currently on the market, one of which is:
Stylish Dress Book: Simple Smocks, Dresses and Tops by Yoshiko Tsukiori 2013
There are some sweet little tops and dresses in this book. In the back are four full scale pattern sheets in four sizes XS, S, M and L and they can be made up into 26 different garments. Each page has a pattern layouts, material requirements, and instructions and illustrated notes, all in English.The same author has also written: Sweet Dress Book: 23 Dresses of Pattern Arrangement 2013; Happy Home Make: Sew Chic: 20 Simple Everyday Designs 2013; and Stylish Wraps 2017.
And finally, two wonderful books on sewing clothing for children.
Classic Clothes For Children Ages 0-12 by Lynne Sanders 1991
After a brief introduction to sewing and drafting requirements; fabric choice and preparation; pattern cutting; understanding and making pattern blocks (a fold-out master sheet is in the back); and sewing techniques, including sewing scallops and peaks; couching and embroidery, the author describes the construction of 33 patterns, including design notes; materials; pattern layouts and drafting and sewing instructions.
They range from Summer hats and embroidered vests to shirts and windcheaters; overalls, shorts and trousers; pyjamas, tracksuits and all-in-ones; dressing gowns and oil-skin coats; dresses; and even christening gowns. They are indeed beautiful classic clothes, which have stood the test of time.
Little Girls, Big Style: Sew a Boutique Wardrobe From 4 Easy Patterns by Mary Abreu 2010
My final book is a more recent purchase (and publication) with some very cute and colourful patterns, which I adore! Based on the huge selection of fabrics and notions available today, there are 23 patterns in sizes 2 to 6 (with full size patterns in the back), featuring lots of layers, frills and flounces in harmonious colour combinations.
There are four project chapters with lots of ideas for variations, which are interchangeable between patterns:
Basic Bodice: Basic Top/Dress; Knotty Apron; Sunshine Halter; Side-Tied Smock; Perfect Party Dress; Pocket Pinafore; and Ruffled Peek-a-Boo Jumper;
Peasant Top/Dress PTD: Classic PTD; Ruffled Empire PTD; Tiered Twirly PD; Flutter-Sleeved PT; and Ruffled Neck PT;
Pants: Essential Pants/Capris; Ruffled Pants with two options; Racing Stripe Pants; Lace-Edged Gauchos; and Tiered Pants; and
Skirts: No-Hem Skirt; Treasure Skirt; On-the-Border Skirt; Apron Skirt; Double-Layered Twirl Skirt; and Twirly-Girly Skirt, always a great favourite!
All these garments can be worn in different combinations, as shown by the very cute models in the photographs. I look forward to using this book more in the future!
In November, I am delving further into the world of childhood with some books on teaching kids to sew, as well as making toys, but before that, there will be a post on miscellaneous craft books, encompassing a wide range of crafts from basketry to kite making, homemade tiles and mosaics and much more! Happy dressmaking!