Five sewing and pattern making books that changed my life

I am a person that goes to books as my main source of knowledge. Books are cheap, relatively portable, and are always there when we need to research. They also allow us to be taught by professionals that live far away, or that have passed. Maybe because I am an introverted person, I feel a lot more comfortable and “at home” when I am reading a book.

Every time I feel like learning more about a subject, I immediately research which books are available. I read the opinion of other people about the book, take a peek at the sample pages, and pick the ones that seem ideal for my case. As a consequence, I have a pile of books on my table. They are my main references for my work, and are absolutely responsible for a lot of what I can do today. 

Some books come to me by accident, and completely change the direction of my learning path. They make a revolution in my knowledge, and change forever the way I see certain things. Today, I am going to share with you the five books that were the most important to me.

1. Pattern Magic – Bunka Fashion College

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I found out about this book in college, and it was like a revolution. With it I learned pattern design techniques of slashing and spreading, folding, and adding geometric volumes. These released me from the fixed rules of pattern drafting. With this book, I learned techniques that helped me draft and drape my final collection in college (picture below. Photo: Denny Sach. Model: Mauri Cherobin).

As if that wasn’t enough, this book is fun and instigating. Nowadays, it serves me a lot as inspiration, because the designs are also very beautiful.

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2. Vionnet – Betty Kirke

This book is huge and it’s content precious. The author, Betty Kirke, worked in a museum and there she got the opportunity to study many garments made by Vionnet. She found out the patterns and the tricks to work with the bias. In this book, there are pictures, illustrations, patterns and instructions to make some of the most beautiful haute couture designs made by Vionnet.

The book changed my life by showing that there are a lot of different ways to make a beautiful dress, and that it’s not necessary to stick to traditional pattern making all the time. Her patterns are completely different from what I was used to, and they still work! And how incredible are her creations…

With the help of this book, I started studying her patterns. This is one of the dresses in the book, sewn by myself:

Five books

3. Classic Tailoring Techniques – A Construction Guide for Menswear – Roberto Cabrera and Patricia Flaherty Meyers

This is the book I bought when I decided to learn how to tailor the “proper” way. Tailoring information is hard to find, and this book is wonderful. It explains how to sew jackets, waistcoats, and pants using the traditional tailoring techniques, stitch by stitch. It took me months to complete my first jacket, and it was a great learning experience.

There are many reviews of this book that talk about how terrible the photographs are. It’s true. But most of the book images are line drawings, which are clear and detailed. It is not a cheap book, but the information in it is worth every cent.

Below you can see a picture of a jacket I sewed following this book. The shoulders look dropped because my shoulders are wider than the dressform’s.

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4. Shirtmaking – David Page Coffin

This is the best book on shirts I’ve ever seen, and probably the best ever published. The author’s writing style is very clear and pleasurable to read. He explains shirtmaking techniques a little differently than other books do, but with practice they become easier than the standard ones, for they produce better results with less effort. The pictures in the book are also delightful, and the diagrams are very clear. This book is low priced and it’s really worth buying. I’d even pay more.

In the picture below, you can see a collar I made using the techniques in Shirtmaking.

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5. Modern Pattern Design – Harriet Pepin

This pattern making book was released in 1942. Up until I found it, I thought the book Pattern Magic brought only original techniques. Many of them are taught in this book. But the best part, for me, is the way the author drafts blocks. She doesn’t use proportional measurements, and instead teaches how to take all the necessary measurements on the body. That means we know exactly where each measurement on the block comes from. It’s a big leap for pattern drafting students. This method allowed me to draft bespoke patterns a lot more precisely.

Unfortunately, this book is out of print. You can, however, buy it used.

I hope some of these books will make a difference in your studies too! Can you suggest others that have made a difference in your sewing life?

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