I don’t know about you, but when I’m not sewing, I’m thinking about it, looking for inspiration, or browsing sewing books. And I have a lot to choose from! So I’ve decided to show you what’s on my bookshelves in a three-part series. Today we’ll have a look at pattern books, next time on more technical books about pattern cutting, fitting and sewing techniques reference books, and in the final part I’ll share some tips on sewing-themed novels. Maybe one of these will catch your eye.
1. Tilly Walnes: Love at First Stitch (2017)
I feel Tilly’s debut is a classic in the sewing community by now. She published it in 2014, after taking part in the first season of The Great British Sewing Bee the year before. It was a time when indie patterns were only in their beginnings and people mostly followed the Big Four, so Tilly’s book was a revelation in introducing beginners to this craft without any unfamiliar sewing jargon and with detailed instructions that hold your hand every step of the way.
Tilly takes you through the book from very basic projects like a head scarf or PJ bottoms, to a blouse and two pretty dresses, demonstrating an array of sewing techniques through clear instructions with pleanty of photographs and handy tips. The book also suggests other resources, and talks about necessary sewing tools, and other sewing 101 basics. All of the outfits look quite retro, but the patterns are quite universal, so even if that’s not your cup of tea, if you manage to see past the photographed versions, you can get a lot of use out of them.
I only stumbled on this book when I was way past the beginner level, but it’s perfect for someone just starting to sew, as the projects will teach you a lot of useful techniques. When my cousin showed interest in learning, I gifted the book to her and she really likes it and has made some projects from it. I’ve had my eye on the blouse at the very least, I even traced the pattern, but haven’t got around to sewing it yet.
2. Tilly Walnes: Strech! (2018)
A few years after, Tilly published another similar book focusing on strech fabrics, as the title suggests. Having an overlocker is definitely not a necessity, as the book has a lot of tips for sewing on a regular machine and gives you instructions for both. This book is really what got me into sewing with knits and it’s packed with great information. So if you’ve been scared to try strech fabrics, this book will show you that you absolutely don’t have to be!
Again, there is an array of projects to choose from: a skirt/pinafore, baseball tee, sweater, hoodie, joggers, and a dress with a twist at the front. I think that apart from the hoodie I’ve tried each pattern in at least one variation, so I’ve really got the most out of this book. Here are a few examples of my makes – the Stella joggers, Freya top hack, and a Joni dress (which is a bit big for me now):
There is a third book called Make It Simple, but I haven’t bought that one as the patterns are not really my cup of tea. But it’s also one that’s been very popular with the sewing community.
3. Sarai Mitnick – The Colette Sewing Handbook (2011)
The first sewing book I’ve ever bought. I remember ordering it from Amazon and patiently waiting for it to reach the Czech Republic. When it did, I found out someone stole the pattern sheets. So Amazon returned my money, let me keep the book, but I didn’t feel like trying that again, so while I have a very pretty pattern book, I don’t have the patterns themselves. Even so, this is one of the most useful books on my sewing shelf, as it’s brimming with great information.
In my early sewing days, I was using it as a reference book – I always reached for it when I needed to know how to put in a zip or how to do a certain hand stitch. All pattern books usually come with some sort of introduction outlining handy sewing tools, how to work with a pattern, etc., but Sarai here gives you much more. So she also discusses different types of fabric and how they drape, the difference between pressing and ironing, various types of machine and hand stitches, seam finishes, how to make a muslin, diagnose fit issues, and alter the pattern, how to create a croquis based on your shape, how to find your style and plan a project, patternmatching … and lots more :D.
Again, the style of the patterns is quite retro, as Colette patterns used to be (you can still buy them under Seamwork,, but their new stuff is more modern and minimalist). The patterns include a blouse, a skirt, and three dresses, all with several variations. Also, the book is spiral-bound, which is so practical in this type of book.
4. Chinelo Bally – Freehand Fashion (2015)
Like Tilly, Chinelo was also on The Great British Sewing Bee (season 2), and apparently until then she’s never worked with a sewing pattern before. So this book is essentially about sewing without a pattern. Although that sounds a bit misleading, as you still need a pattern, it’s just that you’re drawing it directly onto your fabric based on your measurements, which still is a traditional technique in some countries.
Chinelo gives a detailed introduction about her method and then outlines the steps for creating basic blocks for a bodice, sleeve, skirt and jacket. This is followed by instructions for creating many projects, from relatively simple skirts, pants and blouses, to jackets, various types of dresses, and an evening gown, ordered from simple to more involved. Many of these look absolutely gorgeous. I haven’t found the time to try any of them yet, as it usually seems easier to reach for a ready-made pattern, but I definitely want to try it!
Because you’re not working with physical patterns and because the instructions are written for someone who already has some sewing experience under their belt (no handholding like with Tilly), the book is more suitable to sewists with at least a bit of experience – it’s good to have a basic understanding of how a pattern works and know essential sewing techniques.
5. Gretchen Hirsch – Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing (2012)
Gertie, the queen of vintage patterns, likely needs no introduction. Her books are great if you’re interested in traditional more couture-style techniques, so if you want to learn bound buttonholes, boned bodices, and pad stitching, look no further. This book contains many projects: two types of skirt, two blouses, about five different dresses, and a suit. So far, I’ve only used it as a reference book when I needed one of these more traditional techniques, but I certainly want to try some of the patterns as well.
The book begins with Gertie discussing differences between contemporary and vintage patterns and sewing techniques, while also going into different types of fabrics, interfacing, drape, hand stitches and seam finishes, several ways of inserting a zipper and the techniques mentioned above, and much more. There is also a great section on pattern cutting, which covers some basics like changing the neckline shape, drafting a collar, a facing, basic dart manipulation, some slash & spread alterations (like widening a skirt), and tips on combining different skirts and bodices. There is also some information on fit. Plus, I have to say, the book in itself is very aesthetically pleasing with beautiful illustrations. Being spiral-bound, it’s also easy to handle.
Gertie has written quite a few books, so there is lots to choose from, and she also has her own line of indie patterns called Charm Patterns, all full of great vintage styles.
6. Nora Abousteit with Alison Kelly, The Burdastyle Sewing Handbook (2011)
I got this book right after the one from Colette and have likewise used it loads in the early days. I still think it’s a fabulous book. It contains five projects: a skirt, blouse, dress, jacket and a handbag. Each project comes in three variations and what’s more, the variations were created by members of the sewing community. So for every project there is also a makers gallery with several more versions from the sewing community – it’s basically like browsing the Instagram hashtag. Plus there are mini interviews with these makers interspersed throughout the book.
Unlike some patterns, where a variation means a different neckline and sleeve, here the variations truly look like completely different pieces. You always get the basic pattern and then instructions on how to modify it to create the variations. So it’s great if you want to learn something about pattern making.
I’ve tried all of the patterns at least in one variation apart from the coat, but I don’t have many photos to show you – the skirts are in my alterations pile, the handbag was a gift, and the blouse also needs altering. But that’s one make I was super proud of at the time, as it was my first time making a channel for a drawstring, constructing a lined yoke, bias-binding the armhole… I’ve also used the dress bodice a few times, for example in this patterned dress:
Just a little heads-up, as these are Burda patterns, they do not include seam allowance, you have to add that yourself (but it makes the pattern manipulation easier). The book also looks at where to find inspiration for further modifications. The intructions are not as detailed as Tilly’s, but unless you’re a complete beginner, you’ll be absolutely fine. Bonus points for being spiral-bound, that should be a requirement with sewing books!
7. Caroline Akselson and Alexandra Bruce: The Great British Sewing Bee Sustainable Style (2020)
I’ve mentioned The Great British Sewing Bee quite a few times, which has been running on the BBC for almost a decade now, with several accompanying books. I bought the one that was a companion to season six, not just because it has some gorgeous patterns, but also because it was put together by Alex and Caroline, my total girlcrushes from the sewing community and the girl bosses of Selkie Patterns which is sadly closing at the end of June. 🙁
As the title suggests, the book is concerned with sustainability – so you get not only gorgeous patterns for pretty dresses, but also tips on using up scraps (e.g. to make a jacket), natural dyeing, making a dress from a tablecloth, or mending your clothes. There are 27 projects overall, including some menswear patterns, which is pretty rare. There are several dresses (for example one similar to the famous white Marilyn Monroe halterneck dress), a winter coat, jumpsuit, and much more. So far I’ve only made one dress, but I love it.
8. Saara Huhta and Laura Huhra: Breaking the Pattern (2019)
This Named clothing book is packed with modern minimalist pieces. (Last year they published a sequel focused more on customising your patterns, called Building the Pattern, but I have no experience with that one.) Breaking the Pattern is a fab book, that takes you from some pretty easy projects to more involved ones, and includes patterns for a tote bag, blouse, loose trousers, skirt/pinafore, knit dress, shirtdress, a more formal dress with ties, jumpsuit, jeans and a coat, many with a few more varitions. The instructions are more on the sparse side and you often have to skip from one page to another, as the instructions may refer to a step from a different project so as not to repeat themselves. But unless you are a complete beginner, I think you’ll be perfectly fine!
There are several project I want to try from this book, but so far I’ve only made one, and that’s the Saraste top. It’s very loose, basically A-line, which I wasn’t too keen on at the beginning, but I’ve been wearing it a lot, so apparently I don’t mind, although I might slim it down a little bit if I make it another time.
So that’s it for my pattern book collection. What about yours? Let me know in the comments. Do you have any of the ones I’ve talked about, or any different ones? Which one is your favourite? Or are you happy using commercial and indie patterns only?
Until next time,