I was never taught how to make clothes, but it was one of those things I so very much wanted to be able to do. So a few years back I began my dressmaking journey (one I’m still on today) and in the process have unearthed all sorts of fabulous resources that I know would help others with that same desire to be able to make their own clothes. Books were one of the things I spent a lot of money on in my quest to figure it all out, and some of my collection have proven invaluable time and time again.
How to Use, Adapt and Design Sewing Patterns: From Shop-bought Patterns to Drafting Your Own: A Complete Guide to Fashion Sewing with Confidence by Teresa Gilewska
This was one of the first books I bought when I was trying to figure out the mysteries of pattern drafting. It covers everything you need to know, from how use shop-bought patterns through to how to adapt your own. The steps are easy to follow, and it gave me a really good insight into the alchemy of what can be done with a basic block, without being too overwhelming. My only challenge was that the blocks provided in the back of the book need printing out and scaling up. However, you can get around this by buying a basic block pattern in your size, or using the next book in my list to create your very own…
Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear by Winifred Aldrich
This is a pretty standard book that most dressmakers you talk to are aware of or have used (there have been many editions so their’s may have a different colour front cover, but they will know what you are talking about). Its technical yes, but really does give you everything you need to know in order to draft basic blocks based on your measurements, and then what wonderful and creative things you can do to create all manner of designs. This is where the mathematics meets the art, and if you have the patience, following the steps in this book can unlock a whole load of possibility in your dressmaking (just work through it all in a quiet room with no distractions).
Dressmaker’s Handbook of Couture Sewing Techniques by Lynda Maynard
Great photos, clear instructions, and a whole load of little tips and techniques for giving your work finishes touches of the highest quality. Its almost like your very own course- book to work through; try all the different techniques out as stand alone exercises before attempting them in your finished work and you’ll have a whole treasure chest of ideas to draw upon when you want to achieve a particular finish, or indeed just want to add a bit of couture flair to your makes, a very satisfying thing to be able to do.
The Wedding Dress: 300 Years of Bridal Fashions by Edwina Ehrman
Ok, so this isn’t a how-to guide at all, but part of dressmaking (or indeed making stuff of any kind) is nurturing your own creativity. A few years back, I went along to the major exhibition of wedding dresses run by the V&A. And it was one of the most joyful, inspiring days out ever! This book was published to accompany that same exhibition; a whole anthology of beautiful images and words dedicated to the white wedding dress and its evolution over the last 300 years. Even if bridal wear isn’t something you make, any dressmaker will find something here to capture their imagination.
Figure Drawing for Fashion by Elisabetta Drudi and Tiziana Paci
Again, this isn’t about making clothes per say, but for me sketching down ideas for things I would like to make is part of the dressmaking process, so I was keen to figure out just how best to go about it. This book takes you step by step through how to create the basic figure, build up features and perfect poses. You can take it as far as you want in learning all the finer details of how to sketch out your designs with the kind of flair and originality that really wows (I do love looking at all the different types of fashion drawing out there, some people are so talented!) Or if you just want to master the basics, this book enables you to start drawing out your ideas sufficiently to capture whats in your mind’s eye and feel reasonably happy with the result. (Although, there are also some fabulous books out there that have basic templates ready-drawn from which you can add your designs. If this appeals more, check out the Fashion Sketchpad by Tamar Daniel). Its a lovely thing to be able to do; one of my simple pleasures is sitting in a cafe, with a coffee (and cake, obviously) and sketching out some creations I’d like to try one day. Certainly keeps the dressmaking a very creative process (especially to off-set the less-imaginative aspects such as squaring fabric or grappling with zips!)
If you love to sew, why not sign up to my Creative Sewing Challenge? You’ll receive a new prompt each month to inspire your sewing. Sign up below, or find out more here.
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