Teaching Fashion: Helpful Books for Sewing Challenging Fabrics

I teach a number of studio courses.   If you do the same, you are aware that sewing unknown fabrics can pose one of the biggest challenges to the successful completion of student projects.  The student may understand how to draft the pattern, know the steps to construct the garment, but an unfamiliar fabric may de-rail the whole process.  Remember the first time you tried to narrow roll hem a chiffon skirt?  How about the time you thought it would be a good idea to make a lined blazer out of upholstery brocade?

I’d like to recommend a couple of books to you that have been helpful to my students:

  1. Fabric Savvy: The Essential Guide for Every Sewer by Sandra Betzina (2002)
  2. More Fabric Savvy: A Quick Resource Guide to Selecting and Sewing Fabric by Sandra Betzina (2004)
  3. Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide by Claire B. Shaeffer (2008)

All of these books are relatively inexpensive, easily obtained online, and should definitely be snatched up if spotted at your local used-book seller.

Given a choice between the two Betzina books, purchase the newer one, but either one is good.  They are repetitive, so you probably don’t need both.  The garments pictured in these books are amusingly out-of-style, but the sewing tips are timeless.  The book is organized alphabetically, by fabric name (from African mud cloth to woolens).  For every fabric, Betzina lists the appropriate thread, needle, seam type, seam finish, lining, interfacing, and more.  There are helpful tips for cutting and pressing each fabric. She also gives helpful advice in selecting garment styles that will be successful with each fabric.

The Shaffer book is also excellent, but in a different way.  The book begins with an overview of how to plan your sewing.  The bulk of the book is sewing advice organized according to fabric type (for example, leather, special occasion fabrics, plaids and stripes).  This allows the reader to learn about the general characteristics of a group of fabrics. Tips for specific fabrics are also provided.  The final section provides an illustrated guide to the sewing techniques mentioned throughout the book.

I highly recommend both these books as key additions to your collection if you sew or teach courses that require sewing.

Happy sewing!

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