Have you seen the fabric works of Louise Bourgeois? I have seen a few of her sculptural works in museums, as well as some of her prints and drawings, but never her fabric works. I would love to see these pieces in person, especially the textile book (which you see disassembled and displayed along a gallery wall in the final photo).
Every so often, I find some time to experiment and make projects that I know won’t be for sale in the Cotton & Flax shop (at least, not for quite a while). A few weeks ago, I spent that experimental time making a pair of botanical ink drawings. Last weekend, I spent some time experimenting with indigo and learning about traditional Shibori techniques with Niki Livingston.
This week, I spent some time digging through scraps of unused Cotton & Flax fabric to look for pieces large enough to make a new pillow (first photo above). I’m not perfect – I sometimes create misprints or pieces that are too irregular to be made into pillows for the shop, but I save all the scraps – I hate throwing fabric away. After sorting through the scraps on Saturday, I found a few pieces that were large enough to create a patchwork lumbar pillow, which now lives on my sofa! I love the look of all the different patterns together, don’t you? I also created a small storage bin from a scrap of fabric left over from some printing experiments I did back in 2011. The bin is the perfect size to hold the printed tags I use for Cotton & Flax tea towels.
I was surprised to find that there are still a few of my limited edition tea towels left in the Pennyweight Goods shop! Go snatch one up, once they’re gone, I won’t be reprinting them!
I mentioned in a previous post how lucky I am that my mom taught me how to sew, and in my cranky teenage years, no less! She taught me the basics on a machine that is quite similar to the one I use as my primary sewing machine now. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time poring over sewing books in bookshops and libraries, and investing in the ones I found most helpful. Today I’d like to share some of my favorite sewing books for beginners, although I think many of these are great resources even for more experienced sewers.
Update 2/14/17: This continues to be one of my most popular posts, even four years later! I’ve added a few more of my favorite beginners’ sewing books, to help you learn to sew with the best of ’em!
School of Sewing is a beautiful sewing manual that goes through everything you might want to know as a beginner. It’s written by Shea Henderson, founder of the Modern Quilt Guild in Kansas City, and that background comes through in her approach to teaching. With each project, you hone your skills as a sewer, and foster a sense of confidence. I loved the photo diagrams in this book; it’s always helpful to have a visual guide when you’re feeling unsure about what you seams should look like.
My friend Christine Haynes is a talented seamstress, and teaches sewing classes online, as well as at craft conferences and creative workshops all over the United States. She’s published many wonderful sewing books, but one of my favorites is her reference book How to Speak Fluent Sewing. She defines hundreds of sewing terms, and completely demystifies the process of reading sewing patterns. A great resource for people who want to get into sewing their own garments!
The Geometry of Hand-Sewing is a great resource for anyone interested in getting started without a sewing machine. Natalie Chanin is world-renowned for her skills as a hand sewer, and this book is an excellent guide to the unique artform of sewing by hand.
I loved reading Amy Karol’s blog Angry Chicken, and her sewing book, Bend-the-Rules Sewing, is similarly approachable and fun.
Handmade Style: 23 Must-Have Basics to Stitch, Use, and Wear is a book from Noodlehead‘s expert pattern designer Anna Graham, and it’s filled with simple projects that are super stylish. The tote bag pattern from this book is at the top of my DIY to-do list.
The Colette Sewing Handbook by Sarai Mitnick is new to me, but it’s an incredibly popular resource for sewing your own wardrobe. This book comes with five original patterns from their super-cute, modern pattern collection, and all the tips and tricks you’ll need to get started sewing your own clothing.
Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts is a great resource. I don’t even really need to say that, do I? It’s Martha, of course she’s the go to resource for anything crafty. In case you need convincing: the book goes over the basics of identifying fabric and thread, walks you through the most essential hand stitching techniques, and then introduces you to all the parts of your sewing machine and how to use it without accidentally sewing through a finger. Between the straightforward tutorials and the 150 projects to try, I’d say this book is a useful one to keep around.
Wendy Mullin’s Sew U was actually the first sewing book I ever bought, back in 2006 when I had the urge to start sewing all my own clothes. Since then, she’s published a range of other books about sewing clothing, but I find this first one to be most helpful for a beginner. Similar to Martha’s giant handbook, Sew U really does a great job teaching you the foundations of sewing clothing – how to choose fabric for a project, what tools you’ll need, how to shape a pattern for your individual body type, and so on.
I greatly admire Lotta Jansdotter, and her book, Simple Sewing, is perfect for beginners. The sewing projects that she outlines in her book are anything but boring. Lotta has a way of highlighting simple projects that let the fabric and pattern shine.
Zakka Style is the only niche sewing book I’ll include on this list, simply because it’s one of my favorites. The projects are simple enough for beginners to tackle, and beautiful enough to be worth holding onto. The problem with many beginners’ sewing books is that the projects are so simple, they are almost like throwaway projects. Zakka Style has a way of transforming simple projects into lovely keepsakes with simple style. My favorite simple project from this book is the sewing kit, such a great way to get started!
Looking for more sewing inspiration? Check out my posts about my favorite sewing projects, and where I shop for beautiful fabrics.
Just a couple iPhone photos of work in progress. Working hard to get things finished to photograph this weekend, I have a little photoshoot planned.
Lots of activities like this happening around the studio lately: stamping the interiors of pillow flaps with the Cotton & Flax brand. No itchy tags here, you can rest your head easily on my pillows.
I was thinking, yesterday, about how long I’ve had my sewing machine for. It was a gift from my mom in my teenage years, and it’s a very similar model to her own machine, which she used to teach me to sew. I remember how frustrated I initially was while she taught me how to thread the machine, how complicated it seemed. Now I could do it with my eyes closed.
I am lucky to have had my interest in craft nurtured in this way. I’m also lucky that this sewing machine seems to handle whatever I can dish out, and with regular oiling, has yet to have any major problems (knock on wood!) I know there are fancier machines out there, and it’s possible I could work faster with an industrial sewing machine, but I’m going to keep using this one for as long as I can.