Sunday, November 5

Three useful sewing books

Since I started doing sewing for other people, I have been given jobs which at first I have not  known how to do. The first one, which I might have mentioned before, was to take out some morning suit trousers, with a fish tail back. The gentleman in question needed them for a wedding the next week. I had never in my life taken out any pair of trousers, let alone a pair like this. I did not know that the distinctive V shaped back was called a fish tail back until I searched the internet.

At first I thought that I would have to refuse the job, as I was terrified that I might make an awful mistake and the trousers would be ruined, but I knew that if I did, then I would never know whether I could actually have done it or not. I didn't look up any instructions on how to do the job - I just unpicked the back seam, observed how they were constructed, and then, after taking out the seam, I reconstructed them in reverse order. That customer has been back, so I think I must have done an acceptable job!

I actually think that this is quite a good way to learn how to do something, not having instructions but just going ahead and discovering, in a sensible way, how to do it. My cycling hero Josie Dew suggests taking a bike apart and putting it back together to learn how to do jobs on your bike, and this could well apply to sewing as well. So start taking something apart......

I'll talk about these three books -

But first, I recently did a repair on a fairly old, but good quality, wool coat for a customer. The customer had put felt pens in the pocket of the coat, which had leaked......

His wife asked me to put a patch over the top, which I did, but I thought it looked terrible, as although it was neat it stood out too much above the fabric. So I did some googling, and searched first for the patch that I knew Prince Charles had been seen with on his jacket! You can see and read about it here. I would love to see it in real life! I can't remember what I searched for next , but I found that Tom of Holland had done a "tailor's patch" on a wool coat  - see Tom Of Holland's blog -  this was the only reference I could find to one of these. He doesn't go into detail of how to do it, and none of the few sewing books I already had referred to it, so I had to work it out for myself. However, at the end of his post he refers to the book which he used, and I decided to get a copy. Once the book arrived I found that I had done the patch pretty much how you are supposed to, but the book gives instructions  on a process called "rantering", a detail to make it less visible, which I then did.

It is an out of print American book but there are plenty available. I paid about £13 for it, obtained from that place in the jungle of South America.....

This is it -

It's going to be very useful. Here are the contents -

The following pages give you an idea of the quality of the diagrams and photos. [My photos aren't the best......]

Tailor's patch instructions

Tailor's patch instructions

And here's the coat on which I did the tailor's patch -

My tailor's patch

It's not quite as invisible as I'd have liked, but I'd done my best. The patch was slightly darker than the outside of the coat, as it came from the inside, so hadn't faded. Actually I think I improved it more after that photo was taken, but deleted the new photo by mistake! I think it compares reasonably favourably to Prince Charles' patch! The customer was pleased with it.

Some years ago I had bought a book in Oxfam called "Sew it Up" by Ruth Singer, which is mentioned in this list of sewing books. I paid a reduced new price rather than a secondhand price. I'm not sure why I bought it...... It has a lot of good reviews but in my opinion it is awful! I think I gave it away as I didn't think it was worth keeping. If I remember rightly the photos weren't clear and I didn't think much of the projects. but I am delighted to see that the above list says, about my next book - 

 I’ve been told by many people that this is the ultimate reference guide for stitchers.

It certainly is excellent in my opinion. This is my copy, and is the 1994 edition -

I paid the grand sum of - wait for it - 20p, for this book!!!!! We have a local charity shop where all books are 20p each. Or 5 for £1. Must remember to tell them about that.....

The sewing part is the (revised) part of the book in the above list, The Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, and forms the greater part of the book.

Here are the contents -

I have picked out a couple of sections, to give an idea of how the book is illustrated, and the instructions given -

I picked this next bit on rolled hems to compare it to the section on hand rolled hems in another book (further down) -

Machine-rolled hems, and hems which are narrow but not necessarily rolled, are something I have been trying to master this year. I was forced into it by being given three ball gowns to hem! They were all different fabrics but all needed varying degrees of narrow hems. I have a rolled hem foot for both my Bernina and my Singer but I confess that I had never mastered the use of them! For one of the dresses I used a sort of cheat's method, which was actually very good. I watched a You tube video on how to do it.  

The third book is this one, published in 1954, again bought secondhand locally - not, sadly, for 20p, but £5, but well worth it - 

Here are the contents - 

Here's the section on the hand rolled hem, here called an Italian Rolled Hem - 

This book also has instructions on how to do the tailor's patch, though it doesn't mention the 
rantering - 

And here are a couple of bits to make you laugh! I obviously need to up my game regarding my appearance and preparing dinner (never my strong point...) - 

I now know exactly where I've been going wrong regarding inviting my intimates round for sewing - I've been inviting them on a Tuesday!  No wonder they don't turn up! Or maybe they just think I'm too scruffy.....

It is these older sewing books that often have information in that isn't in the newer books, particularly on mending, and now that mending is, dare I say it, fashionable again...... they are extremely useful. I wish I had not given away, many years ago, a little fat needlework book that was my mum's, and which I thought at the time wouldn't be of much use to me. Ah well.....

I would love to know of any useful sewing books that you have, so do tell me in the comments.



  1. Hi Lizzie, I got the Singer book earlier this year, it had me in fits of laughter about the sprucing up and the husband remarks! The instructions are really good though so I forgave it. You made a good job on the patching. I have tried the Singer rolled hem foot it does a really good job but it takes some practice and concentration. x

    1. Yes, there's some really useful stuff in it. Actually, there are one or two comments amongst the stuff we might dismiss that are actually valid today - like always being able to make a little money from sewing. That's what I do!


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