I’m self-taught, which means I need lots of help when working on projects. I’m hoping this list, while not exhaustive, will still point you in the right direction when looking to begin your own sewing journey.
First of all, if you have the extra money, the Susan Khalje couture dress class on Bluprint taught me SO much and gave me the courage to try more advanced projects. It’s true what she says: couture sewing is really time-consuming, but the techniques transfer to just about any project and the results are worth it. When I made the wedding dress, I referenced this class over and over!
Vogue Sewing: This is the first book I bought when I started to sew. You can find just about everything in here and is especially helpful if you love Vogue sewing patterns like I do. You can find explanations on all matters of fabric selection, basic fitting and alterations, and construction. A great place to start.
Couture Sewing Techniques: Just about every sewing blog mentions this book somewhere and for good reason. I wouldn’t suggest it for beginning sewers, but if you’re ready to take your sewing to the next level, this is the place to go. When I sewed the wedding gown last year, the section on hand-sewn bias binding saved me!
Bridal Couture: Ah, the famous Susan Khalje book on sewing bridal. I eventually got this book through interlibrary loan and had it copied. The chapter on working with lace was a life-saver. I would recommend reading through this book before you begin your first evening wear project. It has great ideas on working with difficult fabrics and guides you through the process of couture hand-sewing and construction.
The Dressmaker’s Handbook of Couture Sewing Techniques: This book makes couture sewing palatable to the novice, I find. Lots of pictures, great explanations. Lynda Maynard does a fabulous job breaking down what could be very confusing steps into manageable pieces. A good beginner’s resource.
I’m going to assume you have all the basics like shears and measuring tapes and the like. These next few things I didn’t have when I started sewing and I wish I’d known of them sooner!
Numbered pattern paper is the industry standard, but it’s expensive. There has to be an alternative for transferring muslins, right? There is! Medical paper. Cheap and does exactly what you need it to do. The one real downside is that the paper quality is on par with tissue paper, so if you’re looking for something with more heft, then this may not work for you.
A good set of pins is crucial. For most sewing, I use quilter’s pins, but when you’re working with silks, those pins will leave gaping marks in the fabric. Not pretty. I like these Japanese pins—glass-headed and sharp. Just the right length to hold the fabric, but not get in the way. (I’ve tried ultra-fine, but ended up harpooning my fingers most of the time working with them.) Remember to replace your pins after every few projects; the sharper the pin, the faster they dull.
If you’re going to get into any kind of pattern making or alteration, you need a few rulers. The one most specific to sewing is the French curve and they come in all sorts of materials and sizes. Years ago, I bought this one from my local Joann store. While not the traditional French curve used by designers, it’s handled just about everything I need it to, especially armsyces. A metal yardstick when measuring out muslin has been very helpful, too.
Speaking of transferring patterns, ditch that awful, dusty paper from the chain stores and invest in this stuff. It’s heavily waxed and you can use it over and over. I love that it doesn’t get all over your fingers, the tracing is bold and easy to read, and it’s large enough to slip under most pattern pieces—you don’t have to constantly shift it. Yes, they cost $20, but they’ll last you forever.
Another find compliments of Susan Khalje: Japanese basting thread. So handy when sewing fine fabrics. Soft enough not to leave lots of marks, strong enough to hold pieces together securely, but gentle enough to tear out quickly and easily.
Blogs and websites
I read the Fit for a Queen blog regularly. Must reading for costuming and bridal sewists. You’ll find lots of pictures, steps through each process, and really helpful tips.
When I started sewing, there was very little information for men who sew. While it’s still difficult to find, there is hope! The most prolific of these bloggers is Peter Lappin from Male Pattern Boldness. He’s even got a shirt-making class on Bluprint. Tons of useful information and he guides you through many projects. Definitely worth following.
If you costume or sew clothes for anyone else, you need to learn to alter patterns to fit a variety of body types. The most common adjustment I make is the full bust adjustment. It can be intimidating, but I promise, after you’ve done it once, it’s much easier and logical the second time around. The Curvy Sewing Collective has a ton of resources like this.
Everyone has those moments in sewing when it feels like you won’t get back on track or the project you’re working on isn’t what you’d thought it would be… I go to this blog for inspiration. Marcy Harrell is amazing. Take a look at her work and oogle!
Mood has put together an amazing network of sewing enthusiasts, free patterns, tutorials, tons of stuff. Even more blogs to follow for inspiration, encouragement, and scope out your next project.