5 Sewing & Alteration Books To Upgrade Your Wardrobe

Transform your wardrobe with low impact fashion sources scoured from vintage and thrift stores.

Looking to spruce up your wardrobe? Tired of buying clothing from mass market retailers that look great in the catalogs but seem poorly made and lifeless when they arrive on your doorstop? Maybe you just want a look that’s infused with a lot more of your own personality. The best solution for you – and the landfill problem – is to pick up some basic sewing and alteration skills and plunk yourself down in front of a sewing machine (easily found, secondhand on craigslist) one of these cozy winter nights.

There are a ton of books out there that have loads of interesting ideas for how to piece existing clothes together in a fresh way, make simple alterations and re-purpose your thrift store finds.

We recently wrote about the new BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook which is a fantastic source for sewing how-to’s, but here are five more picks for the best guides designed for the newbie sewer:

Singer Complete Photo Guide to Sewing – Revised + Expanded Edition: 1200 Full Color How-To Photos

(See top image) This is the bible for beginning sewers and for good reason. It explains everything you need to get going; the rudiments of the sewing machine, taking proper measurements, tailoring tips and a section on making custom alterations to store-bought patterns that is also invaluable for those that want to make the most of their thrift store shopping. Contains 1200 full color, how-to photos that are a cinch to follow.

The Sweater Chop Shop: Sewing One-of-a-kind Creations from Recycled Sweaters

While some of the ideas in Crispina Ffrench’s book are, at first glance, a little wacky, its a great opportunity to get your creative juices going and think about what is possible with a bit of inspiration. She shows how to create truly one-of-a-kind items from old sweaters without using a machine, including ideas for pillows, holiday gifts and home accessories. The techniques and information are so good that you can easily adapt the patterns using simple hand sewing techniques.

Born-Again Vintage: 25 Ways to Deconstruct, Reinvent, and Recycle Your Wardrobe

Designer, Bridgett Artise’s mission is to overcome some of the challenges that buying vintage presents – like poor fit and worn out fabrics – and show you how to choose the best elements, how to deconstruct your item and piece in other garments. It’s a great strategy for those of us who want to incorporate vintage into our wardrobes but don’t want it to look like a period piece or sacrifice comfort and modern day edge.

Sew U Home Stretch: The Built by Wendy Guide to Sewing Knit Fabrics

If you ever fancied turning your favorite tee into a more substantial look, this is the book for you. Wendy Mullin of Built by Wendy shows you the basics of sewing stretch fabrics whether you have a Serger or not. In her clear, hip style she guides you step-by-step through patterns for tees, dresses and hoodies, plus there’s a great section that shows you how to alter clothes you already have. Included you’ll find three exclusive simplicity patterns to help you get started.

The Dressmaker’s Handbook of Couture Sewing Techniques: Essential Step-by-Step Techniques for Professional Results

Once you get a little more comfortable with some of the basics, take a look at author and expert sewer Lynda Maynard’s fascinating book. Maynard takes the mystery out of the kind of techniques that seem super intimidating when you want to chop off the sleeves of a fragile dress from the 1940’s. Demonstrating clearly how to make bindings, finishings for hems, armholes, and necklines, you’ll learn how to master those finishing touches that translate into truly amazing results.



Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.