A little vacation reading: Couture Sewing Techniques

Did I mention already that it rained while we were in DC? Well, it rained a lot, with thunder and lightning too! When there’s a thunderstorm or even a rainstorm, all I want to do is curl up with a good book.

Like the one on top of the pile: Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire B. Shaeffer. After reading all of my magazines and books (and most of Mr Sewaholic’s books as well!) I stopped by the bookstore. Instead of picking up another so-called beach read, I picked a sewing book instead. What a great idea! I read it cover-to-cover a few times while we were away and I know I’ll refer to it again and again.

Couture sewing inspires me to step up my game! Even just reading about new techniques makes me want to improve the quality of my work. Sometimes I read things and think, if I can retain even just 25% of this information, then I’ll be 25% better than I was before.

Here are just a few things I was surprised to learn about couture sewing techniques:

  • Couture garments are mostly sewn by hand. You would think by now, most of the processes would be automated by machines but that’s not the case. The book explains that the sewist has greater control when handsewing and it’s true. Consider a hand-picked zipper versus a machine stitched lapped zipper – one may be faster, but with the hand stitching you can adjust at every stitch and have better visibility than with the machine.
  • When you become a client of a couture house, a custom dress form is made according to your measurements, and kept for future reference. How cool is that?
  • Often, custom undergarments are made for the couture garment. One of the neatest examples was a slip that had self-fabric panels applied at the underarm to match the couture dress. That way, when you lift your arm, there’s no danger of flesh-toned slips showing, just a lovely little blue fabric panel that looks like part of the original dress!
  • Topstitching is usually decorative, not functional. When I add topstitching to my projects, it’s usually done to secure seam allowances or pocket edges. In couture sewing, topstitching is done BEFORE pockets are attached, so it has no function other than decoration.

I really enjoyed reading this book and will work to incorporate some of the couture techniques into my future projects! I especially enjoyed the section on tailoring as I’m thinking of making a coat for fall. I’ll also be reading Gertie’s Lady Grey Sew-Along for more tailoring tips. Doesn’t fall make you want to make coats?

It also inspired me to look for a non-couture sewing technique book to add to my collection. I’ve been sewing for so long that I don’t refer to books as I go, plus I’m used to looking at factory sewing techniques at work. So my sewing skills are a hybrid of fashion-school factory sewing techniques, and my self-taught (and mother-taught) home sewing techniques. A little book-learning can’t hurt!

How do you learn new techniques: browsing the internet, reading sewing blogs, referring to books, taking sewing classes or by asking your mother?

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17 Responses to A little vacation reading: Couture Sewing Techniques

  1. Tanit-Isis August 27, 2010 at 8:10 am #

    I own one sewing reference book (Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, an 80s or late 70s edition). Although it’s been immensely helpful, most of my sewing “technique” comes from a) personal experimentation, b) asking my mother, and c) blog reading/internet resources. Oddly, I don’t care for video tutorials. I would love to get more sewing books, though—a couture one like this, a tailoring one, and a good fitting book, at least.

  2. Darci August 27, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    I’ve got a pretty extensive sewing reference book collection and LOVE that Claire Schaeffer book! When I get superstuck, tho, I Google it and usually stumble on some excellent bloggers who are, like me, figuring things out ‚Äì sometimes for the first time. It’s been incredibly helpful to have such an amazing online sewing community! I get inspiration to try new things, an extensive amount of help, and I get to interact with someone who’s just as passionate about sewing as I am. That’s pretty darn fun. :)

  3. Nancy August 27, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    I love that your vacation reading involves cosmo. Nice choice!

  4. Sue August 27, 2010 at 10:25 am #

    I learn new techniques mostly by refering to books. I collect sewing books. So, I have many, many sewing books new and vintage. My go to book is still the first sewing book I bought in the early 80s which is Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to sewing. I also find the Singer books series useful because of the photos. Sewing magazines like Threads and Vogue are good references too. I have never taken a sewing class but find that sewing videos/dvds are a good substitute for watching actual techniques being demonstrated. I have pick up many useful sewing tips from frequently reading internet blogs. For specific techniques, I also google and search the internet.

  5. Freya August 27, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    This is such a great book isn’t it? I love how it covers not only techniques but educates you about the process and history of couture clothes making!

  6. Beth August 27, 2010 at 12:50 pm #

    I love sewing books, I have some books from the 50’s and 60’s, and I always seem to find the answer to any technical questions. plus they seem to have great illustrations of hand sewing etc. Now I need to get this Claire Shaeffer book :)

  7. ~Sherry~ August 27, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

    How studious of you reading this on holiday – nice to see there is some light reading there too!

    By the way – I’ve awarded you with a Beautiful Blogger Award – you can pick it up at my latest blog post :)

  8. Elle C August 29, 2010 at 6:45 am #

    I have a very good library of sewing books, so I research in my library, then I research online, and then sewing blogs. I also love Couture Sewing Techniques, isn’t Claire Shaeffer amazing? I keep meaning to buy one of her Vogue Patterns to see the techniques included in the instructions.

  9. Tasia August 29, 2010 at 8:40 pm #

    @Tanit-Isis: Me too, I’m looking to round out my sewing library with a tailoring book, and a more general sewing reference book. And maybe a fitting book! Let me know if you buy any that you love. And I also call my mother when I’m stuck.

    @Darci: I couldn’t agree more! I love that there are SO many sewing bloggers that are excited and enthusiastic about sewing. People who think like me! It’s wonderful.

    @Nancy: Haha, of course! It’s a great way to spice up things in the bedroom AND the sewing room :)

    @Sue: Sounds like you have quite the collection of books! I like the idea of videos too, sometimes you need to see it, to get it!

    @Freya: I know! I loved reading about how couture was done a hundred years ago as well as more current examples.

    @Beth: Nice – I bet your 50’s and 60’s books have awesome illustrations, and the cutest sample garments. I’d recommend this book if you’re interested in couture finishes and techniques, not so much for technical questions.

    @~Sherry~: I know, I read it at the pool in between magazines. It was kind of a double whammy – the magazines made me want fall clothes and winter coats, and the book made me want to MAKE them! Thanks for the award! I’m so flattered that you picked me :)

    @Elle C: My sister’s just starting on a Claire Shaeffer pattern – a tailored jacket. And the instructions are intense! It uses hair canvas for tailoring complete with their own pattern pieces. From what I saw quickly, it looks really well done and thorough!

  10. Becky August 30, 2010 at 5:19 am #

    My sewing reference library is not very extensive yet, but I picked up this book earlier this year and LOVE it. I’ve already referred to it several times–and you’re right, it really does inspire you to step up your game! I’ve also found the section on hand-sewing stitches to be invaluable, and my technique for that has already improved considerably.

  11. amber August 30, 2010 at 9:06 am #

    I’ve thumbed through that book a couple of times, but haven’t purchased it yet. Sounds like it should go on the wishlist!

  12. Lakshmi August 30, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    I have my own little collection if i may says so as it is only around 10 books or so for my sewing & craft reference. Coutoure Sewing Techniques was gifted to me by my hubby for my last birthday, and it was an eye opener as to what Couture really meant, since then i try to incorporate atleast one of the features or techniques discussed in that book as it makes the outfit more professional,

    the improvements so far due the book in my sewing are lining finishes and zipper finishes.
    I also have been planning to a dress form of self for more than 6 months now, unable to get appointments of assistants (ahem…read…hubby / sister)

  13. Cecili September 2, 2010 at 3:32 am #

    Hello Tasia, you asked me for the number of a vintage pattern on my blog: it’s Simplicity 7005. Thanks for commenting! Oh, and these are some damn nice creations you have here :)

  14. Gillian September 1, 2013 at 1:57 am #

    I have Ann Ladbury’s ‘Sewing’ – a fabulous book covering dressmaking, tailoring and home sewing – upholstery, that kind of thing. It includes embellishment and wonderful instruction. My other standby is Linda Maynard’s ‘Couture Sewing Techniques’ a first class book with plenty of visual and text instruction very nicely presented in a spiral bound book for flat surfaces when the pages are turned.


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