As much as I love to sew and stitch, I can't always be doing one of those two things. Sometimes I need to just relax with a good book. But reading a book that includes some aspect of one of my favorite pastimes, well that's a real treat. Of course, you could check these suggestions out on audio books and have the best of both worlds! Thanks to the wonderful sewing community on Facebook and on Instagram, I have some wonderful suggestions for you that include both fiction and non-fiction, as well as some fun reads for the younger budding sewist in your life.
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Fiction Books that have a Sewing Theme:
So let's start with fiction. In no particular order, first up we have The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. Set in the early 1850s, Honor has emigrated to Ohio and finds the adjustment difficult. Her one solace is the making of quilts while she gets caught up in helping runaway slaves traveling through Ohio to Canada. Chevalier has also written A Single Thread which you may also want to check out.
In The Sewing Machine, more than a hundred years after his grandmother’s sewing machine was made, Fred discovers a treasure trove of documents. His family history is laid out before him in a patchwork of unfamiliar handwriting and colourful seams. He starts to unpick the secrets of four generations, one stitch at a time.
In Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. A gifted seamstress, she earned her freedom by the skill of her needle, and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln by her devotion.
The Quilter's Apprentice is the first in a series of books, also by Jennifer Chiaverini. It is a timeless tale of family, friendship, and forgiveness as two women weave the disparate pieces of their lives into a bountiful and harmonious whole, and begin the legacy of the Elm Street Quilters.
The Dressmaker's Gift by Fiona Valpy is set in Paris, 1940. With the city occupied by the Nazis, three young seamstresses go about their normal lives as best they can. But all three are hiding secrets. War-scarred Mireille is fighting with the Resistance; Claire has been seduced by a German officer; and Vivienne’s involvement is something she can’t reveal to either of them.
The Gown by Jennifer Robson, the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France is an enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century—Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown—and the fascinating women who made it.
The Time in Between is the inspiring international bestseller of a seemingly ordinary woman who uses her talent and courage to transform herself first into a prestigious couturier and then into an undercover agent for the Allies during World War II.
In the Dressmaker, by Rosalie Ham, after twenty years spent mastering the art of dressmaking at couture houses in Paris, Tilly Dunnage returns to the small Australian town she was banished from as a child. She plans only to check on her ailing mother and leave. But Tilly decides to stay, and though she is still an outcast, her lush, exquisite dresses prove irresistible to the prim women of Dungatar. This is also available as a movie starring Kate Winslet if you prefer to watch while you stitch!
On November 22, 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy accompanied her husband to Dallas dressed in a pink Chanel-style suit. Much of her wardrobe, including the pink suit, came from the New York boutique Chez Ninon where a young Irish immigrant named Kate worked behind the scenes to meticulously craft the memorable outfits. The novel, The Pink Suit documents this time period and the clothes that made Jackie Kennedy into a fashion icon.
Daughter of Silk is the first of a 3 book series. Pursuing the family name as the finest silk producer in Lyon, the young Huguenot Rachelle Dushane-Macquinet is thrilled to accompany her famous couturier Grandmere to Paris, there to create a silk trousseau for the Royal Princess Marguerite Valois. The Court is magnificent; its regent, Catherine de Medici, deceptively charming … and the circumstances, darker than Rachelle could possibly imagine.
In The Designer, Copper Reilly is alone in Paris. She finds an unlikely new friend: an obscure, middle-aged designer from the back rooms of a decaying fashion house whose timid nature and reluctance for fame clash with the bold brilliance of his designs. His name is Christian Dior.
In The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow, a shy girl with no family, Maria knows she's lucky to have landed in the sewing room of the royal household. Before World War I casts its shadow, she catches the eye of the Prince of Wales, a glamorous and intense gentleman. But her life takes a far darker turn, and soon all she has left is a fantastical story about her time at Buckingham Palace.
Non-Fiction Books that have a Sewing Theme:
We are heavy on the fiction, but if you like non-fiction, you might enjoy The Coat Route. When journalist Meg Lukens Noonan learned of an unthinkably expensive, entirely handcrafted overcoat that a fourth-generation tailor had made for one of his longtime clients, she set off on an adventure to understand its provenance, and from that impulse unspooled rich and colorful stories about its components, the centuries-old bespoke industry and its traditions, and the master craftsmen whose trade is an art form.
I am reading The Golden Thread. From colorful 30,000-year-old threads found on the floor of a Georgian cave to the Indian calicoes that sparked the Industrial Revolution, The Golden Thread weaves an illuminating story of human ingenuity. Design journalist Kassia St. Clair guides us through the technological advancements and cultural customs that would redefine human civilization―from the fabric that allowed mankind to achieve extraordinary things (traverse the oceans and shatter athletic records) and survive in unlikely places (outer space and the South Pole).
The House of Worth tells the story of Charles Frederick Worth who Arrives in Paris in 1845, at the age of twenty and with only a few francs in his pocket, Worth would go on to build the most prominent, innovative, and successful fashion house of the century. He was inspired by a love of fine art, luxurious fabrics, and his vision of the female ideal, and was the first to set out to dictate new styles and silhouettes to his elite clientele― not the other way around.
Books with a Sewing Theme for Children:
The Sew Zoey series is designed for middle schoolers. When Zoey’s school gets rid of uniforms, it’s the best news ever for a girl who loves clothes. Then Zoey’s best friends, Kate and Priti, encourage her to sew her own clothes and start a fashion design blog! The Sew Zoey blog takes off, quickly putting Zoey on the A-list in the fashion world…but will things unravel at middle school?
And last but not least, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes won a Newbery Honor in 1945 and has never been out of print since. At the heart of the story is Wanda Petronski, a Polish girl in a Connecticut school who is ridiculed by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue dress every day. Wanda claims she has one hundred dresses at home, but everyone knows she doesn’t and bullies her mercilessly. The class feels terrible when Wanda is pulled out of the school, but by that time it’s too late for apologies. Maddie, one of Wanda’s classmates, ultimately decides that she is "never going to stand by and say nothing again." I read this story to my children when they were in second grade. It is a wonderful and powerful story!
Happy Reading, or I should say listening so you can "read" and sew at the same time!