The Dressmaker’s Dictionary

I’m slightly surprised to realise I’ve never yet blogged about one of my favourite sewing reference books, The Dressmaker’s Dictionary by Ann Ladbury. I was lucky enough to find it in a second-hand bookshop soon after I started sewing and picked it up in the hope of finding instructions on on zip insertion that made a bit more sense than the ones in my sewing manual.

There are no less than eighteen pages about zips, with some excellent advice on how to get good results. Some of it is a little dated. The instructions for invisible zips use a regular zip foot and give the impression that special feet for invisible zips are rare commodities only available with Pfaff machines. But most of it is still relevant and I regularly use her tips for getting a good zip insertion.

Having bought the book to learn about zips, I then discovered the section on fitting. This was a revelation. Up to this point my attempts at fitting had simply been to lengthen patterns at the adjustment lines. The Dressmaker’s Dictionary has pages of diagrams of wrinkles and how to tweak them away. I read that section through several times and learnt a lot.

My first two sewing books were ‘Yeah, I made it myself’ by Eithne Farry and ‘Sew U’ by Wendy Mullin. Both are written in a distinctly chatty, cosy style. By contrast, The Dressmaker’s Dictionary knows the One Right Way To Do Things and intends to reform any slapdash habits the reader may have. A clear personality comes through in the writing: confident, expert, and full of strong opinions. The author tells us firmly that boat necklines are ‘not particularly flattering’, facings should never, ever be interfaced, and understitching is counterproductive. I can’t say I agree with everything in the book (or perhaps my pressing skills are not yet up to making my facings stay put on their own) but she’s always entertaining to read. This is not a dry reference book. In fact it’s great fun to browse through, partly because of the writing style but also because it covers such a huge range of topics. I usually find something new to me when I pick it up.

Sadly it is no longer in print, but second-hand copies seem to be plentiful on UK Amazon. If you see a cheap one, grab it. I strongly recommend it.

P.S. just catching up with comments…thanks for the advice about white fabric! Molly asked what pattern I’m going to use. It’s Vogue 1239 which has become one of my favourite dresses ever. It’s a way down the project list but hopefully come the spring I’ll be tackling it in white.

2 thoughts on “The Dressmaker’s Dictionary

  1. I have ordered the book. Thanks for mentioning it; it looks very useful indeed.

    Just wanted to mention: I really thought you did a great job of your wrap dress. Very creative. Looks great!

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