Couture Sewing Techniques


When I was growing up we had a book in the house that I considered the sewing bible. If ever I was was stumped on a particular application I would pull out the old Vogue Sewing Book and it would have clear, well-illustrated instructions on how to insert an invisible zipper or chain-weighted hems. While informative, it was not terribly inspiring.

Back in 1995, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art staged a stunning exhibition on Haute Couture. The beautiful catalog of that exhibit joined the Vogue Sewing Book as one of my go-to books, this one providing the source of inspiration which the other was lacking.

I don’t do much sewing other than tailoring these days, but when I do, I have been using a new reference, Claire Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing Techniques. Not only does her book provide the type of technical detail that I found in the old Vogue Book, but stunning examples of real-life couture garments and the application of those techniques, as well as a chapter on the history of haute couture, including the maniacal attention to detail, like matching the stripes on bound buttonholes, for example.


Claire recently sent me a copy of her newly revised and updated Couture Sewing Techniques, which includes a new chapter on designing with special fabrics, and tons of fantastic and inspiring photos taken from her countless visits to ateliers, museums, and from her own extensive collection of couture garments. If you don’t already have a copy, I can highly recommend it, and even if you do, you may want to consider the upgrade. As I flip through the pages I am already planning my niece’s wardrobe. Is four years old too young to be wearing couture?

Mmm, no.

6 Replies to “Couture Sewing Techniques

  1. I've been hesitating to upgrade to the new edition, but you may have convinced me. Her illustrations and techniques have always been clear and understandable. Oh, and I still have my mid 70's edition of the Vogue sewing book which was my bible for many years.

  2. I own both editions of this book. An customer reviewer discussed the differences between the two editions in some detail. See the review page for information.

    The book is quite helpful, even for fairly new sewers, because it teaches precise techniques. Shaeffer's DVD, "Couture Technqiue Workshop Basics" is very good as well.

    It's valuable to read the book has the imprimatur of a professional.

  3. I have the earlier edition of this book, and the DVD mentioned by Anonymous. I used the book as a beginner because I wanted to learn hand-sewing techniques. I found it very easy to follow. I totally agree that both the book and DVD are suitable for all levels of sewers. All that's required is an interest in the techniques and a willingness to practice them.

    I'll definitely be getting the new edition.

    I have that 1970's Vogue Sewing book, too. In fact, if I had to choose one sewing book to keep, it would be the Shaeffer book. And if I could choose one more, it would be my old Vogue Sewing book. 🙂

  4. I found the images the most useful in the old edition. Most of the time, it is easier to whip out the book to show people, say what sort of finishing I had in mind, then to draw it out.

    So if they really added more new images to the new edition, then I might consider an upgrade too!

  5. Lucky niece!………… I see a beautiful high school dance dress materialising later.
    Most parents who put 4 year old children in beautiful clothes are doing it for themselves. Are you making it for her… or for you. Be careful that a lot of work may go into a dress that the kid refuses to wear. If you go to a lot of effort then you want to make something that they will wear, will remember, will love and will want to keep as a reminder…. well I do.
    My suggestions.
    Make it comfortable – no scratchy wool ot trim
    Make it a bit too big because little girls grow fast.
    Make it bright and probably in pink
    Make it sturdy, washable and resistant to stains – please not the white velvet jacket that my brother in law gave us!
    Make it pretty
    There aren't enough occasions to wear a dress only 'for best' and it's not fair to the child to make something you are then going to be precious about.
    I made my daughter an outrageously beautiful fairy dress with beading, lace and lots of hand sewing. She loved it and wore it heaps and I had enormous fun making it.
    Or maybe you were just joking about making her something.
    Oh, and your blog is awesome.

  6. You are right about this lovely lady. I have her book and will not hesitate in getting up the up-grade and dvd……….its on my christmans wish list.

    Lucky neice, I am sure whatever you make will be stunning, beautiful and tasteful; as well as impeccably made!

    I am working on Ms Shaeffers latest Chanel Style Jacket and am enjoying the challenge of the couture techniques.

    As ever, thank you for your inspiring and wonderful blog.

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