V117: Book Review: “Couture Sewing Techniques” by Claire B. Schaeffer

Couture Sewing Techniques

Claire B. Shaeffer
(c) 2011 by Claire B. Shaeffer
ISBN 978-1-60085-335-7

A great many of us are self-taught seamstresses.  We come equipped with a suite of sewing techniques taught to use by commercial patterns, friends, and, for historical costumers, books like “Costume Close-Up
” and “The Tudor Tailor

There comes a point when it’s time to take it to the next level.  Perhaps you’ve already started sewing more pieces by hand, or have learned a neckline facing trick, or a hem method that gives a perfect finish.  When you’re ready to really “kick it up a notch,” though, it’s time to get “Couture Sewing Techniques
,” by Claire B. Shaeffer.

The Met: Chanel, 1929

The Pros:

The whole book.

No, really.  It’s a gold mine of information, a little history, and sewing reference.  The book starts out with a definition of “couture,” and “haute couture,” and how it differs from luxury ready-to-wear.  The author also states that she doesn’t “dumb down” these techniques for home sewers, but shows the full, sometimes complicated, process to achieve the same results used on incredible gowns of both past and present.

Couture Sewing Techniques
” is not only a “how-to” guide, complete with easy-to-follow instructions and diagrams, but it is also full of professional color photographs of historic couture garments, from Worth, Mainbocher, Chanel, YSL, and many more.  Seeing the diagram of the technique, reading the description of how it is done, and then seeing an example of it used on a stunning garment…well, that’s worth a thousand words.

I have only had this book about a week, but I can’t seem to put it down, and already I have used techniques I read about just days ago to correct the neckline on my 1912 Titanic Ballgown, and even to buck up and apply some sequins and beads.  “Couture Sewing Techniques” makes you want to hand sew your historical costumes by giving ample good reasons to do so.  The book explains the “why” as well as the “how.”

Dress by House of Worth, 1875-76 Paris, the Met Museum. Detail of frill at hem.

The Cons:

Couture Sewing Techniques
” covers all kinds of techniques for everything from buttonholes, to hems, to necklines, basic tailoring, even correct basting.  What it doesn’t spend time on is pattern fitting, so I recommend purchasing one of several books on fit or pattern alterations, to work in conjunction with this book.  If you are an ace at patterning already, then you’re good to go.


I’ve bought a lot of costume books, many of which are amazing, some of which are “meh,” but I truly believe that this book, “Couture Sewing Techniques
” is the first that will improve my crafting ten-fold.  For those of you who acquire this bible of technique, it *will* take patience and practice to learn all these tricks, and to apply them to your projects, but you will be happy, happy, happy you did.  I cannot recommend a book any more highly than I recommend this one.


  • E. Waterman

    April 26, 2012 at 6:46 PM

    this may be a really stupid question, but just chalk it up to inexperience and ignorance to couture sewing; would any of these techniques be good for sewing regency and 1812, or do they tend to be a little more relevant with later dates?

    • Lauren

      April 26, 2012 at 7:04 PM

      Mags, yes absolutely. The book starts with various ways to baste and various kinds of stitches, everything from pad stitching (hello, Spencers!), to catch-stitch, stab stitch, draw stitch, fell stitch, it goes on. Then you get all kinds of hem finishes and seam finishes, information about shaping (shrinking and stretching with steam), darts, facings, how to do corners and curves (the right way), all kinds of closures, various bands and cuffs, SLEEVES, it's insane. So much useful information for all periods. Combine these techniques with your period sewing knowledge, and you'll be unstoppable.

  • Anonymous

    April 26, 2012 at 8:50 PM

    Sounds great, I'll be sure to keep an eye out for it in the bookstore. I have a book that is similar but focuses more on individual techniques than making entire garments- "The art of manipulating fabric" by Colette wolff. It's got amazingly clear instructions. I had never tried anything quilted before but after reading the chapter on quilting I started a quilted petticoat. Hand quilting takes a long long time but it's going very well, especially considering that I have no experience at all.

  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    April 26, 2012 at 9:15 PM

    It's mine in a few days! Ordered it straight away. Thanks Lauren! I never take the time to try out books like this so when I read a good review, it's a gift 🙂

  • Tiney

    April 26, 2012 at 9:36 PM

    Lovely! So what pattern alteration books do you recommend? I've been pretty good about pattern alteration but one can never have too many reference books. 😉

  • Cassidy

    April 27, 2012 at 3:55 AM

    The book is amazing. I was lucky enough to attend a workshop Claire Shaeffer gave at FIT – we examined garments from the MFIT's collection, looking at the details that make couture. She also gave us handouts on distinguishing couture from high-end ready-to-wear, and signed my (previous edition) book!

  • Apollonie

    April 27, 2012 at 5:42 PM

    I have an old version of this book (2007), do you know if they added/changed much in the new edition? The one I have is really useful, so useful in fact that I am thinking of getting the new edition as well if it contains new material.

    Oh, and the Art of Manipulating Fabric is a great book. Not really the kind you read cover-to-cover, but great to use as a reference book when you have a vague idea on how to do something, but isn't quite sure on the details. 🙂

    • Gail

      April 30, 2012 at 12:36 AM

      I got the old edition, this new edition is much better because they went back and revamp everything from the clothes(the old one used some pretty ugly clothes), the new clothes are BEAUTIFUL and the techniques are much clearer and better laid out. I'm considering buying the new edition.

  • Anonymous

    April 30, 2012 at 10:54 PM

    agree agree – its the best book to take your sewing to the next level really useful – I have the old one too – but if the new one inspired the sewing on of beads then I think I must buy!

  • lahbluebonnet

    June 2, 2012 at 5:40 PM

    I'm sorry I haven't commented sooner but I saw this the day it originally posted and had to laugh! I bought this same book a few weeks before and have been meaning to blog about it myself! However I've been pretty busy between homeschooling and costuming/sewing, so I haven't had time to peruse it anymore than to flip through it and swoon! I am greatly encouraged by your review that I made a good purchase!

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