One of my goals for this year is to develop some skill at clothing construction. I also gave #2 daughter a sewing machine for Christmas, and some books on the subject to help her get started with it.

The local fabric store is offering a beginning sewing class, but I don’t think I can really call myself a beginner. I made a wedding dress, after all. And #2 daughter and I together made the bridesmaid’s dress, so she probably can’t be a beginner either. She’s very good at putting in zippers, and both of us have made a number of successful garments. I make really nice quilts, if I do say so myself (that’s another of my goals for this year — to get my most recent quilt quilted, since it has been sitting around for a year waiting).

But it is easy for the self-taught to get stuck at a certain level of skill, with a lot of things that we have missed along the way. With language learners, we call this the “sojourner” stage. You learn as much as you need for the tasks you regularly do, and quit improving. People stay at this stage for many years.

We see this in the knitting blogs with people who knit successful scarves but never get the hang of shaping, so sweaters remain out of the question. Computer use is like this for a lot of us — we have no trouble using email and blogging and finding our way around the web, but if a new issue arises, we have to call our kids.

And the local shop has nothing in its class schedule called “Adding the Third Dimension to Your Sewing” or “Overcoming Fear of Buttonholes and Set-in Sleeves.”

So I have spent some time perusing sewing books.

One of the things that leaps to the eye is the enormous similarity among them. The main sewing reference book I have used all these years is The Complete Book of Sewing, by Constance Talbot, published in 1943. If you do not have a space-age sewing machine, then you will find that the new Vogue sewing book is very much the same as Talbot’s.

This ought to be reassuring, though of course I was hoping for some magic solution to my clothing construction ills. The moral is, pick the basic sewing book with the pictures you like best.

But there are some new and different things out there in sewing books.

I ended up getting two for #2 daughter.

Sew U, by Wendy Mullin, has basic directions for using your sewing machine, cutting and storing patterns, etc. It has basic directions for constructing skirts, pants, and shirts — and it has full-size patterns for all three included. This is Wendy Mullin of Built by Wendy, so we are talking about having all you need only if you are young, hip, and slim, but if that is you, then this book will set you up. It includes lots of suggestions for changing the basic patterns around to make new and individual garments, and has handy reproducible pages for planning and recording your sewing adventures.

In Stitches, by Amy Butler, complements Sew U by packing home furnishing and accessory patterns into a really pretty coffee table sort of book. Amy Butler is perhaps best known as a handbag designer, and this book includes beautifully-designed bags, but it also has duvet covers and cat tunnels and aprons and stuff. The book is divided up by room, and the bathroom section even includes a kimono and pajama pants.

If you like the idea of books with patterns in them, but don’t want things that trendy, you might check your library for a couple of old books the folks at Frugalreader hooked me up with. Dressmaking with Liberty, by Ann Ladbury, has absolute classic shirt, skirt, and trousers patterns, as well as some other little surprises, including a stuffed rabbit. Making a Complete Wardrobe from 4 Basic Patterns  was published in 1987 and looks it, but it explains how to draft your own patterns just the way you like them, in any size. Its four basic patterns are drawstring pants, a drop-sleeve pullover, a circle skirt, and an A-line skirt, with lots of ideas for variations. This could make a good weekend or gym wardrobe, or a starting point for the budding clothing designer. I don’t think either of these books is still in print.

The book I have found most useful so far for my own sewing needs is Easy, Easier, Easiest Tailoring by Patti Palmer and Susan Pletsch. It explains in excruciating detail how to set in a sleeve, and gives several methods (the easy method, the easier method, and the easiest one) for each step in putting together a jacket, skirt, or blouse (they do a separate book for pants). It tells how to choose a pattern according to your skill level, how to fit the clothing, how to press it — all that stuff. It doesn’t tell you how to thread your machine or any of those basics, but if you have adequate sewing skills and need help with the Hard Stuff, this is a very handy book.

Perhaps with these books and sufficient diligence, I will be able to finish the year a skilled dressmaker.

I do not intend to follow the custom of the sewing blogs and call myself a sewer. I assume they intend that to sound like “sower,” but to me, it is still a waste disposal term.

If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear about them.