Applique to Zips: The Dressmakers Companion turns 4

The Dressmaker's Companion

The Dressmaker’s Companion has just turned 4 and I thought I would share part of the writing process: the index.

I hope that doesn’t sound too dry and ordinary! (You can read my whole publishing story here.)

Index page for The Dressmaker's Companion

I had always (mistakenly) thought of an index as a kind of expanded table of contents, but it’s more like a reverse-contents page; the index writer has to anticipate what word a reader will use to look up what they want. What words will they logically try?

There are many books, especially in the “how-to” genre, that would be almost useless without an index. It’s one of those things that’s taken for granted until it’s not there.

While I was digging around on the internet for the rules and tips on indexing, I discovered some fascinating things about the world of indexing. Did you know there are professional indexers? They typically specialize – some do science and medical books, or are experts in cookbooks or only do legal textbooks. There are also awards for excellence in indexing.

Indexing cannot be done by automatically by computers, although there’s software to help organize and edit. It needs a human being to select the entries and recognize what a reader will want from the book. Sometimes authors do their own indexes, other times a professional does it.

Random page of the index in The Dressmaker's Companion

How does one write an index?

The index in The Dressmaker’s Companion took two weeks to do. I did it last, after the book was written. I went through the book and made a list of words – I remember having the printed-out manuscript sitting on my lap and typing words into a Word doc. Then I looked through the indexes of several other sewing books, including The Reader’s Digest Complete Guide, to collect more words and also concepts. I clicked to put the list in alphabetical order. It was quite long so I edited it down to get rid of trivial words and made some sub-headers for easier reading.

Apparently the index should consume less than 5% of the pages in a book. I used 3 columns for the index (the rest of the book has 2) to fit more words in.

One needs to be careful with cross-referencing; we don’t want (for example) Necklines – see Collars and then Collars – see Necklines!

When I got the proof of the finished book, it took two solid days to look up every entry in the index to check the page numbers. It was VERY boring! but it had to be done.

Index in The Dressmaker's Companion

I resisted the temptation to hide a nerdy sewing joke in the index 🙂



  1. Michelle Shaffer on September 13, 2021 at 9:58 pm

    Interesting post! An index is something that I only notice when it is done poorly.

    • lizhaywood on September 14, 2021 at 9:33 am

      Yes, me too, it’s one of those things, isn’t it?

  2. Kaz Madigan on September 14, 2021 at 3:48 pm

    Love the index. So important really. I did the index for my book, with assistance from the editor at the time and it has stood the test of time. Great post, thank you.

    • lizhaywood on September 14, 2021 at 9:11 pm

      Yes, very important. Did you enjoy doing yours? I did, but maybe it was because the end was in sight!

  3. Barkat on September 14, 2021 at 6:23 pm

    Nice & good post.

    • lizhaywood on September 14, 2021 at 9:11 pm

      Cheers! Thank you for reading.

  4. Rhiannon on September 17, 2021 at 5:08 pm

    I’m a professional indexer! Sadly, too many publishers these days don’t provide enough funding and make authors create their own index – which can work out fine, but having someone else approach the text is often better. I’m glad you found the process not too dry.
    Always fun to see my hobbies and my job collide.

    • lizhaywood on September 17, 2021 at 7:38 pm

      We in the sewing world salute you, unsung heroes of how-to books!

  5. Sara on September 17, 2021 at 6:25 pm

    What a good post – Where would we be without an index , it is so taken for granted! I hadn’t really considered the work involved in putting it all together. I shall have a new respect for every index!
    It is lovely to hear about these all important side issues, helps to appreciate the ‘realness’ of it all, the input from a person, not just a computer on automatic function. Deepens the appreciation even more for the work of the creator.

    • lizhaywood on September 17, 2021 at 7:40 pm

      I always took indexes for granted too, until I had to do one! It’s a nice thing that they’re created by people, not computers.

  6. Victoria LeBlanc on June 11, 2023 at 11:33 pm

    I posted a review of this marvellous book on The Dressmaker’s Companion is the most useful sewing book I’ve ever read!

    • lizhaywood on June 12, 2023 at 11:16 am

      Many thanks Victoria! Reviews are so important to authors – it’s how other people discover new books.
      I’m so glad you like the book, too.

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