Since deciding to throw myself into sewing, to follow the path of millions of women, to develop a practical skill for myself, I've been flipping through every sewing book I see. For the clueless beginning sewer like myself, I cannot recommend enough Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time by Deborah Moebes.
All introductory sewing books have a couple pages on tools you need. Stitch by Stitch includes 18 pages on tools. Rather than present a list of tools she always uses, Moebes lists tools you must have to sew with a machine (seam ripper, hem gauge), tools that aren't necessary but will make sewing easier (rotary cutter, ruffler foot), and tools that not everyone likes but some people find essential (pattern weight, seam roll). The author also explains why there are different pins and what they are for, types of thread, and why you should invest in scissors and an iron.
From here, the book has another 24 pages on getting to know your sewing machine (“You and Your Machine: A Love Story”). Moebes explains the feet, the needles, stitch varieties, bobbins, thread tension, and on and on. She even lists several of the book's projects that you need to do to build up certain skills. I would have no inclination to make an applique tee shirt, but doing so will give me practice with fusible interfacing and sewing curves.
But before you move on to projects, Stitch by Stitch has an additional 8 pages on fabric. When you've finished, you'll know what the common fabrics are and their uses, why you should always wash fabric before sewing, plus weave types, print terms, and fabric grains.
One of the reasons I bought this book was for the patterns (yes, you get to patterns after about 73 pages). It includes a basic button down shirt and a basic a-line skirt. I can't think of two better things that I'd like to make for myself. The patterns are sizes 4-14, and the CD format allows you to print them over and over. The book also gives clear (patternless) instructions on how to sew a basic tote bag, several basic pillowcases, a makeup roll, napkins and more.
Happily, there are pictures of failures. If your project looks like X, tighten the thread tension. If it looks like Z, you didn't feed it through the machine fast enough. Usually if books bother to mention mistakes you may make, they only describe them, but as a beginning sewer, I don't know what loose bobbin thread or improper tucks look like.
Not only have I found Stitch by Stitch indispensable for the projects I've tackled, but it's also reassuring. The overall tone is supportive and encouraging. Yes, you will mess up, Moebes reminds you over and over, but you'll also get it right eventually. Her love of sewing is so evident that you can't help but want to fall in love with the skill too.