Sunday, March 1, 2020

Weekend Review: Sew U, the Built by Wendy Guide

Sew U: the Built by Wendy Guide to making your own wardrobe /
Wendy Mullin with  Eviana Hartman; illus. by Beci Orpin
NY: Bulfinch Press, c2006.
202 p.
I have had this book for quite a long time -- whenever I see any of the books in this series I snap them up. I love the aesthetic & the illustrations. This is the beginning of the series, a basic introduction to sewing clothes for new sewists. 

Does it succeed at that goal? Well, mostly. It's broken up into sections -- Chapters 1-5 are all about setting up your sewing room, tools you'll need, understanding fabric, notions, and patterns, and lots of quick shortcuts and DIY inspo. Chapters 6-8 go over the three basic patterns that this book comes with, an A-line skirt, blouse, and pants. All three of these patterns are essentially blocks and there is then lots of discussion about how to take a basic like this and shake it up, remixing and hacking it to make it your own. She also includes Chapter 9 -- take it to your tailor -- assuming you live somewhere with a handy tailor, and have lots of design ideas but not the skills to build out your plans. 

The details on things like sewing on a button or sewing room organization are great. Really thorough, and aimed at newbies who are also the kind of person who is good at just going for it and figuring things out. This book will be inspirational and most enjoyable for that kind of person -- someone who can take the basics and run with them. 

The three patterns are included in the back on the book, as regular tissue patterns. The sizing is narrow, running from XS - L, or from a 31.5 to 38.5" bust, 24 - 31" waist, and a 35 to 42" hip. Any variations will mean that you'll need to be a good enough sewist already to make sizing adjustments.

Overall, though, I like this book. The illustrations are really cute, and the ideas on small changes to a basic pattern are solid. Lots of creative inspiration here. 

I love the way she takes the classic button-down, for example, and shows how you can change a sleeve, a hem, leave out a dart or two, add trim, use or not use a collar -- and totally change the look of your starter pattern. She makes it seem easy and obvious that you are not stuck using a pattern line by line. This gives a sense of freedom and agency to this sewing habit, I think! An excellent lesson for someone just starting out. 

The author writes a foreword about how she got into sewing, doing in it home ec and then sewing through college and selling her creations at indie record stores and the like, even working at one while at fashion school later on. I think that kind of free-form indie creativity is clear in this book, and it is very much to my taste. Perhaps if you are the kind of maker who prefers a bit more rule-focused hand holding, this wouldn't be so useful to you. But there are lots of excellent sewing guides that are more along those lines, like the Reader's Digest Guide or a Vogue Sewing Book and the like. (and I also really enjoy those!) 

I think it's a great start to a sewing career, and it's modern and youthful feeling enough to give to a younger person interested in beginning to sew their own clothes. It was one of the earlier books in this new wave of instructional books and I think it's still a good one. I'll be talking a little more about some of the other books in this series later on this month, and sharing some of my favourite things about them too.


  1. I've been curious about this series, but never quite curious enough to actually get one of them. It's impressive that she can squeeze so much into one book - all the way from the very basics of sewing to instructions on a relatively complicated garment like pants. I'm most excited to learn that it contains real patterns! So many books just have you download from their website, and then there's all the printing and taping.

    I look forward to your reviews of the other books in the series.

    1. It's a pretty good book -- but the instructions for the patterns don't really go into fitting, just basics, assuming you can fit these ready made patterns. So details about the complications of pants making are not really very thorough. It's a good start, but if a reader really wants to start making pants, they'd have to continue their education with more info, I think!


Share your comments, ideas or suggestions here -- I am always interested in hearing from readers. It's nice to have a conversation!