Book Review: Built by Wendy Dresses
Shortly before packing up to move to the farm, I won a book in a Clevergirl.org giveaway. This, I decided, would be my first book review. It is not, you may recall, my first attempt. My first attempt ended in disaster when, after taking all pictures and writing up my thoughts, my computer literally melted, leaving me not with a beautiful review of Weekend Sewing but instead a large brick of metal, plastic and disappointment.
Alas. Time to try again.
This is my first acquisition in the Sew U series, Built by Wendy Dresses. It’s a beautifully-put together book, with a heavy, durable cover and wire binding so that it can lay flat while open. The instructions are clear and useful, and the illustrations are lovely. In other words, as many other reviews will tell you, the book easily reaches the bare minimum for a quality craft book. But what else does it offer?
Let’s talk about what this book is, and what makes it different from other craft books (and perhaps, other sewing books- my sewing book collection is in its relative infancy).
It seems like the vast majority of American craft books today (though, I will grant you, certainly not all) are very much about finishing specific projects. You may learn new a new skill or gain an idea or two which would be applicable to other projects, but those moments of illumination are often incidental rather than the primary goal of the book. That is not so with Built by Wendy Dresses– the primary goal of the book is not to get you to replicate its specific projects (three patterns with 25 variations) but to learn how to modify a simple, basic building block of a pattern into any dress you imagine. Every chapter, every sentence makes this goal obvious, constantly suggesting more and more variations and options, constantly striving to demystify and make less scary the process of design.
When I was younger, I had a sort of game that consisted of sheets upon sheets of cartoonish facial features. There were pages of noses, of eyes, of mouths, of hair, of accessories, and I’d go through and trace one part here and one part there until I had created my own little cartoon. The first major discussion in Built by Wendy Dresses immediately brought this old memory to mind, with page upon page of dress details from which to pick and choose my perfect dress.
Different styles of sleeves, of neckline and collar, of length and width, of shape; no dressmaking decision is ignored. Following this are discussions of fabrics, buttons, zippers, trims, pockets, facings and linings and hems, oh my; a vast wealth of ideas that you can mix and match into a dress all your own. The instructions for applying these ideas to the basic patterns –how to measure and modify the pattern to get the desired feature- are disbursed throughout the project section (which thus becomes much more than a bunch of projects- rather, they’re blueprints for pattern modification which can be applied to any project).
Next up comes an overview of basic skills, not only for sewing (which is not the main focus of the book- it advises you turn to other books for in-depth beginner “how to sew” instructions) but for modifying patterns to change the look and the fit. With clear, straightforward instructions it covers measuring, tracing, modifying and trueing patterns and the usefulness of muslins in getting a proper fit.
Finally come the aforementioned projects section. Built by Wendy Dresses includes three basic patterns –a shift dress, a sheath dress, and a dirndl dress- and endless instructions for modifying the patterns.
In the project section, modification ideas are put together in various ways that are calculated to inspire.
Each project includes a section on pattern adjustments…
…a section on cutting layouts as well a further modification suggestion –changing fabric or cut- to create a still different dress…
…and of course, sewing instructions. This is a book that very much strives to open up possibilities, to show the magic inherent in sewing, to show that you can make exactly what you want, rather than limiting yourself to the pattern as drafted.
I like it, a lot. I’m digging through my fabric stash as we speak to see if I have enough for one project, and I’ve had to sit down and sketch out multiple ideas for others which. And, in perhaps the best show of faith I can have in a book, I’ve added the other two Built by Wendy books to my “when-I-get-a-job” list. I can’t wait!