Friday, August 31, 2007

Super-Mega-Half-Assed Book Review: Sew U

Today's book review is especially half-assed b/c i have no pictures. i also don't have the book with me to assist in composing the review, and i have not looked at the book in several days, so my memory may be faulty. Take my word at your own risk. The book is Sew U: The Built by Wendy Guide to Making Your Own Wardrobe by by Wendy Mullin, Eviana Hartman, and Beci Orpin.

This book is geared towards rank beginners who have never sewed before. It covers the basics with brief descriptions of different fabric types, offers an introduction to the sewing machine, and explains how patterns work. As an individual who came into sewing by basically "winging it," I found some of the beginner information provided helpful, and some of it not so helpful. an example of the good is that Wendy stresses to lay out the entire pattern whenever possible before cutting to avoid disasters, and i have found this to be true myself the hard way on several sad occasions, and also she gives advice on how to finish seams--something i was clueless about in the beginning. (and i still remain clueless enough that i'm glad i now have an overlock machine) an example of the weird is that she advises you to use weights to hold down pattern pieces instead of using pins. what's wrong with pins? ok, maybe if you use a flimsy easily snagged material you shouldn't use them, but for most normal wovens i don't see the problem.

The book includes 3 Simplicity patterns: an A-line skirt, a button-front shirt, and a pair of bootcut pants. All three patterns are for women from RTW sizes 0-12. That is my first caveat. If the purpose of the book is to get beginners into sewing, i think that the authors should've at least warned that the RTW sizing included in the book is very different from the pattern sizing you will find in the Big 4 pattern companies. My second issue is with the sizing itself. I have a huge waist, or maybe i don't have a chest and hips, who knows. my 3 measurements--bust, waist, hips--are all very close to being the same number. this means that when i look at a sizing chart like the one provided in the book, i am directed to make the smallest chest/hip size, and close to the largest size for the waist. logically, it makes me believe that i should grade the waist size up to ensure a proper fit.

this is not the case. a big part of the problem is that nowhere in the book (that i was able to find) does it give Finished Garment Measurements, like you would find on a pattern envelope. If I was able to look at the finished measurements, i could estimate much more accurately what size to make based on how much ease is written into the patterns. b/c i couldn't find this information, i had to guess. and on my first pair of pants, i guessed very wrongly. i made the pants with a size 10 waist and a size 2 hips. i ended up having to take 3 inches out of the waist and the pants are still way too large. i compared how much i had cut off the waistband to the original pattern, and had i just gone with the 2 to begin with, it would've been perfect. Now one place i am recalling where i did not check for ease was on the pattern pieces themselves, but i honestly don't remember that information being there either. the good news is that once you figure it out, there shouldn't be any more problems, but you may want to start with a practice garment before forging ahead on your "good" material.

i believe that there is a significant amount of ease (ie: too much) written into the patterns, just like you would expect in a typical simplicity pattern. or maybe i'm just weird and i like my clothes to fit much more closely that normal human beings. that info is good news for those who may be just above the cutoff size 12. if you are a size larger or so, you may still be able to use the patterns in the book.

even if you can't use the patterns provided, i would still recommend buying the book. where this book's true genius lies is that it gives you three very basic patterns, and then gives several variations for each on how to make distinct looks. In the Pants section, she gives project tickets on how to make sailor pants, skinny cords, casual cargo-like capris, among others. she also gives a great deal of different pattern pieces that you can mix and match to create unique styles--both front and back patch pockets, belt loops, etc. she also gives advice on how to sew these different looks, like more topstitching in a contrast color gives a casual feel, while no topstitching is dressier. if you don't like her project tickets, and don't know where to start on your own, you could look at clothes you already have for style ideas. it would also be easy to copy current trends.

i have often wanted to buy a basic pattern and use it repeatedly, but i was never sure where to start my modifications. this book is extremely helpful in that regard. it actually inspired me to buy a stock of simplicity patterns when they were on sale for 99 cents each. i bought only patterns that i thought would be easy to modify and i could see myself making over and over again.

the pattern pieces themselves are the typical tissue paper patterns, so i would recommend either using her method to make the patterns permanent (which i don't care for) or trace the patterns so that your originals remain intact. this book is missing information on knits, but there's enough there for another book, probably. if Wendy wrote another title on knits, i would very likely buy it.

i wish that i had owned this book when i was a total beginner. i think it would've made me a better sewer much more quickly. Sew U has great modern styling that will continue to be adaptable to whatever is in fashion. it's a great book, and i'm looking forward to using it for many years to come.


  1. Thanks for the review! Even sans pics, it was better than half-assed. ;) After I browse through the retro Reader's Digest reference, I'll have to pick this one up to keep from making bell bottoms and stuff.

  2. I think that was a pretty darn good review. There are several reasons you might want to use pattern weights instead of pins. For instance, if you were cutting out a very thick dense fabric like coating melton or leather. Weights are definitely faster Pins are fine for most things. There are even ball pointed pins (and machine needles!) for cutting out and sewing knits without cutting or snagging the knits.

  3. Great review! I've been interested in sewing but am debating with myself since knitting is my thing now and I don't know if I can handle another hobby. But yeah, now I may have to get this book, lol. :)

  4. Thanks for the review! The husband got me a sewing machine for Christmas last year, and I still haven't dared try it out because of bad high school sewing experiences. Maybe this book will help me overcome my sewing dread. Rank beginner is just right!



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