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Wendy Mullin of Built by Wendy is the fashion designer who joined to the sewing world in the early 2000s with her sewing patterns for Simplicity and the Sew-U books (which are one of my favourite sewing book series, and a template for modern sewing books with patterns included).
I caught up with Wendy to hear what’s been going on since she published her last sewing book, how her background as a sewist informs her fashion design process, and she also tells us if she would consider doing sewing patterns and books again.
(This interview was originally published in my monthly newsletter, sign-up to get on the mailing list)
You started your clothing brand Built by Wendy over 20 years ago. Tell us something that most people don’t realise about running your own fashion business.
A lot of budding designers will reach out for advice and the one thing I tell them is that if you want to have your own line you should learn how to run a business, maybe go to business school, otherwise just get a job for a company being a designer.
Since I’m so small I wear many hats from design, pattern making, production and managing people. It’s a lot of managing and business. Unless you have a lot of money to hire a team to do everything for you and hire a CEO then you are the CEO and need to have the skills of a CEO.
“I wanted to make home sewing techniques and patterns similar to professional patterns used in fashion garment production”
I see you as a trailblazer when it comes to the modernisation of dressmaking and designs that later informed the indie pattern movement. Are you ever tempted to start creating sewing patterns and books again?
Not really. I feel like I said what I needed to say. I have been collecting sewing patterns my whole life so it was a dream to collab with Simplicity. It’s still a total highlight of my career. And I am so happy I was able to organize all that I learned in a unique way for others to learn to sew. Mark Bittman’s cookbook “How to Cook Everything” really broke down cooking for me so I hope that my sewing books could do the same for others.
But no, I was never planning on having a career as a sewing personality or anything. I just shared what I thought would be helpful and then went back to my other projects.
[editor’s note, I really had wished Wendy would consider a sewing comeback, I love her stuff so much!]
“I always hated how big the seam allowances were on home sewing patterns”
You are one of the few pattern designers I’ve seen using different seam allowances, for say, the neckline versus the side seams. And I also noticed that you then omitted seam allowances in your coat book. What was the reasoning behind that?
I always hated how big the seam allowances were. I mean 5/8″ is so much. In fashion production, we use 1/2″, sometimes 3/8″. For necklines, it’s always 1/4″ as the sewers don’t have time to trim the neckline. It makes no sense to make a 5/8″ seam allowance around a neckline then trim or clip it.
So I was just doing what I felt was practical and trying to make home sewing and patterns similar to professional patterns used in fashion garment production.
For the coats book, I chose no seam allowances similar to what Burda patterns do. It makes it easier to slash and spread etc during pattern making then adding seam allowance after. It gets so confusing to calculate with the seam allowances included.
Basically, I just made slopers so that you can do the pattern making then add seam allowances after which is how one should be doing it.
What’s next for the Built by Wendy brand?
I’m making a ton of new clothes. I’ve decided to not really do collections and just to make things as I feel like it and not feel pressure to always make new things each season.
I think my designs are pretty classic so you can wear them year to year so why not have them available like that. I just sell on my website so I just do whatever I want. I’m also doing a few collabs that are coming out but can’t really talk about those now.
And I’ve been doing interior design – just finished a bakery in Santa Monica where I also did the uniforms in addition to the full brand identity and interiors.