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CraftSanity Episode 114: Wendy Mullin Tells the Story of How She Built Her Brand, Built By Wendy

Before the world recognized Wendy Mullin’s Built By Wendy clothing label, she was just a girl sewing her heart out hunched over a machine stacked up on milk crates. She cut her fabric on the floor of her cramped apartment and worked at record stores to pay the bills. And long before she started calling herself a designer, she had become one.

On this episode of CraftSanity, Wendy shares the inspiring story of how she built her own creative business one design  at a time. Originally from Chicago, Wendy is now one of New York’s most established independent fashion designers. She sells her Built By Wendy line at her two retail stores in New York, at boutiques across the country and online.

Budding designers got to know Wendy when she released her first book “Sew U” and follow-up book “Sew U Home Stretch.” Her third book, “Built by Wendy Dresses: The Sew U Guide to Make a Girl’s Best Frock.” just came out and demystifies the satisfying art of making a fun and flattering dress.

Tune in and get inspired to build yourself a brand new frock.

Sponsor Appreciation!

A special thanks to Wen the talented creator of Sora Designs, vintage inspired jewelry designs for supporting this episode of the CraftSanity podcast.

Wen recently quit her day job as a social science researcher and now she’s following her passion to create. Read more about her new adventure on her blog.

Shop her lovely designs at and sign up for a chance to win gift certificates to her shop on her Facebook fan page. All the best to you, Wen!


Leave a comment about your dress sewing adventures and enter to win a copy of “Built By Wendy Dresses: The Sew U Guide to Making A Girl’s Best Frock.” The deadline to enter is April 30. Good luck every one!

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Comment from Tricia
Time: April 15, 2010, 10:38 am

Here’s a failed dress adventure: I made a maxidress out of an Orla Kiely tablecloth. Yes, that one is still hanging in the closet.

Comment from Dulce VanDyken
Time: April 15, 2010, 11:41 am

Wow, this was very inspirational. Thank you for sharing this.
And I would love to have one of her books. I am glad you are also doing great.

Comment from turtle
Time: April 15, 2010, 11:53 am

It has been years since i made myself a dress. But i bought a new machine and with summer approaching am planning on some sewing for myself and teen daughter! At this moment i do not even own a dress (having just lost a bunch of weight) and i plan on changing that! Would love to have one of her books!

Comment from Stacey S.
Time: April 15, 2010, 2:56 pm

I’ve made several dresses, but the one I remember making the most was when I was 15 and it was a light pink taffeta number for my Dad’s second marriage. I had little to get excited about, except for that dress. It was way too ambitious and it drove my Mom crazy. Of course, that last thing she felt like doing was helping me sew a dress for her ex-husband’s wedding!(the divorce was not pleasant). I ended up altering the dress and wore it to the wedding. I realize it was too formal for the event, but I was proud and happy with myself. Thankfully that was long ago and since all parties are much happier.

Comment from alex
Time: April 15, 2010, 4:39 pm

I love making and wearing dresses. Right now I’m sewing with cotton jersey and I’ll admit that I’m struggling.

Comment from Jennifer Herbert
Time: April 15, 2010, 5:54 pm

The last time I sewed a dress was (ahem, cough, cough into hand) high school (twenty odd years ago), as home ec projects. I did a pretty darn good job, and wore them for a while. I don’t really sew anymore because, why take the time to sew an unflattering dress, when you can just buy an unflattering one off the rack? This book could CHANGE MY LIFE! I would wear a dress every day if I could make one that flatter my very “curvy” figure!

Comment from Margie Di Croce
Time: April 15, 2010, 9:33 pm

Oh man this book looks good! I have the first in her series and it’s great. As for dresses, making them scares me, unless it’s for my 8 year old. This book will hopefully give me that courage to do one for me. Thanks for the great podcasts.

Comment from MelodyJ
Time: April 15, 2010, 10:03 pm

I don’t have any dress sewing adventures. But I look forward to it someday.


Comment from Simone
Time: April 15, 2010, 11:27 pm

I sewed up a dress for a friends wedding around two years ago. I Couldn’t afford really nice fabric but the pattern I chose worked well in a super simple cotton. It was a 1950’s swirly dress! I can’t find the pattern to give the details, its alluding me! But it was so much fun to make…

Comment from EmilyKate
Time: April 16, 2010, 12:38 am

Yay! I’ve been checking craftsanity daily checking if this interview was up yet! Off to listen now!

Comment from Catherine
Time: April 16, 2010, 7:39 am

I remember making a patchwork dress in college…but haven’t had a lot of success with sewing dresses ever since. Patterns don’t seem to be made for my body. I’d love to see if Wendy’s book could reinspire me.

Comment from Erin
Time: April 16, 2010, 8:39 am

What a great interview!
I have always had a dive-right-in approach to dress making. Which has resulted in a few adventures;

Like the formal dress I insisted on designing and sewing for my end-of-year formal and was still sewing less than an hour before the formal started (and it looked awful! I can’t look at the photos without crindging).
And sewing a dress in knit before I even knew there was difference between woven and knit fabric.

I haven’t sewn a dress for a little while, hopefully this will inspire me!

Comment from Frances
Time: April 16, 2010, 9:35 am

The last dress I made was over 30 years ago in high school. It was green velour. It was fabulous. It matched my eyes. If you wait long enough everything comes around again – colour trends and materials. I think it has come around to the time I would like to try again. We all need to wear more dresses.
Thank you for the chance to win!

Comment from Bethany
Time: April 16, 2010, 10:22 am

I have to tell you that I not only loved this podcast with Wendy and all of her helpful advice for new designers just starting out with their business (like me!) but I have become recently addicted (seriously!!) to Craftsanity and have been listening almost daily to your wonderful podcasts!! Trying to amass a lot of merchandise for an upcoming Art Festival where I’ll have a booth, listening to you and your guests has helped to while away the hours and educate and entertain me as well!! I looove what you do with your cheerful down-to-earth personality just chatting away with the different creative people….sooo As much as I’d adore winning Wendy’s new book I also wanted to take this moment to thank you for creating this site :)

Comment from kelli
Time: April 16, 2010, 10:49 am

I need more dresses! I’ve made some dresses in my time — a blue dress that fit like a sack, some trial dresses made from old sheets that were more fun to wear than the finished design, a cute black dress with a bright pink panel in the front (that sadly, no longer fits).

Comment from Lisa
Time: April 16, 2010, 4:50 pm

I’ve made many dresses, including two of my bridesmaid’s dresses! Currently I am working with my daughter on her prom dress. Wish me luck on that!

Comment from Kelly
Time: April 16, 2010, 5:31 pm

I have to echo Bethany’s comment – I think Wendy’s story is fascinating and made for a great episode, but I also really appreciate the thoughtfulness and sincerity of your questions. I always walk away having learned something new and feeling encouraged — and I know a lot of that has to do with the way you frame everything. So thank you! Good luck with your run and apron show. :-)

Comment from Lindsay
Time: April 16, 2010, 6:10 pm

My most memorable dressmaking experience is accidentaly slicing through the skirt of a dress while serging the fabric edges. I “fixed” it with Stitch Witchery, only to have the fix fail while attending the wedding. I was quite embarrassed with my date pointed out that I had a hole in the back of my dress that was quite risque. I learned many lessons with that project!

Comment from Hilari
Time: April 16, 2010, 6:43 pm

I went to a New Year’s Eve party on the Queen Mary one year. There were about 7 of us. When we arrived at the house we were all departing from, 6 of the 7 girls had made their dresses. Not only that, but we had made them the night before and only one had a finished hem! The rest of us had all stitch-witched our hems together and hoped for the best. My dress was so badly made, it couldn’t be worn again!

Comment from sam
Time: April 16, 2010, 10:10 pm

I have had several dress adventures. The first dress I ever made was a gray, sparkly plaid strapless mini-dress last year. It was my own design and it turned out pretty well (this was last year). At this point I have made a total of 4 dresses, only one by another persons pattern. The latest I have finished is a floor-length violet dress with a silver halter. I made it for the prom this saturday, and I think it should be good. This dress almost ended up not working because I made it a bit too tight and couldn’t walk or sit down but I added a slit so now I can walk and sit down a bit better.

Pingback from Saturday Links « Sewsterhood
Time: April 17, 2010, 11:05 am

[…] Ackerman-Haywood has a new CraftSanity podcast up, and this time it’s an interview with Wendy Mullin of Built by Wendy fame! You know I love […]

Comment from Jennifer F
Time: April 17, 2010, 10:55 pm

My worse dress I’ve made was when I was 18….. I made from absolutely gorgeous linen terracotta colored fabric a straight A-line style dress with a sweeping white sailor neck. Except the problem was the neck was so huge and white against the terracotta color and needless to say didn’t fit me from about the arm pits up. I loved the terracotta color then but not so sure about it now! I’m still not hugely confident on dresses but made my daughter a fancy party dress (as she calls it) to wear as her Aunt’s flowergirl at her wedding in January – this was light yellow satin and was just right for the wedding.

Comment from Michele
Time: April 18, 2010, 12:31 am

I have never sewn a dress for myself – so far I’ve only sewn dresses for my three year old daughter. I own Sew U and Sew U Home Stretch – it would be great to add this new book to my collection! I look forward to listening to this podcast.

Comment from Upstatelisa
Time: April 18, 2010, 8:10 am

Great interview! Looks like a good book! If only I could tear myself away from my quiltmaking long enough to make more clothes! But there us only do much time in the day, as you know! I have the fabric! And the sew u stretch book too! Good luck on your run!

Comment from eesh
Time: April 18, 2010, 1:07 pm

I’ve sewn many dresses however I always seem to be missing some point in getting the fit just right. Usually I just wing it and hope for the best in the end. I would love to win this book. I have both of her other books and they’re just an all around amazing resource.

Comment from BJ Lantz
Time: April 18, 2010, 6:36 pm

I design fabric and ironically, I don’t really know how to sew…OK, well a little, but mostly home dec type projects. I would love to learn how to sew my own clothes. Especially since I have stacks of my own fabric! Thanks for sharing the story ~ I found it very inspirational as I listened while I painted… What great energy Wendy has!

Comment from SimplyLee
Time: April 18, 2010, 7:24 pm

What a great interview. So inspired that I am ready to start sewing again. I moved to a tropical climate two years ago and I’m ready to wear light fun dresses. I’ve had many sewing adventures but one that stands out is agreeing to make my best friend a dress. She purchases the fabric (we had already chosen the dress pattern). Imagine when she walked in the front door of my apartment with a jersey fabric with an asymmetrical stripe. Needless to say this never got made but it has led to many laughs over the following 40 years of our friendship.

Comment from Kari
Time: April 19, 2010, 1:06 am

What a fun episode and quite timely for me! I bought Cal Patch’s book after listening to your podcast in which she recommends Wendy’s books as a jumping off point. So I have acquired Wendy’s first 2 and am in the middle of my first skirt! It’s going great except that I sewed in the zipper backwards. And I just may leave it that way since I can just flip the skirt around to zip it from the inside. This is the kind of lazy crafter I can be. But I plan to make another right after (and eventually as so many of us seem to dream of-a closet full of handmade clothes)!!

Comment from Megan
Time: April 20, 2010, 9:07 am

GREAT episode! Wendy is inspiring and down to earth, all at the same time. I have some of her Simplicity patterns, but would love to own this book, especially after hearing you two talk about it. Thanks for your hard work, Jennifer, and for the chance to win.

Comment from Kristina
Time: April 20, 2010, 6:01 pm

Loved the episode! I haven’t been brave enough to try making a dress yet, but I have made a skirt that (mostly) fit the way it was meant to – it was slightly larger that it should have been, but was close enough that I would wear it. Don’t know if you’ve heard about it yet, but I’ve been recently inspired by a blog I discovered called New Dress A Day. It can be found at Check it out, I think you’ll enjoy it.

Comment from Kaye Prince
Time: April 20, 2010, 7:21 pm

This episode was great! I actually haven’t tried sewing a dress yet, but I did recently buy one of Wendy’s Simplicity patterns and that is going to be my first – I can’t wait! I’m hoping it goes smoothly, but you never know what could happen!

Comment from Angelique
Time: April 20, 2010, 8:28 pm

I just listened to this episode, and it was great! I was so interested, I almost missed my train stop (a common danger when listening to Craftsanity).

I am a very novice sewer, so my dress story is about dresses my mom made for me when I was a little girl. I can still remember them – a white dress with little red hearts, and a ruffle at the hem, and a pale pink dress with a little butterfly patch at the bust. I loved them, and wish I still had them!

Comment from Julia
Time: April 21, 2010, 10:28 am

All those dress sewing adventures…too tight in the hips, too big in the bust, zipper malfunctions. Still, I love to sew dresses. That way I can say, “I made it myself!” (as if they can’t tell by looking at it!)
As always,

Love your podcast!

Comment from Fern
Time: April 22, 2010, 10:17 pm

I haven’t actually made any dresses yet, but I’m working my way up slowly but surely. I would love to win this book and get some tips!

Comment from Klara (creativesoul)
Time: April 23, 2010, 1:28 am

After Project Runway had started I wanted to sew something. I decided to sew for my little then baby daughter. Because I had to shop in Manhattan which haas no Joann stores I found one little shop with yarn and fabric in China town. I found a pattern of a dress that says “very easy” level on it. The sales people didn’t know how to sew and weren’t helpful at all. I chose fabric and notions all by myself, went home and started to sew. The instrustions were great up until sewing a zipper in. I had t leave the dress like that for 2 years until I moved to Russia and took sewing classes. Thanks god I chose a 2 y.o. sizes for this dress and finally now, when I actually finished this dress, it FITS her!!!!! And the dress is very cute and adorable! I even put some embellishments on it! I’m very proud and happy!

Comment from byneedleandthread
Time: April 23, 2010, 7:07 am

I haven’t made any clothes for myself in many many years. but in my sewing fantasy life in my dreams i have zillions of cute things i’ve whipped up. I’m hoping to take the plunge this year and try to make those dreams a reality.

Comment from ellen
Time: April 23, 2010, 6:09 pm

I haven’t made myself a dress for a long time, but my mother and I used to make all of my special occasion dresses – prom, Easter, Homecoming Dance. I used to be able to crank out a dress in about four hours when an occasion came up suddenly. Dresses are a great instant gratification project.

Comment from Dawn
Time: April 27, 2010, 7:29 pm

I have only made a few dresses for myself. Mostly I make my daughters tons of dresses. One of mine matches theirs – it is very “Sound of Music” when we wear them together. I’d love to branch out sewing more dresses from Wendy’s book. Thanks for the chance to win!

Comment from Bev
Time: April 27, 2010, 8:20 pm

Ooh, dress sewing adventures. Well, there was that 4AM sewing session that resulted in the crazy pink raspberry number made of men’s shirts! I was too reticent to wear it for a long time but recently started wearing it everywhere, and everyone comments; ‘Is that made of shifts?’ Why yes, it is!
Since then, I’m into dresses. As you can imagine, there are about three ready to be cut out, and not yet finished….

Comment from Kaja
Time: April 28, 2010, 1:58 pm

Hm. Somehow I always end up on the bottom of my todo-list…

I made a dress a while ago, or more of a tunic. It was supposed to be a prototype and most things went wrong while sewing it. And it is still one of my favorite items in my wardrobe for this spring. Then when I wanted to more of it – well, daughter has received 6 dresses, son has received 5 shirts, and lots of gifts for friends and loads of things for the shop. But any dress for me?? Naaaah!

Comment from Thien-Kim
Time: April 28, 2010, 5:43 pm

I haven’t made a dress for myself in a long time. I always have a problem with fit or I just get distracted. Last summer, I did make a lot of dresses for my daughter. She’s 4 so they come together really fast!

Comment from Mary
Time: April 28, 2010, 5:56 pm

One winter I made a red dress and red wool coat to wear on a Valentine’s Day date. Little did I know I would be fully clad in handmade original clothing the night my husband proposed!!

Comment from Mariana
Time: April 29, 2010, 4:49 am

My dresses adventures are all related to little nieces and girlies, I feel so proud to see them wear atipical and personality matching outfits. This time is a good chance for me to try some!

Comment from Lamina
Time: April 29, 2010, 6:30 pm

I love dresses but alas as far as I get to making anything like it is skirts (that’s half a dress… right???) I would love to make dresses… I’m sick of all my skirts :)

Comment from kathyh
Time: April 29, 2010, 9:47 pm

I’ve sewn quite a few girly dresses but only a couple of adult dresses. My daughter who got most of my creations wants me to sew for her from 20 miles away. Since I don’t have her to tweek the fit, I’d like to learn more about making/fitting a pattern.
I have sucessfully sewn for my nieces from far away when they were young. Something changes when they become 18 and opinionated. My daughter thinks I can copy an anthropology dress she covets. This book will definitely help me.

Comment from Hannah
Time: April 30, 2010, 6:08 am

I am not experienced in dress making but I made one dress when I was a teenager. It was two aprons one for the back an one for the front. In my eyes it looked great!

Hello from Germany!

Comment from Philipa
Time: April 30, 2010, 8:27 am

I made a dress in Needlework at high school back in year 8. It was a courdroy pinafore and we had to do a lined yoke. I haven’t a clue how we did it…. I think the teacher did most of the work, I just sewed where I was told too. What ever… it worked and I even wore the end result. Didn’t sew much till the late 80’s when as a mum to 2 young children I did a stretch sewing course and for about 8 years I sewed heaps of clothes for myself and the children and the occassional fleecey jumper/pullover for the men in my life.

Comment from Stephanie
Time: April 30, 2010, 9:38 am

I really enjoyed the show! Thanks for posting this. It was really interesting. I have sewn a couple of dresses and love making dresses. It’s always an adventure!

Comment from Andrea
Time: May 1, 2010, 8:33 am

I used to feel sorry for myself because we live in a small house so I am not able to dedicate one whole room / area to sewing. After listening to Wendy’s interview where she said she used to sew on crates, my little area feels absolutely palatial!

Comment from Mallory – Miss Malaprop
Time: May 25, 2010, 2:54 pm

I just wanted to say thanks for this interview with Wendy! I was already familiar with Wendy’s line, and I actually have 2 of her Sew U books (which are great!), but I loved hearing the story of how her line actually got started. The bit about the Chinese lady who she worked with and how she got her factory started, etc, was so great.

Pingback from Leah Virsik » Blog Archive
Time: September 28, 2010, 10:26 pm

[…] does an incredible job of interviewing and definitely enjoys it. Two of my favorites are Wendy from Built by Wendy and the Beerhorst Family. These two made me cry… in a good way. Share and […]

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