If you believe Wendy Mullin, with 3 basic, well-fitted jacket patterns, you can rule the world.
It's a good thing most of the world doesn't think that way, or the Big 4 pattern companies would be out of business.
I'll admit, I was skeptical. I've actually managed to reach my age and level of expertise without a personal encounter with Builty by Wendy patterns, and I think that may have been a shame.
The premise of Built by Wendy Coats & Jackets (subtitled The Sew U Guide to Making Outerwear Easy) is, as I said, with 3 good patterns, you can do just about anything. Wendy Mullin goes a long way toward proving her point. The 3 patterns in question, a fitted, princess-seamed jacket, a basic straight coat and a raglan sleeve coat, are included in the book, along with random interchangeable pockets, hoods and collars to jazz up the different variations. (There are 23 variations in all, and each variation comes with an "alternate" look which makes minor changes to the look).
But this is more than "take jacket A, use collar from jacket B, add pockets from jacket C, and voila! a whole new look."
Mullin's changes can be more drastic than that, such as the kimono wrap front based on the fitted princess jacket, or adding and subtracting center front excess to add a center zip instead of a button overlap. Her alterations to the pattern pieces are clearly shown and explained, along wtih the sewing steps for every variation. Overkill? I don't think so - this book is both beginner-friendly (okay, maybe an adventurous beginner, but she is aiming at younger sewists, who tend toward the fearless) and challenging enough for an advanced sewist. You can always skip over the construction steps you know, but for a beginner, bouncing from place to place is confusing, frustrating, and often defeating. I've seen more paper wasted for less useful information.
At the beginning of the book, as Mullin introduces her Big 3 jackets, she also emphasizes, over and over, that fit is the most important part of sewing. Getting clothes that fit is why most of us sew. Her base patterns are meant to be traced, muslined, re-traced and eventually turned into slopers that will allow you to trace (yet again) each new variation on a pattern that you know will fit.
It comes through: this is work. You have to do it, or the result won't be worthwhile. But if you do it and get it right, you won't have to re-invent the wheel every time you make a jacket. Do the work.
The book also includes information on choosing and working with different fabrics, patternmaking basics (she recommends Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph Armstrong), seam finishes, working with facings, linings, bias binding, attaching collars, hoods, etc. Well explained, well illustrated all the way through.
As far as the jackets, each of the Big 3 gets its own chapter: the Fitted Jacket has 6 variations, including a bolero, wrap and peacoat; the Basic Jacket has 8, including a poncho, a jean jacket and a column coat (yum); and the Raglan Straight Coat has 9, including a kimono-style, a bomber, a "Paddington Bear" toggle coat and a classic windbreaker.
After the designs comes a resource section for fabrics and supplies and a thorough glossary.
One thing Mullin has gotten right - a woman always needs more jackets. With at least 4 of these on my sewing list (after the appropriate muslin-wrestling), I can't argue her point.
* One silly thing to like about the book: it's ring-bound. In cookbooks or sewing books, I appreciate a book that will stay flat on the table where I put it and look back at me until I'm ready to turn the page.