Let me first start by saying that this isn’t a “Why I did, and you should, too” post. This is merely one (or many if we’re really counting) experience(s) from a single person. What worked for me won’t necessarily work for you and vice versa.
Almost three years ago, I got a wild hair up my nether regions and decided to buy a sewing machine for crafting purposes. I should probably mention that prior to this, I hadn’t gone near a sewing machine in over a decade because of a velvet and lace dress project for Home Ec that nearly made me swear off sewing for life. Obviously, the whole ‘for life’ part didn’t end up happening. Nevertheless, I got bit by the crafting bug and settled on a little Singer in my locals Michael’s store that was on sale.
I tinkered here and there with the machine in what little spare time I had for several months. I even made many no-sew tulle bed skirts and sold them (that took FOREVER and didn’t make near enough to account for the time). I sewed up some seat-belt pillows and sold them. That endeavor lasted about 15 seconds because sewing anything that could potentially come back as a lawsuit just plain scares me.
I kept doing various little things with my machine for extra money until we found ourselves expecting baby #3. All of a sudden the tinkering went from “Hey! This will be great for crafts!” to “SEW ALL THE BABY THINGS!” Pure craziness I tell ya.
I started dreaming up all the things I could sew for the baby. Then, that turned into all the things I could sew for the baby AND sew to sell. Cloth diapers. Clothes. Blankets. Bibs. You name it. If it went with a baby, I planned on sewing it. Little did I know just how much time these things take on a mere sewing machine. And time wasn’t exactly something I had in spades. Unless you’re counting all those hours up late at night reading books cover to cover. But that was book time. Not sewing time. You get what I mean, right?
As it turned out, the baby arrived before I’d really finished any sewing projects for him. Maybe I should’ve re-evaluated that reading time allotment??? I was able to produce a couple of cute items in his first couple of months before I decided to go full-on crazy.
I found a pattern from Mamma Can Do It for a baby onesie, and the brain juices started flowing. Not only could I whip up some custom onesies for my little guy, but I could also design an entire line of them to sell to the public! After all, that’s exactly the line of thinking that everyone else has, right?! Did I mention I’d never sewn clothes before this? Except that horrible dress from Home Ec that we won’t ever mention again. I’ve wanted to design clothes for as long as I can remember, and while it wasn’t the designer gowns and fashion-forward trendsetting clothes I’d imagined growing up, it was for little ones with squishy cheeks and adorable Michelin baby rolls. And who can resist that, right?
I set to work right away. I planned, sketched, spent hours researching laws, ordered garment care tags, purchased an insane amount of fabric, brainstormed business names and put it to a public vote, had my personalized tags designed, and got to work sewing up a storm. I even got a group of parents with kiddos in the right age ranges to agree to a photo shoot with the clothes as compensation, and I even printed out contracts to make sure I had all my p’s and q’s in order.
I can’t tell you how many hours I spent working away in my sewing room in those four months. It was grueling for sure. I worked literally up to the minute the babies started coming through the front door for the photo shoot. I loved every piece I had made. After all, my heart and literal blood, sweat and tears were wrapped up into that collection.
Then, it came time to price them and start the marketing. I’m from a very small, conservative town where we’re all blue-collar, hard working people. We value the dollar and know that it doesn’t come easy and goes all too fast. I’m also a realist and penny pincher when it comes to money. I know I would never pay more than a few dollars for a onesie. Why? Because my child is going to grow out of it in a max of six months. Why on earth would I spend hoards of money on clothes that are going to get worn a handful of times? I also knew that my local market wouldn’t likely be a big place for paying more than a few dollars. The problem was I had eleven, twelve and sometimes more hours in each individual piece. There was no way I could sell them for what I would pay!
I struggled deeply with the cost issue. And in the end, I cut myself extremely short. I charged between $20 and $30 for a onesie, depending on the work involved. But after the cost of materials were factored in, I was making less than $1 an hour! For real people!
It didn’t take long before I closed the door on that venture. It was taking away so many precious hours with my family to not even bring in a profit that amounted to anything. As much as I loved what I had done with those onesies, and as much more as I hated the idea of failing and people I know seeing me fail, there really wasn’t another option. While it hurt to fail, looking back I’m glad I did. It taught me many important lessons.
Granted, had I been using a serger, it would’ve cut down tremendously on my time. But, I had definitely put myself in the cart before the horse scenario, and I wasn’t ready to learn outside of my sewing machine.
After the onesie store crash and burn, it took me a bit to get back on the sewing for profit horse. I was burnt out from all the months of constant sewing that yielded next to nothing. It wasn’t long after that a friend that was getting married asked me to alter one of her bridesmaid’s dresses. It was supposed to be a simple wham bam thank-you-ma’am kind of job. I was adding a corset piece already purchased to the zipper portion of the dress because the bridesmaid was pregnant and her bust had grown since the last fitting. She had taken it to the alterations store, but they wanted to charge $140, and she could only afford $40. (Are you sewing folks cringing right now because you know what I’ve gotten myself into? Yeah, I want to throw up just writing this right now.)
After reading online about the corset piece, it seemed fairly straight forward. I made sure she was aware this wasn’t something I’d done before, and I couldn’t make any guarantees. She gave the go ahead and wanting to help her out, I got started. Long story short, it was an absolute disaster. First of all, I’d never altered anything in my life. The dress was layers and layers and freaking horrendous layers of satin and tulle. I threw my sewing machine out of time ($69 to fix. There goes any money made and then some.) I broke multiple needles on my backup machine – including one that broke and went into my bottom lip. I ultimately ended up knocking my backup machine out of time (another $69 to fix. Mega ouch at this point.) And after an insane amount of hours and two 30 mile trips one way to her house for fittings, it still didn’t fix the problem. As it turns out, a corset won’t adjust for a bust. So, I had to go back at it and add straps, do another fitting, spend countless hours hand-stitching the boning into the dress from the corset because it just wasn’t holding up before I could finally hand it over.
Guess who has a no alterations policy now? 🙂
I had spent tons more than I ended up getting paid, it took me over four times the hours I had expected it to, and in the end, was more of a headache than I could’ve ever imagined. Lesson learned.
Towards the beginning of this year, I decided I needed to find a different outlet in the sewing for profit market. I needed to focus on things that didn’t involve hoards of time and could produce a somewhat decent income. I settled on soft baby shoes.
I found an incredibly adorable pattern from petitboo (she has so many cute ones!), took a trip to the fabric store, and got to work. I altered the pattern slightly to prevent any hand sewing so I could save time and therefore, money. I sewed up multiple samples, listed them online and started marketing. Soon, I was sewing up shoe orders on a pretty regular basis.
Something you should know about my personality: I get bored easily. I’ve always been this way and used to look at it in a negative light. Now, I look at it as the reason why I love doing so many things and am always looking to learn and expand my knowledge in a multitude of arenas. Sure, it can hinder me in certain aspects, but I’m learning to accept all the ways God made me: a bundle of organized chaos.
Seeing as how I get bored easily, you can imagine how I would feel making the same thing – albeit in different fabrics – over and over. I also get super stressed out whenever I’m making something for someone else. Whether it’s a gift or for profit, my nerves are fried the entire time during and after. I worry constantly about making everything perfect. I have a very high standard I hold myself to in anything I do, and I’m not able to let the smallest imperfection slide. Not even the ones ‘behind the seams’ that no one would ever see. Once the piece is finished, I spend weeks and sometimes months worrying about how they liked it, how it’s holding up, and if it was good enough they’d want to tell their friends about me or if it wasn’t something they’d put on their child to take in public.
That’s a lot of stress for a single piece. Let alone many pieces that add up over time. It’s just enough stress to take the enjoyment out of sewing.
When I finally stepped back and took a good look at where I am, where I want to be, and what it’s going to take to get there, I realized that sewing for profit isn’t in my goals list. It’s not even on a backup list or a backup to the backup. Sewing is something I do because I’m passionate about it. I love to create. And I love learning new things that make it possible to make so much more. I want to create for my kids, and for the love of Pete, myself! Spending all of my sewing hours sewing for profit takes away the time I can be sewing for the ones I love and updating that closet of mine that’s still sporting nothing but maternity wear and over-sized t-shirts that have “made do” for two years now.
By taking a hard look at my goals and examining my heart to see if there was any truth to me wanting to sew for a business it made me realize that it’s not the direction I want to go. I want to teach people to sew so that they can change their own world. I want to give them the tools to create for themselves, their friends and family. I want to see the spark of passion turn into a fire that blazes brightly when they discover they can provide something so vital to their family through mending and making. I don’t want to sew for people. I want to teach the world to sew for themselves.
It took failure, hard lessons, and quite a bit of money lost to get to the realization that I’m at today. But, it was all worth it! If I hadn’t spent the past two years using various ways to sew for profit, I wouldn’t have gone through the steps of discovery that awakened me to my true desire.
Remember in everything you do that failure should be an option. But don’t cower in the midst of it. Press on, hold your head high, and use it to unveil your true heart. Sometimes we don’t even know what we want until we go through the circumstances that lead us to it. I believe going through these experiences is what makes us that much more dedicated when we finally find what makes our hearts sing. It is only then that we can truly use our gifts to help others and make a difference, no matter how big or small.