Ways of Preparing for Your New Sewing Venture

Sewing from home is an ages old form of cottage industry that can yield financial rewards to those with skill and business sense. Although not everyone can be a dress designer or couture seamstress, there are lots of simpler sewing services, like alterations and repairs, that can be done easily from home and offer consistent work. If you are thinking about starting a sewing business in your home, be sure to have the right materials, equipment, and work space required to get your business off the ground. Additionally, you’ll want to consider how to acquire customers, and whether or not you’d want to run an e-business or work through a local department store or dry cleaners.

Tony the tailor

Develop skills. Before beginning sewing as a business venture, it is important to know how to sew on your sewing machine.

  • Start with small, easy projects that teach basic skills. Making curtains or throw pillows are easy to begin with and will teach basic skills like running a straight seam.
  • Get patterns for more complex projects. Once you are competent with basic sewing, learning skills like darting or ruffling can be helpful toward future money-making projects. When purchasing patterns, always think about current style trends and what patterns reflect contemporary style.
  • Research tips and techniques. The internet is a great place for patterns, tips, and helpful suggestions from successful home seamstresses.

    Tony the tailor

Get equipment. Depending on the type of work you’ll be doing, a basic sewing machine will likely be sufficient, and possibly a serger if you know you’ll be making clothing. In addition to a machine, you’ll need:

  • Good quality scissors and pinking shears. You’ll want heavy duty, sharp shears and scissors that cut fabric evenly and that, when they become dull, can be taken to a machine shop and sharpened.
  • Measuring tape and a ruler. This is one thing that sewing has in common with carpentry, always measure twice before you cut. A ruler will assist when cutting larger pieces of fabric while they are flat. The measuring tape is helpful for measuring while fitting fabric.
  • An heavy-duty iron. All cotton fabrics should be washed before sewing to ensure shape after future washings. After washing, and iron will be needed to remove wrinkles from these fabrics. Additionally, a heavy-duty iron is helpful when creating seams for pinning.

    Tony the tailor

  • Pins and a seam ripper. Pins are needed to ensure all the layers of fabric, and possibly batting, remain stationary during sewing. A seam ripper is there for when a seams goes slightly crooked or a snarl forms in your thread while sewing. The ripper is used to gently remove the thread from the fabric so it can be resewn.
  • Bobbins and thread. You’ll want plenty of extra bobbins for when you start new projects but still have thread on the bobbins from prior projects. You’ll also want thread in a variety of textures, like for clothes, or upholstery, or denim, and also a set of basic colours, too.

Set up your sewing room. Especially if you anticipate clients coming by for fittings, you want to have a room apart from family areas where a fitting can occur. Below are other considerations when constructing your sewing space:

  • A full-length mirror. If you anticipate altering or sewing clothing, have a mirror for clients that require fitting.
  • A system for organizing supplies, patterns, and fabrics. This doesn’t require purchasing new storage units, but it does require developing a workable system using storage tubs, bookcases or filing cabinets you may already have.
  • A sewing table. If your machine isn’t built into a table, invest in an adjustable height sewing table that will be comfortable for you.
  • An adjustable chair. Office chairs can work well for this. The idea is that you want a chair that gives you back support while you are sewing and is comfortable enough to sit in for long hours.

    Tony the tailor

Don’t quit your day job. Be patient and wait for the right opportunity before quitting your current job. Setting up your business will come with upfront costs in materials and equipment. It can take also take a while to develop a customer base or get in with a cleaners or department stores for consistent work.

  • Starting a new business usually requires working more than the 40 hour work week to get it off the ground. In this case, you’ll be keeping your primary job while attempting to build your sewing business in your spare time. Remember to take things gradually at first, particularly if you are just learning how to sew.

Find customers. Consider your area and the type of sewing services that are currently available or desirable. Also consider the type of sewing work you’d like to do.

  • For alterations and repairs, cleaners and department stores would be a good fit for business partnership, along with consignment shops.
  • If you are more interested in tailoring and fitting dresses, it might require working for formal wear boutiques or helping an established, independent seamstress with surplus work.
  • If you specialize outside of general sewing, like making baby clothes, or creating fashionable aprons, try to find boutiques that cater to consumers for these items, like a children’s clothing shop, or a gourmet goods market.
  • Put an ad in the local paper, advertising the type of sewing services you offer. This is a good way to catch the eye of seamstresses that have overflow work, department stores that need an alterations specialist, or sewing stores that need someone to create model samples of patterns carried in the store. You can also go to these businesses directly and ask if they need the services of a seamstress.

    Tony the tailor

Get an online store. You can go through an established service like Etsy or eBay or buy webspace and build your own storefront.

  • The advantage of an online store is that you aren’t limited by area when it comes to customers.
  • You can also choose the type of work that you do, rather than letting the client send you projects.

Set aside consistent work hours each day. Are the kids at school between 8am to 2:30pm? Let these be your “in office” hours where you can complete projects and be reached by customers.

  • You may have to put in time later in the evening or on weekends, but having daily hours ensures productivity and the intake of new business.

    Tony the tailor

Set up a fee structure. For hourly work through an outside vendor, agree to a productivity schedule. If billing by the item, decide how much time standard projects, like pants hemming or letting out seams, require and assess a flat rate. Also decide how much your time is worth hourly for custom projects.

  • Be sure to factor in the cost of materials.
  • Make sure customers are aware of all costs upfront, providing an itemized quote, before beginning work.
  • If it is an on-going business relationship, sign or create an employment contract. There are many templates online available for freelancing contracts; you’ll want to pick one that can be customized to your specific business and customer needs.

Create brochures and flyers. Advertising is necessary to growing your business. It can also act as a way to create word-of-mouth business from satisfied customers, who have a copy of your flyer to give a friend.

  • Start simple. Use a free, downloadable program, design a brochure, and take it to Kinko’s, or choose a service like Vistaprint to create a flyer that contains your contact information and a description of the sewing services you provide.
  • If you provide a variety of different sewing services, consider making different flyers, tailored to each customer type (for example, a flyer designed for a children’s shop would look different than one for a department store or bridal boutique).
  • For an online storefront, consider an email list. Customers can elect to receive updates when new products or services are available.

    Tony the tailor

Offer promotions. Create coupons for customers who give you consistent business. Some ideas for this are:

  • Bulk purchase promotions. Offer one free item for a certain number purchased.
  • A loyalty card. Print off business cards with decals along the edge. For every time a customer orders an alteration or repair, stamp on the decal. After a set number of decals have been stamped, offer the customer a free or reduced cost service.
  • Offer shipping discounts. For online stores, if customers order multiple items, offer combined shipping.
  • Give “extras”– make a batch of small, quick projects out of left over materials that you can include with an order for free and that make the customer feel appreciated.

Build a portfolio. Often when customers are ordering a specific type of service or item, they want to see a collection of projects that you’ve already completed. Not only this, often they can point to prior projects and say “This is perfect. Can we do this with a different [color/size/pattern]?”

  • Be sure to take pictures of elaborate, advanced, or particularly unusual or attractive projects. These also make good brochure photos.
  • Even if you don’t have an online storefront, consider having a webpage and portfolio available via the internet.

    Tony the tailor

Expand to a new market. If you’ve only done repairs and alterations, consider moving into bridal fitting. If you’ve been making baby clothes with success, begin offering some maternity items or accessories for mothers.

  • You want to focus expansion on a part of your business that is doing well or offering a service that you feel you are already equipped to handle. Practicing for free on items for friends and family is a good way of experimenting with how to expand service offerings.
  • Pay attention to nearby cities and towns and see if they have a seamstress offering your type of services. Consider advertising or even taking orders from an expanded geographic area.

Team up with another seamstress. Creating a partnership with another successful seamstress can provide a number of benefits if you are growing your business. For example:

  • If the other seamstress has a different specialty, it allows you to trade customers depending on what their needs are and improve loyalty to your shop.
  • If you both have the same specialty, it permits you to do a larger volume of work. This is particularly helpful if you are in a relationship with a department store or bridal boutique.
  • Take on an apprentice. Teach your trade to someone else and let them handle less technical work, leaving you to tackle tasks that require greater skill and experience.

    Tony the tailor

Things You’ll Need

  • A basic sewing machine & serger
  • Dedicated space in your home
  • An organizational system for patterns and fabrics
  • Thread, pins, and a variety of needles
  • A heavy-duty iron and ironing board
  • A sewing table and adjustable chair

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