How I started a sewing business and lost my mojo

I have been happily sewing since I was 15 — almost 30 years. I thought I loved it enough to have my own home-based home dec sewing business.

Yeah, well, I was wrong.

Today, I’m sharing my experience as food for thought for others who are considering making the jump into sewing as a business. As always, feel free to use my life as a cautionary tale.

What worked

❦ I love home dec sewing, I’m good at it, and frankly not that many people know how to make a pinch-pleated drapery. I’d done enough projects for friends (and had enough pep talks from them) to be confident in my skills.

❦ I’m excellent with admin and paperwork, am very handy with a cordless drill, and love doing everything myself.

❦ Consulting with clients was fun. I got to go into their houses, hear their ideas and make them a reality. How cool is that?

❦ Seeing my custom designs installed in clients’ homes was thrilling.

❦ I had the opportunity do a wide variety of projects that I wouldn’t necessarily have done on my own.

Board-mounted valance

My favorite project from my sewing business — a board-mounted valance with sheer swags. Here it's resting on my dining room table prior to delivery and installation.

❦ I enjoyed the flexibility of having a home-based business. Sketching pillow designs while with the kids at the pool was a great way to work a second job.

❦ The business gave me a good excuse to upgrade from my 30-year-old Kenmore to the Fancy Damn Sewing Machine, which I LOVE.

What didn’t

❦ I tried to start my business while holding down a full-time job. I’m also a wife and mom. That was challenging, but not impossible. (Why yes, I do have a tendency to overcommit my time. Why do you ask?)

❦ I was required to file paperwork with the city, the county and a couple of state agencies so my very tiny business was 100 percent legal. (I live in California, a state that’s considered less than fully business-friendly.) I was drowning in paperwork before I ever sewed a stitch for a client, but I’m a rule-follower that way.

❦ I started my business about 18 months before the recession hit, so I had just enough time to start gaining some traction before the bottom fell out. I’m glad I didn’t have time to really get rolling. What if I had done so well that I quit my job THEN the bottom fell out?

❦ Having to perform to someone else’s expectations under deadline pressure is what I do at work every day. I THRIVE on it. But sewing under those same circumstances took most of the fun out of what had been my hobby.

❦ And the biggie: I felt bad about charging appropriate prices for my work, although I did it anyway; and I was not comfortable selling my service. Even if this were the only negative, it still would have been enough to sink my business. 

Why I don’t regret it

❦ I’ve always wanted to have my own business. I’m proud of myself for trying. So is my husband. He hates when people talk about things but never take action. He was 100 percent supportive, which was awesome.

❦ I loved, LOVED, being totally in charge of all aspects of the business, even if the business itself wasn’t the right fit.

❦ I made a little revenue (alas, not profit), which was really exciting!

Where I am now

A home-based home dec sewing business didn’t work out for me. This does not mean it’s not a viable business for someone. I just wasn’t that particular someone. Your results may vary.

I actually stopped sewing for a while after I ended my business. Lost my mojo a bit, you might say. But I came roaring back to garment sewing earlier this year. I do need to make some detours back into home dec soon because the master bedroom and bathroom need some love from my sewing machine, but at the moment I am totally groovin’ on making vintage-inspired clothes.

For now, I’m selfishly sewing ONLY for myself, blogging about it and loving every minute of it all. I’m back, Baby!

If you are considering starting a sewing business and have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me via a comment or the contact page.

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14 thoughts on “How I started a sewing business and lost my mojo

  1. Corinne September 3, 2011 at 6:35 am Reply

    I totally understand. Did that as well. Your story is truly a mirror image of mine. I continued my full-time work and did home dec sewing (and some garment work as well) and was never so miserable. My last straw was when a regular client (who was agoraphobic by the way) sent her husband to my house with some hooked wool rugs that needed repaired. She insisted that these were priceless items. They were run of the mill bargain store rags covered with dog hair and dirt. I took one look and said, no. I will not even have these in my studio, they were that bad! Now remember that I had essentially decorated her entire house by measurements, photo’s and over the telephone conversations, I never even saw the rooms! They paid well, but not enough! When I decided to close up shop I felt an enormous sense of relief. I didn’t sew again for about 5 years, then I found quilting. Quilting is a passion and it led me back to my favorite hobby, sewing. Your valence piece is lovely.

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    • Jeanne Marie September 3, 2011 at 4:38 pm Reply

      Wow, what a story! I’m glad for both of us that we found our way back to having fun with our sewing.

      Like

  2. sheila September 12, 2013 at 11:53 am Reply

    very nice of you to share your experience. I am considering home dec sewing and this just helps to understand the different aspects of it.

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  3. Jeanne Marie September 12, 2013 at 12:05 pm Reply

    Best of luck to you, Sheila! I hope it all works out well for you. Thank you so much for stopping by.

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  4. Karen October 22, 2013 at 11:30 am Reply

    I have also been sewing since my early teens, and my mother sewed all my clothes growing up. I sewed for myself too…but wouldn’t call myself a seamstress. Then I got into horses…horses need blankets. Horses ruin blankets…rip them and break buckles etc. I had dreamed of starting my own horse blanket repair business, but where I lived there was already a big business so when we moved to Colorado, I started my own horse blanket repair business….I went from zero to $3500.00 a month in 3 months. It was pretty incredible, but then we had to move back to California. I was a full time mom, didn’t have a full time job so I could devote my time to picking up, washing, repairing and delivering the blankets. It is just a mediocre part-time job for me now. I did have a time where I stopped sewing…it was a bore trying to put a horse blanket back together…some of them were pretty ugly repairs…but it pays pretty well. I have restarted again and people love the work I do. I do have some competition. I have also taught other people how to start their own businesses too…but you have to love horses, and don’t mind the horse smell! LOL

    Great article, and I’m glad you’re back to doing what you love!

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    • Jeanne Marie October 22, 2013 at 11:42 am Reply

      Karen, what a wonderful story and an unusual niche. They say find a problem and solve it, so good for you. I learned some great lessons with the sewing business that are helping me now that have I left my job and have become an independent communications professional. I love it, but it is cutting into my sewing time!

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  5. Sinat November 26, 2013 at 10:35 pm Reply

    I love sewing as it was my favorite since i was young. Now I’m considering of starting learning how to sew and a draw a pattern. But I feel that a 34 years old woman just start learning how to sew is too late.

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    • Jeanne Marie November 27, 2013 at 5:57 pm Reply

      It is NEVER too late! Check your local fabric store, sewing machine store, community college or the Internet for sewing classes. In no time at all, you could be sewing beautiful things. Best of luck!

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  6. Erin January 9, 2014 at 8:02 pm Reply

    Really good points on the good and not so good of a sewing business. I have been seeing things since I was 15. I’m 35 now and sew for my daughters. Things turn out nice but not professionally finished. I really want to start a sewing business as I love to see. But need to buy a serger..is it worth it?

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    • Erin January 9, 2014 at 8:04 pm Reply

      Oh no! Autocorrect changed sew to see. Sorry 🙂

      Like

    • Jeanne Marie January 9, 2014 at 8:23 pm Reply

      Erin, whether or not you need a serger will, or course, depend on the kind of sewing you do and what the expectations of your clients would be as to the kind of seam finishes. For high-end custom garment sewing, better finishes would be expected. When I did the board-mounted valance, the cut polyester edge got all feathery and hard to deal with. It was easily tamed with a serged edge. Although I don’t use my serger any more in my personal sewing (we had an argument and have NOT made up), if I were sewing for someone else, I’d want one. Go to a good sewing machine shop and have them show you the capabilities to see if it would be worth it for YOU. You might be able to get a good deal on a used one. Best of luck with your future business!

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  7. Elizabeth March 2, 2014 at 5:52 pm Reply

    Thanks for this post! I love garment sewing…it is my passion! I’m 20 yrs. old and have been sewing since I was 11. I’ve been blogging for 2 years and recently a good friend of mine told me I should start my own business of sewing custom clothing. I’m also a student. Someday I would love to try my hand at my own business, but I don’t know if it’s possible right now. I want my passion to stay my passion and not be something I despise. My friend also asked me why I’m not studying fashion design instead of nursing, and it made me wonder if I was in fashion design, would sewing still be my passion? Anyway, you’ve given me some food for thought with this post! Do you have any tips for someone who is just starting out in the business side of things? Not that it will be anytime soon, but someday I might like to give it a try.

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  8. Anke Herrmann (@anke_herrmann) September 1, 2015 at 5:15 am Reply

    Great article! (I know I found it long after you posted it 🙂 I’d always sewn as a hobby and in 2004 went for it, resigned from my job, moved to Spain and set up my own sewing studio for flamenco dance costumes. It’s been quite a ride but the best thing I’ve ever done. I can definitely relate to everything you say – the good, the bad and why you don’t regret it. For me it wasn’t easy and I surely came close to giving up a few times but in the end I found my way and now I couldn’t be happier with my business. The issue of charging what I am/my service is worth was a big one for me too. Finding a way to deal with that aspect was a game changer, so much so that I’m now on a mission to help other sewing enthusiasts. After all, having a passion, something that makes us jump out of bed in the morning, is something most people spend a lifetime searching for and worth protecting and exploring.
    I’m glad you found your love for sewing again!

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    • Jeanne Marie September 2, 2015 at 4:06 pm Reply

      Anke, I’m so glad it worked out for you! And now that I love sewing again, I’m finding so many exciting things I want to try. There’s always so much to learn. Thank you for stopping by!

      Like

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