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Sewing for a Living

by Julie Mueller

I’m sure many of us share the same love of sewing. Many of us think how we can use our love of sewing to make money so we can pay for our fancy machines, add to the family budget or just help ourselves support our craft (or addiction as some claim).  Here are 10 broad ‘sewing for money’ categories. I’m sure that within each category you can think of many examples of things to sew and if you find a product that sells, sell it until there is no interest and then find something else to make. For example, for a while back in the 90s I had a great custom garment business going selling American Girl dress knockoffs; then I got bored and switched to baby layettes.  I wanted to share some of my experiences sewing and sewing for money to give you some ideas on how to develop your own thriving business.

1. Tailoring and alterations. This is a fruitful area for development. Many people who do not sew need someone to shorten pants, fix hems and so forth. I did this for a while but quit when a neighbor brought over a ratty pair of pants and asked me to fix it. Bottom line is that you need to expect anything and you will get regular customers.
2. Sewing custom garments. For a while I explored sewing for bridal parties. It was a horrible experience dealing with picky women and mother of the “bridezilla”! If you decide to get into this area I would recommend you find a niche. For example, you might sew for plus sized people, people who need their clothing adapted for a physical problem, or anyone who cannot shop right “off the rack.” I once had a 6’5” friend who could never find a shirt that fit right but I could provide a perfect fit.
3. Sew home decorator projects. Pillows, slipcovers, draperies all are good, profitable items to sew. There are lots of interior designers and real estate home stagers that would love to put you right to work. Since moving to Florida I’m in demand to sew boat seat covers. I once sewed a sail cover and had to use an industrial machine for that. I got a free day of sailing too!
4. Sew your own thing and hope someone buys it. One the one hand you sew just what you want and on the other hand, you spend a lot of time and money and it might sit there and gather dust. A few years ago I designed a line of children’s clothing and took some flyers to schools, preschools and churches. I did a fantastic business with my “Fashions under Forty” idea. All the cotton dresses sold for $39.99 and were lots of fun to design and sew. Feel free to use that idea if you’d like.
5. Make patterns and kits and sell them on the Internet. This requires some skill but can be very rewarding. If you develop something really special you might sell a lot of them or you might just sell enough to make yourself happy. A lot of your success will depend on your ability to market and sell them to distributors.
6. Learn to digitize and sell designs on the Internet. This also requires a lot of skill but you can do it in your PJs, your investment is under $1000. I digitized exactly one design set – a beautiful Celtic Alphabet and sold quite a few copies but I am not happy doing that; maybe you are. There is a lot of competition for design set sales so be prepared to make a web page, to use online sale tools and to learn marketing techniques.
7. Embroider for others. This can be very exciting. Some people embroider blanks for craft shows or customer garments and some actively solicit custom work. Both are profitable and can be done at home. You need to have policies in place regarding pricing, returns, timelines and so on. There are also copyright laws about what you can sell, how many you can make for sale and whether or not you can change them. Be careful. It’s probably best to learn to digitize to avoid the copyright issue. Even then, digitizing a copyrighted logo or cartoon character is illegal, so be careful!
8. Teach lessons. I’ve taught sewing lessons for many, many years with a lot of satisfaction. I taught them at the park district, at a sewing shop, at sewing conventions and in my house to Girl Scouts. You have to be able to explain how to do things, how to thread all the different machines people bring to sew on, and have endless patience with beginners. If you get someone’s sewing fire lit, it’s an amazing feeling!
9. Write books and articles. I’ve actually written a book about sewing and it sells on amazon.com and my web page very well. So far, I’ve sold about 5000 copies and I’d like to sell a few more. I also write articles for designsbysick.com. You won’t get rich writing but you do get a good feeling. Of course, it might require some skill … or not, as in my case.
10. Just sew for yourself. Forget about trying to sell things and enjoy your sewing world. Sew an occasional gift and go to an occasional workshop. Make a quilt for your own bed and maybe one for your sister. Don’t try to make a dime.

Many people decide to only sew for themselves or for their family. I certainly can understand that because when you have to sew for a deadline or for a project you don’t want to sew, you lose some of the love of the work. Even when I sewed for others for free, soon they became demanding and I didn’t like that either. You have customers coming to your house all the time and that might be a problem with your family or if you don’t keep house. Then there are always pricing issues; too much, too little, getting bad checks, unhappy people etc and you have to be prepared for all of that. Still, once people learn you can sew they keep your name and refer business all the time. These days I can pretty much pick and choose what I sew and for whom I sew. I personally prefer to teach a few lessons, write a few articles and sew a few of my “Fashions Under Forty” dresses here and there. When you really think about it, what kind of sewing do YOU want to do?

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7 Responses to Sewing for a Living

  1. June Minister UK says:

    Greatly inspirational, thank you Julie but how do you find the time to write these great articles AND sew!!

  2. ReeRee says:

    Great atricle, thanks for sewing ideas

  3. Barb Dircks says:

    Excellent article.. Really got me thinking .. and I guess that’s the right path to start on..Thanks loads..

  4. Joyce Raab says:

    I really enjoyed reading your article. It brought back memories of many phases of my own life.

  5. Thank you for the article. It came at a time when i was thinking about sewing to make money. It was a great help, outlining areas i had not taken into consideration. Also, thanks for the many ideals. HAPPY SEWING!

  6. GLORIA says:

    Thanks for this insperational atricle. I have been in a rut trying to sew as a business. Ran the childrens dresses (which I love but not enough money in it) then the baby layets and baby clothing ( again I love but find slow sales) then went to Kitchen Linens (fair market but bored with) now looking into embroidered kitchen linens (excited about and hope I can create a business with this). Looking into Digitizing. Hope I can find my grove. Thanks Love This.

  7. Kim Harris says:

    Thanks for the tips. I’m trying so hard to make a living out of my sewing. It is a slow process. But certainly not unreachable. At least that is what I’d like to think! I will keep trying. I’m joining. Thanks again!

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