Starting, Running and Growing a Sewing Business with no money

Do you dream of having your own shop filled with beautiful fabrics, fun classes  and wonderful customers? Perhaps you would like to start an independent pattern company? Designer Sewing Center started with just one friend asking me to help her with a T-shirt quilt for her daughter. It grew to a little online club for a few friends and fellow sewists, called The Sewist Club. I started a four page newsletter, called Sutura Style, to share tips, tricks and tidbits. Then more classes at home, in my living room. In the Spring of 2015 I started teaching at Hancock Fabrics, and when that grew to the point that I needed a space of my own, we moved to our new, permanent home, at our shop Designer Sewing Center.  It has been a wonderful, sometimes nerve-racking, but always exciting, experience. While the shop has been getting set up, all sewing has been pretty much on hold, but I realized that the journey is a story well worth sharing.  Here is a picture of our shop, before signage or merchandising the windows.

 I was blessed to receive some really great advice at the beginning and it has kept me in good stead every step of the way, “start small and build your way up slowly and carefully”. The ISBDC, in the state of Indiana, provides mentors who can help you learn what you need to know to write a solid business plan which is key to mapping out your future success. It takes patience and passion to start from ground zero with nothing but your two hands and no money, but it can be done. It also takes time and some other way of paying the bills until your business is in a position to stand on its own. The money portion is the toughest part.  Turning your passion into a profit making venture actually takes more time than most people realize.

So, I want to bring money in, but I’ve got no money to open a business with. Starting with my own circle, my first student was our Pastor’s wife and my buddy, Robin. That was back in 2013.  I didn’t charge any money but I the joy of spending time with my buddy and I learned a lot about sharing what I know with others. Fortunately, I kept a notebook to write down my experiences.  I was selling cosmetics through a direct sales company to keep positive cash flow. Robin was a wonderful person to have a my first student. She was so encouraging!

My buddy Robin Mullins and I with her completed T-shirt quilt.

Lessons I learned:

First, volunteering pays in ways we can’t imagine.  Being with someone who cares about you provides the safest place to get feedback  and to share your knowledge. Second, listening and writing about experiences is payment in wisdom. Having the chance to listen to Robin’s questions inspired me to finish the first workbook in the Sutura Style series, Sew Like a Pro. It has been revised several times since the first thoughts were but put to paper but the foundation was based on listening to the needs of others instead of merely trying to regurgitate acquired knowledge.

After meeting with Robin, I decided I wanted to have a teaching business from home but it was nearly a year before I found my first paying customers, our neighbors. Those who have been following this blog know about how illness struck suddenly and all my plans were derailed. To be in business, good health is vital.

 My living room turned sewing studio circa fall 2013

Lessons I learned: there is a time and a season for everything.

I spent the rest of 2013 and most of 2014 writing, making videos and sewing, carefully testing every lesson on entry level, domestic sewing machines and listening, listening, listening. And healing.

Finally, in the fall of 2014 a few neighbors came by for a sewing class. I charged just $10 to cover the cost of fabrics and I put it on as the “beta” version of the new classes that I would be teaching.

Lessons I learned at our first “class”? The most important one was the level of difficulty. After two years of writing, making tutorials and teaching online, I had finally nailed it.  And the  Sutura Style program was born. Into the ISDBC I dove for business plan writing and skill development. When we first opened the shop we had just a few used machines, a handful of bolts of fabric and not much else, all of which had to be paid for by money earned teaching the Sutura Style program at Hancock Fabrics. Earn, save, strive. It’s the best way to build a business from nothing. Oh, and by the way, a hard work sandwich every day will ensure that your business gets off to a good start. That sandwich is made up of Hard Work, Innovation and More Hard Work:)

Happy Sewing,



The Anatomy of a Fabulous Fit – Full Bust and Small Seat

Professional Dressform

I was scrolling through my photo stream and I suddenly realized how often I write/talk/teach/demo about fit. In fact, I think that getting a good fit is the number one subject in class, other than the technical skills needed to create a beautiful garment.

Investing in a good dressform is the same as buying a good quality serger, sewing machine or iron. I was asked recently whether or not I think having one is important. YES! If budget constraints have got you down, there are a number of blogs/tutorials on how to make your own using a combination of double sided tape, dowling and spray foam, or try Kenneth King’s method of using fusible quilt batting, shoulder pads etc to create a body silhouette that can be mounted on a dressform. That said, bear in mind that dressforms are not human forms. I have never encountered a human that had absolutely no buttocks whatsoever. Most dressforms are missing this, together with the lumps, bumps and curves that make us truly female. So, some method of getting the form to accurately reflect your true shape is necessary.

My personal favorite method is the Fabulous Fit system combined with a dressmakers form. I have written about this before but for my new students, here is a fresh take on how to get a perfect fit. For this tutorial you will need a dressform one size (or more) smaller than your body measurements and the Fabulous Fit System in your size. Amazon.com has dressforms for about $150. A small price to pay compared to how much the average sewist will spend on fabric and how much time is wasted trying to get a perfect fit without one. You can also look online at auction houses or, try a retail mannequin form for aroun $59, the only problem with these is that they are very small. The Fabulous Fit System is about $77 also on Amazon.com. In addition, I recommend the following items, shown below:

A Cotton Bra that fits you well. Put it on yourself, look in the mirror and then put it on the dressform.

A Copy of the Sutura Style fit chart. Accurate measurements lead to accurate results. Get your copy here.

A piece of elastic equal to your waist measurement less 1″ and tied at the end

A pair of shoulder pads

IMG_1998 Having taken my current measurements and laid out all my pieces, I was ready to go!

S2320001 Step 1 Full Bust Adjustments: Put your bra on the dressform. The instructions tell you to put the first cotton cover on first. That is fine if you don’t need to do a FBA, but since I do have a full bust, it’s important to get that area right. The mannequin actually has the same measurements as I do at the apex, but check out the gaping at the high bust. This is my first correction.

S2320002 I added the bra pads and placed them in such a way that the thick part is up, filling the top area of the bra cup.

S2320003 Here is what it looks like. I took the time to smooth the pads a little more, then added the first cotton cover. It’s the one without the princess seams.

S2320006 Step 2: Filling out the waist. Using the piece of elastic to hold the pads in place, I played with the different pieces until I had the shape I needed. I started out with 2 of the 17″ pads and 2 filler pads (shown above). Then I added the high hip pads. Basically they are politely referring to the butt. I checked all my measurements and then replaced the filler pads with thigh pads. The thigh pads gave me a rounder hip area on the sides and less on the backside.

S2320008 Step 3: Small seat Adjustment. Okay, I’ve got a small butt, but this lady has me beat. I put the buttock pads in the natural spot and then had to drag them down and sideways to get the fullness where it really is. After playing with the pads, I finally figured out that I needed to use the two thigh pads to create my small seat area. The buttock pads were just too thick. So, I took out the thigh pads shown above at my waist and used the shoulder pads to create a bit of a tummy.

S2320010 Step 4: Covering the Form: Once my main adjustments were made, I put the second cover on. Using the elastic helped enormously with this as it was holding 6 pads in place!

S2320011 And now I am ready to sew for the body I really have!


Embracing the Rain

My goodness it has been a long time since I last posted to this blog. Months of illness and misdiagnosis had me out for the count, most of the summer and into winter. Life happens to us and I often find myself wishing that every day could warm (but not too hot) and sunny with a gentle breeze. 2014 taught me to embrace the rain. And not just that tropical, warm rain that comes during Rainy Season in Grenada. Nope. I have finally learned to appreciate the bitter chill of an icy storm and to be thankful that I am alive to see it.

Health is back but not being taken for granted 🙂

It’s a beautiful day here in the midwest. Despite the cold weather, a hint of Spring is in the air and my sewing room is stacked with fabrics that I bought last year. I had a rule, now broken, never to have more fabric than I could stick on my shelves. It is stash buster time for me once again and I am really excited about the prospect. I plan to spend the next few days assigning fabric to patterns, and planning my sewing so that I can maximize my time. There is a certain satisfaction, that I have thus far resisted, in browsing my stash and finding hidden treasures that I had forgotten about. I found several lovely pieces of silk that are begging to be sewn – and some wool suiting that I had planned to make into suits for the men in my life. Not to mention a whole stack of shirting that needs whipping up. David Page Coffin’s DVD on shirtmaking will be going into the DVD player for review in the very near future.

The most exciting part about this spring is that I have been blessed to get back the health that faded so quickly last year. The icy storms in life can knock out the strongest of us but the good news is that the sun does rise all the more brightly, having been through the rain.

Happy Sewing!



The Waning Days of Honeysuckle

Another beautiful creation. The color and style suit you perfectly. The extra effort that you mentioned seem well worth it!

sewing forward

The blooms of the honeysuckle vine are fading, a melancholy sign of summer coming end. Although I’m looking forward to fall sewing, with wools and tweeds and deep earthy colors, I’m still sewing summer.

I bought 4 dress patterns from Vogue Patterns in the spring and sewed all four, no purchases languishing in the stash this year. My honeysuckle dress is V8972, a Vogue Easy Option. Love the custom fit cup sizes included.


Maybe not the best choice for someone short and curvy, but having seen some similar RTW dresses (just looking fellow RTW Fasters, no buying) I was drawn in by the waist detail.

The fabric was purchased for the project from Haberman Fabrics. I was looking for something in orange, but found the honeysuckle cotton matelassé. Could this work and not look like I recycled my bedspread? At least it washes really well.


Since this dress has so many pieces…

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The Singer Featherweight 222K – Simply a Sewing Sensation


Featherweight 222K

Here is my beautiful (newly acquired!) 222K Featherweight. Featherweights (221, 222K’s) are often described as the “perfect portable” sewing machine due to their light weight aluminium build.

Can you see how this full size 66K hand-cranked Singer weights in at a whopping 32.2Ibs?

Singer 66 weight

A 3/4 sized 99K Singer weighs (click here to read more about Suzy!) 20.8Ibs.

Singer 99K weight

What a sewing sensation the Featherweight’s must have been, a 222K weighing just 12Ibs!!!! No wonder she has a reputation of portable perfection!

Featherweight 222K weight

The next photo shows all 3 side by side so you can compare their sizes. The hinged bed featherweight extension gives a great sewing area, but yet allows you to fold it neatly away to fit into its carry case which is about the size of an old vinyl record carry case.

comparing singer 66 99 222K with flat bed loweredComparing Singer 66 99 222K sewing machine size

The black carry case of the 222K is on the right next to a red vintage LP vinyl case.

featherweight 222k vs LP vinyl case

Singer 222K Red S with sew darn leverThe model number on a Featherweight…

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Fabric Storage, Hobby Spaces, Sewing Room Makeover, Uncategorized

DIY Ironing Cart Tutorial

Creating your own fabric covers for furniture can be fun, rewarding and an inexpensive solution for storage problems. Thanks to Margaret for asking about the cart at the sister blog, See It and Sew It! Here is a tutorial for anyone who is interested in covering a sewing cart of their own, bookshelves, tables, bathroom sinks etc. The same method works across the board.

Thank you for your kind words and questions Margaret 🙂


To make the cart cover shown here, I used 42″ wide cotton fabric, hook and loop tape (the sticky variety shown in the photo above), 3/8″ elastic, a novelty buttoned for decoration and coordinating thread.

Making the skirt was simple. To come up with the length for the cover, I measured from the top edge of the cart to just above the floor. In this case, that number is 30″. But don’t use that number unless you are working with a Bygel cart from Ikea as I was 🙂 Four inches were to this measurement for a total of 34″ for the hem allowance and a fold allowance for the top edge to create a clean finish.

The 42″ width of the fabric was sufficient so only one length was used. Once cut, I double checked the length ensure that the wheels so the cart can move easily. Using a warm iron, a hem of 1.5″ was double folded and pressed at the bottom of the fabric (this Paris theme print has a very clear direction). A half inch fold was also pressed at the top of the fabric for a nice clean edge. The hem was sewn up using a simple, 2.5 mm long straight stitch in a pretty pink thread.

Next, Velcro, the sticky back type, was applied. I adhered the loop side of the Velcro to the top edge of the skirt with the sticky surface. I then reinforced the loop tape by sewing it with a long straight stitch. My needle was gummed up by the end of the sewing process, but that was okay; I just used some goof-off to clean it.

To create the gathers, use 3/8″ elastic and cut it the length of the perimeter of the cart minus a few inches for extra gathers. This is sewn on with a three step zigzag stitch right below the Velcro and gives relatively evenly spaced gathering without having to calculate the fabric/Velcro ratio. The picture below shows the details.




Pieces of Velcro (hook side as shown above) were cut to length and adhered to the cart. The the skirt was attached and presto! A great space to store sewing supplies and projects in process. 🙂

I hope this helps! Happy Sewing!


Next…DIY sewing table for my Bernina 932 Record


Kacie’s T-shirt Quilt

In February, my buddy Robbin and I sat down at lunch and discussed the possibility of doing a t-shirt quilt together for Kacie’s graduation. I told Robin I would be happy to teach her how to make a quilt but that I would not be able to do it for her. She was ready to embark on this new adventure, having saved Kacie’s t-shirts for years – together with a darling romper and a really cute gymnastics suit. She worked really hard on the project and came over to my place 5 times to get the work done but looking at the picture of what she made I think she can be really proud of the treasure she has created for her darling daughter as Kacie heads off to college.