Working From Home: What I’ve Learned
Someone asked me to talk a little more about working from home and working for myself. I will preface this by saying: I am self-taught in every aspect of this, from sewing to the taxes, etc. So please don’t take this as an all-encompassing, completely accurate guide.
Years ago, I had a real job, outside of home, and I hated it. I was miserable, so I quit; Walked out while on a break. I just couldn’t take it anymore. Ever since then, I have been self-employed. It’s varied between full-time and part-time, and I have had a couple jobs outside of the home here and there, but for the most part, I’ve worked as a seamstress for the last 18 years.
I started making custom prom and wedding dresses, and loved it. I had been making my own clothes for years, so was comfortable with patterns and designing. Eventually we decided to find a sewing genre that would allow us a little more privacy (my sewing studio was a room on the front of our house), and I stumbled onto production sewing. I started out making bags and purses for several local companies (freakinbillboard.com); later I added on wallets (thriftyzippers.com), and eventually fish bags (used in fishing competitions).
Here’s what I recommend for those of you wanting to pursue sewing from home:
You must be a self-motivated person. I struggle with this at times. I am an all-or-none person: I either spend the whole day scrubbing every inch of my house, or I go weeks without doing any cleaning at all. It’s hard for me to find balance. I’ve really had to learn balance in sewing. I love that I have a flexible schedule, I just have to be careful that I don’t allow it to be too flexible.
You cannot be afraid to fail. I have not always been as busy in work as I am now, and we’ve had to adjust our lives to accommodate. I have a great husband who puts up with me, and we’ve made it through the lean times.
Perfectionism is both a blessing and a curse. When you’re sewing for a client, you want to put your best work forward, of course! But you can’t take so long making something for a client that it’s not even worth your time. So either put aside the perfectionist in you, or get faster. Either of those options take time and patience.
Calculate the cost. As makers, we often undervalue our work. It’s hard to put a price on something we’ve poured our heart and soul into, but when it comes time to price it, we don’t usually want to put the real price on it. Don’t cheat yourself! When you calculate how much that quilt should cost, include everything like fabric, batting, even thread, needles, and the upkeep on your machines. And don’t forget to pay yourself! Figure out how much you want/need hourly, then add that cost into the price of whatever you’re selling.
Find your niche. Long arm quilting services? Quilt maker who sells at local fairs? Tailor? Production seamstress? Find out what you enjoy or what you’re good at, then do the research. Talk to people. Ask questions. Make lists, budgets, schedules, business plans. And if you find that one thing isn’t working, don’t be afraid to back away and switch gears. That being said, don’t throw a ton of money into something before you know it’s gonna work for you. Can you rent the machine before you buy it? Can you work at it part time before leaving your current job? Can you afford it if it fails?
Reach out. Use whatever resources you have in your area to find work. Take fliers to local quilt and fabric shops. Go to local dry cleaners (if they don’t have in-house tailors, they are probably happy to find one because their customers are asking). Use online sites such as Craigslist to find people who are looking for seamstresses. Keep on it.
Treat your business as an actual business. Use contracts with your clients; it’s a protection for both you and them. Learn your local tax laws (in the US, self-employment means you pay a much higher tax rate than just what your employer takes out of your check for you) so you can save back and be prepared.
I feel incredibly fortunate that my mother taught me a skill that I’ve used for so long to help support my family. I love being home with our son, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have never said “I don’t know how to do that”, I’ve just acted like I did and figured it out later!