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Reply To: Career in Sewing

Reply To: Career in Sewing

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Wow, that’s a tough question.  We definitely seemed to have gone through a sewing curve in terms of how it’s valued by people.  For thousands of years, sewing was simply a skill and chore, like doing dishes, and pretty much every woman knew how to do it and it was a necessity.  Then we went through a period, where we snubbed our noses at homemade items and you weren’t cool if you weren’t wearing manufactured clothes.  And now we, as a society (men and women) really seems to overvalue sewing.  And I don’t mean overvalue as in a bad thing.   I just think that people who are unskilled at sewing are super impressed with those who can do it, and maybe you can sell them your homemade organic cotton dishtowels for $20 a pop.  I definitely think that sites like Etsy have really helped in this department and people love the DIY and homemade now.  I know I do. As far as a career, I think it’s still really difficult to make a living at it.  It’s not impossible though!  It’s difficult (bad news) but not impossible (good news).  I guess it depends on what type of job would be your ideal.

Do you want to get into fashion design?  If you live in an area like Los Angeles or New York or some big fashion oriented city, you may be able to get your foot in the door as an intern or assistant at a fashion house or wardrobe department for a film or theater production.  (I’ve did the wardrobe assistant thing for independent films when I first graduated from college and it was tough, but fun.)  If your incredibly lucky, you’ll get paid something, even if it’s peanuts, but more than likely you’ll get paid a free lunch here and there.  But if you can afford to live off of dirt, it might be your way in and being “in” is your first step to moving up.  If you don’t live in a area like this, maybe see if there are any local designers in your area.  They’ll probably be selling in local boutiques.  If you can contact them, you can at least see if you can pick their brain about getting started.  At the very least, start experimenting with clothing and design and keep a record of your stuff so you can start building your portfolio.  If you make something awesome and unique, you can talk to those local boutique owners and see if they’re interested in selling your stuff.  The main thing here, like anything else, is to stay determined and not to get discouraged even though sometimes it feels like nothing but discouragement.

Do you want to get into alteration, dressmaking, or just sew for pay?  In this case, I would start small.  Start telling friends and family that you’ll hem up their pants for them or make those curtains they’ve always wanted.  The main thing here is not to undervalue your work.  Most people, who do not know how to sew, are already undervaluing the time and energy it takes to make something.  Yes, they’re impressed you know this valuable skill, but pretty soon you’ll find people who will say, ‘look I bought this cheap fabric, can you just whip me up some curtains?’  As if it takes 5 minutes to do so.  So just start telling people, hey if you ever need your pants hemmed, I’ll totally do it for $10.  Want those curtains made?  It’ll probably take me a full day to do it, but I do it for $50.    Start putting a value on your work.  At least three things will happen, you’ll weed out those people who just want to take advantage of your free labor, people will start to value your work and spread the word to their friends, and, hopefully, you start making money.  Once you start feeling confident about doing this type of work, start advertising on craigslist, put flyers up at fabric stores or grocery stores, or check for seamstress jobs online.  This method takes awhile to build up the clientele, but, once you have a decent clientele, it’ll more than likely be a full-time job.

Want to sell items you’ve made?  The good news is, these days almost everyone loves homemade things and they’re willing to pay a decent price for it.  Also, you can sell through online craft vendors like Etsy or get a booth at a local craft fair.  Although, sometimes getting a booth can be expensive.  It’s definitely easier than ever to set up virtual shop.  Just start crafting and start posting your items.  Don’t undervalue your work but, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like you’ll ever get the full value out of it either.  You take into account the cost of your materials and then give yourself a profit.  Even then, you always seemed to get shorted when it comes to your labor.  If it takes a full week to make a baby quilt and you included your labor at $15/per hour,  then your value of the quilt might be $1,000.  Obviously, no one is going to pay that much for a quilt, so maybe you’ll figure $40 in supplies and charge $150 for the quilt.  I guess the trick is to see what other similar items are going for and try to be in a similar range.   Also, it’s good to find your niche.  Instead of having a hodgepodge of different things, focus on a few that you like and get really good at that.  Maybe your online store is everything that has to do with baby bonnets.  Finding your niche means you start developing your identity to the market.  The point is, it can be a lot of work and take awhile to start seeing a decent return, where you can just quit your day job, but people do it on Etsy everyday, so it’s definitely possible.

Anyways, I hope that gives you some insight.  I’d say most of the time, it’s on par with being a starving artist.  It’s a lot of work and struggle, but you keep going for it, in the hope that there’s a nice reward at some point.