Anyone in Seattle want to make their own pajama pants?
May 21, 2010 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Now that I'm freshly unemployed, I'm thinking about teaching sewing lessons out of my apartment. I'm in Seattle, and my target demographic would likely be young adults on the hipster spectrum, like myself, and perhaps kids 8 and above. What do I need to consider about 1. the business side of an enterprise like that (bookkeeping, taxes, advertising, setting prices, etc.), 2. keeping things safe and pleasant while inviting basically strangers into my home. Bonus item 3. what would you want your lessons to be like if you were my student?

I taught kids' sewing lessons during college in my parents' basement, and took lessons as a kid out of people's homes. But that was in suburbia, teaching neighborhood kids and advertising by word of mouth. This is a slightly different ballgame.

First I need recommendations and resources on starting a small business of this kind.

Second I need to advertise my services to attract reliable and interested students who I won't mind having in my home.

Third I need to create lesson plans that won't suck. I'd be offering private and small-group lessons at a variety of skill levels.
posted by doift to Work & Money (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Make it project-based, especially for the groups, and incorporate general skills into it. So, for your target audience, perhaps "the perfect skirt workshop" that includes fitting, fabric selection, basic hand stitches, using a machine, making a casing or setting in a zipper. Also, I would think a repurposing workshop, in which you do thrift store visits and then reassemble, would work - maybe incorporating quilting or home dec?

You'll get some students who want to learn more comprehensively and who might want individual tutoring, but project workshops bring 'em in the door.

(You know about Pattern Review, right? The forums there might offer some real help since quite a few PR members teach sewing on the side.)
posted by catlet at 8:42 AM on May 21, 2010

as a sewer who would dig this kind of thing, i would want you to have creative and interesting patterns, offer hand sewing and machine lessons, and also work in the angle of promoting and selling work. like if you offered an etsy site for anyone who took your classes, or little modules and support about selling the work. and even a slide show or a book with examples of cult trends in sewing (like japanese dolls, ugli dolls, etc).....i'm a doll-maker so that's my angle....
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:43 AM on May 21, 2010

Second I need to advertise my services to attract reliable and interested students who I won't mind having in my home.

Contact the local Girl Scout Council. Here is the site for the Western Washington Council. Ask how you can get involved by offering badge workshops. You don't have to sign up to be a leader or anythnig, just let them know that you can offer workshops/classes tailored to the requirements of their badges.

Third I need to create lesson plans that won't suck. I'd be offering private and small-group lessons at a variety of skill levels.

See above - check out the requirements for GS badges. Even if you don't go that route, it should give you an idea of the types of things kids of various ages would be capable of, or interested in learning.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:47 AM on May 21, 2010

I know nothing about your questions 1 and 2, but as for 3 -- Are you talking about machine or hand sewing? If machine, what stands out to me is - when I was wee, in my school's sewing club, we had a room full of sewing machines of varying ages. Some were old and had the metal bobbins in the cup that you have to put in just so, and others had a plastic sort that my mom's Singer had, which were much less complicated. When I grew up, I wound up with a vintage Bernina with the metal kind, and I was very glad that someone had shown me how to deal with both kinds so I wasn't completely confused by it. Also, loading up the bobbins - I see people sell pre-filled bobbins now; have we gotten to the point where people don't know how to load bobbins??

Things I wish someone would have included in the lessons -- I would seriously love it if anyone had ever explained to me how the heck this button contraption or the buttonhole stitch is supposed to work. Oooh, and it would be nice to go over when and where to apply oil to moving parts. I think we fourth graders weren't trusted with oil and so I missed out on something important. Zippers are a deep black hole of mystery, as well.

So I think you could put together lessons of, like, how to deal with the parts of a machine, what all these different weird stitches are for (zigzag vs. straight vs. the one where you have a zigzag next to straight, length and width selection, etc), dealing with elastic, dealing with hems, why ironing can be useful, how to deal with patterns (oh how I hate wrestling tissue paper - ooh, that one could be a field trip to a store to talk about what you're looking for in a pattern and why). The different sorts of thread for different jobs, characteristics of different fabric weights or materials. You could probably design a beginner's lesson plan around taking a semi-clueless person to a shop and writing down everything she says, "What's this for?" about.

...then sign me up.
posted by sldownard at 8:47 AM on May 21, 2010

Oops - I meant to add that you don't have to offer free classes to Girl Scouts just because they are a non-profit group. But you could certainly offer them a discounted rate if they promise a certain number of attendees, and hope that a few of the girls would be so interested they'd sign up for private lessons.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:48 AM on May 21, 2010

Etsy's section Quit Your Day Job has some helpful insight about how to do number one on your list.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 9:01 AM on May 21, 2010

I'm a beginning sewer. I can't answer your first two questions, but I would love to see a workship discussing different types of fabrics - when to use them, how to work with them, and where to find them. I'd also want to learn about trim, fasteners, embellishments, and general finishing touches.

A lot of beginner-to-intermediate-level crafters have the basics, but want to make their finished products more polished and professional; I've heard this described as the difference between "handmade" and "homemade." I'd bet a lot of people, especially aspiring Etsy sellers, would be interested in classes along those lines.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:14 AM on May 21, 2010

The workshop idea is great! I was going to comment and say, the thing I hated about home ec was that we all had to make the same thing to make it simpler for the teacher to help and teach everyone, and I ended up making a skirt I wore once. A mending workshop isn't exciting at the first thought, but once people give it a second, that might go over really well. Gift workshops - there are simple commercial patterns for stuffed animals, etc. Nursery and drapery workshops - all kinds of great things to focus on.
posted by lemniskate at 9:14 AM on May 21, 2010

Best answer: This is one of the things I do! Don't move to Chicago!

It isn't in my home - I use my workroom, but I keep them small and student-driven.

There isn't much to the business side. If you keep them really small, you can get away with a cash/check/paypal system. You don't need to go for the credit card processing right off the bat.

Advertising: I don't anymore. I used to put ads up on Craigslist and stumblehere, but lately they have been so scammy that maybe 75-80% of the responses I get are vague "I am interested in your services..." emails. Set up a fan page on FB and do the social networking stuff - you will get (or perhaps I have gotten) much better response that way. There is a former student of mine who will post a Craigslist ad for me now and then, but I don't do it myself of seek it out.

I tried to use the neighborhood newspapers a while ago, but the responses I got were so terrible that I would never do it again. I got people who wanted to bargain with me about the price, or just weird pervy responses.

Yelp is one of your best friends, but be hyper-vigilant about fake reviews. Make sure that your friends don't just go on and write you up. Somehow someone will find out and you lose credibility.

If you know a blogger or two, have them write you up. Even better if they do it without your asking for it. The online sewing community is growing and there is a lot of cross-posting.

You will find that the student base self-selects after the classes get some traction. When I do advertise or talk about my classes, I make sure that folks know they aren't Grandma quilting classes, but then add that Grandma is more than welcome here to add to her sewing knowledge.

Lesson plans: Get rid of them if your class size is small enough. I won't let more than 6 students take a class at the same time. I have no lesson plan. They bring their own projects and we go through what they want to know and I redirect them when they need it. This won't work (or I have found it does not work) with more than 6. Then, it is skirt time. For everyone.

In the same vein, most of my student response has been: "Boy are we glad we can work on our own projects and don't have to make a skirt!"

Don't assume, at least if you are in a large city, that your students will be female. Most of them will, but there are a lot of guys who are dying to take classes. Each quarter has a number of guys who wouldn't have signed up if the project was pre-set.

Find a list of patterns that you can recommend - I have a handful of pattern numbers that I can reel off when someone asks: "What is a good pattern for me to start with?" This helps focus and start a conversation about where they want to go with it.

Decide what you don't want to do/teach. I have pretty much eliminated quilting and home decor from my classes. There are so many quilting classes up here that there are better ways for them to develop those skills and if you allow home interior projects (outside of pillows) you have to have more space, more time, and they don't get as many fundamental techniques as they could otherwise have had.

Similar and adding to sldownard's comment: Part of my first couple of days in class is explaining the universality of ALL sewing machines. It annoys some folks because they are excited and ready to SEW!SEW!SEW!, but I strongly feel that if you sit down and are able to thread one machine, you should be able to sit down and thread any other on the face of the planet. The threading and bobbin mechanisms are practically the same, even if the casings and head of the machine are configured differently. This is what she is talking about - once you understand what is going on with the bobbin and its casing, then it is all cake from there.

Think about whether you want the classes to be project driven or technically driven. I love having stitchbook classes, and focusing in on details - like sldownard mentions, but I have found that it appeals to about 10% of my students. Most of them want catharsis (even though I think that for maximum value the stitchbook as a reference is the way to go) and the learning of raw technique is just not on their radars. Where are all of you raw technique and detail people in Chicago?!?

Feel free to email me with questions if you have specific ones - I am finishing up my Spring session right now and am not at the computer a lot, although now that I have written that I am sure I will pop back in again with a long-winded OH!AND!:

Overall, this is a fun way to make a few bucks and share some creative spirit. I have never regretted for a moment opening up my private workroom to my students.
posted by Tchad at 9:16 AM on May 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

Mother-daughter classes might go over really well. (Or parent-child, I suppose, dads and sons can sew too!)

I've taught hand-sewing classes for little girls (as young as 6) where we make American Girl doll patterns to teach them the basics. As I tell them (and their moms), that's the traditional way American girls learned to sew, making dolls clothes from scraps so it went faster (finished product! yay!) and used less fabric.

The one thing I find difficult is keeping little girls corralled and helping everyone who needs help at once, especially with tricky fine-motor skills, like threading needles and tying knots. I end up spending the entire class threading needles and tying knots! Which is why I suggest mother-daughter classes -- you could do a simple pattern for the girls, and a more embellished one for the moms (doll dresses, say) and each mom could help her daughter with the knot-tying and needle-threading, and then they could work on it together at home. Little girls have a lot of enthusiasm for the work but need a lot of help, too, and if mom doesn't sew, it's easy to lose steam on it.

I think there would also be a serious market for FATHER-daughter classes. I would get a lot of dads wanting a quick five-minute tutorial on the basic stitches at the end of class so they could help their daughter that week at home, because their daughter was REALLY INTO doll clothes and sewing and they wanted to share that enthusiasm. You could probably think of something "cool" for the dads to make as their project (do dolls need biker jackets?), but even if you just made it a dad/daughter class, so dads know there would be other dads, I bet you'd get some serious interest and some dads sewing frilly doll aprons! I'm just thinking aloud, but maybe if there was something that combined using tools a bit with sewing (and the only thing I can think of is constructing a doll umbrella!) ...
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:25 AM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yup. As soon as I walked away. I was reminded by a text from one of my left-handed students. So...

Make sure you are comfortable showing lefties how to do stuff. It isn't unusual to have a lefty whose right hand is practically useless in this day and age. Just showing them the right handed way to do a catch-stitch or hem stitch and then telling them to reverse the image won't cut it. There are also some visual/spatial things I have noticed about the way they line the fabric up on the machine that you will have to help them correct or anticipate. For example: There are no left handed machines I know of, and maybe 90% of my lefties always want to have the raw edges on the left when it goes under the presser foot. Or the direction you would baste something if it is on a dressform. Stuff like that. You can also get a sense of what you may need to warn them about.
posted by Tchad at 9:53 AM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would would love to take a class that taught how to 'deconstruct' clothes I have on hand or see in stores and make versions for myself. I guess, basically, a 'how-to-create-your-own-pattern' type class.
posted by kitcat at 10:15 AM on May 21, 2010

What part of Seattle are you in? "Stitches" is a small sewing shop on Capitol Hill that has a similar target market, and they offer lessons, which are invariably booked up for weeks ahead. (This is where I learned to sew.) Perhaps you could sign up with them as an instructor; or, perhaps Amy, the owner, would be willing to send you overflow business when her classes are full. (She's a lovely woman, very approachable; even if she was uninterested in making such an arrangement I'm sure she would be gracious about saying no!)
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:31 AM on May 21, 2010

No clue on 1 and 2, but perhaps some inspiration regarding 3:

I just took Introductory Sewing from The Sewing Studio in Toronto and it was much of what sidownard mentioned. Basics like how to thread a machine, load a bobbin, straight stitch, stay stitch, baste, how to iron seams, basic serging, etc. Then we did gathering, made a drawstring bag, made a little zippered pouch, how to select and read a pattern, basic fabric concepts like selvage and bias, and then on to the (classic) skirt project. I think about 4 weeks of the class was just us working on skirts and our instructor helping us when we got stuck and teaching one concept per class (e.g. darts).

They had a studio and the class size was limited to the number of machines available. I'm not sure how you would do that in your home unless you have a lot of machines?

The other thing they do that must be a goldmine is to offer summer camps for teenagers based on shows like Project Runway. They also have themed workshops and classes on things ranging from home decor to sewing maternity/kids stuff.
posted by heatherann at 5:02 PM on May 24, 2010

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