7 Things You Need to Start a Sewing Business

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

You are a master with needle and thread. No blown hem is safe in your presence. A zipper? You have it sewn in a zip. You know you have the skills it takes for a successful sewing business, but do you have the gear?

If you plan to open a sewing or tailoring business, you'll need more than a sewing machine. We surveyed stitching entrepreneurs to create a list of supplies required for the job.

1. Serger: “Unless you plan on French stitching a lot of your jobs, a serger is almost a requirement,” says Paula Doyle, owner of Paula’s Creations, Ltd., in Lake Forest, IL. “Tailoring a dress or even pants — those seams need to be cut and serged. Same with using satin, silk and terry cloth. They fray a lot, and you can’t give a client a finished product if it’s going to fray in any way.”

2. Iron & Ironing Board: “I read somewhere that the difference between a hobbyist and a professional is whether or not the piece is ironed as it’s created,” says Valerie Tripp, owner, creator and designer of Gracie & Sam hand-crafted baby carriers. “Truer words were never spoken.” Choose an iron with good steam capacity that’s light enough for frequent use. And don’t forget a sturdy ironing board that can adjust to various heights so you can avoid backaches.

“If you plan on working with velvet, get a velvet board for ironing,” Doyle suggests. “If you’re doing doll clothes, there are small wood boards that help to get into the hard-to-reach places.”

3. Cutting Tools: Of course you need scissors: Large ones for cutting heavy fabrics, pinking shears for reducing fraying and embroidery scissors for close work like cutting thread or taking out hems and seams. A cutting wheel or rotary cutter “allows you to ‘stack and whack,’ cutting out several of one piece,” Tripp says. “Those are precious moments that allow you to decrease your price or increase your profit margin.”

4. Rulers & Measuring Devices: Professionals rely on a range of measuring tools. You need at least three rulers: a 6- to 8-inch one for marking hems, cuffs and such; a clear plastic 18-inch ruler for marking fabric; and an 18-inch metal one for use with the rotary cutter. When choosing a measuring tape, select one that’s at least 72 inches long and has a blank tab before the measurements start.

Also consider a measuring board. “These are a great source for helping line up fabric, and your salvage or folded edges to make sure your fabric is not angled,” Doyle notes. “This is probably one of the most important steps. If your material is on an angle at all when you cut it, it will not be true and you could end up with stretch where you didn’t want stretch.”

5. Pins & Needles: You’ll need an array of needles and pins both for hand-sewing and for your machine, so stock up to avoid running out in the middle of a job. Choose pins based on the type of work. Doyle prefers glass-head pins, which can be ironed over without melting. “The long ones are great, especially for tailoring,” she explains. “You have to get through a lot of layers when pinning someone up, and they are long enough to handle the job.” Shorter glass-head pins or plastic-head pins are stronger and better for heavier fabrics. Dress pins are the traditional metal pins that don’t break. They can be ironed, but they’re harder to handle and can’t go through a lot of fabric.

6. Business Supplies: Don’t forget business basics like pens and paper (you’ll be doing a lot of sketching and figuring), accounting software, receipt books and other point-of-sale materials, like a credit card reader. “The biggest challenges were getting organized and thinking in terms of a business,” recalls Aneta Lyon, owner of AKL Couture, a custom dress design and sewing studio in Durham, NC. She recommends seeking out resources that can help you understand the finances, and create business forms and processes.

When working with customers, Lyon suggests creating specification sheets so customers have a clear understanding of the work involved and the timeline for completion. “Avoiding miscommunication is the key to getting the result the customer wants,” she says.

7. Workspace: You need room to create. Ideally, you should have ample space for your sewing machine, garment racks and storage cabinets, and a larger area for working. “Somewhere you can spread your fabric, set your carefully ordered cut pieces, draw designs, etc.,” Tripp says. “Even if you don’t have a designed room or workshop, at least have a designated table.”

With these items checked off your list, you’re ready to sew up profits — and pride. “The most rewarding thing is to be able to satisfy your customers,” Lyon says. “You gain so much pride when the garment you have taken time to create has made someone happy.”

Margot Carmichael Lester grew up in her family’s gourmet grocery in Chapel Hill, NC, giving her a deep understanding of the challenges and rewards of working in retail. She also recently completed a two-year term on her local Chamber of Commerce board. A long-time business journalist, she writes regularly for the LA Business Journal and serves large and small enterprises through her company, The Word Factory. Connect with Margot on Google+.

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