The Handmade Business: My Story

One of my goals for this year was to share a little bit more insight into how to start and grow your handmade business.  I realize that many of you reading are not interested in the least about starting a handmade business, but for those of you who are, I just want you to know that I am here to help you along the way.  You can pretty much ask me anything.

I’ve done a lot of hard work myself, but I’ve also had some very wonderful individuals that have provided me with information and guidance and I am happy to share what I’ve learned with you.  I believe there is plenty of business out there for everyone and that given the same set of tools and knowledge we will all forge a different path through our creativity and art.

So there are quite a few topics to cover, but today I’m starting out from the beginning with……my story.

I guess you could say creativity runs in the family.  My Grandma, Marge Harrison, was an amazing painter and art gallery owner, my Grandma Peggy has always been incredibly creative with different handmade businesses throughout the years, my mom is an amazing creative force in my life as well as several of my aunts and my Dad instilled the love of music through his guitar playing and singing.   Needless to say, I have always been into the creative arts.  I started dancing at the age of four, singing in second grade and acting in middle school and was very serious about becoming a musical theater performer on Broadway.  I auditioned for many different colleges around the country and was accepted into the prestigious University of Cincinnati – College Conservatory of Music as one of the 26 musical theater majors. 

I went through my first year of school and came to the conclusion that musical theater was not the life I wanted for myself.  My parents got divorced that year and money became more of a concern to me and I just wasn’t quite sure how I could truly make a living as a performer.  And with that thought in mind, I decided to switch over into something more stable.  I transferred to DePaul University in Chicago (where my high school sweetheart (now husband) attended) and three years later received my Bachelor of Science in Finance (yes, quite a switch from musical theater).  Brett and I were married a month after my graduation and I began my career.

I spent a year and a half working in commercial banking but knew pretty early on that I needed to do something else.  Sitting at a desk analyzing numbers was definitely stifling for this creative soul.  So I got my real estate license and began selling residential real estate up until I had my first child, Savannah Rose.  I have always been into decorating my home and prior to Savannah’s birth, I wanted to sew a few things for her nursery – a table runner, a table skirt and some large pillows.  I went over to my Grandma Peggy’s house and she guided me along the way using her sewing machine.  After that half day spent with my Grandma, I knew I wanted a sewing machine of my own.

I had grown up around sewing.  My mom used to make us the most amazing costumes for Halloween, dance, and theater, but I never had the patience as a child to truly learn how to use the machine.  I was mostly focused on performing, though I always appreciated all the work my my put into everything she made for us.

Four months after Savannah was born, I got my first sewing machine for my birthday (July 2008).  I started out wanting to sew a few dresses for my baby girl.  I read the manual for my machine and worked my way through my first commercial pattern using the tips that my Grandma had given me and the things I had seen my mom do growing up.  I was pretty pleased with my first dress……especially the fact that I sewed a zipper (picture below)!  

 Very First Dress and Diaper Cover I Ever Sewed

 My First Attempt at Drafting My Own Patterns
Thanksgiving Outfit for Savannah Rose

From there, I continued to sew little outfits for Savannah as well as burp cloths and bibs.  I was sewing every chance I got and I really believe that practice makes perfect!  I even started dabbling in drafting my own patterns.  But for Savannah’s 1st birthday I wanted to make her a really pretty, fancy dress.  I purchased two prints from Amy Butler’s ‘Midwest Modern’ fabric line and went about creating Savannah’s birthday dress.  From the time I cut into that gorgeous Amy Butler fabric, I was totally hooked on those bright, patterned fabrics!  I had several people ask me if I would ever consider selling my items and I did from time to time, but nothing formal.

 First Dress in Designer Quilting Cotton by The Cottage Mama

As I continued to sew, I decided that opening up an etsy shop would be a really fun thing to do as a stay at home mom, but never got around to making it official.  I wanted to make sure I had a serger (so my items would look professional) and had my business branding (logo, clothing label, ect) in order before I got started.  I guess that’s the finance major in me…….I just wanted all my ducks in a row.  In October 2009 I started this blog, The Cottage Home, to share the projects and recipes I was working on with family and friends.  And in January 2010, I finally made it official and opened up, The Cottage Mama.

 Very First Item Ever Sold in The Cottage Mama Etsy Shop

I was very nervous about listing things on Etsy since I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I listed six different items and felt really good about finally taking the plunge.  I went to bed that night and when I woke up, I checked my email and I had sold something!!!!  It was seriously one of the most exciting moments.  I couldn’t believe that a random person had liked my creation enough to buy it.  I think I needed that.  I need the affirmation from someone, other than my family and close friends, that my work was good enough to sell. 

Early The Cottage Mama Designs

From January 2010 until September 2011, I pretty much sold ready-made and custom clothing online and in September 2011 released my first two printed sewing patterns.  I plan to release the next three sewing patterns and a series of hand-embroidery patterns in May 2012.  There are lot of new projects on the horizon for The Cottage Mama, but some of which you’ll have to wait to hear about when they are ready.

So how did I get noticed on etsy?  How did I grow my blog?  Who designed my logo/blog?  How did I purchase my web domain?  How do I have a small business and still take care of my children?  When did I incorporate my business?  Why did I decide to go into selling patterns?  Do I have a business plan?  How do I manage my finances?  What business books and publications do I read? How did I start working with different fabric manufacturers?  Where do I buy my fabric, clothing labels, size labels, mannequins, notions, ect.?  Do I buy wholesale or retail?  Do I sell my items wholesale?

These might all be questions that you would like answered, but these are all questions that will have to be answered in later ‘The Handmade Business’ posts.  These are questions that have come to me via email or through The Cottage Mama Facebook Fan page.  If you look at my time-line from when I started my business to where I am now, you will see that I haven’t been doing this for very long, but I have figured out ways to make it work and have grown my business beyond my wildest dreams.  I hope knowing this will help inspire those of you wanting to turn your hobby into a full-fledge business to realize that it is a very real possibility.

So that’s my story in a nutshell, but my question is………do you have any other questions you would like addressed?  

Remember, I am an open book, I’m here to help you become a success story of your very own.  
There are no silly questions, what do you want to know?
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40 Comments

  1. This is so (sew) inspiring. I can’t wait to read more.

  2. Thank you so much for this! I CANNOT WAIT for the next posts because all of my questions are the ones listed! I’m trying to grow my business and my blog, so I’m quite excited to see how you made it all work 🙂 I really appreciate your willingness to share your experience

  3. Lindsay thank you for sharing. Our stories are very similar, it’s true when your passionate about something it just shines through. Doing what you love and making a little money from it is possibly the best business ever. Can’t wait to hear more.

  4. Nancy in MN says

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have all the questions you listed at the end, plus what is the process for getting a pattern to market? Also, did you originally plan to be a stay-at-home mom or was it just a timing thing with the downturn in the real estate market? And tell us more about The Cottage Papa who I’m sure is very supportive and doing a lot of the domestic stuff, too.

  5. I’d like to have a business like this whenever I retire, but I know I cannot use patterns that are already out there, and sell what I make from them. How does one go about learning pattern design?

    Thanks for this great blog!

  6. Wow – what a great read. Very interesting, I love hearing about how you got started. Your passion, your background, everything. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Thank you SO much! I had no idea that you just started in 2008 and already had such beautiful designs and high quality work. I think this is just what I needed to get me to attempt some more complicated patterns.

  8. I enjoyed reading your story. I also would like to know more about getting patterns professionally made.
    I used to make pageant clothes when my daughter was a child, and all of my patterns got chunked in so many moves. I still have pictures and some good ideas for a few cute patterns like the ones she competed in. I just need some direction as to where to start. Are there any pattern making programs you’d recommend? I’ve looked at a few online.
    Thanks so much for your post.

  9. WOW! I thought you had been sewing forever and were a trained seamstress! Really inspiring to me to practice my sewing skills more.
    Thanks for sharing.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing! I am really looking forward to the next posts. 🙂

  11. I’ve been a fan of your creations and your blog for a while but this is the first time I’m leaving a comment here… Thank you so much for sharing your story! I’m an accountant who loves to create, and I feel that we have things in common! I can’t wait to read more! Love, Amy from California

  12. I’m really happy you are starting this. Mom and I are working on starting a separate business together. I thought about taking some business courses online to see how things are being done now. It’s been nearly 20 years since I designed patterns for the quilt shop I worked at and market and I know alot has changed. Not to mention me! I’ve aged and am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Thanks for this…..I’m printing off for Mom. She won’t touch a computer, bless her heart. LOL

  13. Thank you so much for this. It is exactly what i need. I have all the questions above, plus one other. How do you pick what size clothes to make for your etsy shop. I want to open one of my own, but I don’t have the money to have a husge supply of fabric on hand for special orders and thought I could just make some and sell them. I just don’t know what sizes to make
    Any advise would be appreciated

  14. Thank you so much for this post! I have been following your blog for awhile, but rarely comment. I have been thinking about trying to start my own handmade business for awhile now, but just don’t know where to begin. On top of that, I have a lot of issues with feeling confident that I am “good enough” to sell my stuff. It is so encouraging to hear your story and see how far you’ve come in such a short amount of time. I can’t wait to read more in this series!

  15. Your timing is perfect for writing blogs answering your questions and any others. I want to sell custom children’s clothing. So far, I have the beginning of a website(my son is creating it for me), a company name, basic business cards and three different small store fronts who want me to make baby quilts, new born items to children’s clothing. I am not looking for business yet, because I have a full-time job that ends in may. I too have an undergraduate degree in finance and want to be informed as much as I can. I appreciate the help because I am feeling overwhelmed and not very good with jumping in head first without being ready.

  16. I can’t wait to read the answers to all the other questions you listed. These are all things I have been wanting to know so that I can start contributing to my family’s income again. I used to work in the corporate world, too, but am a stay at home mom now. Thanks for being an open book!

  17. I am so glad I found your site. I think you should write about how you started your business and have step by step directions for others to follow. I think many of us would like to do the same but we need someone that has done it to help us. I know I would buy the book. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your knowledge. May God Bless you for it! I certainly have been blessed.

  18. Anonymous says

    Can’t wait to here more of your business story. I have always dreamed of selling on Etsy, but I know that it’s fear of failure that holds me back. Please know how much confidence I am gaining from your blog – and I found it by accident one day looking for something else. So I guess it was meant to be!! Thanks again.

    Gayle

  19. Great post. Thanks so much for sharing part of your journey. Can’t wait to read more!

  20. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I am so encouraged by your openness and willingness to help others in their persuits. I LOVE your blog, and all your creations, and look forward to reading more!

  21. Lindsay, you know im a big fan if your work! Im always interested in knowing how you determine the pricing on your items? As i stroll through Etsy and see many similar items i myself make and they are either way over my pricing or way under. I struggle with the underpricing my work or feeling like im gouging folks.

  22. Anonymous says

    Thanks for this post! For a while, I have been wanting to start an online business but have been lacking the courage to do so. Your story is inspiring! All of the questions you mentioned in the post are questions that I have been asking. I am looking forward to your future posts on this topic. How do you find the time to do all of this?!!
    Also, your items are absolutely gorgeous!

    modernasianmom (WordPress)

  23. Thank you for sharing your story! It’s very inspiring and I have really enjoyed using your tutorials (the sleepover pillowcase was a huge hit with my girls)! I do have one question when it comes to your business and that is how do you work out how to price your items on Etsy or for anything really? I know costs of materials would factor in to it but do you have a set rate (you don’t need to share the amount) for your time of how many hours go into a project or do you work it out some other way? Thanks so much!

  24. What a generous soul you are!!! It’s so refreshing to see such a giving spirit; to share your knowledge. I will be looking forward to reading more. I love your blog & your handmade pieces are beautiful!

  25. That’s so awesome, Lindsay! You have amazing talent and such pristine work! This is going to be fun to read!

  26. Thank you so so much for starting this series. So many people want to hoarde their success and don’t want to let anyone else know their techniques and ideas. It is so kind and generous of you to do this. I appreciate it very much as I am getting ready to start my own handmade business. Lie you, I want to have all my ducks in a row before beginning. Not only am I waiting to buy a serger and a larger amount of beautiful fabric before I sell anything, I also want to have a good idea of how to run a small business before I begin, so I think your series will help me alot 🙂
    Can’t wait to read your next installment

    Taylor xx

  27. Very inspiring! Thank you! I can’t wait to read the rest of the posts!

  28. I definately can’t wait for the answers to the questions you have already listed but I really really want to know how you learn to draft patterns.

  29. What a great start to your Handmade Business blogs. I think the marketing and financial side of our businesses is something that doesn’t get addressed often enough but is really needed. You’ve got us hooked – looking forward to more posts. Also, that dress is absolutely adorable on your little girl!

  30. You are so generous to be sharing. Thai you so much.

  31. Your story is very inspiring. I’m trying to start my own homemade business as well. Started my own etsy shop, but I’m still waiting for the first sold item. I am waiting forward to your next post.

  32. Thank you so much for sharing your story. You are such an inspiration. I, too, love sewing, and one day, hope to have the courage to start selling some of my stuff.

  33. very cool. thank you for sharing your story!

  34. I have a question too – In regards to pricing which is what I see a few of your commenters are asking questions on. I would love to get started but I really have no idea what to price things at. If I take into consideration the fabric that’s like .. 20$ right there for a toddler’s dress, and it’s terribly confusing what you ‘should’ price things at.

  35. Anonymous says

    Thank you for sharing your story. I find your story inspiring!

  36. Thanks for sharing! I can’t wait to hear more.

  37. Dear Lindsay
    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story!
    It was exactly what I needed now.
    My story was very similar to yours, since being a descendant of creative women and seamstresses to sew up the will, which started with my pregnancy!
    Julia, my daughter is now 1 year and 5 months and a closet full of dresses and my creations. At this precise moment unravel all the questions that you put into your text. How to start? How to make my mark? Virtual Shop? And all the other …
    Can not wait to continue reading your tips and advice.
    Thank you!

  38. I have exchanged a few emails about this with you in the past and I am so excited to see that you are now posting about it. I’m really wanting to start my own business so that I can continue to stay at home with my kids. (I just had my last one 2 months ago) Can’t wait to see what else you have to say!!!

  39. What has started as a hobby in crafts and designs of handmade baby garments or kids clothing can take your home-based business to the next level with custom clothing labels. Every entrepreneur should always put branding as the top of their marketing objectives.

  40. Congratulations on your success story! Reaching one potential of your business in such a short span of time is definitely admirable, and I’m sure we’d all love to know how you did it. But let me congratulate you more on all the time and effort you’ve put into your business. I’m sure you’ve had your share of ups and downs, but the important thing is that you grow from each one of them. There’s no easy path to success, after all! More power to your business, and I do hope that your business makes you as happy as fulfilled as you could possibly want!

    Tammi T.