Advice for those thinking about a career in sewing or design
Readers often ask for our recommendations regarding how to start a design, alterations, tailoring, or other sewing-related business. Some of them plan to attend a school for post-high school training. Others have obtained training through the school of hard knocks. They either want to start a business and become their own boss or land a job with a prestigious company. The field is extremely broad with innumerable possibilities, and it's difficult for us to provide advice to cover every option. Perhaps you can help.
Advice from our Contributing Editors:
I recently intereviewed each of our contributing editors, and among other questions, I asked them what advice they would give to those aspiring to a career in a sewing or design related area. Here's what they said:
Louise Cutting: Learn how to sew. If you're going into design, you need to know how to sew first. Young people today think they will become the next big designer without knowing how to sew, but let's face it, that's highly unlikely. Many well-known "designers" today (like Jacqueline Smith for K-Mart) aren't really designers. They're just a figurehead. You have to know the business to be really successful. When I taught fashion illustration and fashion design in college, every student imagined herself as the new head fashion illustrator for a big department store. The reality is that the big department stores already had a great fashion illustrator, and they weren't going to get rid of that person every June to hire the new kid on the block. You have to make yourself exceptional. My advice is to know ALL of the rudiments of the business. No matter what school you go to, learn beyond the teacher. You're only as good as the teacher. If she's adequate at best, then you're going to be less than that unless you put in extra effort. Learn everything you can—not only what they're teaching you, but more. Use books; use the internet and any other source you can find, and learn as much as you can about the business in general as well as the broader industry.
Susan Khalje: Just do it, because the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Get good instruction; become a thinking sewer (that is, allow yourself to figure things out to get to know the logic of our art), and just keep at it. Visit exhibits; read all the good books, especially the ones that will inspire you visually; and just keep raising the bar.
Kenneth D. King: With my teaching and writing, I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of nice people. I’m often asked for advice for people who are just embarking on the journey called exploring sewing and design. If I were to say one thing and only one thing, it’s this: perfectionism is a disease, and a form of fear!
When learning the craft of sewing (which I believe is absolutely necessary in order to know what’s possible when designing), you should expect to destroy several acres of fabric before you get good. This is an acquired skill which can only be perfected by means of repetition—practicing over and over, learning from mistakes, learning when you can save something, and when you need to cut your losses and start over. If you are afraid to make a mistake, afraid to ruin some fabric, or afraid to waste some time, you won’t ever get really good at this craft. It’s the dues you pay for becoming proficient.
However, if you are willing to charge forward, cut into that fabric, try something different, and risk making a mistake, there will come one day when you realize that you’re sewing without that knot of worry in the pit of your stomach, and the process effortlessly glides along.
Mary Ray: Immerse yourself in it. Experience fabric as much as you can by visiting good fabric stores whenever you can. Look carefully at ready-to-wear and pay attention to the fabrics and how these garments were put together. Pay attention to the details. Keep an ongoing “idea/inspiration” file. Experiment, and don’t be afraid to mess up. In fact, expect to mess up. That’s the way you’ll learn. As a teacher, I love that people want to take classes, but I know the real way to learn is to just do it—and do it a lot.
If your career has guided you into a sewing or design field, please tell us about it. What advice do you have for people who are just beginning to explore a similar career? Please share your advice in the comments below. I know they'll appreciate your suggestions and words of wisdom!