From Drab to Decorated
"It didn't take long until the business had overran our home with fabric in every room, and boxes of patterns in every closet. So, to get our home back, I opened a brick and mortar store and ran it for several years," Ann says.
Having a store was difficult and expensive, however. Ann had to make enough to cover commercial rent and a payroll every month, and it was very stressful. She almost gave up her sewing business at that point, but decided to try bringing it home before she quit. In 2001, her family built a house that was specifically designed for SewBaby, and moved into it. Over the years, the business has gone through many changes. The catalogs have been replaced by a website, SewBaby.com, and printed patterns are also available as downloads. Ann's sold well over a million patterns since her first one in 1994.
"Sewing has given me so much, both personally and professionally, that after my children were grown, I realized that I needed to share my passion," Ann says. "In the last two years, I've offered private lessons, group lessons, and classes. My assistant, Shirley Robbins, is a great help to me in teaching the classes. I've taught after-school groups, and I recently began to lead a 4-H Club, the Spinning Bobbins.
If I have a motto, it is "Just say yes". If someone wants to learn to sew, I'll work with their schedule, their budget, and their goals to make it happen. It's difficult to describe how rewarding teaching has been for me. I feel like I am, in some small way, making the world a better place by helping others to express their creative side. It's empowering to say 'I made it.'
Ann encourages anyone who would like to share their love of sewing to contact local community colleges, schools, and youth programs. She finds there is a huge demand for sewing instruction, and all it takes is figuring out how to connect students and teachers. "You don't have to be an expert--just be patient and enjoy talking about sewing. Your love of the craft will be contagious," she says.
The ongoing opportunity to teach is what led to her studio makeover. What was basically a basement distribution center had to become an inviting place that students would want to visit and revisit. "When I first thought about teaching classes, I contacted my local community college. At first they were not very positive about the idea. The director cited the problem that students had to carry heavy machines across a big parking lot. I suggested to her that I teach the classes at my home, using my machines. She agreed, and the classes filled up. Many of my students begin without owning a machine, but I'm pleased to say that the majority have gone on to purchase their own machines, which makes me feel like I've done my job," Ann says.
She feels that one of the studio's best features is its creative energy, supported by the bright colors, the open space, and the wall decor. There's enough room for students to store project baskets on site. Rather than making them pack up their projects at the end of class, and potentially forgetting to bring back a critical piece, the studio provides each student with a basket to store everything.
There are many tools that she feels make her sewing better and easier. The first is a serger. "It is such a timesaver, and makes everything that you make look more professional."
The second is a rotary cutter. "You can cut out a pattern in a fraction of the time it would take with scissors."
The third is a good iron. "There is a saying 'Well-pressed is half sewn.' With my students, I stress that I don't care if they ever iron after their project is made, but while making it, pressing is essential."