Nickel Notes: Making Money with Needle & Thread

by Lindy on March 28, 2012

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Nickel Notes is a regular series in which rock star readers share their tales about making extra money on the side. Today’s note comes from the fabulous Carla of Half Dozen Daily. She was super sweet to let me interview her about how she makes money from her hand-sewn creations, and I’m so excited to share her insights.

Nickel Notes

First off, how long have you been sewing, and what made you pick it up originally?

Well, I actually bought my first little sewing machine (Kenmore Mini) so I could sew on my scrapbook pages & handmade cards. So that taught me how to sew straight and get the basics of sewing down. I didn’t start sewing with fabric until about a year ago. I was given some fabric from my grandma and decided to see if I could whip something up with it so I could use my sewing machine for what it was actually intended for. ;) I’d say I’ve been sewing about a year now.

When did you realize you could make money from your hobby?

I would show my creations on my blog (www.halfdozendaily.typepad.com) and have people commenting – will you make me that? Where can I buy your stuff? How can I order your creations?, etc… at first I just took their comments as a compliment, but as I started sewing more and got better I decided to take a few orders and it’s been upstream from there!

About how much money do you make per month from your sewn creations?

Hmmm… good question! LoL! In a *really* good month I would say I’d make a few hundred! Usually it’s less though. I don’t really ‘track,’ but I’d say at least a couple hundred every month over the last few months. It’s a really nice boost to our income as hubby is the sole provider and we have a large family of 6. So earning a little extra money on the side allows me to support my hobby, pays for my daughters’ private guitar lessons, and generally just gives our budget a little boost.

How do you determine your pricing? And do you have any tricks for keeping your material costs down?

Honestly, I find it really hard to price my items. I never know what to charge, but I take into account my time, material supplies, etc.. set a price and hope for the best. I think my prices are good though, because I keep getting sales & custom orders.

Let’s take my ~Whimsical Wallets~ for example. I use different 100% cotton designer scraps of fabric for the front & back panels, new fabric cut for the lining, nice batting (organic if I have it on hand), silver key rings & hardware. I can complete a whimsical wallet in around 2 hours. I sell these wallets for $22.00. That works out to $11/hr for my time, supplies, etc.. I think that’s fair on both accounts, and they are my best selling item, so others seem to feel the same way!

Hand sewn wallet

Editor's Note: I was lucky enough to be a recipient of a Whimsical Wallet from Miss Carla. Yes, you can be jealous of me.

I don’t really keep my fabric costs down because I’m a fabric “snob” and I prefer high end designer fabrics. I love fabric that is high quality, and comes in gorgeous colours and patterns. I order 99.9% of my fabric on Etsy from the U.S. I’m in Canada and I can’t find the fabrics I like nearby. And when I do, they’re usually double the price. So I stick to Etsy!

You sell mostly custom orders through your blog. Would you ever consider expanding to Etsy or local craft fairs?

I do have an Etsy shop, but it sits empty with tumbleweeds blowing through it. ;) lol! I prefer just taking custom orders through my blog for the following reasons: 1.) I sew what the customer wants, in the colours & style they want, with any modifications they’d like, and 2.) it saves me time as I’m sewing *exactly* what’s wanted, instead of working on items to sit in my shop that may not sell because they’re not the right colour, size, style, etc… I have 4 kids and a husband. They come first and taking care of a large family is a lot of work. By taking custom orders I’m only sewing for what has already sold and will be sold.

As for craft fairs… maybe one day, but not now. Perhaps when my kids are older and I have more time on my hands.

Besides your blog customers, where else have you found clients?

Most of my customers do come from my blog and from word of mouth. I also have friends “in real life” who will place orders with me & spread the word about my sewing. But most of my orders are from the blogging world!

Any tips for those who may be interested in making extra income from sewing?

I’d say, make sure you’re confident in your work, you are willing to create on the spot and will cater to your customers’ needs, and have a fairly quick turnaround rate. If someone orders a wallet or a baby set from me and needs it fast I can usually have their order done & shipped within 24 hours.

You should use high quality materials (definitely don’t “cheap out” here) and do your very best work!! No raw seams, or sloppy sewing. A lot of my customers continue buying from me and buy items as gifts, so fair prices and good work pays off in the end. Also, if you have pets or smoke, keep it AWAY from your fabric & work area. I don’t smoke, but do have a cat, but she doesn’t go near my sewing area and I keep my sewn creations up and out of the way.

This last question is purely for selfish reasons. Being someone who sewed as a young adult, but gave it up after a terrible experience with a sewing machine, I’m always looking for machine recommendations. What kind do you have?

I started out with a Kenmore Mini, which is small and cute. I bought it for paper sewing (lol!) and figured it was good enough, which it was. However, my mom ended up wanting to buy a new sewing machine so I inherited her BROTHER CS 5000 H from her as an upgrade. I’m not sure if it’s a “good machine” in sewing circles or not. I’m thinking it may not be up to par for many die hard sewing fanatics, but it worked for my mom well, and I really like it!! It works well for me, and does what I need it to do. I can’t ever see myself owning a $3000 sewing machine, unless some kind soul with too much money in their bank account in the blogging world would like to offer me one. ;)

One last piece of advice, keep at it! Don’t get discouraged, if you can’t create something, it’s not because you’re not “good enough” it’s because you haven’t tried long enough! I am a completely self-taught sewer, had no help, nobody to walk me through any sewing techniques. I didn’t learn without my mistakes and have tossed items & broken, many, many needles in the name of learning. “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” ~Albert Einstein~

Now here’s the best part. Carla has sweetly offered to make one of her custom Whimsical Wallets for one lucky reader, made to order in the color of his/her choice. I’ll be hosting the giveaway tomorrow, right here at Minting Nickels, so come on back for a chance to snag one for yourself!

But until then, do you have any questions for Carla? Do you have any money-making hobbies?

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  • http://add-vodka.com Daisy

    So awesome! I’ve seen some of Carla’s stuff on her blog and I love it. I desperately need to learn how to sew!

  • http://www.nomorespending.net Laura @ No More Spending

    Carla’s so talented – great interview :)

  • http://dogsordollars.com Dogs or Dollars

    Love Carla! Great interview! A few hundred is a nice tidy profit for what started as a hobby. Definitely gets my wheels churning.

    My money makers are my occasional stint at The Pet Store, which helps off-set our dog expenses, and I’m wondering if my chickens might be revenue generating once I get them going. There have been an awful lot of egg volunteers. ;)

    The Husband’s handy man skills are employed by friends and family far and wide and always help to bring in a little cash.

  • http://thefoodallergychronicles.wordpress.com/ Susan H. @ The Food Allergy Chronicles

    Great interview! Carla does great work…I have ordered two whimsical wallets from her…love her quality of work and fabric! Just put in another couple orders as birthday gifts for my friends…can’t wait to see how they turn out!

  • Jenny

    This is great – I love Carla’s sewing. I want a sewing machine badly (I haven’t sewed anything since I was in high school), but haven’t been willing to shell out $100 or more for something I may or may not end up using regularly. I’ve thought about selling crocheted baby blankets on Etsy or otherwise for a long time, but like Carla, I think I’d prefer the custom-made route, too. It would be more incentive to get the project done (which is something I have difficulty with when I’m self-moderated.) Good job with teaching yourself to sew! It can be a frustrating endeavor when you can’t get it right, but practice makes perfect.

  • http://thefamilyceoblog.com Julie @ The Family CEO

    Wonderful interview! Carla is awesome. I so wish I could sew. Knowing Carla just picked it up in the last year or two is very inspiring!

    • Lindy

      It is inspiring, isn’t it?

  • http://fromshoppingtosaving.blogspot.com shopping2saving

    I love Carla!!!! Great interview. I wish I could sew but I was too stubborn to listen to my grandma when I was a kid. Darn it!

    I think I’m going to have to buy one if I don’t win the giveaway she’s currently hosting. I think it would be perfect to carry my keys and stuff when I’m at the gym!

    • Lindy

      Or you could come back tomorrow for yet another chance to win. ;)

  • http://diggingoutandup.wordpress.com Cassie

    I had absolutely no idea you’ve only been sewing for a year Carla! That’s incredible! Your stuff is amazing :D

  • http://www.justnorthofwiarton.blogspot.com Cindy (@northofwiarton)

    I have been following Carla’s Blog, My 1/2 Dozen Daily, for the past few months now. Love her posts & her flair for colours on her wonderful creations. She is an absolute delight !

  • http://www.ThriftDiving.com Serena@ThriftDiving.com

    I love sewing!! I’m in the midst of getting my crafting room set up. I used to make baby carrier, diapers, and baby shoes.

    As for making money, eventually I plan to sell some of my thrift store goodies that I have been decorating my house with. Well, I’m keeping my favorites, but I’m going to begin to sell some things! I’m also going to start selling some of my sewing things, as well.

    Serena

  • Martine

    Carla’s wallets are beautiful. Love the fabrics.

  • http://www.halfdozendaily.typepad.com Carla

    Thanks SOO much for everyone’s kind word & encouragement!! You all made my day!! :)

    Lindy, thanks so very much for having me as a “guest” on your fabulous blog!! :)

    I’m excited to see who wins the giveaway!

    • Lindy

      Thank you, Carla!

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