How to start a sewing lounge

Sarah Gabbart, owner Sew Crafty Houston. Photo:  Erin Blatzer There’s an instant feeling of community, fun and high spirits when visiting Sew Crafty Houston’s online home and it’s easy to surmise Sarah Gabbart’s personality through her online description as “Owner, DIY generalist, answerer of emails and phone messages.”

You just want to be there.

Recently, I asked Sarah to share some advice on how to start a sewing lounge.

Q. For those whom may not know, could you explain what a sewing lounge is, how it’s distinguished from a craft store and whether or not Sew Crafty Houston is a sewing lounge, craft store or synergy between the two?

A. Sew Crafty is a synergy between the two. When we opened last year, the goal was to be a place where the community comes together through craft. We accomplished that through our classes, but lacked amenities for people whom didn’t want or need a class – they wanted a neighborhood craft store. So we became a bit of both!

Q. Your grandmother started you sewing at age 12, you attended New York’s Parson School of Design, you have a love affair with sewing and you have obvious business acumen. What were some other factors leading to your turning a passion into a business? What have been your biggest challenges thus far?

A. What’s funny is that I never knew you could have a business like this. It never occurred to me that you could sew, knit and craft for a living and that other people did too! After finding Stitch Lounge in San Francisco, I found out that it was possible. I emailed them for some advice and they responded! Then it was just a matter of convincing my husband that I wasn’t crazy and quitting my day job.

I would say the biggest challenge is the curb you climb as you’re learning more about running a business. You learn as you go and quickly learn how to deal with the mistakes you’ll make.

Q. The upward climb of sewing popularity in recent years is partly attributable to our troubled economy. Circumstances are forcing households to become more resourceful and responsible while going back to basics with do it yourself and sew it yourself projects. Last week, London’s Guardina.co.uk, an online newspaper, reported Tesco, UK’s version of Wal-mart, sold two sewing machines a minute, that’s hot! But in spite of this, some notion and fabric stores are closing their doors or superstores like Wal-mart are eliminating fabric and notions departments across the US. Do you see sewing lounges filling those gaps? And if not, what do you see in terms of future growth and stability of sewing lounges?

A. I see sewing lounges as filling the gap between the traditional craft store and the continuing education department at art schools. While we do sell fabric, notions and supplies, we also give people a service rooted in crafting and the ability to socially meet other crafters. As far as growth and stability, only time can tell, but from what I have seen people are interested in sewing and crafts, eager to meet others and enjoy having a fun hip place to do this!

Q. At one time, George De Paris was homeless and slept in a park near the White House for three months before landing a job as an assistant tailor. A short-time later, De Paris opened his own shop. Today, De Paris is considered to be the unofficial tailor to US presidents going back to Nixon. Not too bad for someone whom started a business with a single industrial sewing machine and a pair of scissors. Is your business one which can be started on a shoe-string budget with limited resources? Where would you suggest a potential business owner start?

A. Yes, this business can be started on a shoe string budget – if you enjoy teaching people to sew, start with a rented room at a sew vac store. A sew vac store might waive rent if your presence helps their customers learn their machines. Just remember when you grow, everything gets more expensive – beware of budget creep!

Q. Since opening Sew Crafty Houston, what’s been the most important lesson you’ve learned?

A. You can’t do everything yourself. Surround yourself with good, reliable and smart people.

Q. Is there any other advice you’d like to share?

A. Just start already! You know you’re thinking about it – sitting in a cubicle reading this thinking, “I can totally do this!” Start today by doing something to kick off your dream, whether that dream is starting a sewing lounge or an Etsy store!

Q. Would you like to share a little known fact about yourself with readers?

A. I was terrified of teaching my first class. It kept me up all night. I was so nervous. It was the same with the next class and the next. It wasn’t until I had like 15 classes under my belt that I began to feel comfortable. I still get butterflies before I teach!

Sarah teaches: Intro to Sewing, Sewing Boot camp, Gocco, craft workshops and Kids Can Sew.

For more information: Contact Sarah at: (713) 863-1144, email or visit Sew Crafty Houston at 3210 White Oak, Houston (H-Town), Texas 77007.

Photo:  Courtesy of Sew Crafty Houston

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