We are taking part in the In A Haystack #Behindtheseams Instagram tour, a celebration of independent fabric stores and textile makers and this is the perfect opportunity to reflect. We're also celebrating having now been in our current promises for 5 years in September!
It feels like quite a poignant time to be writing this little introduction to my business as I’ve just dropped my daughter off for her first day at nursery and I look forward to my first day of child-free, uninterrupted work in a long time!
I had a wonderful time on maternity leave – I was very lucky that I was able to spend a full six months going to baby yoga, library visits, playgroup and swimming with her before returning to work, a real luxury for most small business owners. This is all thanks to my amazing business partner Freya and our fabulous team! Of course I’d been dipping in and out of the business to support the business over that time; when you’re self-employed time off is never really time off, especially when you’ve made a business out of your favourite pass-time!
I started Crafty Sew & So as a Community project, to bring crafty types together in Leicestershire. The actual catalyst for starting the business was spending an evening on Pinterest looking at all the wonderful things that people were making! At the end of that evening I felt inspired but frustrated and disappointed in myself for not having actually created anything. I asked myself why I was spending so long being craft voyeur! I needed an outlet, a reason to learn new skills and put this creative inspiration into practice.
I was working as a fashion designer at the time for a big brand doing my “dream job“ which actually had turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. There were some things I loved about the job; I always enjoyed sharing my skills, knowledge and experience with others and I’d taken on a role as a work experience coordinator in my previous job which I absolutely loved. I think it’s important to know your limitations and strengths in life and to be honest I wasn’t a brilliant commercial designer - I had far too many creative ideas! So I was delighted when I found a way to share my ideas and passion with others by hosting crafty meet ups and classes in a local community centre. I met some wonderful people of all different ages, backgrounds and with lots of different crafty interests.
After a few months of running the classes, I rented a small studio in a village near to where I was living (back with my parents at this stage so that I could afford to start the business and leave my full-time job).
Customers were happy to pay for my time at this point and I was therefore able to spend more time developing new workshops and projects. They also began asking where they could buy materials and so I started to stock a small range of tools and haberdashery. I also made a few products to sell and did a few craft fairs but once again, it was teaching that won my heart.
Over the next year I experimented with lots of different types of crafts inspired by those who had met, but I always came back to sewing as my one true crafty love!
I took on several commissions including wedding dresses, dancewear and fancy dress costumes which were fun and taught me so many new skills, but I always came back to what I really enjoyed which was teaching. It was about this time that Facebook was really starting to take off and that was a great way to spread the word about my classes.
In 2015, I decided it was time to expand the business further and start selling more materials including fabrics. I’d also grown out of my small space with more and more people wanting to come to the workshops. I needed capacity for at least four people which I just didn’t have in my little studio.
I found out a very sweet little shop across the road from my office was going to become available and I set the wheels in motion to acquire it. However, this didn’t work out as the landlord wanted to take back possession of the shop and re-purpose it. I was obviously very disappointed as I’d planned out the next steps for my business in minute detail - this was back in the day when I made plans and doggedly saw them through - very unlike these days of business pivoting, but we will get to that later!
I reached out to the sewing community via social media to express my disappointment – Freya reached back to me to ask me if I would consider a little business proposition!
We didn’t know each other very well, having only met at a course I had run and then at a few sewing meetups in the past so we started what we termed as “business dating“ to see if our personalities and business goals matched. We are quite different in a number of ways but it really works well. Freya’s background is in retail and she really knows her stuff! So in September of that year we opened our Crafty Sew & So retail store in St.Martin’s Square in the city centre of Leicester.
Since then we’ve welcomed thousands of customers through outdoors to buy our beautiful fabrics and attend creative workshops in our in-store studio. We’ve also developed our own range of Crafty Sew & So branded patterns and kits designed to get beginners crafting and we launched our pattern range, My Handmade Wardrobe patterns, in 2018.
This was also the year that Freya had her first baby. We’d talked about family when we first set up the business and both agreed it was very important to us to consider this in our business plan. Right from the very start our families have been a huge support and part of the business. Both of our mums and my dad have worked in the shop and been customers on Workshops, Freya’s father-in-law helps us with the bookkeeping, Freya’s husband is very handy with a bit of wallpaper paste (those of you who have visited our in-store toilets will have seen his vintage patterns wallpaper handiwork there!) and my husband is a graphic designer and has helped us with the design of many of our products and marketing materials. We have a wonderful team of tutors and colleagues who make up the whole extended Crafty Family!
So after having my little girl in 2019 and after a wonderful maternity leave I was feeling recharged and raring to get back to the business in March 2020 with a gazillion plans and projects to work on! Then mid in April... well we all know what happened, Covid and lockdown!
The night of the announcement we jumped in our cars and grabbed as much fabric as we could possibly stuff into them to bring home and begin trading as an online only business from that day.
And that’s how it was for the next three months. Both of us juggling looking after little ones and processing orders and generally trying to do what we could to keep the business going. It certainly wasn’t a time for resting on our laurels; within three weeks of the announcement we had set up a program of live online workshops.
These have proved to be fantastically popular drawing in customers from all over the country. We’ve not had anyone from outside of the UK yet but who knows what the future might bring! Although many businesses have reopened their in-person workshop studios, ours is small and we would have to seriously limit numbers to stay safe so as the live online workshops have proved popular and successful we’ve decided to continue those until at least the end of the year.
We’re also looking forward to collaborating with subscription box business, Sew Hayley Jane to produce a collaborative box in December which we are really excited about and we have lots more plans for pattern releases and kits next year.
Who knows what 2021 will throw at us but one thing is for sure, we’ll plan for the best and worst and be ready for anything!
I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out a bit more about the origins of our business and what the future may have in store! We'll be taking part in the In A Haystack #BehindTheSeams tour today (06/10/2020) on instagram and chipping in for the rest of the month too! Catch the rest of the tour at @In_A_Haystack on Instagram and check out our special offers for Market Weekend on the 31st October.