Today’s guest post by Abby Glassenberg of Abby Glassenberg Design tells us a little about why you might want to turn your love of sewing into a pattern business, and gives you a glimpse into her new eBook on the topic… Find more from Abby at While She Naps. We also have one of Abby’s designs here at Sew Mama Sew, the Baby Butterfly tutorial. Designer Sara Lawson, mentioned in the post, is also here at Sew Mama Sew with her Iron Reviews and the free Kennedy Bag pattern.

We have lots of additional posts with small business tips here at Sew Mama Sew covering everything from how to Be a Better Craft Teacher to 20 Proven Types of Blog Posts and so much more.

2/6 Edit: Please note the addition of some software and pattern grading resources via Abby below!

I love to sew. I used to dream about building a business that allowed me to sew every single day. For years, I worked in my studio sewing handmade soft toys and that I sold at craft fairs and online. I made a little money– enough to cover expenses and have a little left over for buying more fabric– but my business never truly earned a profit. I was covering costs, and earning a little extra, but not enough to contribute to my family’s income. I started to feel like my dream just wasn’t a viable reality.

Plush Rubber Duck by Abby Glassenberg

Everything changed for me when I decided to shift my business to focus on selling sewing patterns. I created a sewing pattern for a plush rubber duck and put it up for sale in my online shop for $9. I sold two that first day. On the second day I sold two more, for a total of $36, the same amount I would have sold a finished duck for. In the year and a half since, I’ve sold that pattern hundreds of times, and added nearly three dozen more patterns to my shop. Finally, I had figured out a way to build a profitable business around my passion for sewing.

Viola Lee Josie Dress by Vicky Peters

I know I’m not alone in this experience. I recently spoke with designer Vicky Peters of Viola Lee Patterns and was struck by how similar our stories were. After years of selling custom children’s clothing in boutiques, Vicky decided to try creating a PDF pattern to sell online. She put the first one up in her online shop in 2011. Reflecting on that decision she says, “Transitioning from sewing custom clothing to designing patterns has allowed me to use my precious free time to work on what I enjoy doing, the creative outlet of designing new patterns rather than sitting at my sewing machine sewing the same design over and over as quickly as I can.” I couldn’t agree more!

Before she began selling patterns Vicky felt that her sewing business wasn’t able to grow like she wanted it to. “As our custom clothing business grew it was getting harder to keep up with orders. The time involved and the fabric costs of sewing custom clothing limited the profit I could make in one day, no matter how fast I sewed! Designing patterns has taken the pressure off me to work long hours every day to complete orders as quickly as I can. Now, even when I’m on vacation, out enjoying myself with family and friends, or working on a new design, I am still making an income from my patterns.”

Locked and Loaded Bag by Sara Lawson

Sara Lawson designs patterns for handbags and sells them as digital downloads under her brand, Sew Sweetness. For Sara, selling PDF patterns has been transformative. “The pattern shop is what, I feel, really made my sewing into an actual business.” Sara began selling print patterns last year so she could have her designs available in quilt shops and to display at Quilt Market, but selling PDFs was a vital first step. “The printed patterns arrived nine months after I began selling PDFs, so all of the titles had a chance to sell for quite a bit of time as PDFs before they went to print. I was able to choose the best sellers to go to paper. The PDFs are still doing better than the printed patterns, but it’s nice having several outlets like that.”

Cathedral Square Quilt by Lee Heinrich

Quilt designer Lee Heinrich of Freshly Pieced feels that PDF patterns present unique benefits to her as a quilt designer, and to her customers as well. “Since there’s practically no overhead, up-front costs, or inventory involved with putting a PDF pattern out there for sale, it’s a great, low-risk way to test the waters in the pattern business. I also love the fact that you can be entirely in charge of PDF pattern distribution; [there’s] no need to rely on pattern distributors, third-party sellers, etc. And it’s great for the customer because it’s immediate– no waiting for a paper pattern to be shipped.”

Getting started with a digital pattern business can feel a bit overwhelming, but if it’s something you’re intrigued by I’d like to invite you to check out my new eBook Starting an Online Sewing Pattern Business to learn more about it. It’s a 45-page insider’s guide that will provide you with everything you need to get your pattern business off the ground, including how to:

  • Choose a project that will be popular as a pattern.
  • Take effective step-by-step photos.
  • Write excellent pattern instructions.
  • Photograph your project so that it sells.
  • Choose software for page layout and template vectorization.
  • Use low-tech options for page layout and templates without having to learn graphics programs.
  • Find and use pattern testers.
  • Price your patterns.
  • Learn all about eCommerce options.
  • Prepare for an effective launch.
  • Establish yourself as a designer in the industry.

Note that this eBook is not a step-by-step guide to creating vectors of your pattern templates, or creating page layouts. It’s also not about how to produce print patterns for wholesale distribution. There are other great resources for those things!

Free yourself from worrying about creating inventory that might not sell. Earn passive income. Make your business profitable. And carve out more time in your day to be creative! It’s worked well for me and for so many creative people and it can work for you, too!

Thanks for the comments! Abby sent us some helpful resources for software and pattern grading to point you in the right direction:

For Software:
First, Lynda classes are amazing and are no more expensive than a book ($25 for an unlimited subscription for a month). If you’re looking to learn to use a vector program such as Illustrator I think an online class is much better than a book. If you don’t want to buy Illustrator you can use a free vector drawing program such as Inkscape. This is an open source program and there are many YouTube videos that will teach you how to trace templates and make them into vectors.

For Pattern Grading: