Welcome to my Blog

Hello and welcome to my blog, hopefully you have had a look at the rest of my website and would now like to know a little more about the person behind Sartorial Soft Furnishings.

As this is the start of my blog I thought it would be appropriate to begin at the beginning and tell you my roots and how I have got to where I am now, which is a housewife in Hampshire, England with her own soft furnishing business.

Early years

I was born in the mid sixties in Oxfordshire. As a toddler we (Mum, Dad and younger sister) moved to Hampshire for the first time but after only 6 months we moved to Keyworth in Nottinghamshire. We were in there for 5 years, and then relocated to a small village in Cheshire called Bunbury just before my 9 th birthday where we lived for about 15 years.  By my early 20’s any southern roots were lost and I considered myself a “Northerner”

My interest in sewing started at an early age. While in Nottingham I asked for a sewing machine for Christmas. Instead of getting me the pink plastic “Miss Petite” one was expecting my parents, very wisely, gave me a lovely old hand operated Singer.  My first attempts were soft toy kits with my mum joining the more complicated bits together. I graduated to making clothes while still at primary school. Unfortunately I remember this for the wrong reasons – the badly attached pocket on the front of my pinafore dress fell off while at school!

A short video from YouTube demonstrating a similar sewing machine to my first hand cranked machine

 

Education

When the time came to choose which subjects to take at O’level (that ages me) I had what seemed a very random selection, but with hindsight they fitted together perfectly. As well as the obvious Needlework I also took Art, Physics, and Economics. Because I was good a Maths I was chosen to be part of the first Computer Studies course my school offered. This was very different to the IT courses of today; we booked time slots to work on the school’s ITT Apple equivalent computer for coursework, wrote BASIC computer programs and learnt about the history of computing.

My school, Tarporley County High School, had its own sixth form so after finishing my O’levels I stayed to take A’levels. At this point I dropped the fun subjects and took Maths, Further Maths and Physics, with the intention to progress to a Maths Degree.  As my results weren’t too good it was soon obvious that my degree would be from a run-of-the-mill Polytechnic and wouldn’t get me very far in the job’s market.

Hollings Campus, Fallowfield

Holling Campus, Manchester Polytechnic. Also known as ‘The fried egg and toast-rack’

Quite by chance I stumbled upon a course from Manchester Polytechnic that suited me (and my combination of O’levels) very well, a BA in Clothing Studies. The course was designed to produce students with knowledge of the clothing industry and have the potential to run their own factory. At the time (mid 80’s) the clothing industry in Britain seemed buoyant and the course had employers ready to take graduates as soon as they finished.

Work

So after 4 years in Manchester, one of the best places to be a student at the time in my opinion, I graduated with a degree and headed to Leeds to work in a factory making Post Office Uniforms. For a year everything went well but after I had just bought my first flat I was made redundant, looking back now it was the start of the decline of the British clothing industries and it would have happened at some time if not then. My world fell apart, my parents had just moved to France, I had a mortgage I couldn’t pay and the only people I knew in the area were from the factory who didn’t keep in touch. I had the worst 6 months of my life, I can remember walking to the local shop with the sole of my shoe flapping and I couldn’t even afford to replace it.

My break came through a consultant who worked for my previous employer. He also worked with a small bag manufacturer in Somerset and thought I may be what they were looking for. At the interview he asked if I had heard of them, I said”yes” but I must admit that this wasn’t completely true. Within a week of my interview with the Factory manager I had a job, was renting a room on a farm and looking forward to a new life. By the way the small bag manufacturer was Mulberry, the international designer label. Within a year I had sold my flat in Leeds, bought a new one in Chilcompton, Somerset and met my future husband through a mutual friend.

This video from YouTube includes footage from the Mulberry Factory in Chilcompton, Somerset.

My time at Mulberry was one of the best I have had. Starting in work study I progressed through the warehouse department into customer services, ending as a market support assistant responsible for the UK customers, but after I married my husband in 1995 we moved to Hampshire and I very sadly had to leave Mulberry.

The start of Sartorial Soft Furnishings

We have lived in the same house since 1995 but family life has changed because there are now 4 of us, my son was born in 1998 and my daughter in 2001. I was in the fortunate position to become a ‘stay at home Mum’ and left the administrator’s job I had at IBM at the time to look after our son when he arrived.

When my son was a toddler I became very frustrated and needed something outside of mothering. My local adult education centre was offering courses on soft furnishings that took my fancy so I signed up for the intermediate level one. I had made various curtains and blinds for the house and thought I knew what I doing so I didn’t need to do the beginners level. After the first week when it became obvious that I had no idea of professional curtains techniques I decided to start the beginners course the following term and I have not looked back.

In 2007 both children were at school and I needed to fill my days. Instead of looking for a job I decided to start my own soft furnishings business. Working from home would mean that I would be around after school for the children and there were many friends and family saying that I should go for it.

So here I am now, the business has taken over the spare room and although I have a sofa bed in it any visitors have to give me plenty of warning so that I can clear the room out. Most of my creations are for a local shop which provides a wide variety of work, but ideally I want to have more direct contact with my customers because part of the pleasure in making soft furnishings is seeing them in situ.

I hope you enjoyed this post, look out for others coming soon.


Comments

Welcome to my Blog — 8 Comments

  1. Hi, I enjoyed reading your blog and wondered if you could answer a few questions please. I am thinking of starting a little side line business but I am concerned about selling things to people. What are the legalities as far as safety etc? I want to make things like cushions, bunting and throws etc. If I create my own label do I have to register it etc? Thank you

    • When I first started my business there were a couple of things that I did before it got going. By the way I am UK based and this information is specific to the UK.

      Firstly I took out specialised business insurance. I work from home and my buildings and content insurance doesn’t cover business specific areas such as public liability, equipment and stock. Secondly I contacted the Inland Revenue. They need to be aware of any income from the business, no matter how small, and you will have to complete a self assessment tax return if you are not doing so already.

      As far as I am aware the main safety legislation you may need to know about would be regarding fire retardant regulations but these mainly apply when selling to commercial premises.

      As far as registering your name, this is only necessary for copyright purposes or if you want to be a limited company. I haven’t done either of these.

      Have you thought about how you will sell your items? If you have your own website there are legal requirements to do with distant selling but as I only sell directly to my customers I don’t know the details. There are some sites that are set up specifically for crafters to sell directly to customers; etsy.com is international and very large. Folksy.com and Misi.co.uk are UK based and not so big. Have a look at their help sections; there may be information that could help you even if you don’t sell through them.

      I hope that helps, as good luck with your venture.

  2. Hi, great informative blog. However I too would like to start a soft furnishings business also from home, I’m doing some research at the moment. I have no idea about the pricing of curtains, blinds , cushions etc. How do I price these items. Do you go to clients houses to measure up and hang the curtains?

    Hope you can help me out with a response to my questions.
    Thanks.

    • Hello Nettie,

      Pricing is very difficult to judge. There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration.

      I started by looking at how long it took me to make something such as a pair of curtains or a cushion cover. Then I looked at my overheads and how much profit I wanted to make. This gave me an amount per hour I was happy with and used it to price each items. Sometimes I feel that I have got this right, but sometimes I obviously haven’t. Other things to consider is the area you live in and how much the market is willing to pay. Have a look at online pricing for soft furnishings, although you’re not doing exactly the same it can give you an idea of the prices for different sizes and finishes.

      Generally I would have at least two visits to a clients house, one to measure and one to deliver and hang. Sometimes though if the client needs help deciding on what they want there may be many visits, but in contrast I do have a couple of clients that drop off fabric and I just make to their measurements. I find that you just need to go with the flow and treat each client differently.

      Good luck with your venture.
      Kate

  3. Hi.
    I am a stay at home mum…and I love making soft furnishing for my own home.
    I would like ti make a business out of it but I don’t know where to start…
    Could you by any chance give me some advice?
    Thank you in advance.

    • Before starting a soft furnishings business I would recommend that you make curtains and blinds for friends and family, you need to find out whether making for other people gives you the same fulfilment as making things for yourself. I would also recommend getting some training in professional curtain making. If you’re unable to find classes locally have a look at the National Design Academy https://www.nda.ac.uk/ They run correspondence courses in soft furnishings and a benefit for you as a stay at home mum is that you can do the work at your own speed.

      Once you have decided that you’re ready to go for it, try to start small. If I had the same amount of work at the beginning that I do now I would be so overwhelmed I think I would have given up. Another possibility is working as a freelancer for a local shop, although the pay isn’t too good I found I gained a lot of experience as a freelancer, more than my customers alone.

      Advertising in the local free newspapers may be worth a try but my biggest customer generator has been my website, so I would strongly recommend getting your own site once you are up and running.

      You’ve probably got many more questions than I have answered here so, if you haven’t already found it, the soft furnishings forum Mydecozo is a very good source of information. http://www.mydecozo.co.uk/content.php

      Good luck with your plans. Kate

  4. Hi, I used to make curtains as a business but gave it up about 20 years ago.Now inlockdown someone has asked me to make some and with time to spare I am happy to do so but I really cannot work out how to price them. She has the fabric but I need to supply the lining

    • Welcome back to the world of curtain making.

      I can’t tell you how much to charge but I can suggest ways to work it out. My prices are per width and I have a different amount for long or short curtains. I separate taped heading, such as pencil pleat, from hand made pinch pleat headings. You should think about how long it takes to complete a panel and then multiply by the number of widths. Where you live can also affect how much you could charge.

      With regards to the lining, Merrick and Day supply industry standard linings, tapes and sundries and you don’t need open a trade account before ordering.

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