It's been so long since I received the email asking me that. How did I get here? How fast did I grow? When did I let go of the railing and jump? Did I drop like a rock into water and have to hold my breath for years until I surfaced? Or did I spread myself wide and find an air stream to light me, growing wings as I glided?
I feel really bad for taking so long to answer. I'm sorry.
There's a long, impassioned, multi-act story to tell. I sometimes share it while sewing lace overlay to someone's form. They have to stand there for hours anyway. There's the short, almost elevator pitch that I can rattle off as I escape to the back room of my shop while we are packed to the gills with brides and questioning aunts, fretting mothers. I'll try to relay something in between those renditions.
The first time I sewed, I was 8. I sat by the sewing machine while my mom tattled on and on about what she was doing. She let me make a guided cut or two. Sew a seam here and there. Mess up, redo, mess up, redo, mess up, redo. And then... she held up the ugliest Bermuda shorts I had ever seen. She declared them my first creation. I was the first human mother to recognize that my baby was homely. The huge palm leaves snaked their way across the cotton fabric. The printed broad greenery was punctuated by random tropical flowers.
Well that was the most tedious, frustrating thing I had ever done. No, thanks.
My second trial at sewing was when I was a senior in High School. The Hotel Roanoke was nearing completion of their monumental renovations project. For some reason, I got excited about this. I had these strange visions of attending dinner in The Regency Room with my mom and dad. That year, I stole some of my mom's velvet fabric. I measured her, but wouldn't tell her why. I holed up in my room for a couple days and created a long green velvet skirt for her. It even had a zipper! I made it custom to her size. It was completely hand stitched. Before you get impressed, let me tell you the result. I had her try it on. I didn't know what "wearing ease" was. Basically, she couldn't try it on. It was skin tight. It rode up. Unzippable. And the crowning glory was the iron-shaped streak down the front of the skirt where I had pressed it with a hot iron, (note: you don't press velvet directly with a hot iron. EVER.) Sooo... I had this new dream of attending dinner with just dad. I bought a garish silver satin dress from goodwill and re-designed it to make it even more garish. I included a train, of course. ((clearing throat)). That was the end of that.
My mom was always a practical kind of seamstress, using fabric engineering to solve our problems around the house. She probably invented the toaster cover. Because everyone's toasters were cold until she came along and cozied them up. Photo albums were covered in fabric. Organizers were made and draped over arm rests of couches. Complex Halloween costumes were designed and executed with perfection. But she and my grandmother had this agonizingly perfect way of sewing that just terrified me! It was like the closer you came to martyrdom over your machine, the more house-maven points you scored. After seeing their calculated methods of sewing, I didn't want any part with it. After seeing my failed attempts at fashion creation, I would rather die than be a seamstress.
I didn't try sewing again until my mother gently pushed a yard sale find sewing machine into my room and tip-toed out. Alone in my room, my freshman year of college, I discovered the creative side of sewing. I ripped goodwill treasures into shreds and reshaped them into couture expressions of me. With having materials that I had purchased from Goodwill with my own money, as opposed to finely folded yardage from Piece Goods, I felt free to mess up. Glory Hallelujah! This was fun!
I sewed on that order- mashups and problem solving projects dominated my hobby for ten years or so. I began to sew for friends and relatives. I had a small circle of private clients that I served regularly.
After my son was born, I asked my dear Pastor's wife one day to pray for direction on how I could contribute to the family purse. A few days later, she left me a voicemail to meet her in her office before church. When I went in the office, she tossed a stack of note cards down and raised her voice at me saying, "You can do this!! You are creative. This is what you need to be doing!" I looked down at the hand painted cards that I had gifted her with previously. It was one of those moments where you're like, "Okaaaay...?"
I sat through service as my Pastor, unaware of his wife's prodding, gave a motivational sermon about making things happen sometimes. Don't just pray about stuff. Be a do-er! That night, I stayed up til 3AM sewing art-to-wear, tote bags, corsages, and various other accessories. I painted one of a kind note cards. The next day, I called a favorite boutique of mine in Roanoke, Gone Coco. Precious Susan answered the phone. I asked for the owner, it was her. I introduced myself as an artist selling wares. She enthusiastically told me that she was looking for someone like me. She told me to come in the next day to show her what I had. The next day, I nervously spread out my treasures before her. She bought every piece and offered me a whole wall of her store to fill for fall. I left breathless! I couldn't believe, I just got a job as a designer- just. like. that. Over the next few years, I labored many hours building a brand, gaining new boutique accounts, and having online sales while still keeping a few private clients.
Years later, my friend from church opened a bridal and formal wear shop and she started asking me to sew for her. "Noooo", I would say! "I don't want to mess up gowns and have brides yell at me!!"
Hang in here with me... One morning, I heard the voice of God clear as a bell. He told me to sew for my friend. I cocked my ear like a dog hearing a distant knock. "Are you sure about that?" I knew it wasn't me, because sewing for the public was the last thing I wanted to do. I was kinda comfortable where I was, thank you very much. I purposed to obey God when I set out to live for Him. There was no disobeying now. I went to the city administration building the next day and changed my business license over. I ran an ad in the paper. I ordered business cards, and gave a thumbs up to my victorious friend.
Wouldn't you know it, right then, the recession hit and within that year all of my boutiques closed except for one? (Gone Coco) The alterations side of my business took off like an antsy racehorse. I worked from my home until the traffic became too much. I rented a small fitting room at a vendor mall. I pinned in there and brought the work home to sew. I outgrew that location. I rented an office at The Bedford Mini Mall. I outgrew that and doubled my space. I contracted out the tailoring and casual sewing with a second seamstress, while I only altered Prom, Bridesmaids, and Brides. I soon outgrew that space as well. I took out a 3 year lease on a 2,000 sq ft loft space. We are on our second lease now. When I moved into there, I cut all of the casual sewing and switched to private appointments only. As the workload became too much, I systematically cut the types of jobs I would take, until I was whittled down to only Bridal.
Now, 20 years after learning to sew, and 10 years after starting in the sewing business, The Gilded Thimble has blossomed into a destination-worthy experience for Brides. I'm the principal seamstress. We have a bookkeeper, Debra. A bookings assistant, Sue. And, a hand-sewer, and shop manager, Yael.
The Gilded Thimble has been a living, breathing thing. It's been a product of direction from the ministry in my life, and, of course, the voice of God. It has been the recipient of unwavering support from my husband. He is the Treasurer of this corporation and supported me in the early, unprofitable years. He continues to support me daily with the loving look of admiration in his eyes. He accompanies me on my many out-of-town wedding trips.
I describe the course of growing a business as a conversation. You have to listen to what people respond to. Clients were a smidge more enthusiastic about my Bridal work. I also feel more motivated by Bridal than any other type of sewing. If you take the path that gives both you and your client the most joy and success, you will end up where you are supposed to be.
I hope this post has been clear and helpful. Please email me if you have any other questions. I love to share my experiences with you all, my friends!