My Talk at Craftaganza aka Notes on a Ramble!

Here’s some images and a transcript of my talk on Wednesday evening at the Old Market, Hove for Craftaganza about how I started MIY Workshop.  I may add a few “action” shots later once they’ve been photoshopped!

It was a big deal for me to give the talk – public speaking is not something that comes naturally to me but, shock, horror, I have to admit that I actually quite enjoyed it!  I’m sure having such a supportive audience who were genuinely interested in what I had to say helped, so thanks to everyone who made it.

There was a very lively Q&A session at the end at the end of my talk too.  It’s really reassuring to be asked lots of interesting questions which confirms your audience are interested, so thanks also to those questioners!!

Here it is:



I am the person who always asks that question you’re not supposed to ask at parties.  I find it fascinating what people do with the most productive hours in their day and the majority of their time.  I suppose I’m just nosey, but I’ve never understood why people spend time doing jobs they hate, I did it once for 5 years, more than 20 years ago and since then have made sure that I’m happy at work.

I’ve had that goal poo-pooed often along the way and it’s involved a lot of (mainly financial) sacrifices, but I can hand on heart say that I now spend the majority of my time doing what I enjoy, which is worth so much more to me than fancy holidays, cars and a house full of the latest gadgets.  So, I hope you’re like me (a bit nosey!) and will find it interesting to hear about how I’ve got here and what I’ve learnt along the way.


This is my dad wearing a shirt I made for him recently, he taught me to sew and gave me my first sewing machine – an old Singer, when I was around 12.  Don’t worry I’m not going to tell you my life story…

When I first left school I worked in pensions for 5 years, that taught me the important lesson – to enjoy what you do.  I hated that job!

Eventually I escaped and went off to Manchester to do a degree in fashion at 23, I then worked as a designer for high street companies for 7 years and did a bit of freelance design and making.  But I’m a very hands-on designer who likes to make stuff and the high street design jobs were too detached from the end product and the freelance work was too lonely.  I decided to do a PGCE and started to teach in adult ed around Brighton in 2007.


Here’s some of my students’ work from then.  I was teaching in 5 different centres in Brighton & Hove, travelling back and forth across Brighton by bus dragging along all my teaching materials in a shopping trolley.  Not fun!


In 2010, the colleges started cutting back on adult ed and so I decided to start teaching my own independent classes at Just Sew, which used to be where MIY Workshop is now.  It started slowly, with just a couple of classes and a few students, but steadily began to get busier.


In 2011, the owners of Just Sew decided to close it and I had to decide whether to take over the premises myself.

I’d never done anything like this before and it was a scary amount of responsibility, I knew that if I was going to do it, it had to work and earn me a living, it wasn’t just a hobby.

I did my research – I picked the brains of people who’s knowledge and experience I valued and who would tell me their honest opinion about what I wanted to do and I wrote a business plan so thorough that it even impressed my accountant.  (I was quite chuffed with that!)

It didn’t magically happen overnight, it was a huge amount of work which I did over the Christmas & New Year holiday and roped in everyone I possibly could!  I had a very clear vision of the environment I wanted to create and had the benefit of having been teaching in the space for over a year, so knew exactly what I wanted to do.


And so, in January 2012 I opened MIY Workshop.


So, it’s lovely having your own business, freedom, control, no annoying boss……but it’s also hard work, especially on your own.  Here’s me and here’s all the things that I do…’s like having another flat to look after and if the toilet needs cleaning, there’s only me to do it!  I’ve found that the only way to manage this is to be anally organised and a massive control freak!  I didn’t realise quite what a control freak I was until I opened MIY Workshop.


Here’s some of my lovely students who make MIY Workshop possible, some of whom I think may be here tonight.

I’ve found there’s lots of different reasons that people come to my classes:

  • probably the main reason is to start a new hobby and make clothes that fit well and are exactly what they want and can’t find when shopping,
  • to do their own alterations – people buying vintage clothes find that they often need tweaking to improve the fit and let’s face it, not many of us fit shop bought clothes that well, also people are becoming more thrifty and would rather customise or repair something rather than throw it out and buy a new one,
  • to retrain – I now offer qualifications through City & Guilds and I’ve had students in the past who have gone on to do apprenticeships and degrees,
  • starting their own business selling things they’ve made, so want to improve their sewing skills.

Over the last few years these are some of the most important things I’ve learnt:


Have a vision and stick to it – I could easily spend a lot more of my time teaching.  I choose not to because it wouldn’t leave me enough time to develop the other areas of my business.  I started MIY Collection – my range of sewing patterns, in May 2012 because I realised that I was already using a lot of my patterns in classes and my students seemed to like them.  The patterns  are also a good way to get my name out to a wider audience – I’m currently working on a book and will be writing projects for a national sewing magazine from November.


Try and only take on work for other people if it will be of benefit to your business.  It’s hard to say no to paid work, but unless you’re desperate for cash-flow say no, as work for other people is usually just that – money.  For example, I now usually say no to pattern cutting or making for others because having spent many years using my skills to help build other peoples’ businesses – I now want to use those skills to build my own business.


Be realistic with your pricing not embarrassed by it – obviously you have to price your goods and services in line with the competition, but once you have a price you’re happy with, that represents the true cost and an acceptable profit, stick to it.  When I used to design and make clothes for people I would hate the “money” conversation, even though I was often earning less than minimum wage.  Doing a job you love doesn’t mean you should do it for free!  That would be a hobby, not a job.


I’m always thinking on about 3 different timescales – the rest of the week, the next couple of months and the next 2 years.  You must make a plan, it’s not set in stone and can evolve, but keep referring to it, for example, I had always planned to take MIY Collection sewing patterns to a national sewing show, but the opportunity came up sooner than I’d planned in March of this year at the Knitting & Stitching show in Olympia, so I adapted and took that opportunity.

If you don’t know where you want to go you’ll just drift along, possibly into something you don’t really want to do.


Know your strengths and capitalise on them – I focus on sewing for dressmaking and pattern cutting because that’s what I think I’m good at and that’s what I’ve got experience in.  Students often do “craft” sewing with me, but I regularly invite in experts to teach these subjects at MIY Workshop.  At every opportunity I draw attention to my strengths which are my industry experience, my training and my teaching qualification because I believe this is what makes me different to all the other people doing what I do.


Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!  This is an important lesson I learnt before opening MIY Workshop when teaching in adult ed centres; if one college went quiet, another usually picked up or I had more time for freelance work.  The way I achieve this now at MIY Workshop is by teaching all levels from complete beginners through to C&G qualifications and am also earning an income from my patterns and tools.


LOVE WHAT YOU DO!!!!  You have to be able to devote a huge amount of your time, energy and emotion into a business – on average I spend approx. 50-60 hrs a week working on my business and it always comes first.  If you’re just in it for the money and the time-off, it’s probably not for you!

Another important lesson which I remembered while preparing this talk – push yourself and step out of your comfort zone occasionally……which is exactly what I’m doing in giving this talk!


And last but definitely not least, the best thing of all is being able to take my dog Gypsy to work with me!

8 responses to “My Talk at Craftaganza aka Notes on a Ramble!

  1. I am currently in a very similar position to you just before you opened MIY Workshop… the do I? stage! The above is extremely helpful because, apart from the teaching I do I work alone a lot of the time, and I do forget to do what I love and push for it! Thank you, onwards and upwards for me!!


    • Hooray, glad to hear it’s inspired you!
      Just had a look at your website, looks like you’re doing some fab things on there. Best of luck with it and here’s to getting everyone sewing again :o)


  2. That is brilliant Wendy, such useful lessons. I totally agree with them all, it is so much work, I also work around 60 hours a week, you do need to plan a lot and learn when to say no (still not good at that yet…). But in the long run it is so worth it for the freedom, the challenges and the lessons you learn along the way.

    Love the diagram of all the things you have to do, best way I’ve seen it explained. I’ll share this next week on my social media accounts as I really think everyone who is thinking of becoming self emplyed should read it.


    • Thanks Fiona, thought you might relate to it!! Scary when you add all those hours up isn’t it….. Saying no is sooooo important and once you’ve started you stop feeling so guilty about it! I guess you must get asked to do all kinds of different stuff though.
      Thanks for sharing – I think there are a lot of people who perhaps don’t fully realise what’s going to be involved…..


  3. Lovely account of your experience.


  4. That was a lovely presentation – wish I could have been there! I have just had the loan approved for setting up my own dressmaking business and will be opening my doors on the 1 August! So excited and scared too! I’ve been working on this since February this year and all my hard work and research have paid off. My inspiration is the fashions of the 50s and before and I use vintage fabrics whenever I can. I’m just setting up my online presence – I’ve basically just got a Facebook page at the moment to build interest (Lily Rose Couture). I’m also a member of the Business Success for Handcrafters group on Facebook which is a peer to peer support group for anyone who makes anything by hand – from dresses to cards to jewellery to soap to knitting – so I’ll be sharing this fabulous blog with them too!


    • Thanks for your lovely comments, glad to hear it’s struck a note with you and good luck with your new business!!


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