Victorian seaside adventure!

Some things start unexpectedly…. last January I picked some lovely silk that just screamed Victorian Seaside Bustle frock… And so for the summer I put a few days aside to make it – and to nip somewhere on the coast for … Continue reading

Running a Costuming business part 4:Getting Real

You are a creative person and would like to run a creative business full time.  You have read the success stories, you have chatted to friends, and everything looks peachy – so you are leaving your mundane day-job and are … Continue reading

Making a Mid Victorian Ball Gown

In the previous tutorial we dealt with undergarments (drawers, chemise and a petticoat), and the crinoline cage is explained here). So, it is now time to tackle the gown itself! Again, since this series is mostly dedicated to the guests of … Continue reading

The Gold Gown, market and a Regency Ball 2015

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 Last year we had a lovely time at out first Regency ball, part of the annual Jane Austen celebration in Bath (see post on that here). This year the dates were changed a bit, which meant that the Ball was on the first Saturday of the festival, and there was a market earlier on in the day too. So, two  birds with one stone – we could go and trade to earn our living in the day, and in the evening we could go and have a good dance at the ball!

 The usual dilemma ocurred – What to wear? I had my old evening gown, but it would be nice to make something new. As I had only 5 days to prepare regency dresses for sale, I decided to get the stock items sorted first and to work on my own frock if I had some time spare.

 I already knew what I would be using as an inspiration  – this gown from the Met museum

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 I already had some lovely gold semi-transparent silk in my stash, so all I needed to get was lace, decoration and the silk satin for the base of the dress. I didnt really like the pearl trim on the original, so decided on an alternative, but all of the components were ready and waiting, just in case I managed to make time for it!

 In the end I finished all the stock dresses on Friday moring – and we were to leave Friday night. I had about 8 hours. Well, you know that I do like challenges….

 One thing has to be said – working on the stock meant that whilst handstitching other frocks I had time to think about the gold gown construction even before I started to work on it. I must admit, it did take me some time – mostly because I simply couldn’t see how it closed! Yes, you can see the sheer overgown ties in front, but what about the satin gown?  You can zoom in quite a lot on the Met site so you can see clearly that there are no rows of buttons or ties at the back under the sheer, nothing at the side or front, no button closures, no bib closure, no tie closures… A mystery!

 I started  zooming in to maximum and checking every detail – and finally I found it! On the back, right of centre-back, you can just about see something on the satin layer that could be called a button and a loop, at the neck egde.

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I new that must be it – After thinking a little more, and analysing the cut I arrived at a very simple pattern idea – basically a sack with fitted neckline. I tried the idea on a mock-up first, making the top part of the gown in calic; it worked. I actually didn’t even need the button, the thing just slips ovehead and a simple tie does the rest.

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 So on the day I cut the gown in silk satin, sewed it, hemmed it, lined the bodice, etc – in other words it was ready for the overgown and the sleeves.

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Merlin was happy as for once he was allowed on the silk. normally it is off-limits but since it was my own stuff, I did not mind – and he did enjoy overseeing the work.

  That was the easy part…. the overgown was next – and whereas it is basically a loose robe, it took the most time due to all the finishing – cutting precise facings in flimsy sheer fabric is not my idea of fun! But the facings were cut, sewn, handstitched and metallic lace attached – then they were just awaiting the posh trim I wanted to use in place of the pearls.

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 Sleeves were next – and they were the most time-consuming…

 Cutting up the base and the satin layer first –

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 Then preparing the space for the gathering and placing the gathers in suitable places so that that they formed ‘pulling-outs’ –  just as in Tudor sleeves.

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Sleeve gathered on both sides

Once the gathers were positioned, I was able to add the overlay with the cut out holes and the gold metallic trim

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I was getting excited by this stage… All that now remained was getting the sleeves together, lining them, sewing into the armbands and then into the armhole, (both the satin and the  sheer layers of the dress).

And it was almost ready – just a little belt to add, made from the sheer (I tried to  attach it to pregathered sheer underneath like in the original, but after speding an hour I decided I didnt like it – so outside it went.  Only the posh trim remained, and that could be done before the ball next day.

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We packed up, drove to Bath (3 hours), checked into the hotel and collapsed…

Next day saw us setting up the stall at the market in the Guildhall – and we had 4 jolly hours of trading there…

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The stall, ready!

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Farthingale Hats stall. Yes, I did get a new hat….

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Amy’s (Costume Shop) stand where Lucas purcahsed his replacement hose; clocked, no less!

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I was sporting the redingote which I made last year – more on making that here. I still love it!

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Hair Story with their wonderfull wigs and hairpieces… And yes, I have commissioned some hair from them since…

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A dashing young fellow!

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The silhouette cutter was super popular!

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My Customers were sporting their Prior Attire bling – Janet picked up two new hats from me, and it was the first outing of the military style spencer… David’s finery was made a year ago – more on its making here.

After the market  we packed up the remaining goods, drove back to the hotel and collapsed (again). But we had a ball to go to! I was so tired, that honestly, if it hadnt been for the fact that there was food on offer I probably wouldnt have gone… But we knew Searcy’s would deliver a great meal (we were not disappointed as it turned out), so after a power nap I got my act together and sorted out the braid on the dress:-). Then it was time to get dressed…

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    do love my regency long stays, the are comfortable and provide anazing ahem, lift…. here shown with a petticoat

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    You can see here how the layers worked

    And so, off to the ball we went – armed with a big camera too!  We had an amazing time, despite being so tired (I danced every other dance to conserve my energy), and the meal was superb… pictures below!

    The gold dress first – I am rather happy with it – the design worked surprisingly well 🙂 Will probably sell it at some point,  as I simply cannot go to the ball next year in the same frock, can I ? 🙂

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    We snatched this one at the break as everybody rushed to grab some food…

    and more generic photos of the dancing  etc 🙂

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Loved the blue gown!

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Zack from Pinsent Tailoring, in the tightest breaches ever – check out his work, very good!

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I admit that we did leave ‘just’ before the ball ended – I was falling asleep! As it turned out, combining a working day with an evening of fun doesnt really work for me 😦

Still, we had a good night’s rest, a good brekkie and were on our way home  soon.  Once back home we decided to take the opportunity to photograph the remaining dresses  – they are now available in the shop – click  on the links to see the listing 🙂  I look tired but the gowns looked well, and that is enough for the shop 🙂

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A tiny bit too big, otherwse I think I would be keeping it to myself!

this is my favourite – super smooth cotton, with removable long sleeves:-)

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Undersleeves removed

We even made a short video about how to put on a regency brassiere: – enjoy!

Many thanks to PItcheresque Imagery for the photos!

Dressing Queen Victoria

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This one was a very exciting commission – a friend who often works as Queen Vic needed a new corset.. and a  new bodice and a train to go with the skirt she already had.

After a session of looking at different portraits and photographs of the Queen, with Eve pointing out which features she’d like to include in her bodice or train, we got some sketching done…

Fabric was next – and here we were lucky as got a length of beautiful silk brocade from Quartermasterie – all that i need to grab was silk taffeta for lining and pleats and some lace and buttons….

The corsets was made first –  and it is a rather jazzy affair,  so wont be shown here to preserve the dignity of the monarch, but i bet now a few people who’d meet Eve at work would be wondering what  lingerie secrets her clothes hide ;-0

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Bodice was a lovely blend of the 1880ties and earlier fashions – sporting a version of pagoda sleeves, apparently quite a favourite of the queen. we also added detachable under sleeves, for colder days .

The lace was simply lush, though applying it took some time, and the underside of the pagoda sleeves was also trimmed with lace, a  more modest version.

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The train was just fun.  The construction was simple – a slightly shaped rectangular fabric, plasted and with tapes and buttons to allow the wearer to bustle to up if needs be. But it was  recreatingthe pleated trim from one of the original photos that was interesting….

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The train has a baleyeuse ( the dust ruffle) made of black cotton lace  buttoned up  – they were  a truly delightful frilly affairs that made life so much easier –  you wash only the ruffle as your skirts are protected.

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The pick up day was also a shoot day as we offered Eve a mini session –  the results below! Hope you like the final result:-)

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train bustled up, no undersleeves

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Train flowing loosely, under sleeves attached

Eve’s  page is here – enjoy browsing!  Queen Victoria

Sewing Fast and Slow

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OK, so I do have a bit of an reputation for being a fast sewer. And because of that I have been exposed to a variety of opinions  ranging from ‘ Wow, you sew so fast, you must be good!’ to  ‘ It really must be crap, nobody can make it properly in that time’.

 

The fact is, however – neither of these sentiments are always true.   You may be labouring on one item for ages – but that in itself doesn’t mean that the finished item will be a masterpiece – it may still be ill-fittng, badly stitched etc.  Similarly – you can make items fast – and  that in itself doesn’t mean they are poorly made. There are exceptions to every rule, but the most important thing is –

 FIND THE PACE THAT SUITS YOU

 To produce a quality garments you need to be working at a pace  you are comfortable with. If you rush it – it will be reflected in the final look; but if you  procrastinate too much, you may loose interest/heart to the project , get bored – and that will show in sloppy work too.

 If you are in the comfortable position of  sewing just for yourself, as leisure,  do take your time. Unless, off course there is an unexpected event this weekend and suddenly you have an urgent need of a new frock… If you are earning your bread sewing things, you will need to find a pace you are the most efficient at without compromising the quality.

 I get asked a lot, how I can  make things quickly – and the answer is – not every item is made quickly – this simply depends on the purpose of the garment, the client’s purse and my own private time constraints .  The most important factors are the purpose – and the quantity you are making.

 The purpose of the garments  will  considerably influence the speed at which you can produce an item -. If you are aiming at  historically accurate garments and are making everything by hand ( the ‘before Singer’ eras)  because your garments will be shown to the public etc – it will take much longer than a garments that looks fine, has handfinished details but inside seams machined.  But if you are making modern clothing and are free to use sewing machine, overlocker etc – that would cut the timing considerably.

a few examples

1. –  2 17th century gowns,  one handmade ( 1660 style, in green silk); and a 1634 in blue satin with machined innards and the rest handfinished.  The handmade took me  5 solid days of stitching; the other one only 3. But can you spot a difference ? unless you look very, very closely, you cannot…  (more on  making the blue gown  and construction details here)

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insides all handstitched

 

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insides channels machined

 

2. Tudor gowns – this one  is completely handstitched – petticoat, kirtle, gown – every single stitch.  Took 2 solid weeks

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kirtle detail

These two were made using a machine, with hand finish – all inside seams are  machined, but lining is inserted by hand, all visible seams, eyelets etc are hand stitched. Each took about a week.

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 A post on making Tudor kirtles and gowns is here  and the French hoods here

3. Napoleonic bling –  military lace sewn by hand ( 6 hours each side)

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and on a machine, with hand finishing –  3 hours each side

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A short tutorial on the machine style is here

 The other factor is the quantity – how many items of the same sort you make. In short – experience.  The more doublets/corsets/bustles you make, the easier it will get and  the faster you will become. This is mostly down to the fact that if you are making a new piece of clothing, you do take your time considering the best way of  putting it together, you make mistakes – but this is a very valuable time, as with every mistake, ever minute spent pondering on how on earth do these two bits fit in, you learn.  My first corset took 3 days as I was just experimenting with techniques.  Nowadays I can make simple corset in 3-4 hours, and if anything, is is better and much more structurally sound than the one I made in 3 days…

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With that in mind, if you feel  you would like to speed up your sewing,  these are the tips I found worked for me:

* quality sewing machine and tools.   The machine doesn’t have to be expensive, but it needs to be reliable.  You don’t need an industrial model straight away – though I love my semi industrial Janome for its speed – just make sure it does its job consistently and without mishaps. Also – do that the advantage of the many different attachments. I love my ruffler for example – without it  it would take me much longer to make flounced petticoats, gathered chemises etc.

 It is worth investing in some specific machinery if you make lots of similar items -for example, for corsetmaking getting an eyelet setting press  meant  shaving at least 30min off the complete making time.

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ruffler in action

*take notes. If you are working on a new project, just jot down bits that caused you problems –  next time you wont have to work it out from the very beginning. I admit I had problems working our suspenders production – and since i wasn’t making a lot of corsets with suspenders , the first  couple of times i had to work out how to make the things, made mistakes and wasted time.  Once I started making a lot of them – I simply made a sample one and pinned it on a board, within reach if i ever need to be reminded how to put the thing together.   Sorted, no more wasted time.  you can always take photos and scribble on them too 🙂

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* Practice – basically  that’s where the experience kicks in. The more you make, the better you can get at it ( practice makes perfect!) but remember to practice only the bits that worked – repeating the mistakes again and again wont do you much good, o matter how long you spent practicing it :-(. The more you sew,  the more you will learn about how different fabrics behave, which stitches, needles, setting to use – almost automatically, without  sitting there and looking for the manual.

* if you are making clothes mostly for yourself, save the mock ups and make them into generic patterns, you can then adjust them  ( neckline, hems, sleeve length etc)  to fit in with a new project – and it will save you at least an hour or two on making a mock up from a scratch. The same  applies to your repeat clients; or, if you are making a lot of stock items,  a few graded hard patterns  will  not only speed the work up, but also ensure consistent sizing.

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* Neat work environment. Well, this actually doesn’t work for me at all, by work space is consistently chaotic, cluttered -some would call it messy, even… but I generally know what is where. I have attempted a neat work environment, works for about 2 days and then  get s back to its original  chaotic state.  But if you are a person who can tame the chaos, and organize the space well – that would help too!

* plan ahead. Time management is essential, especially if you are running a business –  I have written a whole post on just this issue – here

*outsourcing.  Sometimes it is simply easier and faster to rely on others who are better at certain things. I can make handwoven braid, lace, etc – but I know I cannot make the braid as fast as those who specialize in it. So when time is an issue, I buy my braid, points, laces from people who are expert.  Money well spent!

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beautiful handwoven braids from Nordulf

* limit procrastination. Yes, I am guilty here too… when time is of an essence and I know I need to concentrate I simply try to eliminate the procrastination  sources – switch off facebook, usually.:-)…  I answer my emails once a day in the morning, then switch off the  outlook too, so no notification, pings etc distract me.  It is not always possible, but when it is, it is great. I found I work much faster when I go to my Stitch and Bitch sessions at Julia, at Sew Curvy –  I haven’t got a laptop with me, I put the phone aside, and all I can do is work ( and chat)  – and  am at my most productive.

* set a time limit. If you like competing against yourself and enjoy a challenge – set a deadline.  I work best when on a tight deadline, it motivates me far more  than anything else – and I love it. Not everybody’s cup of tea as some people find it stressful – though there is a way around it, if you are willing to have a go. If you set a deadline  on a bit of sewing that is not hugely important  and failing it won’t influence your work in general, you can see whether you enjoy the challenge.  And if you don’t – back to time management and planning….

*music.  Again, different music works better for different projects –  so find out which tunes motivate you, jeep you alert and happy. Similarly, for hand sewing I love audio books and learning languages.  while stitching hems is pretty boring, listening to the Game of Thrones  etc makes the task not only enjoyable, keeping your mind occupied and stopping if from looking for distractions, but  you will sew faster too.

  Having said all that – remember it is not always a race.   I do often have to rush things for myself, as I ‘squeeze ; private projects in between the commissions ( best example , a ballgown in 24hours here_)- but  I also have a few long term bits I work on and I enjoy taking my time – I am just finishing  a lace making project I started about 3 years ago, for example:-)

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 So find your own pace, the pace that works for you, and stitch happy ! 🙂

 

The most common mistakes in historical costuming/re-enactment – and how to avoid them!

 Over the years I have been asked about  a variety of problems within historical costuming – and how to avoid them. I have already written a few posts on different aspects such as the look, fabrics, etc – but here … Continue reading

Running a Costuming Business

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Over the last few years I had a few people asking me about doing costuming as a business – and since in the last 3 months I have had several graduates and future entrepreneurs ask me the very same questions again and again, I have decided to deal with them  in one place – so that everybody who thinks of operating a business can benefit.

Just a short background note first – I am a self-taught costumier – my adventure started in 1997 or so, after spending a summer with historical interpreters from Past Pleasures.   I first made a few medieval things for myself for a Christmas party of my group (I was taught the basics of sewing at school and my mum ), and although the garments were, to be honest, quite horrid, I soon had friends and other members of the club asking me to make them kit too.

Within a few years, I made loads of outfits for friends and re-enactors, and after 3 years of serious stitching and even more serious research and costume education, I had a side business established, adding a few good zloties ( I still lived in Poland at that time) to my normal income.  For 5 years I ran it with a friend, making mostly medieval  clothing for clients in Poland, Scandinavia, France and Italy.

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early days, working with my partner at an event

When I moved to the UK in 2005, I had to start anew, more or less – and the first year or two I spent most of my professional time working, teaching in the colleges, getting more teaching qualification etc. But then I got the bug again, and started attending more events, and as a result, was asked for more kit.

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my first outfits. urgghhrr!!!!

Prior Attire was born in 2009 – as a supplementary 1 woman business.  In 2010 I was able to switch the college workload a bit, and work 80% – leaving Friday and the whole weekend to costuming and teaching the rest of the days. In November 2011 I left the college stint for good – and never looked back…  It hasn’t been easy but since then I am usually fully booked up 3-6 months ahead, sometimes more – and although I do work more hours than ever, it is worth it!

If it all looks great and peachy for you – well, don’t be deceived. It does take years to establish a good customer base, find a niche in the market, and invest your time, money, resources… I am doing the job I love, and am quite good at (false modesty aside), but it was not an easy path – and it not so easy to maintain and grow either….

Still, hope this helps a bit – find below the questions I am asked most often:

* Had you already done a lot of work before you started bespoke historical costuming?

Yes.  Yes. Yes. – as mentioned above I was sewing  for years before I was able to dedicate my career to costuming entirely. It helps if you can phase it out, but it usually takes years. Work also means research – and when I was starting research meant actually going to museums, travelling to other countries to trawl the libraries, galleries etc. Nowadays, with the internet it is much easier!

*How do you advertise and get clients?

You can advertise on Facebook (not worth it, unless you study the algorithyms and can use it to your advantage)), google adverts, magazines, fora, etc. Not really sure how effective that is – for me the greatest advertisement proved to be – well, wearing my work!  Due to my academic background, I am also an interpreter, and I wear historical costume for work. Seeing the clothes worn, on a person, is one of the best adverts you can get, in my experience – be it at an event, or a market, a gown on a person is much more interesting than a small add in a magazine.

And the same goes for my clients – 70 % of my customers founds their way to me via word of mouth – usually seeing my work on another client.

Professional social media and internet presence is essential too – that’s the rest of the customers accounted for, mostly.

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a happy client is your best asset!

 Do you work by yourself?

Yes, I am a 1 woman business. I have a loving and long suffering husband who helps at the market (he possesses much better people skills than I do!), but apart from that, all I do is just me and my needle pricked fingers! recently I have started hiring a workshop space and some help for the busy periods whn I need to make lots of simple stock fast though – and it prooved not only fun but profitable too!

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 Do you work normal 9-5 hours?

Ha!  Nope.  My normal working day may start more or less at 9, but it does not finish at 5 – I do take breaks for lunch, to go training in the evening, etc, but it is often that I am still doing some stitching at 11pm, watching a telly or playing scrabble.

Weekends – yep, same applies.  In fact I do need to plan my holidays better – in the last 5 years I had much less holiday than the national quota…..

I do like keeping busy though and cannot imagine it any other way – but you will need to manage your time efficiently (see my article on that here)

Did you research the market first?

Not much – as I started by making clothes for myself, to be able to work as an interpreter and for living history demonstrations, the market research was done more or less on the go. You do learn what people need and how much they are willing to pay for it if you are a part of the community – the basic supply and demand laws of economics apply. You might be making lovely Viking dresses, but if people don’t need them, you won’t make much profit! But if you have a particular product or line in mind – yes, market research is essential.  Learn what events are popular, what periods, and how it works with your area of expertise. I would love to make more late 17th century mantuas – but there is scarcely any demand for them as there are almost no big events in UK for this period – so it doesn’t matter if my mantuas are exceptional pieces, if people don’t have a reason to wear them, they won’t buy them.

Still, I made one just for fun…. just in case, you never know…. 🙂

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*How big was your profit in the first year? (Yes, people do ask that!!)

To be honest, forget about any profit for the first few years at the very least. For me, whatever I earned that didn’t go towards taxes, bills, living expenses etc, was spent right back on improving the business – getting more stock, making more samples, getting better websites, banners, courses, equippment,books. If you are after a quick profit, well, that is not the business for it, it seems! It does get better though, as you are becoming more established – I can now afford occasional treats now… ( read – more silks….) ;-0

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silks!!!!!!

 

 Who are your customers?

Mostly re-enactors, historical interpreters, both professional, part time or hobbyists, museums, heritage sites, event companies; less often film and theatre; brides and Steampunk crowd. Really varies!

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providing costume and working as an extra for Horrible Histories

 How to you work out the pricing?

There are many ways to do it, but the general thing is – make sure you charge what is right for you – the cost of the material, the cost of time, research etc.  Remember that undercharging just so that you get a sale is not a good strategy – but neither is overcharging. If you are an artist and price your items as unique masterpieces – be prepared to earn like one –  and yes, from time to time there will be a person who would pay several thousands of pounds of a dress just because it has your name on it. But this is not a reliable income that would pay your mortgage and bills…. If you are in a happy situation that you don’t need to rely on your business to survive, that’s great – but very few of us are!

Generally my prices are mid-range – I don’t really do cheap stuff, and people who expect to pay £20 for a corset or £100 for a dress are simply not my clients. If I accepted such prices, I wouldn’t even begin paying up the costs of the materials in some cases, let alone time and profit!  I sell off the peg items cheaper than bespoke – I don’t have to go through the measuring, consultation, fittings etc process – so they take much less time. Bespoke stuff is more expensive – but then you get a much personalised item – my prices can be found on my website, if you want to get a feeling for it.

It is really  important  to learn to work fast and precise. Not in a hurry, mind you – but if you take months to finish one dress, it won’t pay your bills. But with experience, you will be able to speed the process up with no loss of quality – my first bustle cage took me over a day, as I was puzzling out the construction, playing with design and pattern. Half a year later and a few cages more, I was able to make one in 6 hours. Nowadays I make one in just under 2 hours, maybe 3 is it is a fancy one – mostly because I know the process so well and don’t think to ponder on what goes where…

*Do I need to do my own marketing?

Hell yes…. As mentioned before, you need to be visible – have a separate page, website, Instagram account, update it often, learn Facebook algorithms to manage the reach of the posts – and yes, it does take time, and yes it is a part of the job.  Set up promotional photo shoots, invest in making showpieces – it all pays up. When I was developing the bridal side of the business we set up 4 seasonal photo shoots in one year – I made about 20 gowns for these, in between work on historical items. It was an investment – in time, resources, fabric, organizing the shoots around the country, finding models, MUAs, and photographers – and it was worth it.  Most samples sold anyway, and the commissions I got on the strength of my portfolio paid up more than once over the original investment.

At the same time – do not go over the top and over market – There is nothing more irritating than a starting company who is trying to sell in an overaggressive manner.  Steady, moderate and tasteful – yes, loud, in-your-face, incessant – not so much…

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outtake shoot from our first bridal collection and fashion show at Harrowden, 2012

 

*Do I need to have contracts etc?

Absolutely. Contracts protect you and the customer alike – they specify what is to be made, the deadline, the fittings, pricing, deposit, all terms and conditions.  And yes, especially important when making stuff for friends. Always specify the non-refundable deposit (either a percentage of the labour prices, or the cost of fabrics etc) – if the client defaults, you will at least have something, as it may be too late to book another customer in the suddenly vacant plot. Also specify payment options and what happens to unpaid/uncollected items.

Remember the contract binds you too – so make sure to allow for enough time to make the garment…. It doesn’t matter if you produce a fantastic Victorian gown two weeks after the ball the client needed it for – they won’t be coming back to you, and will make sure their friends don’t either.

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working on the set of Horrible Histories

  Some general points and advice…

*quality – goes without saying, strive for the best you can do. Always. And be proud of what you make –  don’t cut corners on fabrics, styles etc if you don’t have to –  well made outfit in quality materials will bring you more customers. A poorly made one, or one that sports inferior fabrics, finish or fit will most likely lose you some potential business.

*communicate – make a point of answering emails in a timely manner, keep people informed about the development, and if you have a problem – talk about it. It won’t go away just because you are ignoring the messages, phone calls etc. deal with it. Be reliable, finish things in time – the reputation for reliability will be crucial in obtaining new customers.

*Mistakes – accept that you will make them. Everybody does. So be prepared to deal with them and learn from them. If it means that you need to start stitching anew, and buy an extra length of fabric out of your own pocket – so be it, shit happens. You will remember next time.

* Don’t stop learning. Ever. There is always something new to learn, a new technique to muster, more in-depth research to do, a new pattern to develop. Don’t accept that this is it, you have made it and know it all, no need for more learning. As you learn, your skills will improve alongside with your reputation. I think we have all been there – we look at an outfit we made a few years ago, and we thought then it was brilliant, the pinnacle of our achievement – and yet now you see how much better you are able to make things now. I look at my past garments and cringe – there is always something I now know I could have done better! But that’s ok, next time I do similar style, I will make it ever more perfect.

Read articles, go on courses, watch how to videos on youtube even – and experiment. It is time well spent.

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learning corsetry …

*invest in good quality.  Good quality sewing equipment, good quality fabrics, boning etc – it will pay off.

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my two sewing machines…. love them!

* manage your time to avoid procrastination, digressions and distractions. Plan for every outfit commissioned, and plan well in advance.

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notes on the timing – how long it takes to make one item

9. planning - in the calendar and working out components and time necessary for an order

planning – in the calendar and working out components and time necessary for an order

* It helps if you have a unique product you want to sell. But remember that may not be enough.  Also, if your product is not unique but your service is (you deliver on time, exceptional quality, etc) – it will work too!

* if you are an introvert, like me, markets, networking etc will be double hard. I am lucky in having my hubby  to share the workload at the markets, but even then it takes me days to recover !  Still, it has to be done – but try and share your work at markets with a friend, spouse – or hire help, if necessary. Dealing with people is necessary – sometimes fun, sometimes hard work – but it is people who buy your products, so treat them right!

* be flexible. Some years you will find demand for different items is greater –  the last few years it was mostly Regency, Titanic and WWI era – because there are events planned to go wth the anniversaries. It meant I had to do more research on those periods, play with patterns and invest in shoots, etc – but it is worth it.  I would never have thought that in the last few months our greatest earner would be a Victorian and 1914 style corsetry – but hey, so it is. No doubt a few years on, something else will be in fashion, and more research and learning will be needed – but hey, that’s fun!

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our bestsellers:-)

*Network.  work together with other people in the industry – help them out, learn from them, enjoy working together.

*Have fun – don’t forget you started your business because you wanted to do what you love doing. Yes, it may take a few years when you may be stuck doing 50 boring shirts – but this is your bill money. In time you will be able to choose the commissions you want to do, but before that simply award yourself by working on private projects – make a gown you always wanted to make , spend a day or two just on lace making, embroidery, simply re-affirm your love for the craft.  If you have made a gown of your dreams, wear it – have a photo shoot in it, go to a ball in it, invite friends for a tea in kit !It will keep you motivated and keep the costuming joy going.

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Do comment if you have any other questions you’d like answered!

And if you want a more in depth information on all the aspect of running a creative business – check this little book, Craft a Creative Business by Fiona Pullen. It covers all the basics and more in an accessible way, presents you with a nicely develop points and business strategy and offers invaluable advice on marketing, legal matters, planning –   a must to read!

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p.s. – part 2 of this article, answering more questions and dealing with time management, contracts etc is now available too –  Running a Costuming Business part 2; we are dealing with perception of your own work in  part 3 – The Art of Objectivity, and finally  saying what it takes to make a successful business that lasts in part 4. Getting Real.

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