Did you know that many of our favorite online fabric shop owners also have full-time jobs during the day? Online fabric shop entrepreneurs provide us with easy access to fabric, notions, patterns, and fabric bundles. They do this after they get home from their other, often full-time, jobs—spending their spare time creating a website, stocking it with all sorts of sewing goodies, and getting their message to the sewing community, all before they get to clock out for the day.
We chatted with Karleen Huggins, who has been sewing since she was seven years old, and now runs Sewing Studio, an online fabric store that wants to keep the tradition of sewing alive, by supplying well-loved classics as well as the newest trends in fashion fabrics.
Karleen wasn’t the original owner of this online shop, but she’s made it her mission to use her free time—after she gets home from her “real job”—to keep the spirit of Sewing Studio alive. Read on to hear more about her story.
What’s the story behind Sewing Studio?
Sewing studio was a brick-and-mortar started many years ago in Spokane, Washington by Louann Shon. Her two daughters helped with the business and it eventually became online-only. Louann succumbed to breast cancer, and the business was sidelined. Louann’s husband, Tom, wanted to find a home for sewing studio to keep Louann’s passion alive—we found each other and in short order, all the fabric, patterns, notions, and client list was delivered in a 27-foot truck! I was in a bit of a quandary at how to put it all in order, create a website, find vendors, and get a flow to fill such huge shoes.
Had you always dreamed of owning a fabric shop? What prompted you to take the leap to continue Louann’s mission?
As I was approaching the thought of retirement, I knew I could not stay home and not do something productive. I started thinking about a fabric shop that was not catered to quilting and investigated that possibility. I love BERNINA and wanted to include that line, so I met the sales rep—Chris link—and discussed their program, stores, etc. I even entertained buying an existing brick and mortar. When I asked the owner all the business questions, I could see it would be a labor of love.
However, when I asked her biggest challenge, it came back to managing employees. Well, I already have that job! So, I was just wandering around on the internet and spotted an advertisement for Sewing Studio, reached out, and Tom called me. We hit it off. He shared his wife’s passion for sewing, her customers, and teaching the next generation—it seemed to blend with my values. It was the first time I had any connection with Sewing Studio, although I have no doubt Louann and I could have talked for hours!
How do you source fabric, notions, and gifts for your shop?
That has been the most challenging as well as the most fun. I have found a few other shop owners that have been amazing—we have formed a fun group and bounce ideas off each other, we even have been fabric shopping together. It is fun to see how we all gravitate to different fabrics. I love research and stalk distributors, wholesalers, and small fabric sources—some are willing to sell in smaller quantities, and some send me new ideas of where to look.
I am very fortunate to live on small acreage and we have a 1500 square foot shop— I “took over” half of it and live in a very luxurious area with wi-fi, music, flat-screen tv, washer and dryer, heat and air conditioning, and all sorts of drawers, cabinets and some new custom made bins for rolls. So the space I have to gather and store fabric is wonderful, and I can buy inventory when I see it —even if it might not be best for the current season. I know how lucky I am as I talk with other online shops.
Funny thing—my studio area was previously my husband’s space to play with his toys—woodworking, reloading, etc. We were just finishing a complete remodel with all the bells and whistles when this opportunity came along. So…he now has only the lower section of the shop. (We are almost done with the remodel of that space for him!)
You also have some deadstock in your store. How do you source that?
Deadstock is my favorite! There are a few jobbers in Los Angeles that are always my “go to” stores. I also have a jobber in Pennsylvania that reached out to me, and I have found high-end garment manufacturing business that I can source from. I really can’t operate by only offering the same fabric everyone else offers—I have to find the hidden gems and make sure to never stop looking!
A Quick Vocabulary Lesson
Textile manufacturers often have a bunch of deadstock fabric. Deadstock is fabric that was originally intended for one purpose, but it didn’t sell. If the original purchaser was not happy with the print or dye job, or if the fabric has slight imperfections or flaws, it might be destined for the landfill. Instead, fabric shop owners or other designers can purchase deadstock—ranging from one bolt to many—for their shops, giving the fabric a new opportunity to reach consumers.
Jobbers will often facilitate purchases from manufacturers, buying up deadstock or surplus fabric to resell. Many fabric shop owners have individual relationships with different jobbers, or they connect at fabric shows or other events.
Sew a Little Each Day
While you run Sewing Studio, you also have what you describe as a “normal job.” How do you spend your 9-5, and does it relate to sewing at all?
My “real” job is exactly opposite of sewing is many ways —I manage nine branches of a fortune 500 title and escrow company and work with approximately 170 employees.
The real estate and financial world is not a hugely creative space, but the sewing skills I can use involve patience and being willing to step out of my comfort zone to try new ideas. By the way, my 9-5 job is really more like 7 -7!
Do you have a secret for keeping the energy to sew when you work in a different environment all day?
Hahaha—I have always been able to get a great deal accomplished and am not good at sitting and resting. So when I arrive home around 7 pm in the evenings, I can head to the studio, listen to music, maybe even enjoy a glass of wine, and get orders cut and ready to ship all before bedtime. My weekends are often filled with adding new products, photos, and getting my social media all queued up for the work week.
You work with numbers every day, but you said that your daily work with math has taught you to approach sewing in pieces. What does it mean to sew piece by piece? What does that look like?
Every large transaction or crazy real estate deal has so many moving parts it can often be overwhelming—but just like sewing, I try to break each step down piece by piece and not become overwhelmed by the entire project. Sewing is not “hard” it is just a series of steps and some projects just have more steps. The more you can focus on one step at a time, the greater the sense of accomplishment and the less intimidating a project will be.
You’ve been sewing for most of your life. What has owning the sewing studio taught you about sewing that you didn’t know before you took over the shop
The sewing community is making such a comeback from my younger days—my mom used to sew to save money on kid’s clothing. However, as things have evolved in this community, we are all more aware of natural fibers, better fitting clothes, and learning to accept our body shapes.
I was always the tall gangly girl and ready-to-wear looked silly on me—sleeves were too short, pants were capris before that was a fashion trend, one-piece bathing suits would never work out! I remember actually standing the dressing room at the Gap crying because I could not find a pair of jeans to fit my body!
Sewing for yourself helps you understand your body’s nuances and adapt the fit. As I have jumped into this community, I am amazed at all the positive support, videos, and help that is available. This community is the best.
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