Modern Seamstress was created to empower women - to teach them to love their bodies and delight in dressing their bodies. I teach sewing classes for all skill levels and create beautiful, one-of-a-kind garments for myself and others.
One of my goals for this summer is to be more intentional with my sewing, and the main way I’m doing that is by adopting a beginner’s mindset. It’s easy over time to allow your skillset to plateau in anything you do, and sewing is no different. As such, I’ve been re-reading all of my sewing books, especially Creative Clothing Construction by Allyne Bane. Although originally published in 1956, the book is surprisingly relevant to today, with only a few techniques updated in the meantime. Attempting to learn anew, I’m suddenly aware of which skills are by-the-book and which are “gone rogue.” No matter how long I’ve been sewing, though, there are some rules I always follow.
1. Wash and dry your fabric the same way you plan to wash and dry the final garment.
If there were a class on seamstressing (as my hubby likes to call it), this would be the cardinal rule. Washing and drying your fabric the same way you plan to launder the final garment ensures that you garment maintains its size and shape. Every piece of fabric shrinks either in the washer or the dryer, and you want to allow this to happen prior to cutting and completing a garment. Otherwise you may end up with a garment that is a size too small.
2. Always align pattern pieces on the grainline.
This one involves two parts: first, you have to straighten the grain of your fabric, and second, you have to use the grainlines on the pattern pieces to properly lign up the pieces on the fabric. If you’ve ever had jeans or a t-shirt whose side seams rolled to the front or back of your body, you know why this is so important. Failure to do this results in ill-fitting garments that don’t properly drape over the body.
3. Always press your seams.
I can tell a new seamstress from a seasoned one by this metric alone, and trust me when I say that’s not a compliment. We press our seams for many reasons, least of which is to embed the stitches into the fabric and smooth out the stitching. Leaving seams unpressed makes for pulls, bubbles and all sorts of awful effects that scream homemade. Notice I didn’t say handmade, as that’s a fine distinguishment. Homemade is what you get when you don’t follow these rules.
4. Clip and notch curves.
Once a curve is sewn, the seam allowance must be clipped or notched in order for the curve to lay flat. This is the case for linings or facings on armholes and necklines, princess seams, and faced hems. Failure to do so results in pulls and wrinkles and the inability for these parts of the garment to lay flat.
5. Underlining, linings, and stabilizers are your friend.
While linings are fairly commonplace in today’s mass produced garments, underlinings are not and frankly they elevate a garment so much that if I still bought clothes I would want manufacturers to use them. An underlining adds body and opacity to an otherwise thin, transparent, or drapey fabric. There are certainly times when a thin chiffon is desired, but for thin cottons, the best way to add body when creating garments is to use an underlining. The underlining is cut in a lightweight fabric (think cotton voile, lawn, or even muslin) and is attached to your garment fabric such that they become one piece. Construction continues as directed. An underlining can also help turn a fabric not well suited to your pattern into one that is.
This same rule applies to stabilizers like fusible interfacing and hair canvas which can add not only bulk but strength to certain parts of the garment. In jackets, for example, additional stabilizers are added on the chest fronts, the upper back as well as the sleeve head to add durability to the garment over time. Certain places on garments work harder than others (think closures, armholes, button plackets, etc.) and stabilizers help them maintain their shape over time.
6. Never, EVER sew over pins.
If you do, chances are you’ll break a needle. I don’t care how long you’ve been sewing, there’s nothing more anxiety-producing that hearing the snap of a needle breaking and your machine beeping in error. There are also horror stories of needles snapping and being flung into someone’s eye. Yeah. Don’t do it.
7. Transfer all markings from the pattern to the fabric.
This is a rule I follow religiously because I didn’t enough times to learn my lesson. Just when you think a notch or small circle is meaningless, it suddenly becomes the pattern marking that is needed to complete the garment. So, be a doll and transfer all notches, circles/squares and other pertinent information to your garment fabric.
These seven rules are really the foundation of sewing. There are more rules, rules upon rules in fact that you’ll read or in books or blogs or hear from some well meaning old woman who wants to comment on your handmade item. My favorite three to ignore are as follows:
1. Always use pins.
Some days I use pins on everything, and other days I won’t use them at all, even on bias tape, hems, zippers, etc. Sometimes pins get in the way and become cumbersome. Sometimes pins distort the fabric like in the case of zipper application (which is why I use double-sided Wonder Tape). My general rule on pins is to use as many, or as little, as you feel comfortable using.
2. When cutting your pattern pieces on your fabric, always lay your fabric right sides together.
Yeah. I haven’t done this ever and here’s why: when you use tracing carbon to transfer markings, laying fabric wrong sides together ensures that your tracings make it to both laters. Boom: roasted. I might be attached by the sewing fairies for this one but I don’t care. In nearly 8 years of sewing it’s never yielded horrible consequences.
There you have it. I’m sure I’ll eventually follow more sewing rules when I’ve experienced the consequences of not over time.
Which sewing rules do you follow religiously? Which ones do you ignore?
Creating a test garment, or muslin, is an important step in crafting your handmade wardrobe. We sew because we want garments that fit us perfectly, and the best way to test the fit of a pattern on your form is to make a test garment. These test garments are usually made in plain cotton muslin, ommiting details like closures, facings, and other finishing techniques. You then assess the muslin for fit issues before altering your pattern and making your final garment in your beloved fashion fabric.
For years I’ve really hated making muslins as they seemed to cut into my actual sewing time, but I’ve come to appreciate how helpful they can be when testing fit around certain areas of the body. As a general rule, I make a test garment for the following:
The bodice of a pattern, especially if I’ve added a full bust adjustment or moved darts
The sleeve, including any fullness adjustments and shoulder adjustments
Patterns whose design lines I’ve greatly altered or changed (eg testing the depth of a neckline)
There are a few instances, though, where I choose to make a wearable muslin, and these differ from a traditional muslin in several ways. First, you make the garment from start to finish in a fabric you’re not so in love with. You use the pieces as drafted, follow the instructions as written, and get a “test run” of construction. Second, once finished, you actually wear the garment for a day or two before making any pattern adjustments. This gives you time to evaluate the fit over time. Finally, you accept that you might love and thus want to keep the garment in your wardrobe, or you’re prepared to toss it if it’s not a good fit (literally or with your style).
I recently purchased Vogue 9008 , which is a cute pleated short with in-seam pockets, a fly front, and tab waist. Due to the fullness of the design and the measurements in both the waist and hip, I knew I’d be safe testing the pattern with a wearable muslin: any fitting issues could be handled during construction.
First you compare your body measurements to the measurement chart on the pattern envelope and finished measurements on the pattern itself. I’m typically a size 16 in mainstream patterns, and will occasionally need a full bust adjustment or will need to grade to an 18 in the waist. Based on all of this information, I cut a straight size 18 in these shorts. Next, I constructed the garment as detailed in the pattern instructions.
This is where I really had to force myself to be patient. I tend to not need pattern instructions anymore, but I recently read that the folks who draft instructions for patterns think on such a micro level that we are smart to listen to them. Chances are they’ve published the most efficient methods in the instructions. I carefully went through each step on the instruction sheet, and luckily, these were very clear and concise.
I did make a few changes to the contruction, though, as the fly front instructions didn’t call for any interfacing on either tab, nor did it call for a fly shield (which I might install next time). I also carefully top-stitched the back yoke, and tried my damnedest to stitch in the ditch properly. Once hemmed, I added a buttonhole & vintage button (I didn’t have a pant hook on hand), and wore the shorts the rest of the day. I mistakenly sewed a horizontal buttonhole — while it added some nice wiggle room to the waistband, it also pulled the top and distorted the edges. Now I know!
So now what? Try not to become overwrought with excitement as now is the time to be critical. The first thing I noticed was the waistband didn’t sit right at my waist, which I prefer. They also felt a bit snug in the crotch length (front waist to back waist between the legs). The inseam length was perfect as I usually have issues with inseams drawing up into my upper thigh (hello Colette Iris). After an hour or so of wear I added 1 1/2” of length to the crotch depth on each pattern piece. Eight hours later, though, I wondered if I really needed it as the fabric had stretched a bit and the style was more relaxed.
Finally, I threw the shorts in the wash and hung them to dry. I stitched/pinked all my seams (my serger is having a moment) and they all held up nicely. My top-stitching did as well. Based on this process, I know that next time I need to:
1. Reduce the length added to 1” instead of 1 1/2”.
2. Use a vertical button if I choose to sub out the pant hook.
3. Add interfacing to the fly front extensions.
4. Extend the length and turn these into PANTS!
While the process can seem really long and laborious, I now know that I can easily stitch this pattern up with minimal issues. I’ve already worked through any techniques that were confusing. I’ve already made construction changes or pattern alterations for next time. All I have to do is match the pattern to some fabric and get started!
My first #memademay was in 2014 and I remember distinctly how freaking excited I was to wear and document my handmade garments for the global sewing community on Instagram. (Me-Made-May is a challenge that encourages sewists to wear their handmade garments each day, sometimes multiple garments in one day, based on the challenge each sewist makes for themselves. Documentation via Instagram or a blog is also part of the challenge.) I was a mere onlooker in 2012 and 2013, and didn’t have enough handmade items that I felt comfortable wearing out of the house to participate, but by the time 2014 rolled around I was ready to go.
Times were simpler then. My lifestyle was drastically different than it has been the past three years with business ownership and self-employment taking up a large part of my time — add to that the decision to monetize my hobby and you basically have a recipe for nonparticipation. This year, though, I chose to be part of the fun again, vowing to wear at least one handmade item each day, while also setting some goals for my sewing.
Every year I’ve taken a hiatus from creating for others. Monetizing your most beloved hobby can damn near kill your joy for it, and May was all about me taking back ownership. The first goal I set for myself is to be more intentional with my garments. My sewing time the past few years has been in spurts on free weekends and consisted mostly of quick-to-make or familiar patterns. Keeping that in mind, I have a lot of garments that I don’t really wear and some that don’t fit my body or my style. This goal forces me to do more planning and thinking about the project rather than toss together a pattern with fabric and hope I’ll wear it once it’s completed. New garments need to fit into the existing wardrobe and ideally have a partner within it.
The second goal is to consider styles and patterns I’ve not used in the past, and to learn more about figure flattery and design theory. This requires me to consider how a design will look on my figure which includes a lot of sketching on a croqui and playing with swatches. This goal has also gotten me back into the habit of creating muslins to test patterns and any fit adjustments. While I do this regularly for clients, I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing this for myself.
The third and final goal is to approach sewing with a beginner’s mindset. I can recall the first year I was sewing: I consumed more blogs, books, videos, and anything else I could find related to sewing in an attempt to learn as much as I could. While I’m definitely still learning, my knowledge gathering has plateaued. There are techniques I’ve avoided because I didn’t like them as a beginner, or certain skills I didn’t master because I didn’t need to, or things I do well but not perfectly because doing it well is good enough. This goal requires me to research and learn about each technique and practice in an attempt to extend the quality of my workmanship and the final product.
I coupled these three goals with the Me-Made-May challenge and realized that I’ve dramatically neglected my most loved hobby in favor of monetizing it. What once served as an endless sea of creative energy and “therapy,” had become something that required constant documenting, sharing, marketing, etc. A completed garment would be photographed, plastered on IG, my FB page, with a tag about my next class or that I can make YOU a garment that fits as well as mine does. Frankly, it’s all been exhausting. The strive for the “hustle” — the belief that every single skills we posess should be monetized for the optimal self-employed lifestyle — has taken an activity I once loved and turned it into an obligation.
I realize it was my choice. And just like I chose to turn my hobby into a cashcow, I can choose to stop. As I’ve transitioned away from my other businesses, I’ll be taking this summer to decide the future of Modern Seamstress. I LOVE teaching others to sew, but I want future classes to be more in depth and less rushed to finish a project. For now, I’m so enjoying sewing for myself, creating garments that feel incredibly purposeful and planned. I know I’ll wear each one for years to come due to their versatility and quality of construction.
A few weeks ago I took several hours to work on my wedding dress. Working from a sketch I made in the fall, I’ve been slowly constructing parts of the gown: adding structure to the bodice, cutting & piecing boning along the seams, adjusting the skirt pieces to reduce fullness. I finally stitched everything together enough to slip it on and look in the mirror. My heart fell. It didn’t feel like me.
I immediately panicked. When you’ve been working under the assumptions of a plan, it can be disheartening to realize the plan isn’t right. For months I was certain the style was what I wanted. But it felt foreign and almost like I was playing dress-up as a bride. I kept pacing back and forth, asking Les, “What’s wrong with it? Why don’t I like it?” He gave me a hug and reassured me that I’d figure it out.
The next day I cut and sewed a completely different dress — sleeker design lines, shorter hemline, competely different silhouette to the first gown. I slipped it on, and looked in the mirror. I sent a photo of the new design to several trusted friends. The reaction was the same: “That’s so you.”
STYLES CHANGE, PREFERENCES CHANGE
It makes sense that our personal style changes over time. If we’re doing this life thing right, we’re constantly learning, growing, adapting, and becoming better versions of ourselves. Just as each decade has a unique fashion footprint, so the seasons of our lives mimic the change. Careers, life events, even personal preferences shift over time, and our wardrobes (for better or for worse), reflect our individuality and personality.
Women’s fashion in particular has shifted over time: women transitioning from home life to the workforce, protesting for equal rights, and fully entering the sexual revoluation have all impacted style. It’s hard to believe there was a period in time when wearing pants was seen as a liberated, political act.
PERSONAL STYLE SHIFT
Before I was making my own clothes, my wardrobe was pretty consistent (and boring): dress pants, blouses, blazers, a few pencil skirts and shift dresses. Think business attire in black, grey, and navy tones. My original intent with learning to sew was to recreate this wardrobe but in higher quality fabrics and better fitting garments. I soon realized that sewing dark, solid fabric day after day was boring. My eye was drawn to crazy, wild colors and patterns.
After a few years of making anything and everything, I slowly fell into a new uniform. Enter Exhibit A:
The formula is pretty simple: fitted top (in this case specifically a bodysuit), paired with a full gathered/pleated/circle skirt. I sewed many variations on this particular theme, creating a closet full of skirts in various prints and fabrics, and close to 10 solid-colored identical tops. This uniform ruled my wardrobe from 2014-2015 and I still look back on it with a whimsical appreciation: the outfits are colorful, flattering, and echo a 1950s charm. They were also convenient. Everything mixed and matched, and getting dressed each day was incredibly efficient.
Fast-forward to Fall 2016: a time of preparing for new businesses to launch, the excitement of cooler weather (I love fall), and a shift, albeit slight, in the uniform:
A keen eye will notice that this is merely a sleeker version of the above uniform: a slimmer (but a-line) skirt; fitted turtleneck or sweater tucked in to accentuate the waist; bright but slightly muted color palette. The silhouette is much more 1960s than 1950s despite the subtle change in style.
That brings us to winter/spring (which is it, East Tennessee?!) 2018. Somewhere during the fall, I started creating sleeker, more streamlined dresses. Utilizing a more 1960s silhouette but in one piece, I created several new dresses with slight variations, but all producing the same effect: slimmer through the hips, more form fitted, shorter hemline.
The fabrics have also shifted: there’s only one print among this group of dresses and it’s a very elaborate Italian brocade. Two of these include design elements I created myself: bishop sleeves on the lower right dress, and a front pleat detail on the lower left. The fit overall is closer to the body. The look is more professional, more mature, more “business.”
I regularly post photos of my handmade garments, but I never took the time to analyze my style preferences until I was faced with a major sewing project: my wedding dress. Despite the vision in my head that this design was what I wanted, the reality fell short.
The problem is that while this is very much a silhouette I once adored (see Exhibit A), it’s no longer the foundation of my wardrobe. It may have suited me then, but it doesn’t suit me now. I felt like I was in costume, like an imposter. It simply wasn’t me.
WEAR WHAT YOU LOVE
Luckily, I’m a seamstress and I can (and did) create a new dress for my wedding. (Stay tuned.) But this experience made me consider an even greater point: our clothing tells the world who, and where we are in life. Regardless of why you wear what you wear, I believe in wearing clothing that I love, that makes me feel fabulous & invincible, and that celebrates the uniqueness of my body with all its curves and flaws. I believe in wearing clothing that genuinely feels like me.
My style will inevitably shift again — when I become a mother or age gracefully — and I’m excited to see what I’m creating 10, 20 and 30 years from now. I look forward to looking back to see where life, and my style, takes me.
I’ll admit I came up with this tagline when I was creating my website for Modern Seamstress. I needed something catchy but simple, and this three-part phrase came to me one day in the shower. It’s not just a tagline, though. There’s depth to this phrase, and today I’m sharing what it means to me.
Wear What You Love
Easy, right? Not really. I remember my clothes shopping days before I knew how to sew. Something beautiful would catch my eye — the color or cut, the fabric, or maybe a cute embellishment. But a voice in my head told me the garment wasn’t my style, wouldn’t be flattering for my body type, or just wasn’t me. A few times I went ahead and bought the garment only to pack it away in a closet until many years later when I finally felt confident enough to wear it. When we consume fashion advice and believe lies that certain styles are only for certain body types, we do ourselves a disservice. When I learned to sew, I started by falling in love with the fabric and then imagining the garment. I still do this, and my instinct is never wrong. Whether you make everything in your closet, or shop at the mall, wear what you love.
Love What You Wear
This one has a few layers: first, if you wear what you love, you’re naturally going to love what you wear. But this also applies to the care of your garments. Well made garments can last for decades if cared for properly, and simple garments can be strenghthened for posterity with linings and construction details. We live in a fast-fashion society that encourages consumers to consume more, and dispose more often. This habit doesn’t make us any happier, and in fact studies show we’re less happy with our bodies adhering to this model. So, find pieces you love and love them back. Clean them properly. Store them in a cool closet. Avoid dry cleaning chemicals that break down fibers. Learn how to take care of your clothing so it will last for years to come.
Love Your Body.
If I could scream this to every woman, young and old, I would. This is the fundamental tenent: no matter your age, size, weight, height, or curvature, your body is beautiful. Period. I didn’t believe this for a long time due to circumstances and people in my life, but I do now. Not only do I love my God-given form, but I also love myself enough to get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, exercise, eat healthy food, and avoid toxins I know make me feel less than healthy. The next time you look in the mirror, remember to tell yourself that you’re lovely. You won’t regret it.
Sewing is one of my all-time life passions. It calms me down, energizes my creative center, and provides me with an outlet that improves my confidence and self-esteem. For the past three years (what?!) I’ve been sewing for others, teaching classes & lessons, and taking on large scale alterations jobs.
If you’re curious about sewing in 2018, here are three ways you can work with me:
Take a sewing class!
I offer sewing classes for seamstesses of all skill levels every month. Sewing 101, which is for complete beginners, and Denim Bootcamp are my two most popular classes. This year I’ll be expanding into shorter, more topical workshops to include easy alterations & home decor, as well as offering some weekend bootcamps on fitting & more complex garment contruction.
Classes are a great way for you to learn the basics, meet new friends, and have pretty extensive individual help in a classroom setting of beginners. I teach all classes at Modern Studio, which is located in the downtown north neighborhood of Happy Holler. Classes are announced on my Facebook page as well as this site 3-4 weeks in advance of the start date.
Commission a custom garment.
If you’re looking for the ideal garment but can’t seem to find it, you’re in luck! I work with clients of all ages & body types to create beautiful, one-of-a-kind garments that meet their unique style. We start with body measurements, a design consultation, and a fitting session before moving on to the final masterpiece.
A custom garment is like no other piece of clothing you will ever wear. Perfectly fitted to YOUR unique body, a custom garment ensures proper fit, superior construction & longevity, as well as being consistent with your style. And, if you’re interested in a one-in-a-million dress for your wedding day, I work with brides as well. Custom garment consultations are scheduled individually as convenient.
Take an individual sewing lesson.
Maybe you know the basics of garment construction, but need specific assistance with an individual project — either way, I offer individual lessons scheduled to work around your schedule. You choose our topic, and I prepare a lesson outline. This can be something as specific as fitting, or simply working through the construction of a new-to-you garment.
A trusted friend & advisor and I had a long chat a few weeks ago about many important things: what’s the personal vision for 2018? How do we cull goals out of that vision? Finally, how can we make life easier? As we discussed efficiency in the new year, he mentioned meal delivery services. I’d never tried one of these for several reasons. First, I LOVE to cook and enjoy the creativity behind preparing food. Second, it honestly never occured to me that this type of thing could be delegated from the to-do list. The more I thought about it, though, the more I couldn’t help but wonder if it might be a lifesaver.
Les & I tried Hello Fresh last week and here’s what we thought:
1. The meals were tasty & everything is included. We ordered One-Pan-Shrimp Lo Mein, Pesto Chicken, and Balsalmic Meatloaf and all three were yummy. Every meal was very well curated with variations & flavors that complimented each other, and I liked how the box included the perfect amount of each layer of ingredient (like garlic or ginger). Do note that you have to provide your own EVOO.
2. Serving sizes were on point. This one kind of threw us. We ordered three meals for two, and each meal came with exactly 1 serving per person. This got us thinking: are we eating too much? Probably. If you’re looking to lose weight or practice portion control, this is perfect.
3. The meals are accompanied by step-by-step instructions. Les & I have different cooking skill levels, and I’d say overall I’m more advanced that he is. These meals are perfect for someone who wants to learn how to cook or those who want to try new skills. The instructions were accompanied by photos, and each step was crystal clear.
1. Your card is charged before you pick your meals. This one irritated me quite a bit. Before you can even look at their menu, you have to sign up and enter payment information. As soon as you choose your plan and register, your card is charged. Then you’re able to change your menu or make plan changes. I prefer the method of creating a cart, reviewing it, and then paying. (You can also cancel at any time which is a nice feature.)
2. There’s quite a bit of waste. While the food portions are perfect, everything comes in its own packaging. Meaning, the two tablespoons of ketchup for your meatloaf comes in a small glass jar. The pesto comes in a plastic tube. And so on. While I’m used to carrot peels and waste that can be composted, there was a lot of packaging that made me question how environmentally friendly the service is.
3. If you enjoy being creative with food, these meals might lack ingenuity. I’m still on the fence about this one as I tend to enjoy figuring out how to create a meal with what’s in the kitchen. I also felt like I could have made each meal better with a few tweaks, or mixed and matched the kits for completely new meals.
So, will we purchase this again? YES. First, our portions are clearly out of wack. As we make health goals for the new year, we agreed that we need to recalibrate how much food we’re eating. We also agreed that this is a great way for Les to learn to cook more, especially on nights that I’m not home. Instead of running out to Chik-fil-a, he can easily whip up one of these meals in less than an hour. Finally, there’s something to be said for not having to think about what you’re going to make for dinner (which I find very intriguing). The meal planning AND shopping is done for you which can be a great comfort at the end of a long day.
Have you or would you try a meal delivery service?
At the beginning of 2014, when I’d only been sewing in earnest for two years, I took a Ready-to-Wear Fast challenge with Sarah of Goodbye Valentino. The challenge was simple: I couldn’t purchase clothing for 365 days (including thrifted clothes) and had to sew everything I needed excluding undergarments. I knew the challenge would force me to do several things: first, I knew the necessity would force me to sew more consistently and seriously consider the value of each garment in my wardrobe. Second, I was learning more about the hideousness that is the fashion industry and finally felt ready to put my actions behind my ethical stances.
That year I made 57 garments, many of which are still in rotation in my wardrobe. After that first year I unofficially continued the RTW fast on my own, and have purchased less than 10 garments in the past three years. The official RTW Fast is active again for 2018, and I decided to once again hop on board. A lot has changed since that first year. I don’t worry about my skill level or my ability to make things that I might need (including undergarments). My style has also settled into a reliable pattern, whereas my beginner seamstress self wanted to make all the things despite their level of practicality.
While the fast allows you to purchase things like wedding gowns, I’m proud that I’m making my own wedding dress by hand. Even a newbie could tackle this: every project is easy when you break it down step by step. There’s something thrilling, though, in knowing that my skills have matured and I’ve settled into a more professional habit with each garment.
My hope for this year’s fast is to take more time intentionally designing my wardrobe. As my roles shift in life and business, I want my clothing to reflect those changes. My dresses in particular are looking more business-professional and less mid-20s whimsy. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a floral summer dress, but I don’t need to wear one during business meetings. I’d also like to sew slower, use more professional techniques, and ensure that each garment will last for decades. We’re so accustomed to fast fashion that deteriorates quickly, I wonder if that doesn’t seep into my sewing habits too. I plan to take my time and create classic, everlasting pieces.
A few weeks ago we hosted a bluegrass/jazz concert at Modern Studio ,right smack dab in the middle of a theatre production run. My business partner swung by to help, based on her intuition that we might need her help prepping the room. We assembled lighting, figured out how to hook up our sound system around the theatrical set, and even realized we were missing a very important electrical cable. In the end, everything worked out well and the show was successful. Luckily, two of the musicians that night sat down and dialogued with me about what we did well, and what needed improvement. As a business owner primarily focused on keeping the doors open, these conversations provided the best set of feedback we’d received all year, and taught us a few things in the process.
Feedback is GOOD
I don’t think this one is obvious based solely on how many people I’ve had to cajole and massage through a session where I’m providing feedback. If you run a business, feedback is your only pulse on your public perception and how you’re actually doing. I’m not talking about asking your closest pals for a recommendation or testimonial. I’m talking about shutting your mouth and genuinely listening as a customer shares their experience. The truth is that you may believe you’re the bomb diggity at certain things, but you won’t know until you ask your customers.
SHUT YOUR MOUTH
This one is important. You really have to come to a place where you’re not internalizing or taking anything personally when you receive feedback from your customers. You have to shed your desire to be defensive and counter every claim with an excuse or all the ways you’ve been awesome. Your job here is to ask questions, close your mouth, take notes, and finally implement the feedback. If you can’t do this, find someone who can funnel this information for you OR create a way that people can provide feedback online or through your social media.
I read somewhere that for every one customer who speaks up, there are two dozen more who have stayed quiet. Be grateful that someone cared enough to take time out of their day to have a conversation with you. As it turns out, both musicians we chatted with mentioned things we hadn’t considered based on their many years of performance experience. In the end, all of their feedback will make our venue better and stronger.
Language is an interesting tool — it can relay our vision, mission and values, or lack thereof, in seconds. What we call our projects can either turn them into successful ventures, or keep them relegated to the nights and weekends. In the same vein, how we describe ourselves or our roles related to our work can help or hinder. Below are three words I’ve come to hate the past few years:
As a “multi-passionate entrepreneur” (thank you Marie Forleo), I consider none of my businesses to be “side hustles.” They were never side hustles, and they never will be — they consume my thoughts, energy, and time, and I maintain passion for each one. Calling your dream small business a “side-hustle” implies that you don’t give it the time it deserves to thrive, and maybe ensures that you don’t treat it like you should to nurture and grow it into something that could actually support you long-term. If you run a venture that brings you income, call it what it is: a business. You don’t have to have a million dollars in inventory and 30 employees to call your passion a business, and frankly, doing so will encourage you to take it more seriously.
GIRL BOSS/LADY BOSS/BOSS BABE
Hashtags are a beautiful thing, and I use them regularly, but we all need to move on from this clump of titles. Whether I’m a girl, lady or a babe has no bearing on the fact that in every business I own/manage/run, the buck stops with me. I’m the boss regardless of my genitalia. I totally understand that we need to support female bosses, but let’s just call them what they are: the ma’fuggin’ boss, an amazing leader, a visionary. Anything but something that points out their gender first, and their impact second.
This is another cutesy term that is used to describe people who make things (soap, clothes, craft beer, whatever). It’s catchy and I get it, but let’s not forget the other roles an entrepreneur shifts in and out of everyday: marketing executive, IT support, customer service rep, strategic thinker, financial guru, vendor relations specialist, photographer, writer, etc. Again, if you’re putting your heart and soul into a business concept or product, and doing the hard grind of getting it out into the world, you’re an entrepreneur. Period.
So, what should we say instead? I’m a big fan of “entrepreneur,” defined as someone who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so. This one pretty much sums up what I do everyday and who I am, based on the fact that I have three of these that I routinely manage and redefine as they grow.
The bottom line is that starting a business, quitting your consistent day job, taking monumental risks on an idea or product, giving your time, energy, and money into making something happen takes courage. Not just the run-of-the-mill courage that you muster to kill a spider or end a bad relationship, but the type that requires you to act quickly and persevere no matter what gets tossed your way. Let’s not diminish our impact on our local communities and our customers by calling our businesses or ourselves a watered down version of the truth.
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