How to turn a hobby into a business.

How to turn a hobby into a business.

I recently watched the new series, Make it to market. In this new craft programme for the BBC, aspiring amateur makers see if they have the skills to make profitable businesses from their home hobby.

The series follows blacksmiths and glassblowers, weavers and woodworkers as they team up with an expert mentor, who provides practical making tips and sound advice on how to make a successful business from their craft work.

The challenges

The craftspeople face three challenges:

  • High Volume, to see if they can produce saleable items quickly and at low cost.
  • High End, testing whether their makes will sell in the high-end market.
  • Favourite Piece, their opportunity to show what they really love about the craft.

Then the makers head out to start selling and turn their passion into a full-time business.#

How to make my hobby into a business?

I was so inspired by this programme and thought I would give it a go myself. It’s something that I can do from home, in the limited time I have each day. Can it work? Won’t know until I give it a try right?

I, like many on the programme gave up my job to be a full time mum and support my husband and his new business. Before children my husband and I both had managerial roles in education and it was a total juggling act. Our son was born prematurely, so the first 6 months we spent in hospital and the following 3 years he had several complications. This made holding down two full time jobs very challenging. Something had to give.

I taught Design and Technology for 16 years, so have a lot of experience teaching the design process. I did a Degree in Fashion and Textiles and a Masters in Design, so have always been drawn to textiles and sewing. I love interiors and have more recently started restoring our Victorian property. Teaching myself wallpapering, decorating jobs, making curtains, cushions and lampshades.

Before the pandemic I had set up a successful textiles club at my son’s primary school and was teaching 3 afternoons a week. I was also teaching sewing to adults at craft and sewing fairs. This all ended after Covid and then we decided to leave London and moved to West Yorkshire.

After watching the programme I thought I could do this? So I used the same three challenges set out in the programme; high volume, high end and favourite piece. 

High volume challenge: what to make?

Whilst I was at college I worked in a fabric shop, so here I gained my love for fabric. I also learnt so much; fabric widths, content, function and suitable uses. In my final year at college, I designed an evening wear collection and was drawn to silks and quality fabrics. I then worked in a bridal shop, making, designing and sewing dresses. So the high volume challenge was instantly going to be hard for me.

I recognised that I needed to keep it simple and small? What could I make quickly and as much from a metre of fabric as possible?

I decided on bags made from Liberty printed cottons. I just love Liberty prints, they have so many beautiful patterns that would make the perfect wash bag. I decided on 3 shapes, made in 3 sizes; a make up bag, wash bag and travel wash bag.

I drew some designs, sadly the drawing part of the process is the quickest. Then I started making some samples, this process helped me see the size and I can honestly say I didn’t get it right first-time, even with such simple shapes, it is important to test an idea first. This also helped me with the making process, learning the best order of make.

I learn best by doing. I watched lots of tutorials and found the best way for me. Making something over and over again. makes you a master. It’s a method that’s used in factories, giving one person a making process that is repeated over and over again.

I made lots of sewing errors on the way, learning the best way to make each shape. I want my bags to be made to a high quality finish, good enough to sell in the shops. I have an over-locker and a heat press, so I can compete with industry a little bit.

I love the research stage of the design process. With the bags I needed to source the following items:

  • Fastening: I wanted to use a bright colourful zip and the zip needed to have a large metal pull tag
  • Interlining: I wanted to quilt the fabric, giving it a soft decorative finish.
  • Lining: this needed to also be colourful and waterproof.
  • Fabric: I wanted to use a colourful, bright, decorative cotton.
  • Packaging and marketing: I had stickers and thank you slips printed. I also ordered some pink striped paper bags, and simple small boxes. I have my own fabric labels with It’s Sew simple w

Once I had the shape right and sourced all the materials needed, I could start costing the bags. I had to work out how many bags I could fit into a metre, add all the components together and then try and include making time costs.

I also used social media to test the market before I started making the final products. I love Instagram for design, it’s visual and has so many like minded designers on there.

From here I decided on two high end products: a laptop sleeve and a patchwork beach bag. For the Beach bag I used Liberty patchwork squares. I love textiles decorative techniques, so try to combine these into my design, giving them an extra design detail. Details that are usually cut, in mass production, as they take time and time costs money.

I went on to make some stock, take photographs and then add them to my website. The website stage is also another level of skills, of which I am still learning.

I have also visited some small high street shops in local villages, to see if my products will suit their stores and I will pop back with my bags to see if they would consider stocking them.

What next? I going to set up a Etsy page, get my bags in shops and add to my range.

I hope you agree, that my bags make a perfect affordable gift for that special friend. Please support my very small business and tell your friends and family.