5 years ago I was sitting at home, in my home office, a few days away from publishing my first sewing pattern. The pattern was finished, my website was up and running, my business was registered, and I think I had about a hundred or so followers on my Instagram page.
I generally have the memory of a goldfish but I do remember that I had 4 orders on my first day. It was a truly amazing thing to see that people were coming to my website, to buy the pattern that I had created.
Picture from May 2017. My husband and I celebrated the release of the first pattern with a toast.
I had never planned, or even wished, to become an entrepreneur. I liked the security of being employed somewhere. I had studied for 5 years at Gothenburg’s University and had acquired a PhD in International Relations and a Master’s degree in Human Rights.
After my studies I was offered a job at Volvo Cars, where I had been an intern working with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). So I took a job as a Process Manager hoping to be able to get back to CSR in time.
But only a year later, my husband and I had our first daughter (2013) and had by then moved to a smaller town. I worked for a short time at Husqvarna (who makes lawn mowers etc) with Sustainability and also had our second child (2015).
Now here’s where everything changed for me. You know, in Sweden we’re usually on maternity / paternity leave for a longer time than in many other countries. I was home for 2 years when my second child was born. During this time I was also looking for jobs but couldn’t find anything. It was hard to find a job in my area (Sustainability, CSR, Human Rights…) in a small town.
One day my husband said, “why are you even looking for jobs? You can do anything you want, start your own company”. I guess at first I just laughed at this, but eventually the thought grew on me. Because I had an idea. I had thought of something that I could do, that I could do better than other people.
Okay, it’s all right to be a bit cocky sometimes ;)
I mean I loved sewing, it was my number one hobby since I had my kids. As soon as they took a nap during the day, or fell asleep at night, I would be sewing, sewing, sewing… I was making clothes for them, blankets, bibs, clothes for their teddy bears and so on.
I know creativity helped me a lot during the tough times when the kids were small, they woke up 5-10 times a night and so on… But “sewing mends the soul”, as they say. Sewing was definitely therapy for me. I loved feeling that I accomplished something, “I MADE THAT BEANIE!”, I felt really proud of my makes, and of myself. And also, just generally had a lot of fun being creative with fabrics.
But when I started sewing it had been such an uphill struggle. I found it really hard to succeed with my projects, make something that could actually be used… that was before I knew I should use patterns. But once I started using sewing patterns, I couldn’t understand them! The sewing instructions were much too limited and full of terminology that I didn’t understand. I remember once I was making a jumpsuit for one of my daughters. I had bought a pattern from a well known brand, but got stuck at some point because I couldn’t figure out how to sew it. I asked my mother, and my mother-in-law, but they didn’t understand the instructions either. That jumpsuit sadly was never finished.
I also remember buying sewing pattern magazines wanting guidance when sewing. But then seeing the pattern sheet… With like 20 different garments in lots of sizes just overlapping and it’s just a chaos of lines that intersect everywhere. That too, just took more energy than it gave. And it put out my creativity rather than inspired.
Somehow this didn’t stop me. I learned that there are really great resources and patterns out there, and they helped me create something that my kids could wear and that I could feel really proud of. LOVED that feeling. I also realized that with better sewing instructions there were fewer hickups along the way - making sewing even more fun.
In my opinion there weren’t any great patterns in Sweden at that time. I found none that I thought had 1) great sewing instructions 2) great fit and 3) were inspiring and fun to use. And being a bit cocky, I said ‘I could make really great patterns’.
So that’s what I set out to do :)
I don’t think I slept much during these months… I took online classes on pattern making, I read so so so many blogs and books on pattern making, and just started creating my first pattern. Of course there’s so much more to it than just making a pattern. Because I would also need to sell it. I created a website, an Instagram page, had a pattern tester call and so on…
On May 27th 2017 I released my first pattern, the Olivia dress & tunic. I’m very proud of it and very glad I took the leap to starting my own business. These 5 years have been so rewarding, mainly because I have the best customers. They give so much back to me with their messages, comments and support.
Picture from August 2017, me with my patterns at my first sewing fair (Sy & Hantverksfestivalen).
On three occasions during these years I’ve sent out surveys asking about the quality of my patterns and so on. My latest survey was sent this month (via my newsletter), and 951 people replied to it.
When asked “How would you score the overall quality of my patterns?” (1 = very bad, 10 = very good), the average score was 9,5 out of 10. Yikes!! I’m obviously very happy that my patterns are appreciated, and thankful for the feedback!
As I’ve done before, I also asked if there’s anything you think I could improve. Many of the responses were like “yeah, make more patterns”, haha! :)
Do you want to read more about how I make patterns? I wrote a blog post about that last year.
HOW’S LIFE AS AN ENTREPRENEUR?
When I first started my business, I just loved sewing and making patterns. But gradually I also learned that running the company with all that includes is soooo much fun! I love working with strategy, marketing, finances, website improvement and so on. I get to learn so much and do so many different things - and I get to prioritize myself.
There’s things I have to struggle with of course, for example if there’s an issue with my website, new tax rules, a complicated issue with a pattern - something I need to understand and learn to work with. There’s not always someone I can turn to. But I guess I like a certain amount of struggles :) I like that my job keeps me on my toes.
During these 5 years:
I’ve had lots of retailers but I’ve also chosen to reduce the number of retailers (I do have a great website and when the customer shops from me directly I don’t have to share the revenue with a retailer - however I keep and cherish the retailers that actually help me reach out to new sewists).
I’ve had a distributor but also chosen not to have one (I learned that I could market and sell my patterns better than the distributor).
I’ve packed and shipped my patterns myself - then had a 3PL service (third party logistics) for a year - and then went back to shipping myself again. The 3PL service was professional and local but it didn’t really spare me as much time as I had thought. And I didn’t like letting go of the remote ;)
I’ve worked from home, then had an office. Currently I do it 50/50. I rent an office where I have ALL my Threads by Caroline stuff - but I also work a lot from home when possible since that’s where I’m most comfortable.
I’ve sold only sewing patterns, but also tried diversifying and selling sewing supplies (not successful).
My first patterns were only available as PDF patterns but after just the first few months a Swedish fabric store requested printed patterns so I started printing them - I chose a Scandinavian print shop that carries the Nordic Ecolabel (Svanenmärket). Price was not the most important factor - quality and sustainability was and still is.
My first PDF patterns had just A4/letter formats (layered) that you print at home. In 2018 I started to include A0 patterns (copy shop format). And in 2020 I also started to make projector files.
I’ve translated everything to English (patterns and website) since I love writing in English, haha. And of course it helps me reach sewists outside of Sweden. Since I also have many customers from the Netherlands and Belgium I’ve recently started working with a translator to translate some patterns to Dutch.
- I’ve also struggled to find work/life balance. For me it’s an ongoing challenge how to prioritize my time on the things I love in life: my family, creativity/work, friends and other hobbies. Oh and myself :)
So anyways, it’s a journey. As a small business owner, I feel I can’t relax too much. I need, and I want to improve. I’m so very thankful for my customers who make all of this possible, and it’s for their sake too that I want to continue improving.
I’m thankful for these 5 years with Threads by Caroline and I hope there will be many more!
I love to be creative. It's fun and good for my mind.
And I'm proud of what I can create with my hands.
I want to help you feel this too! I want to inspire, guide and cheer for you. Because I believe you too love to be creative.
With love, Caroline