{Handmade Business in 31 Days — Day 23, Is it still handmade if I don’t make it MYSELF?}

Day 23// I remember how it felt to go to my local craft store and pick out a couple dozen new prints of base + lining fabrics, ruffle colors and coordinating thread. I would spend a good hour hand-selecting all the materials, then I would come home and, feeling so proud, lay everything out on the work table. The entire thing would be covered with new fabric combinations — six feet by two feet, the table was covered. As the Handmade Maker I would often share this process on my blog. Something about running a handmade business and wanting to document the process with others — then of course the fact that I was making all the items which further credited the fact I was running a handmade business.

Or so I thought.

Is it still handmade if I don’t make it MYSELF? Let’s talk about that today…

Once everything was laid on the table I would start organizing knowing the next step was to stack everything back up. The base fabrics went in one pile, the lining in another, the ruffles in a third.

Time to cut.

Another hour was spent on breaking up that solid yardage of material. When I finished cutting I had small puzzle pieces of fabric, stacked nearly a foot high. And oh how I felt inside — the joy I felt was a foot high, too.

We were living in Detroit at this time and my “studio” was really just a glorified home office that Zack + I shared. He’d be in the backyard working on a project {we had just moved from an apartment complex and Zack took his backyard space very seriously} while I was inside, working so passionately on Gussy Sews. I remember calling Zack inside to show him the cut materials I was about to start sewing into zip pouches. We both knew in a couple of more hours I’d call him back inside to show him all the Gussy’s I had sewn, but neither of us would comment about that ;)

Gussy Sews circa 2008

I’ve always sewn in an assembly-like manner. It just makes the most sense, ya know? Start with step 1, work through all items until step 1 is complete. Then start step 2, work through all items until step 2 is complete. And on and on until you have toppling piles of ruffly pretties to grin over.

Working on this baby-fresh handmade business made the clock hands spin round and round. I was learning so much and making so many friends, I had really just entered the blogging world and it was teaching me so much. Late into the evening I would work, just me and my sewing machine, building up stock and thinking of new product ideas… writing myself notes for later; sketching how to sew a zip pouch so it doesn’t end up inside out or backwards.

Oh, I wish I was joking on that last part ;)

When I started sewing {almost four years ago, goodness!} I had no clue what I was doing as the Handmade Maker. YouTube taught me how to thread my machine and my mother-in-law, an oh-so talented + knowledgeable seamstress, would answer questions I had about my machine over the phone.

And now, fast-forward to today. It’s been a few years since I first hired help and the question, Is it still handmade if I don’t make it MYSELF? comes up frequently. What I’ve learned as a Handmade Maker is it’s NEVER a “look what I did” process — it’s absolutely a “look what WE did” process.

Living a Handmade Maker life is absolutely a group effort. It always has been. When you’re working with people, whether it’s buying from them or asking for advice or thanking them for teaching you a thing or twelve — even with hiring help to run your handmade business, it’s people working with people.

Gussy Sews circa 2009

So that question, Is it still handmade if I don’t make it MYSELF? — my answer is a hearty YES! Hiring a talented maker to join you doesn’t suddenly remove or void what you have. The beauty of a person working with their hands to create something grows when an Artist is surrounded by a creative team of trusted Makers. Whether this hired maker is cutting, ironing, sewing or packaging for Gussy Sews, my answer has always been a hearty yes. There are hundreds of you who have supported Gussy Sews for the past three and a half years — it’s of absolutely importance that all Gussy Sews products ship with the same quality + quirk as though I was still the sole Handmade Maker of them.

To be continued…

Homework// None for today :)

missed a day? don’t worry — you can catch up here.

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  1. 1

    Handmade says

    So what about those factories in 3rd world countries paying kids .10 a day to make tshirts. They use their hands right? Technically still handmade. This is a question I’ve been struggling with as I feel that each persons company is THEM, and if sewing is what results in the end product, then shouldn’t they be doing the actual sewing? For me, making is such a HUGE joy, I can’t imagine going years without sewing as you said you have since you’ve been so successful. If it works for you, then that’s fabulous, but I think part of the draw for many customers isn’t just having a label slapped on something some random person made, it’s having an item that Sarah of Sarah’s Purses made. The cutting/ironing/packaging/emailing stuff can totally be handled by someone else, they’re auxiliary tasks, but the actual making? I want something the business owner made. THAT is why I buy handmade (and apparently need to be much more careful of where I’m spending my hard earned dollars if I actually want to support the maker).

    • 2


      @Handmade, You’ve asked a really great question — and I think what is at the root of your question is more of an unethical practice than a hiring practice.

      When a business hires it’s to likely to grow the business and ultimately, the story of the business. By not sewing each item personally doesn’t mean I don’t sew at all for the business, it’s that I’m spending my time doing what is best: running a successful business. Gussy Sews is also providing a job for another person — something we take very seriously and have great pride in those we hire.

      If I were to sew everything in the Gussy shop I wouldn’t be able to write this blog, I wouldn’t be able to share Gussy products with others, I wouldn’t be able to ship anything we sold, and soon I wouldn’t have a business at all.

      I’ve found that in order for Gussy Sews to be profitable we need to ask for help, which in this case means hiring help.

  2. 9


    Right now running my handmade business doesn’t allow me to continue blogging. This is something that has always bothered me a little. I never had a great blog that tons of people read, but blogging got me into crafting, which got me into sewing and it’s such a big part how I got into this. I am praying for the day I can hire someone just to come in to help with some of the production work.

    That being said I don’t think that having help makes it less handmade. It’s not a factory filled with children earning pennies a day making hundreds of items daily. It is still everyday people getting behind someone’s vision and doing a part to create it. It’s still YOUR designs and ultimately YOUR vision. I think the greatest part about the handmade business is the community aspect of it and how we all add something special and there are just some things we couldn’t do alone.

  3. 12


    I love this series so much friend, I’ve read every single post and want to thank you for how generous you always are in sharing this stuff! I know personally you and I have had quite a few phone chats, texts and emails over another situation about handmade and thats the part where you buy someone wholesale-alter it in one little tiny way- and because etsy says its ok then you call it handmade. So how do you feel about that, where does that leave the handmade community? I genuinely feel happy that someone has made a great business for themselves, but I’m curious if their business would be as fruitful if their customers who want handmade knew that they weren’t you know?

  4. 14


    I haven’t commented on your blog posts yet, even though I’ve been reading for awhile, but now I just wanted to give you a big huge thank you hug for this wonderful series. I launched my first handmade business in October…and it happened to coincide with this series. It’s given me a lot to think about, especially as I bumble through the early days, mostly learning by mistakes, and I so appreciate you sharing your knowledge and experiences!! Thank you again! :)


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