Home-sewing manufacturers

I have a lot of enthusiast sewing people on this site -home sewers- people who never intend to manufacture. For my part, I like the mix so I encourage it. After all, this is the only forum I know of where manufacturers and consumers really mingle. The comments directed towards manufacturers is one of the things that I think keeps this site real. That said, this post could be said to be directed towards enthusiasts rather than “professionals” but DEs can learn a lot too. In any event, home sewers, this manufacturing post is for you. I know you normally skip these -and justifiably so- but just bear with me today, okay? Some background:

Joe posted about his sister’s blog Zig Zag in comments the other day so I went to visit her site and found the most amazing post entitled Bagging It. I don’t know how to describe it. My overall impression is to describe it as “the entrepreneur’s guide to manufacturing anything”. Anyway, Anne is a quilter and home sewer but she’s gotten into “volunteer manufacturing”. She and some of her friends have gotten together to solve social problems through sewing. Now, I know a lot of you make baby blankets for donation and believe me, I’m not slamming that, not at all. But Anne and her friends are doing something entirely different -with an entirely different approach- and I hope that more people will consider doing the same (hence this post).

First of all, Anne and her friends wanted to help in a meaningful way. Their first thought was to make baby blankets and donate them to the local hospital. That’s popular, sick children merit everyone’s sympathies. However, somebody had the foresight to actually ask the hospital if blankets were what was needed. As it turns out, they didn’t need more blankets. So, Anne and her friends persisted and asked the hospital if another department could use their services. As it turns out, Geriatrics needed services and was thrilled when the stitchers volunteered to supply them with necessities. I can only imagine that Geriatrics fares poorly in comparison to babies. The elderly are so neglected. Now, in manufacturing-ese, let me summarize what’s happened here:

  • There is a clear mission statement (even if it’s only actuated by practice).
  • The “company” is determined to provide a product that is needed in the marketplace.
  • There is no ego here. They want to be “successful” and “manufacture” what their “customers” need, rather than making cute pretty stuff nobody really needs.
  • They researched their market. Consequently, they had to change their product idea.
  • They consulted with their “customer” to develop a prototype.
  • They produced a sample.
  • Based on the sample, they “took orders”.
  • Based on the number of orders, they acquired the inputs.
  • They manufactured their products.
  • Then they delivered their products.

Now you tell me, how is this not manufacturing? And Lean Manufacturing at that? What you have here is product development by enthusiasts serving real needs. It’s “volunteer” manufacturing and I love it. I really have to hand it to these ladies. They ended up making a very practical item rather than something that satisfied their creative needs. How many of you can do that? That is selflessness. That is the real definition of putting your customer first. A manufacturer of integrity -even if that definition includes home sewing volunteers- responds to consumers wants and needs rather than their own internal ones. If someone is attracted to your style, then great, build on it. However, these ladies have very methodically determined to meet needs first rather than to satisfy their own creative egos. In real life -if the definition of “real life” meant they were profit minded- I have no doubt they’d become very successful. In my opinion, these home sewers can teach DEs a whole lot. Think about it.

If any of my enthusiast sewing visitors are involved in ventures such as the one described on Anne’s website, do speak up. Your participation may be the encouragement that someone else needs to get involved. Also, if there were an organized group of you, it’d be easier for the manufacturers on this site to donate inputs that you’re likely to need. All of us have end cuts of fabric, zippers, thread etc that need new homes. If you’re involved in an organized unit, I’m sure plenty of DEs would be happy to ship you stuff. I have tons of stuff. I just need an address to ship it to. Also, if there were a group in my area, I’d happily donate the use of my shop. I have a 20 foot cutting table, that’s got to be handy. And I’d bet I wouldn’t be the only person who could donate space and materials. Let’s hear about it. Comments are open.

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16 comments

  1. SB says:

    I am humbled and inspired. I have a friend on the board of the ONLY homeless shelter in the county, and I have a very strong feeling that this type of project would be extremely useful to them. Wow. I’m on it. Thanks to Joe, his sister, and you, Kathleen, for bringing this up.

    Also, I second the comment that most of us manufacturers would be very happy to send along supplies, if only given an address. I’m looking at a stack of fabric ends right now that just need a loving home.

  2. Kathleen says:

    I can say that the greatest need in volunteer manufacturing is not obvious. A volunteer group that could manage donations would be an enormous help because manufacturers have stuff they could donate but they’ll hesitate to do it and for mostly two reasons. One, they know their excess couldn’t possibly be used for a group’s given project so they’re not going to offer it. What needs to happen is that a “supplier” volunteer group should be set up to handle any kind of sewn product type donation. For example, the group could sell the stuff that’s not needed, either on ebay or at the local American Sewing Guild meeting, a flea market or whatever. In my case, I have boxes of good clean thread and zippers that I’ll never go to the bother of selling on ebay but a vounteer group could and use the proceeds to buy the inputs they did need. Also, donations-wise, it’d be best if the group were not for profit although I think a lot of small producers would donate anyway.

    Another thing, as far as charity quilting goes, I think the market for quilts is bigger than just kids and babies. I could see the elderly in “old folks homes” being very happy with lap blankets to warm their legs. Plus, they’d appreciate the workmanship and aesthics even more than infant “customers” would :)

  3. Lori says:

    I’m all for charity sewing. I belong to the American Sewing Guild and we’ve made duffel bags for foster kids, so they have something to tote their belongings in, and most recently we made heart-shaped pillows for mastectomy patients (I heard they use them under their arm as a comfort aid). One bullet you could add to your list is to to divy up the duties during construction, just as is done for manufacturing. When we made the pillows, each person didn’t make an entire pillow. But it wasn’t hard to find people who gladly took on one task of cutting, sewing, stuffing, or handsewing. I hate cutting, but love handsewing, for example.

    Your second bullet is so, so valid. While it’s heartwarming to put one’s efforts into sewing quilts for Katrina victims or knitting hats for Mongolian children, in some cases it may be better to instead send money to charity organizations. Unless your “customer” is local, you have to realize your last bullet too: delivery. And your third bullet is so important also. I remember my sister once telling me how she bagged up individual Thanksgiving dinners to give to her local food shelter. She imagined how each carefully packed bag of food would be received by each hungry family. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that, based on my experience volunteering at a food shelter, the bags would be emptied into bins and the food sorted accordingly. I let her keep her fantasy.

    Producing handmade items certainly does have its place – as Kathleen mentioned above, the elderly may appreciate the workmanship and aesthetics, not to mention what a handmade item represents. But also these handmade items can fulfill unique, custom needs on a small scale. I imagine that it’s cost prohibitive for a hospital to purchase catheter bag covers, and the resulting item would probably be rather bland.

    If anyone is looking for a volunteer group, in addition to the sewing guild, there are also quilting guilds and knitting guilds and, yes, there are still some high school home econmonics classes, who’d appreciate donated materials as well as suggestions for projects.

  4. Kathy says:

    Nancy Zieman host a public television sewing program, Sewing with Nancy. A portion of each program is devoted to Creative Kindness. On her website there are 2 pages full of groups who are sewing and needing donations of materials and time for all kinds of charity.
    Go to https://www.nancysnotions.com or use this link to get to Creative Kindness. Scroll for the resource listings.

  5. Joe says:

    Kathleen, what a wonderful post. You have seen both the heart and the method Anne and her pals in upstate New York have used. You analogy to a manufacturing system is right on the money. In particular, setting aside ego to produce what the customer wants, rather than what the producer wants to make. Fundamental. And oft’ ignored.

  6. Diane says:

    Wow! I was under the mistaken impression that home sewers were stepchildren on this site:) When I lived in the SF Bay area I organized a group of quilting friends online to make quilts for the AIDS hospice. These patients were in hospice to die alone because their family had no desire to be in contact with them. Way too sad. Anyway, we had a theme every month for the quilts…animals, houses, hearts, etc. which was really fun beyond the traditional nine patch.

    A couple of years ago I posted an open invitation to make “crusade” quilts to give away. I called them crusades because I was on a mission to use up scraps and do something for the community at the same time. No takers, but I’m up to #38 and most went to the Department of Health Services locally. If you’d like to see some pictures just ask. I’m not religious but most of them have a cross theme like the original crusaders. I just like crosses, as does Dior and other hotsy totsy designers!

    There is a group in my area that makes quilts for the firemen to give away on their emergency calls. They have so much fabric donated that it’s kept in a storage place at no charge. I liked the concept but they mass produce them from kits assembled from the fabric. This generates a quilt that is functional but doesn’t have much excitement and has robbed the maker of creative decisions. The thing that really bothered me was distribution. These quilts are stored in the truck or at the fire station until needed and even then the firemen confess that not just anybody gets a quilt. They favor children (naturally)and seem to be stingy about giving them out. I want to make quilts that are not going to sit in waiting but are to be used NOW. I make them lap size generally 43″ wide (good use of 45″ fabric as backing) by 65″ or 70″ because this size is manageble under the head of my Bernina. Now that I have an industrial Pfaff with more space between the head and needle, I can probably make them larger.

    As for donating materials I would suggest posting up on the Freecycle board. I got rid of many bags of yarn this way and gave it to the first person who responded which is usually how it works. Afer it was promised, I received an email from a knitter who makes things for charity (along with her group)and is still looking for materials.

    Doing charity work is really good for the soul and such a fantastic way to work out new ideas. The freedom of making quilts for charity allows the maker to try things outside the box because it won’t be judged and someone somewhere will appreciate the effort.

  7. Cheryl says:

    Bravo to Anne K and her team of volunteers. You rock!

    With more on that subject, IMHO, quilters in general are generous of their time and frequently extend their talent to produce quilts for charitable works. Quilting guilds will often rotate through a list of recipients: donating quilts for charity raffles, quilts for sick babies, victims of fire, abuse, the homeless etc. Our guild regularly receives surplus scraps and samples from fabric houses, and often shops will donate their space for some manufacturing gigs. Please keep spreading the word. It’s a win-win for all.

  8. Liana says:

    My local sewing guild “takes orders” for items, like laundry bags for a battered women’s shelter, pajamas for a foster children’s group, mittens for Head Start kids to keep at school (otherwise they go home and never return.) Also lap robes for the county nursing home.

    There’s a group here that specializes in sewing for babies in need, and they take all donations of fabric, etc., and they swap with a group that sews for nursing homes. Usually one group can use whatever is unsuitable for the other. It’s quite inspiring.

    I never thought of it as lean manufacturing, but it’s wonderful to get a new angle on things.

  9. Rena says:

    Interesting thoughts on charity work! The ASG is making baby layette items this year. Anyone carrying around extra knit, find a local chapter and I’m sure they will put it to good use. I think the point of asking what is needed is so important. I know a group of women that donate items to the local NICU and the staff in the NICU have specific requirements for baby gowns because of the wires and tubes coming in and out of a preemie. I used up some donated upholstery fabric to make zippered bags for Katrina victims. They were quick and easy but I did have to buy zippers. What would be nice is if there was a website that managed the extras manufacturers had on hand, the needs of local charities, and a list of volunteers that could spring into action. I know as a local chapter of the guild we get people wanting to donate fabric to us all the time. Problem is, it’s usually really old polyester that wouldn’t be appropriate for a lot of the sewn items we donate. So then what do you do with 20 yards of black polyester doubleknit??? And who gets the dreaded job of storing it and getting it to people that would use it?

  10. Claire says:

    Hello, I don’t know if this is the right way to go about this, but it can’t hurt. My daughter’s grade 5 class want to make pillows as an art project (those school chairs are pretty uncomfortable!!) and I am trying to source some “free” stuffing for about 30 pillows. I am located in Toronto, and would appreciate any input or direction as to how to go about this. Thanking you in advance, Claire

  11. Kelly says:

    Hi! I hope one of more of you can help me. My mother, 79 years old, sewed all our clothing when we were children. There are five of us. She continued sewing for her grandchildren. She made each of us quilts and many more besides. Recently she had to give up her part time position as an R.N. at a nursing home. It was important to her to feel useful and competent and this position fulfilled that need for her. She has always strongly identified as a nurse. In any case, she has macular degeneration, slow and progressive variety and really hasn’t been able to see well enough to thread a needle for a long long time now. She can see though and is very independent and gets around well. I would like to find an extremely user friendly sewing machine that would enable her to sew again. Having the ability to make quilts for family and friends and special projects for new babies coming, weddings, etc. would really motivate her. But she needs an automatic needle threader that does not take a lot of vision ability. I’m thinking there is some type of magnifier we could find to help her see while she sews also. I am not a seamstress and would appreciate any and all suggestions! Thank you so much.

  12. Patricia Miller says:

    I have been searching the web site for organization’s that donate sewing notion’s and
    material but I haven’t been able to find any if you could help me.I am a 72 year old great grandma and I am makeing clothe’s for abused
    children,we had a little girl that was brutely
    mudered by her stepmom and she died a horriable
    death and I wanted to do something in her memory
    and try and make people relize that abuse some
    time kill’s,so I made a quilt in her memory with
    her picture on it to never let anyone forget what
    abuse does and I knew I had to do something more
    for the children so I started makeing clothe’ for
    them,I want them to feel that someone does love
    them and to bring a smile and comfort to them,they are precious.I feel like God has called
    me to do this and I am thankful to him for chooseing me.My reward for this is after I have
    finished a outfit I close my eye’s and see a child with a smile on their face and the love
    God has given me for other’s.My heart ache’s for
    these little one’s and the girl will alway’s be
    with me,I didn’t know her personally but my heart
    was broken.I donated the quilt to hartford house
    house they deal with abused children and I know
    the people that abuse these children will see it
    and I hope they will get help.I have Fibormylgia
    and arthistis and so when I can not sleep I may
    be at my sewing machine at 2:00 in the morning.
    I have not wanted to ask for donation’s but I am
    unable to afford the thing’s I need,I will not
    stop makeing clothe’s as long as I am able,so if
    you know of some where I could email a organization for sewing notion’s please email me
    back.If any one want’s to check on this to make
    sure,you can call family service’s in Lafayett
    Indiana at 765-742-0400.

  13. dee j says:

    please email me more info. i am disabled but all my life i have been sewing and diesineing clothes for thair needs now i cant aford the stuff it takes to do it.i am very interested in hearing more about this

  14. Christie says:

    I came across this sight and love it!!! I need some help. I live in a small town. I “add” ruffles and ribbons to my daughters clothes. I also do pillow case dresses. This is pretty much the extent of my sewing. Basically straight lines…Hhahahahahah! I enjoy it so much, but I am very slow. People always ask me about my daughters clothes…the are unique. I have a boutique wanting me to put in a clothing line. There is only one big problem….I am very slow. I am looking for someone that can add ruffles to pants, make A-line tops, simple straight leg pants with and without ruffles…also would like to know where I could by t-shirt type cotton shirts in bulk…..?????????????/ Any one know of any sewing contractors or manufactures? Where do I start.

  15. chloe mcleod says:

    i was wondering if you could answer some of my questions because i am doing a school project on dior and was wondering where are the products made, why is the product made there and how do you use technology.
    i was also wanting to know has dior always acted in best interest of the environment, customers and employees. thanks soo much and the sooner the better

  16. Amanda Naylor says:

    I find so much joy and relaxation quilting,sewing,painting,jewelry handmade. I love to do charity work. It makes my heart full of joy and happiness.

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