Makers 1-on-1 is our original interview series featuring today's makers and DIYers. We're sitting down with new makers every week to learn more about their projects, how they acquire information, their purchase processes, and their passions.
This week, we’re interviewing Linda Lackey — a home sewing and embroidery designer from Cleveland, OH. Linda has been sewing all her life, but when retirement gave her the opportunity to devote more time to her passion, she opened her Linda’s Other Life etsy shop. Linda uses common sewing tools like sewing machines, fabric, and patterns, along with her new embroidery machine and all the digital designs that go along with it. If your brand sells to sewists and embroiderers, this 1-on-1 interview with Linda will give you important insights into connecting with makers like her.
What's your name and what do you do?
My name is Linda Lackey and my business is called Linda’s Other Life. It’s a sewing business. I make home goods; homemade, machine-sewn, high-quality things for the home such as pillows, table runners, tea towels, and aprons. I sell them on an Etsy site as well as in person at craft shows and festivals and things like that.
How and when did you start doing this?
I have sewn all of my life. That is my grandmother’s sewing machine over there. My grandmother taught me how to sew. My mother made all of my clothes when I was a kid. There are some of the pattern envelopes from my childhood, clothing that my mother made. I’ve always known how to sew, and I never had a place to keep a sewing machine set up when my children were growing up, so that was one of my retirement goals, to kind of turn the room into a sewing room and start making things. I started making things and people started to want to buy them. I thought if I make more of them, then more people will want to buy them. So I started an Etsy shop in the fall of 2012. My first sale took me by surprise. Someone I don’t even know from another state wants to buy this table runner. So I started doing more and more. I have expanded beyond my wildest dreams. What I am doing now is not at all what I started off doing. It just kind of was following what people want to buy and seeing what the market was good for.
What does your process look like?
I have a couple of patterns for aprons and such that I use. Some patterns [are] from Simplicity Standard. I have also designed my own patterns. Then when I bought the embroidery machine, that just kind of changed the game. I thought, “Maybe I will just monogram some aprons or do something simple.” Well, I started looking into embroidery patterns for this machine and there are so many cool downloadable patterns you can purchase. My favorite is a website called Urban Threads. They have really kitschy sayings. So as far as the embroidery is concerned, I get pre-digitized designs that I purchase and then put into my machine. So on a normal day, this machine is embroidering while I’m sewing, while my assistant, if she’s here, is cutting and pressing and hemming.
That is really cool. It's like you have a third assistant in the room over there?
It is, it is! It’s crazy. This machine, I can go down and like cook dinner. Some of the designs take up to 45 minutes to stitch, so it just goes.
What types of materials do you like to use or work with?
I use a lot of cotton fabric, typical Jo-Ann Fabrics-type of fabric. I think one of my favorite things about the business is I like putting fabrics together, doing combinations of fabric. I get a lot of fabric from fabric.com online, and I try to shop for things that are super, super unique. Like that over there which is called home-ec. I have also worked a lot with burlap. When I first started out, I sewed a lot with oil cloth, which is fun and very colorful, so I mixed some oil cloth aprons, oil cloth placemats. I’ve also done a lot with chalk cloth, which is a fiber-backed chalk board surface that you can sew. So I’ll do table runners that you can do for a buffet or a Christmas dinner where you can label the dishes or “Aunt Martha’s potatoes” or “gluten free,” for people with special needs in their diets. Those are fun and they have sold really well. It’s a full variety of things. Besides normal fabric, I would say, oil cloth, chalk cloth, and burlap are my three favorite kinds of unique fabrics that are fun to work with.
Where do you get information about what you do? Is there research involved?
Like anybody else, I spend a lot of time on the internet, cruising Pinterest, looking for ideas. I’ve come up with some of my own ideas just looking for a niche that’s not being filled, like unique kinds of items. I used that chalk cloth [for] placemats for small children. They could take it to a restaurant, [it’s] like a low-tech mommy’s diaper bag, where you can roll that out, they can play tic-tac-toe or color. You can wipe it off and throw it back in their purse. Really, that was a good seller last year.
What is your purchasing process for materials you get? Do you research them ahead of time?
I do. I am always interested in price points because I want to make the most profit I possibly can. So I spend a lot of time researching pillow inserts for instance. I wanted to make sure that I was using a pillow insert that was made in the United States, that’s kind of important to me. I found a good source in Georgia, so I get all of my pillows from them. I shop the sales, I use my Jo-Ann coupons pretty diligently. I buy some things online. I like to touch fabric because it’s a really tactile type of thing. I like to see what I am purchasing ahead of time, if it is at all possible. Now it’s to the point where I am even buying some of my standard fabric by the bulk.
Pat Catan’s now has a fabric section. I was very excited about that. The other thing I had to learn was machine maintenance. Being able to take some things apart and put them back together. Pins and Needles in Middleburg Heights is where I get my machines and they have been wonderful to work with. They are very good with repairs. You can spend a lot of money on sewing machines. I started at a single sewing machine that I’ve had since I was young and I have quickly upgraded. The other thing I completely depend on is printing my own postage and using the Etsy interface with the U.S. Postal Office. Post Office online is so easy. I literally walk down and stuff it in the mailbox, and the mailman takes it away.
What social media platforms are you active on and how do you use them?
I have a Facebook page strictly for my business and that has been fairly successful in bringing me some customer interest. I mainly [use social media] when I am doing a show. A lot of the organizations I partner with, namely the Cleveland Bazaar and Crafty Mart – I do the Hudson Flea, which is a monthly flea thing throughout the summer – they use Facebook and Instagram pretty heavily leading up to show time so people can kind of preview an item. I’ve had people come in at the very beginning of the show and be like “I saw that and that’s what I am here for.” Instagram more so than Facebook has been fabulous. I don’t have thousands of Instagram followers, but I have people that come up to me and say “Oh yes, I know you. I follow you on Facebook!” So it has been successful. Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.
How much time do you spend on the average project?
Well with my teaching schedule in my first career I was pretty regimented. I like to keep on a schedule, I get to say I get to work at 10 o‘clock every morning. I’m pretty much in this room at 10 a.m. until lunchtime. If we have errands to run we tend to do that in the middle of the afternoon. Honestly, I sew eight hours a day, at least five days a week, if not more. I have stuff in 13 stores now and they keep me really, really busy. The stuff I am working on today is going out to Cuyahoga Collective, which is a big merch truck that is at all of the festivals and events and they now have a brick-and-mortar store in Lakewood on Madison. I’m working on a 35 tea towel order for them right now. I’ve had 25 pillow orders at a time. I was contacted by a realtor that is putting one of my home pillows in every house that they sell this year. I have already made 75 pillows for them since the first of the year. Aside from keeping up with my own inventory and my Etsy stuff, getting ready for shows and getting stuff out to stores really keeps me on a full-time schedule.
What is the most rewarding part about what you do?
Well, I’m doing something that I love. I have total flexibility in terms of schedule, so I can work when I want, I work until 10 o’clock at night if I want to. It’s not like grading essays, which turned into labor that always was hanging over my head. This I can do wherever, it’s portable. I took my sewing machine to my family get-together last weekend because I had some things to do. Embroider machines are not portable, but I can take my sewing machine wherever I go, and that’s just real rewarding – that I can continue to work on something and still be able to have the free time that “retirement” would seem to afford you.
Another thing that is really rewarding, believe it or not, is I have made great friends through the maker community. We swap, we support one another, we give each other time when someone is short on a deadline. A couple I have swapped materials with, coordinated projects with. The Cleveland maker community is so thriving right now and so rich. There are so many cool people doing so many cool things. That’s been kind of overwhelming to me. I didn’t think I would be making friends, gaining new friends by sewing alone in my upstairs bedroom.
The other thing is customers. I’ve really built some nice relationships with returning customers. In person, at shows, as well as strangers who found me on Etsy and said, “My mother’s baby bib has been in the family for generations and we are looking for somebody who could take it apart and put new fabric on the back,” and then comes back and orders like five more baby bibs. You find these people who find you online and who want to tell you their story. I am always interested in people’s stories. I am still getting that out of this job.
Why did you choose to start and continue to do this?
I was so used to being super busy. I think at first it was just to fill up time. Everyone said, “What are you going to do when you retire?” There are so many other lives to live. My business would be called Linda’s Other Life. My initials legitimately are “LOL,” so I kind of just go with that. I knew that I could do something that would keep me busy, that would be what I love. I didn’t like my service job where I had to be there Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I had to close at 11 o’clock at night, get up the next morning. If I don’t feel like sewing tomorrow or if I want to pack up and go away for the weekend, you can shut an Etsy shop on vacation too.
How do you deal with problems or challenges that arise in your business?
My biggest problem is keeping up with orders. I think I am going to have a little bit of downtime then I get an order of 25 of something. I don’t want to disappoint people. Some of these people are people I’ve built relationships with. There’s a business in Canton that is run by two school teachers called “Little Chicago Clothing Company.” They do location appeal like Canton and Cleveland. They are a printing a business [and] they wanted me to do 25 blank aprons that they could print on. That order came at a really inopportune time and I thought, “Ahh, we cant do this.” That’s when I decided to find a high school kid who can sew. I asked, “Can you cut out 25 aprons?” because then I could move very quickly.
What's next for you? Any new projects or development?
Jokingly, my son and daughter in-law are pregnant and they’re due in December. When we found out my husband said, “This isn’t a grandchild, this is a product line!” People have asked me to do more things for children and babies. Little onesies or little baby blankets would be very easy to do. We will, probably for more personal reasons, break out into more children kinds of things. Most of what I’m doing daily is machine-based and not very mobile. We’ve done a little bit of traveling this summer and I need more hand projects. Hand and embroidery I can’t do. But this is so much faster and sleeker. So maybe developing and looking at some of the aprons my grandmother made actually. Kind of old fashioned, hand-sewing techniques. I am going to work with that a little bit to see if there is something I can take on the road.