2021: Lessons Learned and a Peek Behind the Curtain

2021: Lessons Learned and a Peek Behind the Curtain

I can’t believe it’s already been a year since I started focusing on Spokes & Stitches full-time!

Sewing Patterns for Solarpunks. I'm standing on my porch wearing a Split Splat Apron and Arm Candy Tee, holding a seedling.


I wanted to share a summary of what this past year looked like, as well as share my successes and challenges with you. Perhaps you’re curious about what it’s like to start a small business. If anything, I hope that my transparency gives you some perspective!

In 2021, I’m really proud that I:

  • Hosted 3 virtual crafting workshops for local public libraries.
  • Researched and developed the gender-expansive linear & dynamic size charts across a wide range of sizes over the course of several months.
  • Completed the Pattern Workshop virtual course (highly recommend if you’re interested in pattern digitization).
  • Drafted, tested, and released the Split Splat Apron pattern (my first-ever graded garment pattern)!
  • Successfully crowd-funded pattern testing for the Arm Candy Tee pattern through Kickstarter (140% funded by 80 backers!), and released the pattern in September.
  • -Enrolled in, and completed the Whole Enchilada business course from Bespoke Hogaboom (highly recommend if you are a creative small business owner who cares about running an ethical triple-bottom-line business).
  • Developed a business plan and financial forecast for 2022 (through the above course; seriously check it out).
  • Began working with my local small business development center (SBDC) to develop a size & gender inclusivity consulting branch of my business (those 3 months spent researching and developing my size charts has given me a lot of knowledge on the topic that I am eager to share with other designers).
  • Built The Sewlarium, an online Discord community for solarpunk sewists (if you'd like to join, click here).
  • Grew my IG following from 800 followers to 2480!
  • Designed, drafted, and released the Bluster Buster Cap pattern.

Pictured below: the Split Splat Apron (sample by @smanskistitches), the Arm Candy Tee (sample by @mandabe4r), and the Bluster Buster Cap (sample by me)

Photos of 2021 sewing pattern samples

This next section warrants a bit of a content warning: I talk about my privilege, forms of financial support that I’ve received in starting this business, as well as a financial summary of the past year. I am sharing this in an effort to be transparent about my experience of starting a small business, but I recognize that discussions around finances can be uncomfortable or triggering for some.

(Please note that I am not looking for business advice or suggestions at this time, and thank you in advance for respecting that boundary!)

I'm sitting at my desk pouring over a stack of scattered papers containing measurement charts.


The less glamorous side of starting a business:

I worked full-time on my business in 2021 thanks to qualifying for pandemic unemployment assistance for part of the year and relying on my wonderfully supportive spouse after he secured an awesome job in a new field earlier this year. Additionally, the pause on federal student loan repayments due to the pandemic (which has now been extended to May 1, 2022) has been a welcome relief of a major monthly expense during this time.

I probably would not have had the courage to pursue starting a small business without these very major sources of financial support. I am so very lucky and grateful for these highly privileged circumstances that have allowed me to pay my bills while working on this endeavor.

As I prepare for my first year of taxes, I am confronting the stark reality that most businesses do not see a profit in their first year of business, and I am no exception. I’d like to share those figures with you here because I think it’s so important to be transparent about what’s really going on when it looks from the outside as though someone is totally thriving at their new venture (I am thriving, in that I am getting to pursue my wildest dreams and finally do the creative job I’ve always wanted to do). 

However, I’m sharing this because I wish that more small business owners had shared this type of information with me when I was first starting to consider starting a business, so that I would have had more realistic expectations and not felt quite so scared and alone.

In 2021: 

I decided to avoid taking on more debt and did not apply for any loans. 

I made $4,202 from my business. 

I spent $7,090 on coaching and self-education, software, fabric and materials for samples, research and development, and miscellaneous services related to setting up a business. 

This means that, despite my attempts at frugality, my net profit for the past year was -$2,888.

(I'd like to reiterate; I am not looking for business advice or suggestions. Please respect that boundary!)

So my first year operated at a loss, and I am not actually that bummed about it! Thanks to lessons learned from business coaching (Bespoke Hogaboom and Temple SBDC), I knew to expect something like this, and thanks to these amazing educational resources, I now have a road map for moving forward. Even though seeing those numbers laid out is kind of scary, I feel confident that I will be able to grow my business in the months ahead and carve out a niche for myself in the field of size and gender-inclusive design. 

If you’re feeling like “yay, go Ruby go!” after reading this, and want to throw some support my way, any of the following actions would be much appreciated!

  • Purchase a sewing pattern from my website.
  • Leave a review of one of my patterns (if you’ve already made it) on my website or on www.patternreview.com, and/or post about the pattern on Instagram and use the hashtag (so that it's searchable).
  • Tell a friend (or five!) about Spokes & Stitches.
  • Connect me to media opportunities so that I can continue to grow my audience (guest blog posts or podcasts are great).
  • Set aside some funds to support a fresh Kickstarter campaign for my next pattern, coming soon (spoiler alert, it's PANTS)!

Thanks again for your continued support, and I hope that 2022 is treating you kindly so far!

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1 comment

Ruby, I so appreciate your transparency regarding starting your new business. Acknowledging the privilege you received is refreshing. And I get it since I am also an entrepreneur and self-employed now for many years. Keep aspiring to your dream. Let your creativity flourish. Only good can come out of this. I found my passion and it’s made all the difference. Not many people do, so

Karen Gabler

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