Yes, you! If you want to see it, you have to create it yourself.
I started Sewcialists on a whim with friends back in 2013, and then relaunched it myself with a new focus on social justice and intersectional identities back in 2017. Sewcialists has run its course in this current iteration, and I’m very happy to put it to rest. However, I’d love to share what I’ve learned along the way and hopefully inspire you to start whatever sewing community you think the world needs!
That said… I’m tired, and probably a bit jaded. Starting a community is fun and thrilling, but I also want to be honest about the amount of work and boring grind it takes to keep it going. I think that if you are prepared for the highs and the lows, you are are more likely to build something that lasts. Of course, this is all just based on my opinion and experiences, and you may have completely different approaches that work for you!
So, what comes first?
What is your mission?
What are you going to offer that is unique and and fills a gap in the sewing community? The Sewcialists mission is to amplify voices that are often unheard in sewing, and balance fun community building with social justice. Our tagline at relaunch was “a sewing blog for everyone”, which is pretty broad! We always talk more about people who sew than actual sewing, and I think that’s what makes us unique.
By contrast, a lot of sewing communities like Sew Over 50, Sew Queer, Fat Sewing Club or Disabled Makers have a more focused mission to serve one single underrepresented group. I think you can be as general or specific as you choose. (No joke, I’m thinking about starting a private online chat for “middle-aged genderqueer fat people”.) Personally, some niches I would love to see filled are “Sewcialists but more radical,” “Plus size non-binary and menswear,” “Gen Z Sewing,” “Reposting images of sewing and cats,” and “Modest Sewists Unite”! The possibilities are endless, and only you know what mission would keep you motivated.
Choose a platform.
Your platform will determine a lot about your workload, and also the depth of your content. It might also determine if you are starting a solo project, or if you will need a team behind to you sustain the effort. The great news is that there are a lot of platforms to choose from!
Here, in my opinion, are some of the pros and cons of various platforms in order of complexity:
- TikTok — short catchy content, most of the time is spent filming and editing. Limited audience interaction or depth. We have a recent post exploring TikTok !
- Instagram — posts, stories and reposts give you a chance to amplify content from other creators within your community, and create your own original content. IG allows for a bit of depth and good community discussions, and is where I would recommend most new communities start.
- Facebook — easy to start, easy to get community engagement… but be prepared to spend a lot of time policing rules and making sure that it stays a safe place.
- Blog — My happy place! Sewcialists is a blog-based community which used Instagram to publicise our posts. Blog posts allow for in-depth discussions and makes it easy to find older content. On the downside, longer posts may need editing (as all of ours do) and probably require a team to make it possible.
- Podcast/Youtube — the most time-consuming in terms of filming and editing, and most expensive in terms for technology required. However, podcasts and YouTube allow for authentic conversations between people and in depth discussions. I’ve only ever seen YouTube channels as personal platforms in sewing, but I think an interview format channel could be really powerful.
Do you need a team?
Many hands make light work, but also take a lot of organising! Sewcialists takes a team of about 20 incredible volunteers to run, plus all of our guest editors. With that team we manage to post 3 copy-edited blog posts per week, handle emails, Instagram, plus host 4 theme months and have at least 50-75 guest authors per year. Back when I relaunched in in 2017, I did almost everything myself for 6 months because I wanted to set the tone and create the community I envisioned, but that workload was not sustainable for long.
Let’s look at some other examples, too. Curvy Sewing Collective has run for years with an volunteer editorial team ranging from 6 to 10 people. Sew Over 50 runs an Instagram community with a core of 2 permanent leaders and volunteer editors who “take over” the account for a day at a time. Both Black Makers Matter and the Asian Sewist Collective coalesced as a team effort in mere days after prompted by current events. They both have quite large teams of people volunteering their talents, with one or two leaders at the core. Sew Queer was a one-person account for years, but has grown a small team now that they are starting a blog. Fat Sewing Club is a one person Instagram account with a blog that posts from time to time with volunteer authors.
So what are the pros and cons of having a team? First a foremost, a team gives you a sounding board, new perspectives, individual talents, and someone to takeover when you need a break. For example, I’ve made incredible friends through the Sewcialists team, and we challenge and support each other. Flat out, Sewcialists would not exist without our team, and even though I’m the “Chief Sewcialist,” I end of being just a bit player in a team effort. When I spent a year recovering from a concussion, no one would have known from the outside, because the core team of Becky, Chloe, and Anne along with our temporary editors and copy-editors carried on seamlessly.
The cons? Well, the bigger your team, the less time you will spend actually doing the stuff that inspired you in the first place, and the more energy you’ll put into making sure your team is supported and organised. Of course, a team also means you have to pick the right people, and figure out what to do if your goals and styles are not aligned. Think about how you are going to train people, how often you’ll rotate your team, and how much you are willing to compromise.
Does your project cost money?
If so, who is going to pay? Some platforms are free, like Instagram, TikTok, and a basic blog. Right now I pay about $500/year for Sewcialists, including hosting and group subscriptions to some services we use. I decided from the beginning to fund that out of pocket because a) I have a decently paying Union job; b) I have no mental capacity for turning this into a charity or business; and c) I want our community to trust that we are not exploiting them. We’ve talked many times about asking readers to donate a few bucks towards costs, and I know you would support us, but any money would have to be taxed at 35% like the rest of my income. I wish we could commission paid pieces of writing from authors that we haven’t yet represented here, like Indigenous makers and folks who don’t speak English, but the logistics are prohibitive.
If you do need to cover costs though, there are a few ways I’ve seen work. You could sell merchandise, have a Patreon with tiered access, get sponsors, or ask your volunteer team to contribute to costs.
Have some ground rules ready.
What are you going to do when someone is fat-shamed or you get the dreaded “Can’t we keep sewing from being political?” comment? How are you going to handle racist micro-agressions or when a volunteer submits a post that doesn’t fall in line with your principles? I don’t think you have to have this all figured out at the beginning, but but it is worth thinking about. We send all of our guest authors our FAQ for Contributors, which gives guidance of inclusive language and quality photos. Last year we decided we needed out outline a policy for tackling racism in the comments section. I think that setting clear expectations for your new community gives you something concrete to fall back on when drama eventually happens.
Ok, ok, start already!
Enough with all this planning — you really just need to jump in and give it a go! Worst comes to worst, you pause, redirect, or end the project. It’s just a sewing community, and not life or death. I think most communities that I’m aware of started as an impulse that naturally found it’s own path. Do what you like, do what you know, and do what makes you excited!
We would love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below with your ideas for sewing communities that you would like to see started!
Gillian cofounded the Sewcialists in 2013 and also volunteered for two years as an Editor at the Curvy Sewing Collective. Right now Gillian is living her best life in stretchy clothes on the couch surrounded by cats and her husband. You can find her online at Craftingarainbow.com and @craftingarainbow on Instagram.