Small Business Ideas: Dressmaking


There is a wealth of small business ideas out there for the dedicated WAHM. If you are handy with a needle and enjoy sewing, becoming a dressmaker or tailor may be the right small business opportunity for you. Dressmakers fill an important role in fashion, bridging the gap between usually unattainable haute couture and ubiquitous prĂȘt-a-porter. Before you get started, sit down and read this guide to make sure this is the proper career for you.

Getting Started

To become a tailor or a dressmaker, you need some basic skills and equipment:

  • Analyze your sewing skills and determine what you do well. Decide what you might need to brush up on, and find out how to expand your education. There are dressmaking courses available online or through your local community college.
  • Are you expert at a particular part of sewing? Do you embroider or applique? Can you draft your own patterns? Decide what you can offer your customers that sets you apart from others in your field.
  • Take a look at your equipment. Most dressmakers need at least a sewing machine, a serger/overlock machine and a dressmaker's dummy to get started. Make sure your equipment is sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of professional jobs.


The median salary for a dressmaker in the United States is $20,500. However, salary is also dependent upon your area and level of expertise. Salaries are higher in metro areas; for example, the median salary in New York City is $33,000. Salaries are also higher for patternmakers, who earn around $30,000. Dressmakers employed by department stores or theatrical companies also command a higher salary, averaging $27,000 per year.

Building a Customer Base

Starting out as a dressmaker, you will need to work hard to advertise your services and find clients. The good news is, once you build a customer base, you will get repeat business and referrals from current clients. There is actually a lot of "word of mouth" advertising in a field like dressmaking, so it is worth your while to earn your customers' respect and trust. Here are some ideas for finding customers:

  • Partner with a bridal boutique, dry cleaning service or department store. Many local stores keep the names of tailors and dressmakers on hand and refer clients to you, or simply outsource the jobs directly to you.
  • Advertise your services on Craigslist or through your local community bulletin board; participate in your community's annual bridal showcase.
  • Create a few bespoke items for sale on eBay or Etsy.
  • Promote your services to local historical societies, museums, Renaissance Faires, SCA chapters or other societies that perform historical reenactments.
  • Offer your services to community and college theatrical and/or dance troupes.

Pros and Cons

Professional dressmaking is a challenging career. It requires good eyesight and manual dexterity, good communication skills and a love of fashion. It is a profession that depends upon pleasing the client, so it is crucial to work well with others and have courtesy and tact. On the other hand, it's also a career that nurtures your creativity and allows you to work with your hands.

Hopefully this guide has helped you decide if dressmaking is the right WAHM career option for you. It is a challenging, but often rewarding artistic career. Good luck!


Sarah Baker is a documentary filmmaker and writer currently living in New Bern, NC. Her first book, Lucky Stars: Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, will be published December 2009. Read more about her.

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