Business Secrets from Successful Sewpreneur Melissa Mortenson

Hello We All Sew fans! My name is Melissa Mortenson and I’m proud to be a BERNINA Brand Ambassador.  I am also the girl behind the Polka Dot Chair Blog, a published author and licensed fabric designer. Over the last few years I’ve been able to turn my sewing hobby into a business and today I’m going to share with you a few tips if you are an aspiring Sew-preneuer.




My very first book, “Project Teen: 21 Handmade Gifts Teens will Actually Love” was published last September and am giving away a signed copy to a lucky reader today.  Make sure you keep reading to the end to find out how to enter.

 Project Teen Book


I started blogging in 2008 and have tried a lot of different things to turn my hobby into a job. Some worked, many didn’t. I have to say that I have learned A LOT by trial and error and am still learning as I go.  There are a few things that I’ve learned that I think may help someone who wants to make a career from sewing.


Project Teen Book Project 

First up: Pick a Focus.

When I first began blogging I was writing sewing patterns and selling handmade tote bags.  I opened an Etsy shop and soon realized that I didn’t have the man power to keep up with both ventures. I made the decision to focus more on pattern writing and blogging instead of selling handmade goods.  I have a dear friend who also faced a similar dilemma and went the handmade goods route. We’ve both been able to stay busy and grow our businesses, and both learned it’s hard to do both. Pick what your best at and focus on that.

 Retro Travel Bag Sewing Pattern


Next: If you want it to be a viable business then treat it that way.

First of all ask yourself, is this a hobby or a business? If it’s a business, treat it that way. Even though I work at home I have set hours that I work. I keep my business expenses separate from our family finances and I try to interact with people and companies that I work with in a professional manner.


Honor commitments and meet deadlines

Even though I work at home and can set my own schedule, I’ve made it a priority to never miss a deadline.  I frequently work with companies and have projects and time lines worked out with them to turn in my work.  I don’t email them and ask for more time, or send something late.   Whether you are working with shops or selling goods, always do your best work and keep to the commitments you make.


Know when to say NO

This one took me a little while to realize. The largest amount of my time is spent creating content for my blog. I decided that as part of this I wanted to work with companies to create content for them.  As I started doing this I began receiving requests from companies that wanted to work with me. Many of which wanted to offer me little to no compensation. For a while I took the jobs in the hope that it would lead to something more. 9 times out of 10 it didn’t. Whatever your business is recognize your worth and don’t get overly excited and say yes to something that you probably should have said no to. Now I’m much more selective with the projects I take on. This has helped me to free up time to work on other projects, like writing books and designing fabric. I was never going to have time to do either one if I took every job that came my way.


Set goals

A few years ago I decided that I would like to try to write a book. I enjoy the design and writing process and it seemed only natural to me to extend that into writing a sewing book.  For years I would say “I’m going to write a book” then do nothing about it.  I think I was waiting for someone to email me with some fantastic offer to write a book for them. Well the offer never came.  I decided on New Years Day in 2013 that if it was going to happen it was going to be because I made it a goal and went after it.  I spent the month of January that year putting together a 65 page book proposal and then sent it off to a publisher. A couple of months later I heard back from them and spend the rest of 2013 writing and editing my book.  None of this would have happened had I not made it a goal that January to write that book proposal.


Dream a Little

If you had asked me a few years ago what my biggest “dream” was with regards to sewing, I would have said it was to have my own line of fabric. Assuming at the time that it would NEVER EVER happen.. it would just always be one of those “dreams”. Recently, after I had spent a great deal of time researching the industry and learning the skills I needed to design fabric, I pitched an idea to a fabric company and they liked it.   My first fabric line Derby Style releases this month, and it never would have happened had I not at least had that dream.  Be realistic with your goals but don’t be afraid to dream just a little bit.

 Derby Style Fabric by Melissa Mortenson

Bounce Back Quickly and Have a Thick Skin

I have been told “no” more times than I’ve been told “yes” when it comes to my sewing business.  Many times it may seem that everyone around you is having great success but not you. Know that behind the scenes that’s not the case.  There is a lot that you don’t see. When set backs come don’t let them keep you down for long. Take time to regroup and keep moving forward towards accomplishing your goals.



When I decided to pitch a book to be published I wanted to make sure that it was on a topic that I felt strongly about.  I have three teenagers and figured that would be a great place to start looking for inspiration.


Doesn’t it sometimes seem that when your kids are little there are a million things that you can sew for them, but then they start to grow up and you seem to run out of ideas. Well I wasn’t one that wanted to stop sewing for my kids as they became teens and tweens and I figured that I wasn’t alone in feeling that way.  My book “Project Teen” is full of handmade gift ideas to sew for the teens and tweens in your life. It’s also a great recourse of fun projects for a teen who loves to sew.

 I’m giving away a signed copy to a lucky reader. To enter just leave a comment on this post. 


The lucky winner is: Amy M., OR. Enjoy Melissa’s book!


Tell me:

Since it’s New Years and many people are setting goals (both business and personal) and making resolutions, what is your resolution this year? Or do you not make them at all? I’m curious what everyone’s thoughts are on the subject.


 Open to US residents only.


Here are a few additional photos of some of the projects in the book:


 Handmade Teen Quilt


Project Teen Project

  DIY Project Teen


Project Teen Project


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88 comments on “Business Secrets from Successful Sewpreneur Melissa Mortenson”

  • Thank you for this article. I usually don’t make many New Year’s resolutions but I am inspired to work toward my dream of having a sewing related business. Your book looks great!

  • I like to set goals to always strive towards. This year I am striving to sew more! making a goal of working on a project at least once a week. The bigger goal is to to apart of craft show and sell some baby bibs and other handmade items.

  • My resolution this year is to start going for a 10 min walk everyday. I am also trying to sew only from my stash, and not buy any new fabric unless I really “need” it. 🙂

  • What an inspirational post. Thank you. I personally love to set goals every year. It is a process for me to reflect and help prioritize where I want to spend time, not a process to beat myself up if I do not achieve a “resolution”, although I do try hard to focus and reach my goals.

    Your book sounds like great fun. And, as I love making what I consider #KidFriendlyProjects, it would be fun to learn projects of interest to teens/tweens.


  • What an inspirational post. Thank you. I personally love to set goals every year. It is a process for me to reflect and help prioritize where I want to spend time, not a process to beat myself up if I do not achieve a “resolution”, although I do try hard to focus and reach my goals.

    Your book sounds like great fun. And, as I love making what I consider KidFriendlyProjects, it would be fun to learn projects of interest to teens/tweens.


  • What an inspirational post. Thank you. I personally love to set goals every year. It is a process for me to reflect and help prioritize where I want to spend time, not a process to beat myself up if I do not achieve a “resolution”, although I do try hard to focus and reach my goals.

    Your book sounds like great fun.

  • My goal for the new year was to spend less money on things we really don’t need. I am challenging myself to see just how much I can ‘stash’ away each month and hopefully paying for a very nice vacation for our family as well as extra padding for the savings account!

  • I am always looking for fun, cute ideas for my nine granddaughters! They are getting bigger and like you, I have to think and look harder to find fun thins to sew for them. They love all the things I have made for them in the past. I would love the opportunity to have your new book for lots of fun, new ideas!! Thank you!!!

  • I have been wanting to teach my niece to sew & your book would be wonderful !!!!
    She is very interested in sewing & I’d love some great ideas to make with her .

  • I’d love a copy of your book to share with my tween granddaughter who I’m teaching to sew. I’m so pleased that she has an interest and happy to share my skills with her. Since she is from Kentucky I think your adorable Derby fabrics are going to be a must for a future project.

  • One resolution is to take more sewing classes. I recently purchased a Bernina 750 QE and am in the process of learning all about its many capabilities. On a personal note, I resolve to lose the 10 lbs I gained in 2014!

  • I have returned to sewing after retiring. I bought a new sewing machine and have been taking some classes. I am making a few quilts but also love to make bags and pouches. I am more of a crafted than quilter. I enjoyed your article. Your book should be a huge success-it’s hard to sew for teens.

  • I always make resolutions! This year I want to learn a bit more of Buddhist teachings and finish more quilts on my idea list. I’m also trying new kinds of projects like cosmetic bags and purses. I want to use more of my burgeoning scraps and of course, lose ten pounds! 😉

  • I don’t really make resolutions, but I do have a goal. This year my goal is to start my own quilt company selling and maybe designing quilts. Thanks for sharing your experiences. 🙂

  • Thank you, Melissa, for the thoughtful and insightful post. It almost felt as if your wrote it just for me! I am also a blogger ( and a pattern designer, selling my patterns and finished items in my Etsy shop, Curry Bungalow. I think that I am doing most of what you mentioned, as in treating my little “Bungalow Industry” as a business, always meeting deadlines and even saying NO from time to time. But my goals are a bit vague so I need to nail them down and make them happen.

    Best of luck to you with your new book. It looks like you have created fun and hip designs for those notoriously picky teens.

    Teri from Curry Bungalow

  • i never make resolutions. but this past year, in october, i promised to gain a skill with every quilt i make. so, i either take a class at my local quilting store, or download a class on line to gain one skill. i then incorporate that new skill in my current quilt. as a result, i have learned to free hand quilt, appliqué, etc. i am very interested in your book, & if i do not win one, i plan to purchase it. (i saw it on amazon) i have many teenage nieces & nephews who need some quilts. (or i need to make some for them, either way, it is a win win!)

  • I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions but decided this year that I need to make better dietary choices. I also set a goal to say no to doing all the odd sewing jobs for everyone who needs things mended, for free, and to learn new skills with my Bernina machines.

  • Your post is timely for me because I am working on my own sewing business. I have tried craft sales, selling at a few different venues, and on Etsy over the last three years. I haven’t put consistent effort in so my main goal this year is consistency. Like you said, setting a specific work time and doing some goal setting are two things I want to be better at. Love your fabric designs! I think my little girl will love it too!

  • Wonderful blog today Melissa! I too have always loved to sew fir my three girls when they were younger. Now that they range from 16 down to 12 years of age, I find myself bowing to name brand clothes. So I humbly continue to sew in the areas of bedroom accessories, technology cases, and hair utensil cases…I Love to try new things but find that time is not always on my side anymore! Great to hear your views on what you must do to carry on in the business of sewing..You are truly living a dream! I’m a Children’s Ministry Director at my church so I continue to be creative in ways that I can still sew for others. Would love to have a copy of your book!

  • Great article, Melissa! As the Grandmom of budding tweens and teens, I’ve run into the exact situation, your book sounds like just the inspiration I need! I generally don’t make resolutions, but when I have a project in mind I always set an end date. Thanks

  • I found you as I searched the internet and started reading your blog. It gave me a sense of direction. I really liked the one word challenge blog entry because I find myself all over the place with my sewing, quilting, crafting, and blogging. You name it! I’m trying it, so I decided that my word for this year would be COMPLETE. I want to complete everything that’s piling up in the corner and then decide what I really want to do. I told myself that I have to choose one or two things to focus on and make that my direction. After reading your blog today. It confirms what I’ve been telling myself all along. I try not to make new year resolutions because that fade away so easily. Instead I am setting goals; one at a time. Your blog has given me a direction; if I want to make what I do into a business for me.

  • I want to start my own business someday and this article provides great inspiration. Thanks! BTW…I also have a teen in the house. Thanks for the chance to win your book. 🙂

  • I just got my first sewing machine for Christmas this year so my goal is to take some sewing classes to get back into the swing of sewing. It’s been a LOT of years since I sewed on a machine. I’ve done some basic things and can’t believe how much I love sewing. Thanks for the great giveaway!

  • I have committed to working on my marriage and growing stronger as a person and as a couple. Also I’ve decided to work on me! To lose weight, find the positives, and just focus on my personal growth be it spiritual or in sewing!

  • Your story inspires me! I have a part time sewing business, 3 teenage daughters, AND i teach sewing at my local home school co-op. My girls and I sew projects frequently and I’d LOVE a copy of your book for my girls! Thanks for your post – I now have some fresh new ideas 🙂

  • My goal is to finally get my etsy shop up and running. I love to sew, and currently my favorite thing to do is make bags. You can add your own stamp with just the fabric selection, or adding/changing the original pattern. And, I like to experiment with designing my own. I’m not that good at that, yet..but I still keep trying. Thank you for the inspiration behind this blog post. I hope to put it to good use this year.

  • At my ago it seems foolish to set resolutions. Each day is a new day and I approach it like that. I would love to try some of the patterns in the book on my grandchildren. Love sewing all sorts of things from quilts, pillows, valences and clothes.

  • I too made a resolution this yr ( I hadn’t for many yrs) mine was to start my own sewing business! My goal is to have everything in place by Aug 1st. I thoroughly enjoyed your article. Can you or anyone suggest any other articles to assist me with this lofty goal

    Paula Hendrickson
    [email protected]

  • Melissa, you are such and inspiration to me! I feel like I am getting a late start, but my dreams are similar to yours. Still working on finding my specialty and working up the courage to do something with it! Love your book and have the perfect tween to sew for!

  • I admire you.
    This year I want to write another book.
    I am in the process of updating my Etsy account with baby quilts made on my Bernina 750 (what a dream machine).
    This year I will design fabric.
    And teach.
    Thank you for your inspirational message. I’d love to read your book. i will even pay for FedEx shipping!

  • My resolution for this year is to REALLY learn all of the aspects of Designer 7. My granddaughters are preteens and want to so (happily for me!), so I will be most interested in your book!

  • I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t see the point in making a resolution that will cause additional stress on myself. I just try to make the most out of the year and I try not to live with regrets. I find that life is too short for regrets.

  • I use to make resolutions, but always disappointed myself. This year I made none. But it’s never too late to set goals! Your article was inspirational and got me thinking. At 57 years young, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up…lol.

  • I have two teenage granddaughters that I love to make things for. Of course they love receiving quilts but they also like just about anything I’ve made by hand. Your book will make a wonderful addition to my library.

    I enjoyed and appreciated your comments and suggestions about creating a business. It is a dream of mine.

  • HI Melissa,
    My goal this year is to sew a project a week and use up my fabric stash. I have 4 granddaughters and 1 grandson that I love to sew for and I decided to sew as many projects for them as I can.
    Thank you for the inspiration!!

  • What a great post! My goal this year was to start a blog. However, something keeps stopping me. Your book is perfect. My kids are at that age now and finding a project is getting tricky! I love the new fabric, it is perfect! I’ve been looking at for a bit now.

  • Well what a great article I really enjoyed reading it! My goal this year it is get to know other people in the quilting industry. So, I am going to a retreat and plan to take a few classes to meet others face to face! Working on people skills. If I am chosen I want to give it to my teenage Niece, I gave her a sewing machine and she is looking for projects! Thanks!

  • My “hobby” also turned into a business. Your statement about remembering the “business” aspect is very true. It is so easy to just want to create and not attend to all the requirements necessary to keep your business viable. I plan on ordering your book for our store, are you with a distributor? We delight in teaching people to sew and your book will help them see what they can create for themselves. God created us and so it is only natural for us to create.

    • Thanks for the interest in the book! You can order it from the publisher C&T Publishing or I do believe that Checker and United Notions have it also!

  • Resolution: figure out where to store my sewing machine and supplies in our camper so that I can complete projects on a long trip. Take some of my UFOs and make them finished projects! My granddaughter is approaching her teen years and your book would be perfect for us to work on things together.

  • Wow….this hits it right on the head…very good tips and i hope you keep posting…would love to win but i guess…wouldn’t we all! Have a great day and keep up the great job…

  • You have provided great info! Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge.

    Our Goddaughter recently turned 16. Last year (2013) at the holidays we spent time together learning how to make pillowcases. For Christmas she made pillowcases for her parents, her brother and several friends. So for Christmas, I gave her a sewing machine if her own, a basic seeing book, some fabric and basic supplies. I would LOVE to be able to give her this book.

  • My goal this year is to make a memory quilt for each of my three children for Christmas. My husband passed away unexpectedly last summer and memory quilts will be a wonderful tribute to the love he had for his family. My plan is to incorporate some of his favorite sayings using embroidery and some of the bible verses from his service. I’ve also thought of capturing the process in a book and your article is encouraging. And maybe I’ll make four quilts – one for myself as well.

  • My goal for this year is balance between my sewing business and my home life. Your information on saying no is something i will heed, and valuing my work. Very cute fabric, congrats on your accomplishments.

  • Great advice for ANY home based business, Melissa! Congratulations on your recent successes. I think your book sounds great and I’ll be on the lookout for it even if I’m not the lucky winner. As for my goals for 2015? Well, I’m trying to be healthier, not to look better in a bikini but to better manage stress and anxiety (so YES to more exercise and NO to more caffeine). I’m also considering and researching some different sewing and quilting related career options. And I’m trying not to be so hard on myself about wanting everything to be perfect all the time!

  • I enjoy your inspiration in this article. I have had a dream of opening a sewing school. I really enjoy sharing my skills with others. Over the past few years I have been able to grow my business to where in another year or so I will have my sewing school opened.

  • My 2015 resolution is to to build an inventory of handmade items – enough to start selling them at local craft fairs and possibly etsy. So far, I’m doing pretty well – the only “problem” is that I keep giving things away as gifts (baby showers)! But I’m having so much fun sewing again!! Thank you for the oportunity to win your book!

  • thanks Melissa. I’m most interested in your fabric designs and how you went about researching the fabric industry. Did you contact the manufacturers and ask what they wanted to see, or did you use other sources, like other designers? Thanks again.

    • I know a few other fabric designers and would have casual conversations with them about their design process, but never got really specific. I had established a relationship with Riley Blake a few years ago by designing projects for their website. After a couple of years of working with them I asked if I could submit some designs. I didn’t ask them what they were looking for but thought that the idea for the fabric that I had matched their company “aesthetic” . There are many blog posts online written about fabric design as well as a few books, I really like Heather Ross fabric design book. I mostly just read a lot and processed the information as it came in. I hope that helps!

  • Thank you for the tips and give away. I don’t typically make New Year resolutions, as the goal setting is a year long continuous process. I love check lists! So jot down my dreams, desires, and lists of things to complete etc, then review and pick a few, work out the steps to accomplish, and add to my calendar….then just keep rolling the ones not done from month to month. For the new learning desires, I schedule a block of time specifically toward that goal. It helps to prioritize, and if something on my list starts to irritate me because it is still not done, I either drop it as unimportant or move it to the top of the priority and just do it so I can cross it off!

  • WOW! i have always wanted my own business in sewing. Seems like I might finally get a shot at it if it all pans out the way we are planning and I can become a stay at home mom. Your book would greatly help with my teens. I do make new year resolutions and try my best to stick to them. This year was to workout and eat healthier…so far so good.

  • I want to improve my skills at sewing in general, to learn what I enjoy best (dresses, bags, quilts, pillows…) and determine IF a sewing business is part of my future.

  • Thank you for the tips. I read and enjoy your blog and would love to have your book. I’ve recently started back sewing (after 30 years!) and am enjoying trying a variety of projects.

  • Have always wanted to have my own business. Would like to have a quilting store or a store with things I make or sewing related. With 2 granddaughters, I find I like to make things for them. Thanks for the ideas in your article. Gives me some ideas to go by.

  • Thank you Melissa for sharing and inspiring others to attain their goals. I do not have new year resolutions. For me, I learned a long time ago that it just seemed more logical to just establish objectives and get organized to tackle them one at a time. Over the past couple of years I have learned so much about what my 830 is capable of, more about machine embroidery, overcame the fear and intimidation of my 1300 MDC, quilted, and most of all I have discovered that mastering each of these areas takes a tremendous amount of time! I have 3 daughters and 4 granddaughters. My oldest grandaughter is 11, and you are right, there just is not ample apparel options out there and it is hard to know what kinds of things they like and what they will enjoy using! She took part in a sewing class last summer and made a beautiful quilt and a pillowcase! She is hooked!!! I can’t wait to explore your new book, and who knows, maybe she and I will be inspired to whip up one of your creations!
    PS There needs to be patterns just for serger apparel projects! I love my serger but want to use it for more clothes rather than so many home decor and craft projects. Thanks again and good luck!

  • I use to make to many,Now I make 2 ,One is to build my blog,,and two is Be Healthier,workout more,spending alot more time on my Yoga practice,and cooking healthier.Sound like more than one but,it really isn’t ,its all Healthier.
    I had recently finishing your “The Ruby Lou Bag”,I am making one for my granddaughter and a mini for her American doll,I love them ,a challenge for me Its my first purse,and The pattern is so pretty.lots of compliments .I have plenty of cousins to make for they are teenagers,Love to win your book.
    Thank you for the chance of the giveaway

  • I have just bought my first Bernina and am ready to start sewing away.

    One charity close to my heart are Foster Children. I think a book like this would give me ideas for the older foster kids to have items that they would want to have.

    I think your book would inspire me with projects that I can donate. I hope I win!

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