An interview with Nicky Vinti, founder of ‘Sew Enjoyable’, a business that teaches people how to sew.
Meet Nicky Vinti, the amazing, talented woman who taught me how to sew and the founder of ‘Sew Enjoyable’. I first met Nicky in 2014 when I enrolled in her beginners sewing class, based in St Albans, Hertfordshire. I remembered being daunted before my first class because I initially learnt how to sew in high school and my teacher often shouted at me, so I really didn’t enjoy it and promptly forgot the bulk of what I learnt; but meeting Nicky was like a breath of fresh air! She made me feel soooo comfortable and patiently taught me the basics. In just 2 hours I went from not even knowing how to thread a sewing machine to making my first cushion cover!!! I’ve been hooked on sewing since then. Nicky is an excellent seamstress! Her enjoyment of sewing and exceptional teaching skills has fostered the creativity of her students. She is also warm, kind and very humble – too humble in fact!
So if you are looking for an excellent sewing teacher and can get yourself to St Albans, look no further. Check out her website http://www.sewenjoyable.co.uk and read more about this inspiring woman below:
MSA: My readers will be interested to know about your background, so tell me where you are from and where you grew up?
Nicky: I was born in Sicily, then I came to the UK with my parents when I was 2 years old, this was back in the 60’s. We lived in Birmingham. My dad was a Tiler and made Terrazzo flooring, so he did all the floors for Tesco all over the country. My Mum was a seamstress (that’s where my sewing comes from), she initially tried a session in a sweat shop and lasted about 1 month there; she found it really stressful and decided that it was not for her. She then set up her own business, so people used to come to our house and she used to make very good clothes for them for virtually nothing; she hardly charged them anything. My memory of my mum was sitting at a sewing machine all day, and my house was always covered with bits of thread and peoples clothes. She always used to make me clothes from left over fabric that her customers didn’t want. I was the most weirdly dressed kid in Birmingham!
MSA: So did you have lots of clothes?
Nicky: I had a lot of clothes and they were very weird, because if you can imagine all sorts of people’s tastes in the 70’s, when lime green (which probably didn’t suit me at all) and colours like that were in fashion. In fact I recently met somebody who used to know me and she said you always used to wear such interesting clothes! (laughs)
MSA: I also read that you learned to sew from watching your mother?
Nicky: She taught me a lot and I took to it easily. I get it! Sewing that is. I’m not an excellent seamstress. I don’t do couture stuff, but I do enough to make something that looks OK. I’m wearing one of my dresses now. That’s my criteria – you shouldn’t know that it’s been made, it shouldn’t look lumpy.
MSA: So, I read on your website that you have been a teacher for 20 years. Tell me about your career path?
Nicky: I went to university in London and then I worked in London for a while in fashion retail. Then when I got married I did a teaching qualification; my husband and I were ready to have children and we didn’t fancy bringing them up where I lived at the time (i.e., Seven Sisters in London), we just felt it was so cramped and crowded. So we moved to St Albans and I got my first teaching job as a primary school teacher. So we have been here for 20 years. Then I had my children and began to work part time, and I also did ethnic minorities’ language support teaching part time. That led me on to doing adult English teaching in Luton, and I did that part-time as well. Following on from that, I stated doing family learning, which is teaching adults and children at the same time. It was really good fun; I enjoyed family learning and I was doing it up until last year actually, and then when my sewing business was taking off I stopped teaching.
MSA: What was your motivation to become a teacher?
Nicky: I knew I wasn’t cut out for retailing, and I thought: well I want to have a family, and teachers have long holidays, school finishes at 3pm, so what could go wrong with that? Well that was my initial thinking, and in those days teaching was almost like that, but obviously teaching is not like that these days; I started just when the national curriculum came in and teachers were being more controlled by the government. So teaching was becoming more scrutinised and the amount of time you actually spent at school just crept up and up and up over the years. Even though you had the long holidays it was really a time you need because teaching is really quite demanding and full on, and you need those breaks just to unwind and become sane again. That’s one of the reasons why I gave it up because I thought, I enjoy this but I really hate all the Ofsted business that goes on around it; everyone just gets so stressed about the whole thing and things get done because somebody is going to look at it, not because you want to do it properly. I think every job now is stressful and so many demands are made on people all the time.
MSA: What led you to create ‘Sew Enjoyable’ and what steps did you take to start teaching sewing?
Nicky: I was getting more and more dissatisfied with the teaching environment and the stress of it. So I was casting my eyes around to different things and then I read an article in a magazine about a woman, I think it was Lisa Comfort. There was a whole feature about her and how she set up a sewing café in London, I think it’s called ‘Sew over it’. So I was reading about her and she said she didn’t have any formal sewing training, but just always enjoyed sewing. I read about how she found her premises, set up the café and now runs her own business, and I thought: Wow! That’s a fantastic idea and what a wonderful thing to do! So I told my husband, who thought it might need a lot of investment, and then I told my friend who said that’s a really good idea, but don’t tell anyone, just keep it to yourself. So I thought that maybe I just might be right. I did a google search for sewing schools around St Albans and Hertfordshire and they were only a few, so I thought there might be a niche here.
I started looking at café’s with my friend’s encouragement. Then I told her that I was going to have my website up and running by January 2014. That gave me a deadline, and that’s when I started researching websites. I spent about a month setting up my website, then I started advertising. I began teaching sewing on the 25th of January 2014.
I found a church hall where the rent wasn’t too bad, so I had my first class there. I only had 2 customers for the first class, and I thought I can’t really afford to pay this rent and have 2 customers. So I asked them if they minded coming to my house the next week. It’s worked much better at home because sometimes I have a quite a few customers and sometimes I don’t have many at all. If I was good at marketing and if I had lots of people then it would be worth having a venue. But that puts an extra stress on you because you have all those overheads. But at my home I don’t have to worry about overhead costs. I haven’t put my prices up. I’m not here to fleece people, I want something that people could afford.
MSA: Where you scared when you started out? Did you make any mistakes?
Nicky: I was scared, but so excited though. It was really exciting! For my first session I had all my best tea cups out and cake.
I’ve made lots of mistakes! (laughs). I think I am getting better at steering people towards easier projects (laughs). Sometimes I still slip up because I miss something; sometimes I look at a pattern and think that it looks easy but in reality it turns out to be trickier than I think. I’ve also learnt to build in more time for certain projects, for example i’ve offered 3 sewing lessons in order to make a dress, but i’m actually going to change that on the website and make it 4 weeks, because rarely does anyone finish a dress in 3 weeks. Most people need a lot of adjustments something to fit, so that builds in an extra week. So, I’m learning as I go along.
MSA: Your teaching experience was one of the first things I noticed when I came for my first lesson with you, because some people have a lot of talent and knowledge but are unable to teach.
Nicky: When you teach you have to have learning objectives, aims and goals; and you should build an achievement into all of your lessons especially the beginner classes. I developed my classes to build in success so that everybody comes home with something reasonably made and that builds confidence.
MSA: How much time a week do you devote to Sew Enjoyable?
Nicky: I spend a fair bit of time in my week catching up with emails or researching the odd pattern. I also go to courses to learn techniques that I feel I need to brush up on for my own professional development. I start the first 2 hours of each morning emailing, and doing admin. Then once a month or so, I check my website to see if I need to do any updates, and then the rest of the time is my own. I sometimes like to make my own clothes in that time or do house work, or see friends.
On Tuesday mornings and evenings, I teach sewing in Redbourn with a lady who runs Le Crafty Frog, (she does Children’s birthday craft parties). Wednesday is my big day, I teach sewing all day (morning, afternoon and evening). Thursday mornings I’m free, then in the afternoon I run a children’s sewing class, and I have some sewing sessions on Friday. Sometimes I give private 1 to 1 sewing classes where I go to people’s houses or they come to mine, but this is on an ad hoc basis. Not one day goes by without Sew enjoyable. It does take the whole week.
MSA: Do you have other interests or hobbies?
Nicky: I like drawing and painting. Occasionally I go to West Dean on weekends; it’s country house near Chichester where Salvador Dali used to stay. So you do arts and crafts, drawing and painting classes all weekend.
MSA: That sounds like bliss – I think I need to go there! So what is the most rewarding thing about running Sew Enjoyable and the most challenging thing?
Nicky: The most rewarding thing is that I am in control, I set the dates and I am my own boss. No one is watching me to say ‘Oh, you did that wrong’ – I say that to myself! Also, I get to meet such lovely people; it’s pleasure to meet such a different variety of people. The most challenging aspect of Sew Enjoyable is stopping! Switching off and relaxing and not thinking about so and so’s dress, or what if it doesn’t fit? Another challenge is having sewing stuff around the house all the time. My husband often says, ‘where can I sit?’ It’s funny you turn into your mother!
MSA: What would you say to someone out there who has a passion for something but is scared to take that next step, be it taking a new class or starting a business?
Nicky: I would say just go for it! Go for it with caution and tread carefully. Go cautiously with the financial investment, and build up slowly. I am cautious; so I started with one sewing machine then I borrowed one from a friend and then eventually bought more as my business grew. I kept my overheads as low as possible. Do your research; check that you haven’t got a crowded market. Check that you are doing something unique and then go cautiously and start and try it. The worst thing that can happen is that you pack up in a few months’ time and you’ve made an experience and learnt something.
When I started I thought I may have no customers but I’ll give it a go and try it for a few months, I’ll put some leaflets out and see what happens. If it works it works, but if it doesn’t, well hey I’ll look for something else. You do your best and make it work.
MSA: What have you gained from starting and running sew enjoyable?
Nicky: It’s given me employment, it’s given me purpose, and it helps my self-esteem actually, because I’m doing something, having fun and I enjoy it; and it’s given me fulfilment. Being in a stressful teaching environment really affected my health, but I’m much more relaxed now.
MSA: So, any long term goals for ‘Sew Enjoyable’?
Nicky: I need to boost my marketing skills because that’s where I really fall down. Up until now I’ve relied on being the first page on google when people search for a sewing class in St Albans. I also need to boost the advertising of my Facebook page. I would love to have my own fabric shop/studio away from home – that would be my dream. I might consider crowdfunding as a way to raise money to do it.
● ● ● ●
So there you have it, some inspiration to anyone out there who has a passion and is thinking of turning it into a business. Also check out Sew Enjoyable on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sewenjoyable
● ● ● ●
P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe: insert your name & email below, then click the ‘subscribe’ button.