When I called Susan Leach — who is the owner and designer of Needle & Grain based here in Nashville — she was on a break from a shift at her “day job” at a women’s boutique downtown. Susan is in the stage where she works part-time during the week and supplements with her booming side business.
Needle and Grain is a sewing and woodcraft company that sells a variety of home goods — from quilts and blankets to wall décor and candles — all designed and handmade in Tennessee by Susan and her husband, Bryson.
Since taking their business online, Susan has been able to leave her full-time position as an elementary school teacher to put more time into Needle & Grain. She says she’s never been happier.
When I asked her when they knew Needle & Grain could be a real, successful business, I loved her response: “When our accountant couldn’t work our expenses to balance the income to zero anymore. We were actually making money and not having to spend it all on equipment and supplies.”
There is so much we can learn from the way Susan has taken her craft and turned it into something more. I hope you enjoy our conversation:
How did Needle & Grain come about?
When Bryson and I first got married, we couldn’t afford pretty furniture. So he started building the furniture for us! When he would go outside to build something, I felt the need to make something myself. I wasn’t completely sure what it was just yet. I was a teacher at the time, and I had the whole summer off to do whatever I wanted.
I eventually landed on quilting. I wanted to teach myself to quilt. My mom taught me how to sew when I was little – just the basics. She had a sewing machine my father had given her when they got married that she passed down to me. So I searched Pinterest for an easy quilt pattern, went to JoAnn’s to purchase some fabric, and began my new adventure. I was immediately hooked! I finished the first quilt in a week.
When I posted my first baby quilt on Facebook someone wanted to buy it. That’s when Needle & Grain began for me.
That’s amazing! I know of so many women that started in a similar way. What next steps did you take to grow your idea?
Because we wanted to build the company as a husband and wife team, Bryson came up with his own style of woodworking he likes to call “timberventions” (wood-based inventions). His products solve little problems in your home, like the magnetic bobby pin catcher to keep the vanity tidy. I’m sure your readers can see the need for that – women understand that bobby pins end up everywhere!
Seriously, bobby pins are like confetti in my house!
I know, right? We began with an Etsy shop because of the convenience. It’s awesome to have people search for an item and land on your shop. To this day, we still list our baby/kid items on Etsy because of that search bar.
After we’d been in business a while and grown our Instagram following, we wanted to streamline our look and create our own website. So last year, NeedleAndGrain.com was born.
Congratulations! Moving from Etsy to your own site is a big step. Now, let’s get real practical. What tools did you begin with and has that changed?
I started with an ordinary sewing machine, some pins, and measuring tape. I had to purchase fabric, a rotary cutter, a cutting mat, a quilting ruler, and something called a “quilting foot” for my sewing machine.
Bryson kept costs down by purchasing consumer level machinery and sourcing free wood. He took a class at a local arts college to learn more about building quality products. For him, as he acquired custom projects for clients, he would use the money from their orders to buy bigger machinery and tools.
For the first year, we spent most of our money acquiring the proper tools and materials. Our profit margins weren’t very impressive. But as we continued growing, the need for big purchases plateaued which means profits went up!
Since then, I’ve added a much larger cutting mat, a better rotary cutter, two nicer sewing machines, a proper desk for sewing, binding clips, and more.
It sounds like you’ve got a system that’s really working for you. Tell me about your weekly schedule. What does that look like in your business?
I work at the boutique Monday-Thursday, so on those days I’ll reply to e-mails and send invoices to our wholesale retailers early in the morning, before work. Then when I get home after 5PM I’ll use some time before dinner to sew smaller projects. After dinner, I’ll work on some bigger projects like the quilts. My Fridays are devoted entirely to Needle & Grain. That’s when I can really tackle major projects and fill many orders.
What advice do you wish you had back when you started, that you can pass along to my readers?
1) Get an accountant from the beginning. Our accountant has saved us time, money and headaches. (CW: Yes and amen!)
2) Be true to yourself on social media. Our followers want to see what our house really looks like when we are super busy and working non-stop. They don’t want to see some fictitious life they can never obtain. Be real. Be honest. (CW: So true!)
Update: Since my conversation with Susan last year, some exciting changes have taken place with Needle & Grain! They have moved into a larger space that they’re using for both retail and new classes—including workshops on floral design, sewing, weaving, and more! Also, Susan has been able to quit her part-time job at the boutique to work on the business full time. She and her husband Bryson have hired a team to help them run the shop, and they’ve been featured in Country Living Magazine’s list of the country’s 100 most creative people. Way to go, Susan and Bryson!