Who We Are: From Sewcialist to Fashion Designer

I’m a self-taught dressmaker. My training has been the university of “OMG, I have no idea what I’m doing,” online tutorials, YouTube, books from the library, pattern instructions, and Twitter chats. I’ve blogged a lot about my insecurities with being self-taught.


About 4 years ago, I found myself divorced, with no job, no career, no way to make money. I felt really, really lost. By the same token, I had my Sewcialists friends who I talked to every day. We weren’t online-only friends, but we didn’t live close to each other. I turned to them, and as I keep finding, they supported me. No matter what.

I started waiting tables, while sewing on the side, always calling myself a seamstress, a sewist, a hobbyist. I really enjoy putting clothes together and I didn’t want to come across as pretentious, especially since I didn’t have a degree in Fashion Design. (My undergrad is in Theater and Modern Dance, and I dropped out of two Masters programs!)

I got a job working for a local designer, and during the two years I worked for her, I realized I wanted to start my own business, and design my own dresses. While I worked for the designer, I made a costume here or there, and did some alterations, but I couldn’t really dig in because I was so consumed with making her business thrive.

I quit waiting tables in July 2015, and then I quit working for the designer in November 2016. I was scared. I was also thrilled with the idea of building a business with my personal thoughts on fit, body positivity, connection, and an attitude of service. It’s about fashion, but it’s not just about fashion. It’s about the people.

Then, there was this one project. I was asked to make Beatles costumes for a client’s kids, for their dad’s 40th birthday party.


That project gave me a confidence I’d never felt. I thought, “If I can do this, I can do anything” and I kept getting more clients. And more clients after that. I kept refining my thinking, and my sewing skills.



At some point last summer, Angela Leisure, a local photographer who does all my headshots, said, “You need to start calling yourself a Designer.” Angela knows me well. I didn’t question her and I changed all my social media, business card, and inner monologue to say: Designer. Shortly after that, and after I restructured things to create Curvy Custom Bride as a separate entity, instead of saying that I make evening wear or anything you want, I started saying, “I design bridal and red carpet.”

And I don’t apologize.

I’ve worked really hard to learn how to sew with all kinds of materials, how to fit different bodies, how to finish things so the insides are as pretty as the outsides, and how to stay grounded, always remembering that I started like many of us do… one wonky stitch in front of another.

In my many fits of nostalgia, I turn back to the very beginning of what we now call the Sewcialists — because in fact, I coined the term! I turn to it because it reminds me that I want connection. I want clients to get excited with me, the way Sewcialists get excited about Me Made May!

Would you like to hear how the Sewcialists all began? It was one tweet on February 13th, 2013…

Ladykatza tweeted to the world: I’ve been trying to come up with a name for sewists that tweet. Sewing twits just doesn’t sound right.

I replied: Social sewist? or does that just become Sewcialist?

@Ladykatza:OMG, I love that. I wanna be a Sewcialist.

@lbreton : It’s a new movement!

One tweet. One action. One thought.

Within a year, we’d started the Sewcialists blog and Firehose blog roll, had a logo competition, and started hosting theme months. The project continued for years, then faded for a while… until in April 2017, Gillian emailed Joost and I (co-founders), saying she’d decided to dust off the Sewcialists blog, do sewing challenges, and that we needed a place that was inclusive. I’m so thrilled by what the Sewcialists movement has become, and how many people it has connected!

There’s so much more to this story, but for now, I leave you with one thing. I want to encourage anyone wanting to make sewing their career to keep stitching, making mistakes (dig deep into my blog and you’ll see some serious flops that taught me a lot!), trying out new skills, and making connections.

Connection is everything.

32 thoughts on “Who We Are: From Sewcialist to Fashion Designer

  1. I love this Leila. You were one of the first people I followed (specifically because of your Star Trek costume) and I continue to love your posts and be inspired by your professional journey. Thank you for sharing this! ❤ ❤

  2. Your story is so inspiring I’m at a loss for words!

    (p.s. every sewist (home sewer) I knew as a child in the 60s and 70s was self taught, no internet, experience only and maybe a book. They sewed as well as a Tailor! Sometimes I think schooling kills creativity.)

  3. Your post really made my day. Doing something that you love takes a lot of courage and reading your story reminded me that good things happen when you listen to your heart and let it guide you along your path.

    Also, those Beatles costumes are AWESOME! Those kids look so cool! 😀

    1. Thank you so much! I completely agree with you on this. I always thought the whole follow your heart wasn’t possible. I was wrong. ♥️

  4. Leila! I adore you and I just love all of your custom dresses. Thank you for sharing so much and for encouraging us.

  5. Thank you for this article, this is incredibly inspiring! You are so talented and I love your work! I wanted so bad to go to a design college, but you’re right, you can really teach yourself, no loan, no money required, just your own time and labor! Angela was right about saying you should call yourself a designer, how true is that? The word designer speaks volumes! Thanks for the share, I really enjoyed reading! xoxo

    1. Thank you so much Diana! And thanks for sharing on Facebook. It’s important for us to remember that having a degree isn’t the end all, be all of knowledge. Where there’s a will there’s a way!

  6. Omg I love it! You give hope to an aspiring costume and wearable art designer who dropped out of fashion school to teach herself the things she wasn’t learning in school (which in costume and wearable art, is just about everything lol). 😘

  7. I loved reading this! I can definitely relate! It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who believes that you can be successful by teaching yourself. Best wishes to you and keep going! xoxo

    1. Thank you! And yes, you can definitely learn everything without traditional schooling. Keep in touch with the sewcialists. So much amazing talent online!

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