Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Where Women Create: Martha Pullen

Today we are going to take an inside look at 
Martha's Sewing Room!  She was featured in a recent issue of 
(The issue that Martha was in can be purchased here.)

Text from Martha's article:

From schoolteacher to college professor to entrepreneur, Martha Campbell Pullen, Ph.D.,  absolutely loves the business world! She thrives on hosting Martha’s Sewing Room on PBS, writing books (55 so far), teaching sewing, hosting events worldwide, writing weekly newsletters, leading Christian conferences, and Facebooking, blogging, and tweeting! A devout Christian, she gives total credit for her business to God, who happens to be the CEO. Martha lives in Huntsville, Alabama, with her husband, Joe Pullen, DMD; they have five grown children and 18 grandchildren. Her three passions are God, family, and business.

With the birth of our only daughter Joanna when I was 33 years old, I felt the need to sew once again, and it was overwhelming. I am what is known as a “re-tread” sewer — I loved to sew from childhood (age 5), quit for a number of years, and then plunged in a second time with all the enthusiasm I could muster. Out came my $150 circa-1965 sewing machine, and sewing happiness once again began to fill my heart. My sewing machine has always been the source of my Rembrandt paintings, and I desired to fill a museum. Recollecting my years as an English teacher, I think of two of my favorite authors, John Milton and William Wordsworth, who in their times each addressed the idea of loving to do what one loved as a child. In Paradise Regained, Milton wrote, “The childhood shows the man as morning shows the day.” About 100 years later, Wordsworth wrote in My Heart Leaps Up, “The Child is father of the Man.” Sewing was my first “hobby love” and it still is today.

My inspiration for much of the business, Martha Pullen Company, as well as the books I have written, has come from my love of Victorian clothing. Memories make me smile, and heirloom garments are a source of so many memories. Carefully sewn garments are saved and cherished so they create more than just memories of the moment; they hold those memories in each stitch passing them on to generations to come. My husband Joe says, “Martha, I think you have an unnatural attraction to white antique clothes.” I confess: I love antique Victorian clothing and everything else from this era.

On my first trip to England when Joanna was a toddler, I read in the tour guides about two flea markets: Burmondsey and Portobello Road. The books described Burmondsey in this manner: “Get there before 5 a.m. if you want to get the bargains. Dealers from all over Europe arrive about that time with their torches (flashlights) to get the good deals.” Taking this to heart, we arrived before 5 a.m., and found the dealers had not even unloaded their vans. While Joe shivered in the cold, drinking a cup of coffee and eating a jacket potato with baked beans on it, I began my quest. I fell in love with white baby clothes … and purchased a lot of them. Joe said, “Martha what on earth are you going to do with old baby clothes? These are too little for Joanna.”
I replied, “Enjoy them.” I bought more at Portobello Road. At that point, a sewing business had not entered my mind. These baby clothes had simply spoken to me, and I had to have them.

Sales and business in general were other great childhood interests. The journey from top salesman in the fifth grade magazine drive at Scottsboro Elementary School, to opening a dancing school at age 14, to figuring out how to meet John F. Kennedy when I was cheering for the University of Alabama at the Orange Bowl in 1963 (marketing in truest form), lined my path to sewing entrepreneurship. I had also done most of my research for my Ph.D. dissertation on educational management in the business library. Perhaps just being in that environment gave me courage, as opening a small retail smocking/heirloom shop was, in the words of Don Quixote, my “impossible dream.”

With God’s help, it happened for us — the shop; imported French, English, and Swiss fabrics and laces for wholesale; books; events worldwide; School of Art Fashion in Huntsville; Sew Beautiful magazine; a large eCommerce store; an email newsletter that reaches more than 40,000 people each week; Martha Pullen Licensed Teachers all over the world; and Martha’s Sewing Room (PBS series I have hosted for 17 years). Martha Pullen Company became a multimillion dollar business, and today we have the pleasure of being a subsidiary of F+W Media.

It looks like I’ve had a pretty easy go of it, doesn’t it? That is so far from the truth that it makes my head swim. I made no money for the first 10 years! Although I had written several bestselling books in the area of French machine sewing, any profit went right back to keep the business afloat. Joe sold retirement property twice to keep my business going. I was traveling all over the country and to Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand conducting workshops. And, Martha’s Sewing Room was airing in all 50 states! Thirteen shows had been translated into Japanese for Japanese Public Television.

What was the main problem? Why was I making no profit? I had no written plan — none in the beginning, none to plan expansion, and none to remedy problems. I was doing so many things that I had not analyzed what was financially sound and what was draining the profit right off the top. Once I identified this as the problem and was able to address it, Martha Pullen Company thrived.
To read more about my story, look for my newly revised book, Business Boots on the Ground: How a Schoolteacher Turned Her Hobby Into a Multi-Million Dollar Company. You, too, can build a hobby-based business.

Here is my now famous 3/30 Plan. Before you open your business:
  • Write your financial goal for one year.
  • Write three pages a day for 30 days about how you are going to achieve that goal. Do not organize; just write. Go to the library. Check out books. Browse the Internet, including IRS and SBA websites. Talk with as many people as possible. Network big time! Write down every dream or possibility you have held in your mind.
  • After writing 90 pages, go back and figure out what will work and what will not. Pull the best parts and forge ahead with your business dream. You are ready.
If you’re thinking, “Martha, I don’t want to write 90 pages. That is too much work,” then my reply will be, “You probably don’t really need to go into business.” In my experience, this amount of planning is the minimum you need to do. You don’t want to be like me and work for basically no profit for an entire decade even if you are able to stay in business that long. A hobby-based business can become a reality, but it takes a lot of planning, hard work, and prayer.

“For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
— Luke 1:37

*A big thank you to Where Women Create who allowed us to use this story and their generosity in donating the year subscription.  Photos by Jennifer & Company.

Comment below for a chance to win a 
1-year subscription to 
Where Women Create!  


  1. I found Martha's story and tips extremely inspiring. So successful yet so human. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. I have followed Martha's business ventures and beautiful work for years. I actually picked up an issue of Where Women Create at the grocery store a few months back and decided I didn't need to spend the extra money on a magazine that week. I would love to win a 1-year subscription! Thanks!

  3. Amazing what Faith and hard work can accomplish!! I have enjoyed Sew Beautiful from the beginning--you are such an inspiration, Martha!!

  4. Martha has been an inspiration to me for years, both as an entrepreneur, a mother, grandmother and spiritually. I loved getting to look at what inspires her and where she creates. Thank you for sharing.

    1. You are our winner! Please email your full name, mailing address & phone number to! Congrats!

    2. Hey Josi! Could you email me your info at I need your contact info! :) -Jessica

  5. I have loved Mrs. Martha's work for awhile now, and am glad to see her in one of my favorite magazines! I would love to win a subscription to it, as it is I hoard them carefully as I can only afford one copy each time. :)

  6. Great article about a wonderful and very hard working woman! She shows what determination can do for you!

  7. Wonderful story. Inspiring, uplifting and a reality check. Great information on business start up.
    Janice Goodwin

  8. Martha and Sew Beautiful are my inspiration in sewing. She will lift you up when you are down. She is an extraordinary person.

  9. I always enjoy reading things about Matha. She is an inspiration to so many and love to learn about heirloom sewing and see her wonderful collection of clothes.

    1. What is your name? Email address? In case you win.

  10. Have loved Sew Beautiful almost from the beginning and find Martha to be down-to earth and so kind-hearted, willing to share her successes, failures, joys and sorrows with any and all! Her magazine is inspiring and I cherish every issue. Keep it up, Martha!

  11. Ahhh Martha! Such a huge inspiration ... especially to those of us who have raised our children and now NEED to sew! I love looking at all of her amazing creations, and then looking at them again. So lovely!

  12. Wonderful -- Martha inspired me to purchase that issue! SueZ in MI

  13. Martha - you are a blessing to all those who have met you. This magazine is a great place to get ideas and inspiration to go and do bigger and better things. Keep up the good work. and God bless you.

  14. From the time I first saw "Martha's Sewing Room" on PBS, I became fascinated with her antique clothing segments. We had five little boys at the time who have now grown into men, but with all boys, it was really impractable to sew the beautiful garments I would have loved to make.

    Our first grandchild (yes, a boy) was born in 2010. I duplicated an outfit that his Daddy wore when he was six weeks old, dyed beautiful white linen and fine cotton lining to match the blue in the photo, then embroidered the front, and made our family's first heirloom garment.

    All the above was done because I read and collected as many Sew Beautiful Magazines I could get. Soon there will be a baby girl outfit from the remnants of linen fabric saved
    but dyed pink, of course.

    Oh, how I wish God would let us cherish the little ones so much longer, for they grow much too fast.

    Thank you Marth Pullen for giving and teaching.

    Linda Eaton, Bakersfield CA

  15. Such a wonderful story about faith in God and what He can do if we just let Him.

  16. Love this true southern lady! And love her magazine, schools, and online store. Couldn't imagine sewing without her!
    Lovely Christian woman.

  17. I enjoyed reading the history behind Martha's successful business - her dreams, hard work and sacrifice. I especially read with interest her advice about starting a business. Makes me think I'll give it a try!! Thanks so much for the opportunity.

  18. I have been an admirer of Martha from her early years and attended the second (and several others) School of Art Fashion in the blue house on Madison Street. I entered the contest to name Sew Beautiful magazine. I dressed my daughters and now grandsons in MP inspired clothing.

    I sew for others on a small scale; I would love to enlarge my reach. This article is a great help.

    Thank you, Martha!

  19. Martha is the reason I have happily been "re-treaded" back into sewing!!
    Kim Corliss

  20. Great article on a talented and gifted woman who continues to share so much of herself!

  21. What an inspiring story. I definitely want to read your book Boots on the Ground, I truly want to have a successful business. I've dreamed about it since I was in my teens. Believing I have what it takes and that I'm just a deserving has been the hardest hurdle for me. I love to read stories about women of faith becoming successful. It gives me hope that God has something wonderful planned for me.

  22. I have been so blessed by Sew Beautiful, and consequently Martha, as I have sewn for my children and now my grandchildren. Thank you for sharing your creativity with all of us.

  23. Martha's sharing of her walk with God has been an inspiration to me over the years.

  24. What an inspiration!