How I found my niche

The best niches come to be not by some artificial process of cutting away, but when two or more passions collide.

I published my first poem when I was eight, started sewing when I was seven, and have loved history for as long as I can remember. Because of the flexible home-education model my parents embraced, the passions began to meet and mix while I was still young. The year I turned twelve I started blogging and sewing for hire. By the time I was twenty a publisher hired me to make a custom victorian gown to be featured on the cover of their latest novel.

Back when I was a teen making things here and there for pay I didn’t know anything about marketing or how to turn this hobby into a real business. In hindsight I’m glad I was ignorant otherwise I might have taken advice like “niche down so people will notice you” and misapplied it. I would have thought that choosing a niche meant cutting out projects I loved simply because they didn’t fit into my artificially defined focus. Instead, through a natural process of trial and error I stumbled into my niche.

At first practicality caused me to focus on sewing everyday clothes, but when a friend’s mom hired me to make costumes for her daughters that matched their American girl dolls’ I discovered a new world. Once I finished those dresses and before I delivered them I tried one on—remember, I too was quite young at the time.

I thought I couldn’t justify making myself such a fun dress. Wasn’t I growing too old to play dress-up? Then again, looking at my almost too-grown-up self in that pretty colonial dress reminded me of Colonial Williamsburg and Plymouth Plantation, places where grown-ups dressed up in old-fashioned clothes.

Too many people learn to hate history in school because they’re told they have to learn it through memorizing names and dates. I learned to love history through stories. Whether it was a biography that my dad read aloud in the evenings, an old victorian novel my mom read to us at nap time, or a book I discovered on my own, history came alive to me as I experienced it through the stories of characters real or imagined.

And so, looking at myself wearing that dress in the mirror, I didn’t see a too-big-for-dress-up girl, I saw a young lady from yesteryear, a woman with an important place in history.

Living in the American Southwest meant minimal exposure to historical reenacting, but what little exposure I had I held on to. Over the next few years I outfitted myself and a few family members so that we could join a group in our state and participate in enough events to justify my newfound costuming hobby.

With sewing and historical research consuming so much of my time these became frequent topics on my blog. Still, I didn’t realize that this was a special niche I could become known for.

By the time I graduated high school my blog posts told a clear story: I had found a niche writing about the making clothes from bygone eras. I never stopped writing for the fun of composition, sewing for the fun of creating, or studying history for the fun of stories. These three came together, catching the eye of the owner of a publishing company and resulting in a dream project.

…but that story will have to wait until next week.

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