Vintage Sewing

“No, I will not hem your pants”

July 18, 2012

(inspired by this piece of awesomeness that I saw on the internets)

Do you guys have this problem? I sew quite a bit, for myself and for my daughters, and I have a sewing business making specialty items for which I am fairly well compensated (not a gazillionaire by any stretch – but I make enough to keep me in fabric and vintage patterns). Most people who know me socially know that I sew – which means that I am always fending off the Inevitable Question. Can you hem my pants for me? Can you make curtains for my great room windows? Can you copy this item that I saw online but for 1/3rd the price? Can you make me a dress for an event I’m attending next week?

Can I? Probably yes. Do I want to? NO.

Oftentimes, what is being asked of me is either something I don’t know how to do – I have no idea how to do most alterations – or something that just doesn’t interest me – I made curtains for my house and it bored me to tears, it was just one big rectangle after another. And I feel like oftentimes what people want is to have a professional job done by a non-professional for a third the price – but I know what my time is worth (having a sewing business has given me a lot more confidence in assigning a monetary value to my time) and it WOULDN’T be cheaper.

But these are (usually) my friends doing the asking, so I am too polite to tell them off – I usually mumble some excuse about being busy with current projects and then slink away. I have done custom sewing for friends, but only if it’s a project that interests ME. “Will you add sleeves to my sleeveless dress?” The answer is no, sorry, ask your dry-cleaner who they recommend. “Will you make me an authentic 1944 dress for my community theater group?” Will I?!

You bet your Victory Roll I will.

So I have sort of a compound question for you guys: Are you constantly fending off requests for sewing projects you really don’t want to do? Do you accept anyway – out of guilt or whatever – and then hate the project the whole time you’re doing it? Or do you say no and feel like a jerk? Is there a way to say no without feeling like a jerk? And when you sew for others, is a good way to let them know that you will be fairly compensated for your time even if they are a friend? Β Sometimes I feel like I ought to gather business cards for alteration and repair places and then just start handing them out…

And sorry for the rambly post! I do have two vintage dresses in the works – a 1956 and a ’61 – that I will share with you all as soon as I have photographs!

  1. I will not sew freebies for anyone except my boyfriend (and on my own terms – he knows better than to ask!!). This doesn’t stop people from requesting my services, although the majority of them suddenly change their mind when they realize 1. I don’t intend to do it for free; and 2. Labor is expensive (and I’m on the cheap end!).

    What really drives me crazy is when people keep begging me to do something for me and I refuse and they counter with “But it would be so easy! Really, so simple!” This never comes from someone who actually sews, btw – so, uh, if you don’t sew, how do you know it’s easy? And those people are always relentless until I finally give in. I charge them extra heh heh >:)

  2. Just the other day a friend of my mom’s was hinting pretty strongly that he’d like me to shorten some drapes because he and his wife have just moved into a house with smaller windows. Thank goodness I had the gumption to say the magic words: “I don’t do alterations.” Every seamstress should have this sentence memorized.

    For other unwanted sewing requests I favor Miss Manners recommended method of saying no: “I’m so sorry, but I’m afraid I can’t.” (And refusing to be drawn into discussions of why you can’t.) Which is basically what you’ve been doing when you mumble about being busy with current projects. You just have to get used to not feeling guilty about it.

  3. My mother-in-law is always bringing me half finished quilt tops that she found at a yard sale saying “I thought you might like to finish this for me”. We’re locked in an eternal battle of wills over it. I suspect she will win πŸ˜‰

    1. Ooh, passive-aggressive garbage like that just makes me SEETHE!

      What is she good at? I think every time she hands you a quilt top (or asks about one she’s already given you), you should retaliate with something else. “Oh, yes! That reminds me! I found this wonderful basket/book/knitting pattern/piece of jewelry that just needs a little fix, and I immediately thought of you!” Followed by a sweet, innocent smile.

    2. Why should she win? Sorry, I don’t ever let anyone foist projects on me that I don’t want.

      1) Tell her, point-blank, that you don’t have time and please not to bring you any more.

      2) If she does–because I’m sure she will–put them in a box and ignore them. You told her you didn’t have time: If she wants them finished, she can retrieve them and finish them herself.

  4. I used to get stuff like this all the time. I used to say yes, just to be nice, but the requests used up too much of my free time, so I decided to grow myself a backbone and say “I don’t sew for other people. Sorry.” If they still ask, I send them to friends who *do* like to sew for other people (for a fee). And if they still ask I say “buy a sewing machine, come over, and I’ll teach you basic sewing.” (for friends and family only, that is). Have only had one person take me up on that so far πŸ˜‰

    1. I do this too! I would much rather spend my precious time teaching someone to sew than just doing it for them. And, you’re totally right, hardly anyone ever takes me up on the offer. But it always makes them realize that I don’t just wave a magic wand and things get sewn up. Sewing takes work, and I’m only willing to do it on my own terms.

    2. At a ladies breakfast recently a new acquaintance found out I sew. So she blurts out that she used to have a sewing machine but she gave it away. But she wants to sew again so she’ll probably buy another one and then “you can teach me!” Like how to thread it. (uh, that’s in the manual) And she does know how to sew (using her hand motions to illustrate running fabric under the presser foot). Now, mind you, this is the second time I have encountered her at a church function. I mumbled something about me not being a great teacher. She didn’t ask she just declared that I would teach her. Sorry kiddo I got more projects on my plate than I have hairs on my head! Thankfully someone else at the table reminded her that Jo-Ann Fabrics does have classes to teach one how to sew. I’m thankful that person was at the breakfast table!

  5. Allllll the time, I am getting asked stuff like this! I used to feel obligated to say yes, and I can’t TELL you how many completely annoying things I’ve done – and never been paid for any of it, because of course, sewing is easy and fast, so should be cheap or even free, right? *rolls eyes sarcastically* I guess this is what comes of removing home economics from public schools; now nobody has any experience with sewing and has no clue what goes in to it! Lately, I’ve become better at saying no, and most of the time, I just say something like, I’m sorry, I’m so busy with work, and then in my free time, I’m trying to get my own projects done for their assorted deadlines. (I do historic costuming, and my “deadlines” are usually upcoming events). This usually seems to work! Nowadays, the only time I say yes to any sewing for someone else, is if someone is planning to sew something themselves and just is looking for a little guidance. I feel better about using my precious free time for that because I feel like I’m spreading the love for sewing, and that makes it worth it! πŸ™‚

  6. I like to use the “don’t do alterations” for alteration requests. If it’s for new sewing, I either say “I don’t sew for other people” or “I don’t take sewing orders” (because I do occasionally make surprise garments for very special people) or mention an hourly rate for which I might consider it – never less than $25 an hour though (the less I like a person the higher the hourly rate), to be charged for washing, pressing and prepping the fabric, cutting the pattern, adjusting to the person’s measurements, cutting, serging, sewing, finishing. Not including the cost to the person of fabric, pattern, interfacing, notions, thread. By the time I’m through the person gives up and never asks me again, which is what I wanted in the first place. Oh, and if I do take on a job my other condition is NO deadline.

    1. How did you come up with the $25 figure? Is that what a professional with a storefront charges? (Of course, they have much higher business expenses as well… industrial machine, rent on a space, insurance, etc.) Or did you just pick a number out of thin air that you thought would be high enough to scare most people away? πŸ˜‰

      1. Actually it was partly an article on the subject from Sewaholic, and it’s also about what I get paid for my secular job, which is less challenging than sewing in many ways (I might be too much of a perfectionist with my sewing, but I like to be proud of what I’ve made). Also I figure it is high enough that it scares people off especially when I start listing how long each stage takes, for example 3 hours at least to redraw the pattern to the person’s measurements, 2 or 3 hours to cut, more if there is fabric pattern to match, etc. etc. If you’re looking at $300 for a lined summer dress you think twice about it. That being said, I do have an order from one person for two dresses right now, with a hypothetical deadline of “anytime in the next three years”. If you’re desperate for an outfit that fits you properly… πŸ™‚

    2. I’m interested in how you came up with that figure as well! Is that what people charge where you live?? Good job on making it worth your time! People really don’t have any idea what they are asking when it comes to this stuff!

      1. It’s true that people have no idea and my biggest pet peeve is when non-sewers tell me how simple what they’re asking would be! That’s why I list each stage and how many hours it will take me.

  7. I have a system that works pretty well for me. I WILL hem your pants (if I like you a lot) but the rule of my sewing room is – nothing gets left behind. You can’t drop off your pants for me to fix in my spare time (I have a 15 month old son, like I have spare time). You have to be present while I’m doing it – keep me company! This might mean you are in my house playing with/babysitting my son, but you can’t go do your own thing while I’m working on something for you. This is my rule and it works. People who don’t have time to sit and wait for me to hem their pants will finally realize how much time it takes and how, no, I don’t really have the time either. Sometimes, someone will take me up on it and we end up having a nice visit. So, if you can’t spend the time keeping me company… how do you think I have time to sew for you?

    Hope this helps!

  8. Well, I say no, and it doesn’t keep me from sleeping like a baby! (I had to learn how to refuse, without feeling guilty, but the hardest time is the first!)
    Actually, I accept “trades”, one skill against another, that’s fair this way, but only if what I’m supposed to sew is motivating, certainly not hems or curtains!

  9. I should add, on ONE occasion did I actually willingly hem someone’s pants! Mostly as a favor. I won’t do it for just anyone. Even my husband has to butter me up with chocolate or a really good cheese before I will sew his buttons on. (I always point out that since he served an LDS mission, he SHOULD know how to sew them on himself!)

  10. This is a tough one! You have to be able to say, NO. Everyone who posted already has great suggestions on how to do this politely. I used to do alterations and still do for a few friends but everyone knows that I get paid to do it.
    When I get asked what I am doing I make sure to tell people that I am sewing stuff for my online store and getting ready to teach sewing classes. In my experience the ones who whine the most are the ones who won’t pay you and will be a headache to work with. My friends have always offered to pay me! Hang in there and firmly say no, I no longer do that. πŸ˜€

  11. Oh goodness! I absolutely hate when people ask that! I’ve had people ask me to design aprons for their clothing line, so I wouldn’t get any credit. Someone else asked me to draft patterns/sew the clothes for their clothing line, for free :O It’s awful! I was really offended especially at the last one. I just flat out told them that it was not enough money. As for other quick tasks like hemming and what not, I usually accept because they end up paying me more than they would at the dry cleaners. That, and I’m just a broke college kid. It just irritates me when people I don’t know ask for big crazy projects for free or don’t even want to pay for the material.

  12. This is the story of my life. I sew for a living. Mostly for film and television. I also so custom costume work ( I live in New Orleans. People Costume with a capital C here) and run a small side business making vintage repro hats, aprons, lingerie. And inevitably I do alterations. It is often part of my work. It is boring. And NOBODY has a standard body type so my friends do come knocking. Often. Because I do this for a living they know that financial compensation or trade is a must. Which is good. But sometimes there are those projects that are so annoying I can’t bring myself to do them. One should not feel guilty about it. A firm no, as stated above should be explanation enough. I often let people know when and if I am unavailable for alterations or custom work. If you feel that is too direct the “I’m really swamped with work.” line should do the trick. And the $25 an hour is a pretty standard industry fee. I use it and it scares off the cheap skates. But unless you are getting paid really well (and that is compensation enough for you) you should never take on work that makes you unhappy. Ever.

  13. I wonder how much of this is due to the fact that sewing is seen as a feminine occupation, and therefore has less value. Would you walk into a tailor’s and say “I want a totally custom made suit, and I’m only going to pay you $50 for it, including materials, because I can get a suit at the Men’s Wearhouse for $100”? Probably not. But tailoring is a ‘masculine’ pursuit whereas sewing is ‘women’s work.’ And the term ‘bespoke tailoring’ in popular culture conjures up an image of swank, of old money and polished wood… whereas ‘home sewing’ usually leads (unfairly) to images that are much less pretty!

    1. Joni – Thanks for taking a look at my costumes. And The gender bias is something I have given much thought to over the years. Professional sewing is a female and immigrant dominated field. Therefor the pay scale is considerably less out there in the real world. Unfair, but true. For years I couldn’t understand why I made so much less for my skilled trade than my friends who were, say, welders or carpenters (and mostly men). It wasn’t until I joined the Union that I consistently get paid what I believe my time is worth. But the work I do at home is no less professional than what I do on gigs. And I have met some home stitchers that just “tinker around” that totally blow my mind with their work (quite a few here!). I try and change the image “home sewing” with every client I have.

      1. Once on a reality show about fashion design (I’m not sure I can mention the name here…) they host was examining an article of clothing and said it was too “Becky Home Ecky.” Well, I about fell off my chair, since my name is Becky and I majored in Home Ec in college. It is true, that people have a dim view of “home sewing”… until they see what you can do, but then they still don’t want to pay for it because they can get something for so much less (not unique, of course, but something.)

  14. When I was younger (17) I was enlisted to sew two dresses for my friend, one for her graduation and one for her prom. Her mom agreed on $100 for each dress. I spent a lot on gas going back and forth to her. The quality was excellent. I gave them the dresses and four months went by, no payment. Eventually a check came for $50. After that I decided I would never sew for anyone again unless I got the money up front. I will never work for $1 an hour again.

    1. That makes me sad, that your mom thought it was okay to screw you over like that! Do you think that it was because you were young, you were a friend, or both?

      One of the things I have learned about custom sewing… get everything in writing, and ask for a deposit up front! Of course, you probably wouldn’t have felt brave enough to ask something like that when you were 17… which is why it was easy for your friend’s mom to take advantage of you.

  15. Oh Joni, you are absolutely hilarious!!! This is probably the best written article on the subject I’ve read. You really summed it up!

    So realistic it’s scary – this spring an old friend phoned, “Well, I’m the mother of the groom this weekend, and I leave for the wedding in three days, but the outfit I’m trying to make for myself isn’t turning out and I can’t really describe what it is I want. I had this picture in my head, so could you come over and sew it for me?”

    To these sorts of things I just have to say, “Oh, I would love to help, but my sewing schedule is so busy right now that I don’t think I would have the time to make something so important for you right now.”

    In general, no I do NOT do alterations or sew custom dresses for anybody I know, unless they are very good friends have a very simple project. Will I hem someone’s skirt for them? Yes! (I just did one yesterday in fact.) Will I sew that same dress for a cruise they are going on in two weeks? No. : )

    Sewing for me is a way to relax (for the most part), and while I design patterns professionally and sew dozens of garments a year, I do not want my business & hobby to turn into an alterations establishment! When something is stressful it takes the joy out of sewing and makes me wish I had never learned to sew in the first place!

    The only times I will take on big projects such as wedding dresses is for a very very dear relative or friend. In February 2012 I sewed my sister-in-law’s wedding dress overnight, and my best friend who is soon to be engaged has made me promise to design her wedding dress for years.

    But unless it’s enjoyable, I say, “No thanks!” What’s the point of turning something so fun into a burden that you can’t get away from?

  16. Hah! I type this as I wait on someone to come by for a fitting because my best friend got me to agree to making five bridesmaids dresses for her wedding in October. She doesn’t sew, so she thinks doing things like having every bridesmaid have a different color of their choosing is not a big deal. Oh, and one of the bridesmaids recently discovered that she’ll be about five months pregnant at the time of the wedding…

    I love making custom dresses for people, but I wish people understood that just because I know you I am not at your beck and call. You cannot go thrift shopping and expect me to alter (for free or even for cheap) your entire pile of “could work if…”. Yes, that’s happened. That just uses up my precious time that I’d rather be working on creative endeavors of my own.

    1. I feel your pain about the bridesmaid dresses. As a wedding gift I chose to make bridesmaid dresses for my friend. She had three bridesmaids, but one was in another province so I only had to make two. ONLY.
      One bridesmaid was pregnant and her due date was two weeks before the wedding. TWO WEEKS. I fit her at five months and told her the baby couldn’t be late and if necessary, to wear two pairs of control top pantyhose (the days before Spanx). That was the EASY dress.
      The other bridesmaid KEPT LOSING weight. From first measurements to first fitting – 10lbs. First fitting to second – 15 lbs. Second to last fitting – 7lbs! Not only that she was extremely busty and I had to alter together two different sized dresses to fit “the girls” into the dress. Such a nightmare.
      I now have very strict rules concerning fittings…I charge extra for weight lost after final fittings that require another alteration.

      1. Yeah, two of the girls live out of town (one being the pregnant one). I had to put my foot down about things left and right. The bride (my best friend) means well, she is just one of those people that wants to please everyone (hence the different colors). I’m trembling because she had one of the girls that lives the farthest (4 hour drive) find her own fabric and mail it to me. I have my fingers crossed about what she found and is on it’s way to my house…. No one is allowed to lose weight!! Once the dress is made, you better pause your diet plan! Oi.

  17. I am a family and consumer science teacher (home economics), and heck yeah people ask me to do things for them. Usually prom dresses that need something, and then there was the coach in the next classroom who wanted buttons sewn on. I did it because there were not many. The best answer is, “I am too busy right now, but Mrs. _______does this stuff all the time. Her number is__________. This is what you do when you turn down anything—making cupcakes, or what ever–“No, I am_____________, but this is who you need to ask…” Good luck!

  18. People ask me to make them things all the time. I generally tell them I only sew for myself and simply don’t have time because of my job/s. Every once in a while, if it’s something easy enough I’ll say yes, but I give them a hefty enough price that they generally say never mind. I have made a few things on the cheap for one of my cousins but only because we are almost the exact same size so I knew she would be easy to fit, plus it’s hard for me to say no to family. It does get tiring people asking all the time though. I have a couple of friends who do alterations/custom dressmaking professionally and I usually end up sending the business their way if someone is really determined to have something fixed or made.

  19. I typically will only do small alterations like cuffing pants or the like and mending a split crotch. I always trade though bc usually the only people who ask me are my neighborhood lady friends (whom I don’t want to say no but do occasionally). I did a split crotch (a 5 mixture fix!) for three rolls of toilet paper (I was out right as she called) and I did pants buttons and another split crotch seam (designer pants are very cheaply made!) for a bottle of pino noir.

    Otherwise I say no, emphatically no. Then I tell them that I will teach them to make the very garment they want. That is most often met with an eye roll.

    1. If someone offered to show me how to make the garment I wanted when I asked if they could make it…you know…I’d jump at the chance and go yes please! That way if I wanted to make it again I’d only have material costs and not my labour.

      1. Right?! I have two sewing machines too on an old sewing desk so we could even sew next to each other. I would love some company when I sew. But, alas, to this date, no one has taken me up on it. I don’t understand why ppl think I have time to make them a dress but they don’t have time to stay and learn. I have a 4 year old and a 2 year old, c’mon, no time to even pee by myself.

        1. I would love a sewing partner too. I am the worst procrastinator and mother to a two year old so my productivity takes a hit as result. Ineed someone else around to say, “come on, lets get back to work!” When I am working away from home and have a sewing team under my reign, I love it. The company, the chitchat, even the silence under the hum of the machines interrupted by the occasional curse-words and the inevitable “can I borrow your seam-pick, please…” I’m a trader too, I’m not motivated enough by money (I don’t think any procrastinator possibly can be) but I do like interesting, non-fiscal deals…

  20. People don’t understand how expensive just the materials and patterns are! There were two people who I actually got as far as doing research on patterns/materials for. One wanted a dress similar to a 50s style dress she saw on a repro site. When I finally totaled it up, it was almost as much as the original and she was like “oh, I have to buy a bridesmaids dress for a wedding so I can’t afford that right now” and it’s been over a year and I’ve not heard a peep from her about the dress. And the other wanted a Renaissance tunic for a costume but she worked for at a Renaissance Faire and ended up being cheaper there than for me to make it. Now I just say no. I’m in grad school so that excuse usually works. It’s not worth all of the effort to give someone a quote to just have them get sticker shock.

    The only person I do sew for is my husband. I did sew him a monk costume, but it was very easy and I made him come with me to pick out (and pay for) the fabric up front. And I have mended a couple of his things but it takes while….I once had a tie of his in the mending pile for six months and it literally needed two stitches to tack down the little loop that holds the skinny side of the tie behind the wide side.

  21. Oh I’d much rather hem pants and make curtains! Easy, simple, and no-brainers. Take another CL job that I really shouldn’t have taken for next to no money? No. Costume another opera for free? No.

    I don’t see the big problem with hemming, and fixing, and home making. But that’s me! And if I pull the machine out for one of those things, I inevitably wind up going “hey I should totally make for myself…” πŸ˜€

  22. HEAVENS yes!! I am constantly being asked (mostly by my family) to do boring or complicated alterations and make curtains for every conceivable surface and etc. etc. etc. I have to keep reminding them that I’m a seamstress, not a tailor. And when other people find out I sew they expect, as you said, something professionally done by a non-professional for a third of the price (this is the most aggravating of all!). Most of the time I refuse. Another good option is to give them a sky-high price and watch their eyeballs pop out. I take on very few projects that I don’t like; mostly because I could use a bit of extra cash, or I’m helping out a friend, or my family has guilt-tripped me into doing it. XP But I don’t feel like a jerk for refusing most projects. It’s my time, and I choose what to do with it.

  23. My favourite is when people make it sound like they are doing you a favour: “Oh, I should let you sew my wedding dress!” Um, no thanks, please don’t. As a rule, I only sew for myself or family members. I always say, sorry, but I don’t sew professionally. Which is true!

    1. I love the “I should LET you do XX for me…” Or when people say “I’ve got a project for you!” in much the same way they’d say “I’ve got a cookie for you!” Thanks, but no thanks.

  24. Figuring out an hourly rate to charge for your time,

    Opportunity cost: This is the amount of money you are losing by doing this job when you could be making money doing something else – such as your normal job. For instance if you get paid $20/hour in your normal job then your opportunity cost is $20 – instead of sewing you could be doing more work…
    Depreciation or tool maintenance cost – How much would it cost you in tools and maintenance if you got this job. For instance if you are really serious about changing your needles every 8 hours then factor that in as a per hour cost. Will you charge for thread for each separate project or not – that might be figured out hourly. How much sewing oil do you go through? These are things that people might not think about – even a small amount in case you need to get your machine serviced in an emergency. You could also factor in a little gas to go to the store for any sewing supplies.

    Then if you are wanting to make a bit of money (technically) then you would have to put your markup on your product. Though to just recoup costs or break even you wouldn’t worry about it.
    This is a pretty basic way of breaking down how to figure out an hourly rate (I had to do this for chain maille jewellery so mine worked out a little differently) and I’m sure there is more advice out there.

    If you aren’t seriously considering doing this a lot then I would just charge out your hourly rate at work. Or better yet make something up – but make sure that you aren’t undercharging.

  25. Usually I don’t mind hemming pants (for friends). I work on a barter system with them. I hem your pants, you buy me a meal of my choosing. My husband thinks it’s amusing that my single male friends ask me ever so politely if I would hem/sew/fix something for them where my girlfriends are way more demanding. I will admit sewing for men is so much easier! I have two male clients who have a thing for 70s suits. It’s a RIOT!
    Thing that gets me is when someone asks me to make them something and they don’t like my rates ($20-30/hr). You’re requesting a custom made outfit (I do a lot of wedding/evening gowns) but think that it should cost less than the mass produced items in the stores. Those clients are ones I’m glad are scared away!

  26. There’s a folk song about that…’called will you patch my pants for me’. (the lady in question patches her husbands trousers with a hedgehog skin.,,,ouch).

    Fortunately I can’t do alterations in a proffessional way….hems are likely to be wonkey etc. so no one asks me. Although I have had a friend ask if I can make her a dress for her graduation in five years time. I don’t mind saying yes to that, I can cope with a 5 year deadline. lol

  27. I used to say yes to those requests, but now I just say I don’t have the time and not enough know-how, trying to explain that alterations is something completely different than starting from scratch. I learned after a friend asked me to alter her skirt: remove the elastic waist band, replace it with a zipper and narrow it while I was at it. Took me hours of work. She did ask me what she owed me, but being to shy to ask for money, I told her just the materials were fine. Somehow I had expected her not to accept that, but of course, she did. Oh yeah, and she never wore the altered skirt, she just didn’t feel like it anymore.

  28. I’m doing some alterations and other sewing jobs professionally. I often say no to things I don’t think will work or that I cant charge for in any reasonable way. I think the mass production of clothes is a problem. People come to the alterationist with clothes from H&M expecting that the work still will be cheap compared to the prize of the garment itself. From my experience working with a mass produced garment sometimes takes more time and skill. I have seen dresses fall apart when opening one seam… that is horror!

  29. No, but I get a lot of suggestions that I should do this as a side business. When Hell freezes over! One, I don’t have time; two, I don’t want to spoil it for myself by making it a job; three, there are too many things I want to make for myself–forget everyone else!

    There is no way I could charge enough to make it worth my while and still find a client base. People are too used to being able to buy a shirt for $15; they’re not going to fork over for what it would cost me to buy the fabric and put the time into sewing. Don’t get me started on dresses: The ones I make are adorable but the hourly rate to hand-baste rick-rack would put me out of business immediately. I’ll do basic stuff like shortening pants for my boyfriend, etc., but not involved projects.

  30. I’ve noticed that a lot of you have said something like, “No, I won’t make it for you but if you buy a sewing machine I’ll show you how to make it.” A I the only one who is NOT interested in giving sewing lessons either? All the fabric stores around here have sewing classes (but I think people ask me because they don’t want to pay the $$ that a professional instructor would charge). Honestly – I taught myself how to sew, it isn’t that hard!

    And thanks for the Selfish Seamstress link, or I should say NO thanks, because I’ve got to read her entire blog archive now.

    1. No, I wouldn’t give lessons either, what a headache! I don’t believe I should have to chase after someone else in order to do them a favor. What I do instead is offer up a list of books that I found helpful and recommend the person get them from the library (you’ll notice I didn’t offer to lend my own treasured tomes!). I used to feel bad/shy/guilty about it, but Selfish Seamstress changed my life too!

    2. I understand what you are saying, but it’s not always as easy to find a teacher as you would think. I’m a beginner myself, with no background experience (mother doesn’t sew, grandmother didn’t sew, etc.). I bought myself a sewing machine for Christmas, and it took me three months to track down someone to teach me. Even then, I couldn’t find anyone in my small(ish) town and have to make a 120 mile roundtrip every other week. It’s totally worth it, because I love it. But I do need a teacher. I’m amazingly clueless about things other people take for granted, because I have no background in this.

  31. I will repair pants for my boyfriend, but usually this is just resewing a seam or ironing on a patch (because if I’m not getting paid, I get to choose how it gets fixed). He’s always really nice about it and keeps me company while I work.
    If I have time to do projects for people I charge $30 an hour for repair and alterations, $30-60 an hour for design and pattern making, and a minimum of $150 +materials for any project (less if it’s really simple, but that it up to me). I’m good at what I do, charging less than my work is worth is an insult to myself and to my fellow seamstresses.
    That said, I’m happy to share my sewing space with my friends and provide advice for projects. There’s a lot to be said for hemming skirts together while watching bad movies.
    If I’m feeling bitchy I might just suggest reference material though.

  32. I work at a charity shop, so it’s more a case of “PLEASE let me mend that for you for free rather than just throwing it away” – which is what happened to clothes with any sort of damage, however repairable, until I came on the scene. Fortunately they now appreciate that I actually can do an ‘invisible’ mend on a lot of things with a bit of hand-sewing: it’s still a trade-off between my mending one garment and potentially processing twenty more in the same time from the endless pile of donations, though…

    And occasionally they actually come to me and say “can you mend this?” and I have to say no: they have no idea of what’s trivial damage (lacing a seam back up where the thread has broken) and what’s terminal (a jagged tear with no strength in the cloth that can’t be repaired invisibly – the essential criterion, as we can’t be seen to sell ‘mended’ clothes.)

  33. Love this site and this subject. I have an online children’s clothing store and monogram some of the clothing items i sell. I use a home embroidery machine – not the commercial one. Friends are constantly asking me if I can monogram bags, backpacks, lunch boxes, towels, shower curtains and everything I don’t do with my home machine! I have to say clothes only, people, come on. The flat bed machine CAN do these things but its more difficult than clothing. There have been times that I accept these items for the extra cash but seriously have cried over some of them! And it’s ridiculous how people want you to reconstruct/alter a garment for them because they think it’s so easy for me to do. I just say sorry I do not know how that is done.

  34. I say no more and more. I sew for a very close friend who is a singer and burlesque artist, which means that she knows how to value my work as well as her own and pays me accordingly. I sometimes do stuff for close friends, for a financial compensation or as an exchange of work, and sometimes for my lover, but he is actually putting some work into learning how to do his mendings and alterations for himself. He’s a peacock, he loves clothes and he doesn’t want to bother me with dull work he can’t afford to pay me for at the moment – I knew there was a reason I liked this guy…

  35. I had a few people “insisting” it’d be quick and they could pay me. Now I tell people I am happy to, but it is going at the END of my queue. I am currently sewing a few summer things for myself, then christmas sewing kicks in, then I’d like to make myself a coat, plus I have a few pillows I’ve already bought fabric for. In other words, I can sew, but you will wait 2 years. I also make them come with me to buy materials. I want you to see what all goes into this dress $50 for fabric, lining, thread, zipper, snaps and pattern is pretty expected, and you will have to pay me hourly on top of that.

  36. What a pertinent topic!

    I was actually visiting with a friend who was crocheting while I was finishing up a dress for myself and we got into the conversation topic of me sewing for others because she wants to learn to dart and I have offered to teach her but not do it for her. I basically told her at this point, based on my experience level and niche skills I’m completely priced out of the tailors market.

    The very next day a person who I didn’t know at all but was hanging out with my friends and I asked me to patch five (yes, five!) pairs of jeans for him. My friend quickly spoke up before I could say “no” and yelled “You can’t afford her!” It was hilarious, in that drunk friend sort of way. I had to backpedal and politely explain that I tend to work only on sewing for myself or things that come out of Christies barrels.

    I have sewn professionally on incredible objects and have several examples of my repair work in museums around the world and I’m at a point where once you go museum you can never go back. I tell them $40 an hour plus materials, which is more than what I made sewing professionally 8 hours a day but is a great benchmark and really sorts out who wants that level of sewing that I bring to something from people who think I’ll be cheaper for me to do it.

    I will say though, I’d sew just about anything for people I really truly love. I also take trades of art or if someone comes to me with a really phenomenal project (restoration/stabilization/storage/display of really old textiles) and truly can’t afford it I’ll help them out for the sake of the piece itself.

  37. What a great topic.

    Too many people have no personal experience with the time and dedication that goes into developing a skill like couture sewing. As a young mother, I paid for my daughter’s child care with money I earned sewing bridal’s. As a returning college student, I had the great opportunity to work in the theatre department sewing costumes. I learned so much from, Diane Lewis at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California. I paid for my college tuition with the money I earned, graduating with no debt, great new friends, and wicked new skills.

    Although I don’t regret a moment of doing this work for others, I like to think I have earned The right to say no to friends and families requests. I kindly say thanks for the compliment, and then excitedly tell them about my most complicated and elaborate project to date. After hearing about the period correct corsets from the 1900’s I drafted, and the beaded silk gowns that survived an entire theatre run without a tear, asking me to hem their pants becomes embarrassing for them….not me.

  38. I love this post, and the fact that you used my embroidery!! Being a crafty person and sewer myself I am constantly getting asked to make stuff for free. I usually say “Sure, but for a fee” (cheesy smile) I love making stuff for people who DONT ask, because they themselves are a sewer/artist/crafter who constantly gets asked the same thing. I like making stuff for people who Really want something from me, but are wise enough to know the time and effort I put into things doesn’t equal free.

  39. Very interesting post, this topic comes up from time to time and I always enjoy reading the commentary. My sister gets married next year; over a family lunch a couple of months ago, she mentions (in a slightly barbed manner) a “couple of friends” have asked “why, since [I] sew professionally, [I] am not making [her] wedding dress”. I quite coolly told her, “Because it would cost you far more than it will for you to go out and buy a dress from a store”. She didn’t pursue the topic but apparently my mother and older sister afterwards took her aside and said she was not to ask again, that my sewing was my income and therefore if she expected me to work for her, she had to pay the going rate everyone else pays. Yay for family!

    We did however negotiate on bridesmaid dresses too. I was willing to discount the cost as my gift so that she got exactly the dress and colour she wants and saved a little money. She categorically stated she didn’t want to pay as much as in the bridal shops, she would just pay for materials, not my time (she has FOUR bridesmaids, all very different sizes) and would “help out” towards my hotel costs for the event. I am going to make the dresses but her materials are going to be very, very expensive πŸ˜‰ My mother (who taught me to sew) has already offered to help, so actually it will be a nice mother-daughter family project for us.

    I am lucky with my friends, they all ask for a rate or are very honest and say “I can only afford Β£X and I totally understand if its a no…” I consider each request and barter on its own merit, if it interests me, if I really like this person, if the rewards are worthwhile… This year I’ve traded a small alteration for champers and a costume for a logo (from an independent professional designer) for my company (which I desperately need and was going to cost me a fair price otherwise). I’m quite altruistic, so I quite like trading skills instead of money, even if I take a hit on cost of my time (I always make sure material costs are covered). It won’t pay the bills, but it often saves money somewhere or gives me something I need/want. I’ve also been known to do the odd freebie or low rate for someone who has contacts I want and later “call in the favour” although that is always a risky strategy.

    What I have realised, in reading this and writing my reply though is there is one person who always gets my time for free. One of my closest friends who sews and so sewing is always part of our chatter. I’ve fitted her, sewn tricky areas for her, pinned hems, given her advice and so on, and not once has it ever crossed my mind that I could say to her “My rate is…”. We’re sewing buddies, we exchange ideas, fabrics, patterns, fitting and measurement sessions, she comes and helps me out when I’m overworked and has encouraged me in my career since the start. I love being able to help her in return, in whatever way I can – it all comes under the tab of “friendship”. I’m always happy to spend an hour discussing fitting woes over a cup of tea with her and I never think of it as “work” but leisure!

  40. My answer to people asking me to sew stuff for them is now, “Oh, I used to sew for other people but I don’t do that anymore.” When they ask why I ramble off about the first world public being too spoiled by the price of sweatshop products to really correctly estimate the amount of time and effort, cost of materials and equipment to understand what an item really costs… After that I ramble off about the economy, people’s loss of skills at home, custom work vs mass production, national debt, etc. until their ears bleed and they beg me to shut up promising they will never ask me to sew for them again.

  41. I came here searching this very topic. I’m constantly having to deny projects or turn people elsewhere to get something done (where it would be cheaper as well)…or I purposefully give a very big number that ‘would’ make it worth my time, but would more than likely turn said person away. I have a hard time saying “No”.

    Just today, my new house keeper saw all my sewing supplies, machines, books, patterns……and of course, me working on something. “Could you remove the lace applique on a dress my other client gave me?” “Maybe…it depends.” What it depends on is if it will be an easy job or not. If it means just unpicking a few stitches, sure. But, anything else, and I’ll need enough compensation or its “NO!”.

    I had a neighbor once across the street of a previous residence asking me to repair her children’s school clothing. “It won’t be perfect” I’d say. “I don’t care. How much would you charge?” “Let me see the project.” One time, it was a repair on about a one inch section of a shirt hem that took me about 15 minutes to do. I charged her $25 for it. I usually just come up with numbers off the top of my head depending on the project and how well I like/know the person.

    Then, there’s the multiple times people have said I should sell what I make. No! I don’t want to. I don’t feel I am good enough at it to sell what I make, I often conceal mistakes in the folds or behind buttons and lace, and I’m quite a sensitive person. People can be critical and I don’t want to put myself out there like that. Its tough when something we put ourselves into gets compared to a factory made item where different people and machines work specializing on one part of the garment making process and our work, all done by one single person at home, is not up to par.

    At the end of the day, however, I’d prefer to teach someone else how to sew and be there to guide them through making something themselves rather than making it myself. They’ll get what they want and learn a new skill. Of course, this isn’t free either. I do charge for my time and services. If I do have to say “No”, I’ll usually offer them a lesson. Most people don’t even want a lesson in my experience. They’d rather I make it for them.

    Sewing is a hobby for me. It’s not a business and I’m in no way perfect at it. However, I don’t mind making a bit of cash here and there when people are willing to pay. I consider myself intermediate when it comes to my skill level. I took Home Ec in H.S. and have been sewing and improving ever since. Sure, I studied fashion design. Sure, I can make most anything. But, it doesn’t mean I want to.

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