Friday, May 8, 2009

Do Sewing for Other People?

Occasionally I receive e-mail from readers about a variety of things as they relate to sewing. A few weeks ago Elaray asked me about sewing for other people and how do I manage the stress that comes with it?

Here's her note to me:


Your post, in which you described all of your responsibilities, made me think. You sew for other people, proms & weddings in particular, and you sew for yourself. The reason I give for not sewing for hire is sewing for someone else would be just another source of stress. Do you still find relaxation and joy in sewing for yourself? Is it less relaxing when you are sewing for hire? Are your clients too demanding because they are paying you? Obviously, if I think of clients as "too demanding". I don't have the personality to sew for profit! But, I am curious about how you can have the same activity for fun … and for profit. -- Elaray

My response:

Good afternoon Elaray,

You are absolutely right about the amount of stress related to sewing for others. The pressure is on each time I take a commission. If you are like me, you think about: are my skills good enough for pay? Will they be pleased with the results? Are the seams straight enough? Is the fit right? Can I finish on time? All of these questions enter my mine. To help combat some of the stress, I only take a few commissions. Most are regulars from church and work, a few family related clients. I'm very methodical in how I organize my client projects. At the beginning of the year, I gave notice to those interested telling them that I would only take a select number of jobs this year. After I reached my quota, I will not accept anymore. I discuss deadline dates, information about the garment to be made (occasion, style, etc.), pay and pattern(s). Because I need time to sew for me and DD.

When I sew for myself or DD, there is virtually no stress. It's the best. Some clients can be too demanding and very unpleasant. If a client is overly difficult, it's a one time deal. Sometimes, people want the "perfect look" that is not "perfect" for their body structure. Over the years, I have become very selective about what type of jobs I'm willing to take. Being careful not to stress myself too much. In that, I decline some projects. I will tell them, "I'm sorry that will require much more time and a higher skill set than I currently have. May I recommend: (I know a few people that sew and may be willing to do the job.)?"

I understand your statement about having the "personality" to sew for people. You have to a keen sense of "customer service". I love the interaction especially with young people. They are so creative and energetic in most cases. Often clients give me opportunities to try out a new technique and/or test my skills. That's good for me. Lately, I have been thinking about making some accessories to sell. People love the things that I crochet. I've also sewn a few scarves, purses, belts, etc., that people have begging me for. This approach to client sewing will totally eliminate stress. Because I can make up several items and sale them as is.

I hope this answers your questions. Thanks for asking. Please feel free to ask other questions. I think these are questions other people might have as well. ..,

How do you feel about sewing for other people?


  1. I tried the sewing for others for profit and I don't think it really works for me. Like you mentioned, I guess I just don't have the personality to sew for others. What I find most irritating is *most* people want a Neiman Marcus garment and only want to pay Wal-Mart prices. I've grown weary of trying to explain how much time goes into a custom made garment. People *think* that just because they are coming to you to knock-off a garment they saw in a store that they are getting a deal. Not always the case.

  2. Erica, never the case! Unless they are also getting Wall Mart quality, which neither of you produce. I have found that people do not value a sewers time or expertise. I don't sew for others, except for my dd. I don't know how you have the time Cenetta. You must be amazingly organized and have a ton more energy than I am or have. I just don't have the time and energy to both do my job, for which I get well paid,and to make clothing for people who aren't willing to pay what my time is worth. I already deal with crazy clients, why would I look for more!?

  3. I have wondered how you get everything done and you have a job also. I seen now how organized you are, but I also think you are a very good at what you do. That is why I started following your blog. You make lovely clothing. Thanks for sharing and I can't wait to see your next creation. I have not sewn garments for a many years and you motivate me to start again.

  4. I feel the same way you do. I think one of the biggest things is learning to say no to projects or clients that just are not worth any amount of money for the frustration it will cause. I have no problem doing as you do and saying, "I'd rather not do this project, but I know XYZ who could and specializes in this sort of thing." You know, like replacing zippers in fur and leather coats - um, no way, but there is a leather specialist around here.

  5. Elaray thanks for asking the question and Cennetta thanks for such a thoughtful, comprehensive answer. I have sewn for others in the past and the only parts I enjoyed were sewing for my daughter and young girls. Adults don't want to come for fittings and as Erica says want to pay Wal Mart prices. I'm looking for ways to supplement my retirement income in the future and will carefully consider your points Cennetta. Thanks again.

  6. I HATE IT..HATE IT..HATE IT..Did I mention that I absoltely HATE IT? LOL!!! I stopped sewing years ago because of the reasons Erica B. meantioned. I didn't know how to say no back then, so it was easier for me to say I no longer sew as opposed to no I don't want to sew for you.

  7. This was so interesting, thank you for posting this, Cennetta. I don't think I have the personality for it, and like Erica B. said, I'm not willing to go cheap :)) That said, if I had to supplement my income, adjustments could probably be made, although I'd probably quickly garner a reputation as the "Soup Nazi" of consignment sewing- my way or the highway LOL! I admire your organization skills and how you have managed to make this work for you.

  8. This is perhaps why you are one of the sewers I admire the most here in the blogging community. You work, you have a family, you sew for you, your loved ones, and clients? I tell you, you're good. :)

    Unfortunately not everyone is as appreciative of a custom made garment as they should be. The number of hours that go into it. All the materials required (it's not just fabrics and buttons and voila). The equipment... it's a lot.

    I have agreed to work on some items for two friends. But after that, that's it for me. I don't like the stress that's come with that.

    I do however, commend you for making it work for you. More people get to enjoy and cherish the fruits of your labor. :)


  9. I was just talking about this same topic yesterday with a lady I know that owns the fabric store in our town. Patternmaking and fashion design is her "thing" by degree and she does mostly custom work. I'm on the other side and much prefer to teach people how to create their own garments.

    One thing we both agreed on wholeheartedly--people want us to make something on the cheap. It just doesn't work that way. A secretary at the school just asked if I could make her daughter's dress for the semi-formal because she "...doesn't want to buy an $80 dress..." And I'm thinking, "Well, what do you think you're going to pay me??? $30 for a dress that is custom fitted?" I don't think so.

    Very few appreciate the time and skill. I would only give that price to one or two people that I'm really close to and think the world of.

    Yep, Erica B. said it right. A Neiman Marcus garment at a Walmart price. That's what the majority want. Nice thing is, we don't cater to the majority, do we? :)

  10. It's gratifying to see I'm not alone in my refusal to sew for other people. I laughed out loud when I read Kat's situation! ……make her daughter's dress for the semi-formal because she "...doesn't want to buy an $80 dress..."!!! Sure, I save money sewing, but I don't have to pay myself for my time and labor! A friend of mine wanted me to sew those dolls used to store plastic shopping bags so she could sell them. That sounded a little "third world sweat shop" to me and I politely, (well, maybe not so politely) said no. Most people know not to ask me anymore, but if someone does ask me to sew I will tell them sewing is a hobby for me and they would be happier with a professional.

  11. I'll add one more comment to this. My late fil used to charge at least double the usual cost for a project he didn't want. Then if he did get it, at least it would be worth his time.

  12. I work full time and sew for others. I don't pass out business cards anymore. All of my clients are referrals from past clients or repeat clients. I enjoy sewing for others. Of course I have had some difficult ones, but I am sort of strong willed and over the years I have learned not to let customers sway me when I know that what they want is not what they need! I am very frank and upfront with the at the initial meeting. I will not make "hoochie" dresses/gowns. I love to make wedding gowns and especially love o see my gown cascade down an isle. Because I work full time I only do one wedding a year. Two if they are small. But I haven't had a small wedding in ages. They usually range from 10-14 gowns including the flower girls. I also sew altar cloths for my church - St. Bernardines, Baltimore, MD. I don't sew for myself as much as I'd like to, but I'm working on that. I also am learning to charge what I am worth. That is what I find most of my friends who sew extremely well fall short in...pricing.
    Stop short changing yourselves. If they don't want to pay for quality, move on.

  13. I tried sewing for underprivileged girls{prom dresses }.I've never met more ungrateful and unreliable people than most of these girls.There were a couple of exceptions.Instead of feeling good about myself, I ended up feeling used and eventually gave it up.
    My problem in sewing for friends or relatives is that I think they will notice every little imperfection and it ends up being a stressful undertaking. So I just sew for myself and my DD.

  14. Cenetta, this was interesting to read, I sew for others too but only a few garments a year and also do some mending, I think it's very rewarding to see that what you've made, makes somebody happy.

    Yes people want to get things cheap, I have a co-worker who thinks she's in turkish market everytime she wants something done and I've made my mind not to sew anything for her. Currently I'm making four garments to a co-worker, maybe I'll blog about them when they are done, with her permisson of course, she's a very sweet person so there most propably won't be any problem with her saying no. There are three things that make me say no to a comission, one is the attitude of getting it cheap and the other two are lack of inspiration and time.

  15. OMG - this is a great post. I deal with this daily with my bridal & debutante gowns. I actually have to tell my clients that

  16. Well, that was interesting - I hit send before I knew what I was doing! Anyway, I have to tell my clients that they have to tell me what they want, cause I'm not a mind-reader. A sewing client is not at all even related to a store customer and I think that's where a lot of sewing clients get confused. A lot of them don't know what to expect, and when they come to me, I tell them flatly what I can do, what I can't do, and don't try and overwhelm them with too many ideas. Frankly, most women can't handle all the ideas, and they end up with a dress that has everything on it. The other thing is that I tell my clients how to build a clock when they ask what time it is....when they ask why my price is high, I tell them that they are paying for not only the time today, but the years of experience that I have and the expertise I have in dealing with fitting issues, fabric issues, and sometimes I even have to deal with personality issues. For the later, I always am prepared to add on an "harrassment fee". Of course the client doesn't know it, but after I've made my estimate and at the end when I hand them the bill, I explain that this or that took way longer because of the difficulty of the fabric, and had it not been for the delicate, hand-quality work, and expertise....well, you get the idea!!!

    You're right it takes a special person to be able to handle clients when they come in the door, cause you want to please them, at the same time, there is no way you can make a "perfect" dress (since it doesn't even exist, much less in stores).

    My most pleased and sincerest customers are those that are irregularly shaped. I've even had one who, when I quoted my price, told me I was way too expensive and that she couldn't afford that. I agreed and we parted, only to hear from her the following week, to hear her say that she heard I was really good. When I finished her dress and she wrote out the full amount in her check, I asked her if it was worth it, and she said every penny.

    This is the other thing that most American women don't realize - that clothes can actually fit - and what that fit is - and it isn't lycra! It's actual fit!

    Oh goodness - you hit a nerve here - great post and great answer to the question! Enjoy your blog.

  17. I don't sew for other because I don't want the stress. I use to sew for my girl friend when we were in college years ago. I made her weeding gown and the bridesmaids dresses 28 years ago. The reason I sewed for her was because even when I didn't feel that my skills were good enough she would always insist that it was. Because of her my sewing skills steadily improve. The best part of the deal was that I never felt any pressure when I sewed for her and she got a lot of nice clothes out of the deal. I moved to from New York to New Jersey and she did the same 15 years later. Unfortunately, she died 3-years later.
    Strange, somehow I totally forgot about the fact, until now. I am going to find photos of my friend’s wedding.
    Anyway, Cennetta, I believe you have a system that work for you because you are able to sew for a few select customers and sew for yourself and DD

  18. I usually don't sew for other people; I just value too much what I do, I guess... The exceptions are people whom I love a lot, of course... Making agarments for them is a gift of love :)



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