Custom Sewing – Strikes Dread into the Hearts of Many

Good grief. It all started with the word yes. Yes to a custom sewing job for a coworker. Now, I’m not saying that I dislike this coworker (quite the contrary) or that this project wasn’t a worthy one (it was a good challenge). I’m saying it’s me, not you and I’m so rotten when it comes to doling out my time for custom sewing. Man, I’m so bad.


It’s a classic story. One that involves a mother-of-the-groom, a bride with a very specific color scheme and no getting out of a full-on peach dress. Add in the drama that not a lot of options come in this color as far as evening wear is concerned and we have a recipe for custom sewing. Ah yes. I’ve heard this story before – a lot. Especially when I owned a fabric shop. There are days when I think it would be marvelous to start a business based around this very problem – oh and the fact that older women get the shaft when it comes to clothing (apparently the media and society think we’re all dead or should be after age 40).


This coworker asked me to do this dress and I do think it turned out pretty nice. She’s petite and she can definitely pull off this cute style – looks totally her! But I was strapped for time (my own fault) and this dress was cranked out over my Halloween weekend and it would be nice if I allowed myself time off when I have time off (again, my own damn fault – no fault of anyone else’s which is even worse!). Then again, it would be nice if my mouth could utter the word “no” with such sly cleverness that it felt like I was saying “yes” to the person I was talking to. Alas, such is the plight of the girl who just can’t say “no.”


There were things that made it worse too. After I said yes, I also said yes to chiffon, which is the overlay to the skirt portion of the dress. OK, actually I mentioned that the chiffon would be nice for texture (just call me dumb). Ugh. You know what I’m talking about. You know. If you’re thinking this dress and jacket look like a one trick pony, think again – it’s all polyester, which if I do say so myself, can be a bear to press. And I’ve never actually sewn a bolero jacket, which though not hard, is making me question a few of my construction choices right now.


It reminded me that when you sew, you do a lot of work. If you’re sewing for yourself right now, you’re probably forgetting that:

  • You had to select a style, which involved getting a pattern from somewhere
  • You had to select the fabric, which involved getting the fabric from somewhere
  • You needed notions for your project – thread, zipper, buttons, interfacing, again, all those coming from somewhere
  • You probably did a muslin/test garment to see where the fitting problems were
  • Then you had to fix your pattern, do fitting adjustments
  • Somewhere in here, you probably pre-treated your fabric
  • Next was cutting – which can be a two hour ordeal depending on the project
  • Construction takes a good long time, especially when you have to figure out how your going to line this or that and all of this requires forethought, experience and sometimes pattern manipulation and making new pattern pieces
  • Remember why you bought that serger? Not just to look pretty, that’s for sure, to say nothing of the investment of both a serger and a decent sewing machine. PS ~ serger threads aren’t cheap
  • Let’s not forget pressing with a decent iron as we go
  • Oh and pressing tools. Oh my! Let’s see, tailor’s ham, seam roll, clapper, sleeve board, tailor board were all used in the making of this garment
  • Fitting as you sew – I know it’s weird but the muslin doesn’t fix everything!

Seems like an awful lot to me. I mean, when the project is for me, I LOVE it and it’s so satisfying. And even when it’s for loved ones – and I picked the pattern and fabric because well, I’m picky – then I love that too. But this was different. I’m glad this turned out well, I was paid and I’m so happy she liked it (yay!) but I have to admit, it’s hard to dole out my time for this. I think my own personal frustration is that I completely forgot how much time it takes to sew this type of project, especially when you’re keeping track of all the hours and I never do that when I sew for myself. Additionally, I have a hard time sewing items that don’t have a likelihood of being worn more than once, twice or even a dozen times. I’m kind of hard core about constructing clothes you can wear in the everyday – it’s like my daily mantra. There’s also the worry that the customer won’t end up liking the end result, even though they picked everything and you just made it up for them. Or even the fitting – I mean after the muslin I try on as I go and pin out here and there and I don’t have the luxury of doing that when it’s custom. Gosh, so much anxiety here! Just call me a ball of nerves.


I think the word no will start coming a lot easier and that part where I tell everyone I sew will start getting a lot quieter. What about you? Do you like custom sewing? How do you stomach it? How do you say no? I know there are lots of sewing enthusiasts out there who love custom. Are you one of them? Why do you like it?

Credits: Duchess Satin, Chiffon & Stretch Lining; BurdaStyle 7798 for the dress and Vogue 8957 for the jacket.


59 thoughts on “Custom Sewing – Strikes Dread into the Hearts of Many

  1. Charge by the hour, and demand a retainter up front. Say $500, plus materials; balance will be refunded upon completion of the dress. Charging people what things actually cost generally gets them to go away very quickly. (I learned this trick from a lawyer. It works great when people at parties ask you for free legal advice.)

  2. I do not like customer sewing. My neice thinks I’m going to make her wedding dress. She is getting engaged soon and I’ve been running over in my head how I am going to, firmly, say “NO”. She’s mentioned this to me in the past and when I’ve said no she’s laughed it off and asked “how hard could it be”? “You can do it”. I’ve never made a wedding gown nor do I want to. People think sewing is “easy”. People ask me to make the most rediciulos things for them. Nonsewers don’t understand the work that goes into making a garment.

  3. I so feel your pain. I agreed to sew 2 flower girl dresses for a friend. Dummy me picked a pattern line I’d never sewn before-Burda. The pattern was not hard but I was so afraid that it wouldn’t turn out right that I procrastinated till the last minute! You’re right-saying NO comes a lot easier now.

  4. I applaud you. That dress is stunning and I would wear it in a heartbeat. But, I cannot with the custom sewing. It stresses me out and isn’t fun. It’s why I don’t want sewing to ever become ‘work’ for me.

  5. I sew for a living, brides and all manner of formal attire. Charging a decent price and allowing time enough for each project keeps me sane. I don’t do rush or last minute projects…ever! My clients and friends know I will say no if they have not given me enough time to do the job right. So….next time…to avoid saying yes right off the bat, estimate the time, double it, and then say no explaining that you would only want to do the best job for them and they have cut the time too short. I also say, “you would not want to pay me for my labor, I am expensive” and leave it at that. Good seamstresses make $50-60 an hour so this may be out of their budget.

    1. Oh, Mrs Mole is my gold standard for professional sewing. If you have never read her blog ‘Fit for a Queen’, just stop now and go read it.
      I am hip deep in the chiffon overlay, taffeta skirt choir dresses I hem every fall. It should be a fifteen minute job per dress. Poly chiffon is demonic and never ever let it go offgrain, or the fifteen minute job turns into a two hour one. Endlessly unpicking and repinning. I love the girls in the choir, and they pay me well for this, but …..DEMONIC!

  6. To be honest I’m not often asked, but I would say no. I have offered on a couple of very simple things (hemming, sewing cushions), and then I sat on the projects for literally months. I know, that I don’t enjoy sewing for others (unless it’s for immediate family and it’s a gift), so I just avoid doing it.

  7. Oh, I feel your pain, Sunni. That is a lovely make – and must have been hell to make, especially for someone else! I love Indoorkitty’s way of turning people off – and mrs mole’s comment about “my labour is expensive”…… I won’t sew for anyone, unless I end up desperate for money – because I grew up watching my aunty Bi getting inundated with sewing requests – she was amazing, total couture – and she only sewed for family – and lived on her tiny inherited income and pension, because noone ever paid her. My mum and sisters were the only ones who did. She wouldn’t accept cash from us, so we made sure we got her things she needed, whereas cousins used to promise perfume or flowers and sometimes not get them. I therefore grew up swearing I would never sew for anyone except myself. I made my own wedding dress which took three months of hard work, and totally regretted it. Waste of time – my philosophy is like yours, time invested should be for something I’ll wear a lot…… I make stuff (sewn, knitted, crocheted) for the sister I live with sometimes, because a) she doesn’t ask for or expect it, and b) she properly appreciates and wears whatever it is to the death! I don’t make any more stuff for my other sister, because she’s the rich one who has more stuff than she can use, and after using something I made her for a bit, it disappears. She’s also lost things like a beautiful lacey wrap made from hand dyed silk – grrrrr…. so now, I buy her things!

  8. I don’t do sewing for others, but I used to work in photography & encountered similar issues. After one friend’s wedding, as a favor, it was never, never again. It was a custom job, which back then, most people do not realize how much work it is – work that they never see being done. (Supplies, prep, test prints, samples for customer, final prints, delivery). Being rather young at the time, I also made the mistake of not being very, very clear about payment. When I submitted my invoice with my expenses and my hours listed my friend only paid me for the expenses! That led to a really uncomfortable conversation. She did pay me something in the end, but realistically, it was probably about minimum wage since I marked my actual hours down only to the post-wedding work. So, for this reason I rarely ever do any professional or near-professional work for friends. In the rare times I do, I am very up front about cost. I suspect it doesn’t sound very friendly, but it’s better than having a strained relationship later.

  9. I so miss the blog Selfish Seamstress*…her title and tone gave me confidence to say, “No, I really can’t sew for anyone else, it makes me hate sewing, and I can’t be motivated, and I won’t let anyone else break my joy in my hobby like that.”

    (This also helped me decide what I would offer for sale…the extra from the activity I can’t help but make too much of because I am doing it anyway.)

    Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you owe it to the world that wants it. Don’t we teach our children they don’t have to have sex with anyone who asks? And shame on anyone who tries to guilt you into it!

    (*it’s still up, though apparently not currently used)

  10. Welcome to my world Sunni. I VERY MUCH agree with MRSMOLE. They way to most effectively not have people even ask you to sew for them ( so you don’t have to say no or even face the question…) is when they understand that the beauty of your sewing hand and TIME come at a premium price. If you tell one person in the same work place, word “magically” gets around that you are “expensive” and others don’t ask you – or they are willing to pay your price. I enjoyed custom sewing in earlier years more than now as I am wanting to make more time to sew for myself and not be arrested for being naked in the street. I am transitioning my sewing time to having the means to say NO, be selective of who I sew for, and even politely “fire” clients who are attempting to making a waste of my time. That sounds rude and shocking to some. but those seasoned custom sewing folks out there reading this know what I mean. Sometimes people want to pay LARGE sums of money just to use you for whatever they want. Yep- They get fired before any fabric is cut or muslin made. They get a deposit refund. I get my time back. GOOD JOB on the peach dress. Beautiful.

  11. That dress is stunning, it must have taken ages! I feel your pain (a gentler version), as I recently made a dress for a pregnant friend who couldn’t find anything she liked. We talked about patterns and fabric, and I told her how much the fabric cost, but I haven’t pushed her to pay for it. I think the time is what hurt more than money – it was a simple knit dress, but it still took a good few hours, and there’s no way I could charge for labour. So in future I will definitely be saying no! I think as others have said, people who don’t sew don’t realise the time and materials that go into it, and also maybe feel like as it’s a hobby, sewing anything should be fun.

  12. I made a lot of clothes this summer for a woman I didn’t know very well. The clothes were simple and the fabric beautiful. Honestly, though, it was the most frustrating experience of my life and made me think that I would never do it again. There were so many frustrations…and the rewards didn’t offset them. So I will do the occasional piece for a loved one, but I am not going into the sewing business.

  13. Oh how I agree with every word! A long time ago I sewed a simple blouse for a friend for nothing but she still wanted things changed (not the fit). Since then I have been able to say quite easily that I sew only for myself or for my daughter!

    Chiffon of all things!! but finished product looks good.


  14. This post totally resonated with me. (Love the back of that bolero, by the way!) My niece, who I adore, is getting married and asked if I could make her daughter a bridesmaid dress. While thinking to myself, “Say NO! You don’t have the time.”, I said, “Of Course! What do you want?”. Then she proceeded to tell me a design I just don’t want to sew.

    That’s why I don’t like sewing for others. If I don’t like the fabrics or the design, I have absolutely no interest. Just dig in those heals and PROCRASTINATE! Wedding is next weekend and I have the muslin done and have the fabric cut and that’s it.

    So basically, I’m saying, “I feel your pain.” Hopefully mine will turn out as beautifully as yours.


  15. First of all, let me just say that you did an outstanding job on her attire!
    I do sew custom, and many times it can be a headache dealing will a lot of the issues that you mentioned. My frustration, maybe self-induced, is that I don’t feel I ever get paid what I’m really worth when I do snag a client. I still end up feeling like my pay was not enough. I don’t get the business that I would like because I do quote my price and many decline because they can’t afford me. So, a lot of my business turns to the alterations side of things.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love doing what I do, and I’ve been creating bridal and formal wear for many years. My joy comes in making every girl, from the youngest to the oldest, feel special and look pretty.

  16. that’s a really lovely dress and bolero. i don’t sew for money. if i love the person and want to sew for them i would do it for free. I sometimes make things for people that help me out – so my friend who feeds our cat when we are away – and i make gifts. for everyone else i just say it’s not worth it to take money as it would in no way cover the time.

  17. Hence, the reason I have gone into alterations. There is an element of problem solving and I like that challenge yet I don’t have to spend hours cutting fabric. I’m still learning about garment construction and making some extra cash to satisfy the sewing habit for myself. Great looking dress but I feel your pain.

  18. I sew on demand for my 12 year old son, my 3 year old niece, and my 2 year old Nephew (and soon, my own 2 year old when he starts to care). That is all.

    I make a gorgeous raincoat out of the super-cute Babyville Boutique PUL line – lined with cozy flannel. (I have made about a dozen of these over the years) My nephew’s was so popular at his (high end) daycare that my brother asked me what I would charge if someone wanted one. When I told him that the supplies ALONE were into the realm of $70 and it took me 6 hours to make one he blanched. I told him my hourly rate would START at $25. So – no special orders!

    I sew for the kidlets because they appreciate it – an Elsa dress, or a special raincoat, or even a specific camouflage hoodie, or a festive dress – I know the kids don’t know the value of the work – but they pay me in joy.

    I sew for people as a surprise, sometimes, and again it’s the joy that pays me. Last year EVERYONE (female) got a Julia Cardigan (no fitting, used up my scraps and always a surprise) – so I DO sew for other people – when I get asked to do something custom my answer is:
    I only sew for a surprise – no special orders!

  19. First, the dress is beautiful, the bolero detail, perfect. You did good. Now, on to your question. Custom sewing, hear me scream! In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I had the (not so) brilliant idea to do custom sewing to supplement my income. I had two kids getting ready for University. Since I worked full time as a nurse in a high intensity intensive care unit and did some teaching on the side at a local community college, my time was precious. That said, I wish I had required a retainer. I got stiffed several times with comments like…”I didn’t think it would cost that much!” even though the cost estimate, written and signed, clearly stated what it would cost. Or, one of my favorites, could you fix this rug for me, it is a family heirloom and only needs a couple stitches. It was left on my doorstep with note attached. Filthy with pet hair and food scraps I never let it enter my home, called its owner to come get it or I would trash it and folded up my custom tent. I learned that my love of sewing had been totally diminished and even destroyed by the business. It took me years to sew for myself again. I would never, ever, do this again. I applaud you for recognizing the issues involved in custom work. For those that do it for a living, God bless you, you are a saint. And likely not paid anything near your value.

  20. What a beautiful ensemble! If it is your last custom job (for now or forever), it is a gorgeous one. The last time I did a favor for someone it was not nearly extensive as your custom job. Still, it was something I don’t even enjoy doing for myself (hemming pants). Prior to that I made a little girl’s kimono dress and the mother said “How long did that take you to make it? An hour?”! Nope. Now I only make *small* things and only as teacher gifts (embellishments to ready-made hand towels mainly). Every now and then I’ll be complimented on a shirt or purse I’ve made. I’ll take the person’s deets but don’t follow up on custom work. Non-sewists make incorrect judgements on a sewist’s time/energy/talents. No thanks! I’ve got my own projects to fulfill.

  21. Excellent synopsis of all that is involved in fashion sewing! A dear friend has “told” me I am to make her a dress when she loses 20 pounds! Although I didn’t outright agree to her “request” – and I suspect the twenty pounds might make the request null and void – I already am worrying about it! Thanks for the thought-provoking realisms of sewing for someone else! All that said, the dress and bolero jacket for your friend are just beautiful – she must be thrilled!

  22. Don’t stop talking about your sewing, instead say it is your hobby. (which it now is again). Since sewing was your profession for a while, I can see where it was hard to say no. But just keep repeating – it’s my hobby!
    The dress is lovely, as usual, you did a great job.
    Can’t ever seeing myself sewing on commission – all the issues you mentioned make it very hard. I have a ton of respect for professional seamstresses.

  23. For a couple of years, I made dresses and skirts and capes and blouses for friends and colleagues and acquaintances. They paid for fabric and all notions – of course – and also for my hours. But not nearly enough to cover my actual hours spent, although the finished garment by no means was cheap. Their clothes turned out beautiful, my customers very happy, and I was thrilled to see their happiness. However, I have a demanding regular job, and I never had time to sew for myself, so I stopped sewing on commission. It was the right choice, and I’ve never regretted it. But there are some parts I miss; especially the planning. Designing, choosing fabric and then making the first fitting. And of course, the moment when she puts on her new dress and says she’s never felt so beautiful before…

    As long as I can’t find a way to charge enough and have time enough, I won’t do custom work again. Somewhere, it’s still kind of a dream. But perhaps best kept as a dream?

    That said, the outfit is stunning. The bolero even more!

  24. First of all….what a beautiful dress, and that bolero has the most beautiful back detail! My beautiful wedding dress in 2011 was custom made by a lovely woman who gave me (a complete stranger) a great deal and was wonderful to work with. I sewed many, many years ago and was inspired by her to begin again. And so I began again. Slowly, but slowly. And I will enjoy sewing for myself and maybe for gifting as my skills return. But as a business? No way. Except the rehearsal dinner dress my daughter has requested. (am I stressing already? Oh yes!)

  25. Well done on such detailed made to measure garments.

    I’m afraid that over the years when asked, I have always maintained that I only sew for pleasure and that I only know my own size and am not good at making to measure for others. I got my fingers burned early on when I spent long periods of time making for friends and then realising that the finshed item was not what they wanted or had imagined. This was when none of us had any money so that was not an issue then.

    I also think that I would not be detached enough to sew a design or colour that I do not like. So well done on all fronts!

    1. Nonsense. It’s not the customer’s fault that Sunni:
      1. Didn’t say No to start with.
      2. Suggested difficult fabrics to work with.
      3. Procrastinated.
      4. Didn’t charge what she and her time are worth.

      This is a sewing blog and she’s lamenting about very real issues in our world. I appreciate that she posted about this because this post, and all the responses, help me in my sewing experiences. The customer is just a catalyst – it’s nothing personal at all because we’ve all been there.

  26. The dress and bolero are beautiful! Like everyone else who has persisted to develop the mysterious skill of sewing, I often get requests to sew things. Sometimes people I barely know ask me to sew them things. I’m also a lawyer, so I’ve become accustomed to people who want to impose on my time and get something for free. Over the years, I learned to politely cut the conversation short, state my hourly rate, and suggest an appointment. I also point out that I only work when I’m in my office and that backyard BBQ’s and cocktail parties aren’t proper places to think through complicated issues and offer sound advice. This approach also works well for sewing requests. I quote my hourly rate (the same rate as for practicing law, which is pretty high and which nobody has EVER agreed to pay for sewing) and explain that this doesn’t include materials. Then I refer them to the local shop where they can take sewing lessons and suggest that the cost of lessons and a sewing machine might even be cheaper than what I would charge for a single garment, bag, set of throw pillows, etc. That usually does the trick. When someone is intent on offending me by suggesting that I owe them a freebie, I don’t feel bad at all if I happen to offend back by insisting on getting paid what I’m worth. I only spent 7 years earning my law degree. I’ve spent much more time than that working on my sewing skills! My husband is the only one who gets a free pass 🙂

    1. Debra,
      Such a lucid response!
      Thank you for putting all the years of experience and practice,that sewing well takes, into clear terms. I often think that we sewists had a measurable way of certifying our years of training ‘perhaps’ people wouldn’t assume we should work for free. Your reminder that they will anyway, and I just need to put my boundery in place,is freeing, and helped me to decide to be more blunt with requests. Thanks!
      Beautiful outfit! And a timely post that reminds me to be an adult and be true to what I really want to invest my time into. :). I’ve done this way too many times, myself. I appreciate your honesty and all of the wisdom I’m gleaning from the comments!

  27. I write hand-knitting and crochet patterns and I absolutely love it. I’ve written many patterns and produced many samples but I hate hate hate knitting for hire. It is so labor intensive and I am always under-selling myself. I look at other types of skilled labor that is more frequently done by men like plumbing or electrical work. I have years and years of experience and I knit and crochet very well, and efficiently, but most people would be unwilling to even pay me minimum wage for my labor, while they’ll pay a mechanic $75 an hour for their labor plus the price of materials.

    On the rare occasion I have agreed to knit a commissioned piece, I’ve hated every moment of it. It’s time I’m not spending on a project I want to make for a purpose I’m not excited for and it’s not paying me as well as even an entry-level job would. It’s satisfying when someone appreciates it but they often feel they’ve done me a favor and it usually just results in their asking for more items or recommending my services to someone else which means I’ve simply delayed having to firmly say no to something I don’t want to be doing.

  28. I quickly learned 20 years ago, to use the word NO, after agreeing to sew satin jackets for a coworker’s son. He was a boxer and need jackets for himself and his assistants. It was soo stressful, I made a deal with myself to NEVER sew for anyone else again except gifts and family. I obsessed over that project so much that I decided, NEVER AGAIN. It gave me chest pain.

  29. I can totally relate, Sunni. I don’t recall ever sewing for pay, although I have done a few freebies (like ski clothes from a kit) back when I was young and naive. I don’t get enough done for myself, much less others. Frequently, I think I will make something for someone as a gift, and notice that all I do is put it off until the last minute and then hate myself for that, or never do it at all and then don’t have the birthday gift or Christmas gift. Then I feel more guilty.My brother is always asking for “his favorite pants” which are a big baggy cotton with big pockets to wear around the house in the wildest print imaginable. They are simple to make, I have probably made 10 or so pairs over the years, and for a simple project, they take forever.

    I think we get too much pleasure out of sewing for ourselves, that sewing for others doesn’t give us the same kick. This peach dress is terrific, by the way. I think wedding clothes are often pretty ugly, and seldom worn again, which isn’t my idea of a good garment either, I wear things that I love and fit perfectly until they are falling apart. So, don’t feel guilty, just say NO!

  30. I’m with you – If I’m sewing for myself or am making a gift on my own terms, I enjoy it. If I am doing mindless alterations or making something for a friend because they guilted me into it, I hate the entire process. Year ago, I was obsessed with photography (alt process film and artsy stuff), which of course lead people to ask me to take pictures for them. Eventually my husband and I started a little photography business on the side shooting weddings and families and whatnot to try and squeeze a little money out of our hobby, but I quickly burned out. I had people whining about things that they didn’t understand, wanting to pay me less and less, and after a few nightmare weddings I finally said enough is enough and stopped altogether. That was about 4 years ago, and to this day it feels like work when I pick up a camera and I just mentally block it – even when the pictures are for myself. I really learned my lesson then, and now I am much more able to separate my hobby life and real life. I use sewing (and knitting and crocheting) as my creative outlet. I make what I want, when I want, and how I want without having to answer to anyone, and it keeps me sane. I’ve tried doing a few custom orders for friends and I always hate it the entire time and I put it off til the last second or end up feeling completely taken advantage of because I did the work too cheap. *Sigh* Sorry to rant. I know some people are able to work in the sewing industry after picking it up as a hobby first, but I’ve gone down that road before and I can’t afford to not have my favorite creative outlet again. It definitely was hard to tell people no at first (I was raised as a total people pleaser), but it’s like exercising a muscle and it becomes easier the more you do it 🙂

  31. When I was 10 years old, my mother made a decision to never sew for anyone but herself and me ever again. When, at 27, I found myself angry and resentful about 2 sewing projects I had agreed to, I understood why. I understand your dilemma completely. Somehow all the joy of sewing disappears when doing it as a “job.”

    As for saying no to requests, here’s what worked for me: Until you feel more comfortable, say “Let me think about it and get back to you.” You then have time to work up the nerve and find (or make up) the “good reason” to say no later. Good luck! 🙂

  32. I like that Heather (with the raincoats, above) had the price and time information right when she was asked. That is key, to give that information right off the bat for the person asking, that it costs me this much in materials and it takes me this many hours to make it, and I value my time too much to work for free. Sometimes we don’t know the costs yet, but we can estimate it better than our non-sewing friend can, just to give them an idea. Most people really don’t have a budget for custom sewing. It’s also what I explain to people when they compliment my work with, “You could sell these.” “Thanks! But no. I couldn’t. Here’s why it’s not worth it for me…”

    Sometimes the friend who is asking might be taking advantage, but I think most times, they just don’t know. How would they? I never would have known the work that goes into a custom sewing job before I did it myself, so I try to remember what that’s like and respond kindly. And I agree with JenL that although it might not feel like the friendly thing to do to be upfront about costs, it is kinder to be clear instead of resenting them for not understanding all on their own what your time and costs were.

    I enjoyed all the other comments. Never thought about what it would be like to have to put your name on a sewing job of a design you don’t like! And yes, all the time invested in learning this skill… How is that different from the value of other professions’ skills??

  33. Usually when I give the a realistic price,which is a flat rate which includes a realistic estimate of my labor and includes fabric, people in my area just decide it’s too expensive. People seem to think a custom sewn wedding gown can be made for under, say, 600 bucks. Not going to happen.

    1. And I forgot to mention the outfit is gorgeous. And it’s not easy to get that color to look good! Love the style lines on the bolero.

  34. When living in Fiji I was asked to make a sulu chaba (traditional dress) for a neighbour for a wedding the next day. I said yes… First mistake! She also gestured vaguely at what I was wearing and said just something like you are wearing would be nice. I was wearing a RTW dress they I didn’t know how to replicate for myself let along someone else who was a very different shape to me. I asked if she had something that fit her that I could copy. So I made a pattern from that and spent the day frantically trying to make it (while my kids where either in front of a dvd or racing round the house). It was highly stressful and the end fit wasn’t great and she didn’t end up wearing it! So it was a waste of time, except that it has helped me to be able to say no in the future so not a waste in that regard.
    The outfit you made is just beautiful, well done!

  35. I rarely sew for others but do take on the occasional piece. I made a custom fit dress for a lady this summer, she had already chosen pattern,fabric and notions. I just had to cut and sew and muslin and fit and make pattern styling adjustments. However I did charge for my time and skills and received a good rate. Because I gave myself plenty of time to complete it, and got a good rate I really enjoyed the task. It’s not always been like that though.

  36. What a gift you have. Sometimes we forget that sharing a gift is for the soul. I don’t have your gift of talent creativity and skill. I’m sure you have no idea the pleasure you gave to your friend and the mother.I hope she knows she got a lot from you for the price paid. As you may have guessed just sewing a straight seam gives me joy and so far I only dream of having your talent.

  37. Beautiful work, Sunni. It is so hard sometimes to say ‘no’ to others. It sometimes seems like a huge compliment when they ask me to do custom sewing for them. But…..I also find it very nerve wrecking and I worry about the outcome and then I feel badly for charging what I know I’m worth. I have learned to say instead, “No, but, I can teach you to do it.” I am so much happier sewing for myself and sharing my love of sewing with others by helping and teaching them. (But, I am guessing you understand that too!?)

  38. I concur with everyone on that beautiful dress. Love the pleated bodice and the back of the bolero.
    I have learned to give an hourly wage quote and refuse people who set off alarm bells in me. I love the thrill when they put on that handmade thing but it is much more stressful than sewing for myself. I too hate keeping track of my hours. I have a stop watch I click on and off to keep track of. I need to get better at getting a down payment. Lots of good advice here!

  39. Beautiful dress!!
    Interesting discussion on custom sewing. As a few others have mentioned, I’ve gotten into the habit of explaining that sewing is my hobby and for my own pleasure, and that I don’t sew for others. When I get the occasional request to mend something, I explain my rule: you must come and visit with me while I do it. This way we can chat while I hem the pants or whatever, and they can understand what’s involved. Not many take me up on this.

  40. I do custom sewing, and yes, should be charging more, but, as others said, people don’t think clothes are worth spending on. Plumbers in my area charge $100 per hour plus mileage and call out fee. Try quoting this rate for a custom garment sewing lol.

  41. that is stunning – and its an unforgiving design if there was any slip ups – well done doing it under pressure, and the voluteering of the chiffon. and i am in a similar situation in that I am making a irish dance dress for my 12 year old niece and I volunteered not having a clue what i was really letting myself in for (my ‘how hard can it be’ attitude’ getting me into hot water again),better get back to the machine……………

  42. I’ve been sewing all my life and only recently have been “hard core” at it (wearing my own garments to work). And while I love compliments and get a secret thrill when I reply, “Thank you! I made it myself!” that only invites the inevitable. Just yesterday a coworker asked me for a full-on maxi out the fabric I had made my skirt from. Hard? Probably not. But I told her, “I’m sorry but I’ve only ever sewn for myself and my skillset isn’t there to sew for others.” I explained that I’d be freaked out the entire time that I’d screw it up…yada, yada. Truly, my specialty is alterations and I moonlight as the “Zipper lady” for a local laundry & cleaners. Even then I say “No” if pants aren’t clean. Dirty fly? #Nasty. And I don’t know how it happened, but this past Weds I was schnookered into creating a bathrobe for a 4 year old out of a 1X size RTW garment so that it looks like GGmas, Grammys, & mom’s for Christmas. One moment me and my besties were all sitting around a table and I was lamenting my frustration with sandwiching a quilt, and the next, Grammy is showing off her catalog bathrobe purchase and all the girls are talking about how easy it should be to alter one for the child. I never actually said, “Yes” but I’m pretty sure I’m on the hook…with a Christmas deadline. Fabulous.

  43. I really enjoy custom work. I took a part-time job earlier this year so I haven’t been able to do it as much as I like. I enjoy the relationship I get to develop when making clothes for people, and the joy it gives them to have something that truly fits. I have also learned a ton from doing this and I feel like it has greatly expanded my skill set. Don’t get me wrong – it’s hard and frustrating and scary, and I don’t always get paid what I should (my own fault, I’m still learning how to estimate cost), but it’s also a wonderful challenge and enormously satisfying. One thing I’ve started doing with estimates is to figure out how many hours I think it will take, then add more hours because I always underestimate, and finally ask myself, “What amount will make me happy about working on this, so that I’m not always watching the clock or feeling resentful.” I’ve got a ton to learn but I wish I could do custom work as a full-time job.

  44. I love all the comments here.
    I have a few responses depending on the requester. Sometimes, when I have the time and the project isn’t too hairy, I will say “I don’t sew for money but I will for a favor.” Last year I did a pretty simple alteration for a friend this way and I didn’t resent it at all. I also didn’t feel pressure to be too meticulous because I wasn’t charging and I’m sure she didn’t even notice.
    Usually I just say that sewing is my hobby, I have a job and a child, and I don’t have time for any additional sewing. If I charged the same as what I make at my regular job people would probably gasp, even though it probably wouldn’t be unreasonable.
    I love to give hand sewn gifts because I think they are so special. I made some baby leggings and a headband for a friend. She asked me if it saved money to sew and I said, “No way.”

  45. OMG, I know just what you mean! No is a great word. I gave in to the request of a friend very recently and spent hours struggling with an impossible fit situation made even worse by her fabric choice. Then, after constructing it then reconstructing it to her specifications, she decided she didn’t really like the color. HELP ME! It was so much work and so horrifying to have her turn her nose up at it. NEVER AGAIN.That is one gorgeous dress though, and poly is really horrid to get to look crisp – – nice job! Im sure your coworker appreciates your efforts.

  46. I made a bikini is foil effect dancewear fabric recently for a colleague who is a body builder. I had never used the fabric before nor made a bikini. Off my head on anxiety for a week (yeah also decided a tight deadline was a good idea) convinced I was going to let her down. Fortunately I am getting married so I have a convenient reason why I can do no adjustments or makes until after the wedding. Still feel bad saying no though. *sigh*

  47. Well, I don’t get asked – I think me saying I’m a beginner helps that! I wouldn’t even consider doing it though. I say – but I did agree to my daughter’s request to make her wedding dress. She’s my daughter. And she was keen for a dress made by me, even if it was very simple, rather than a fancier dress not made by me. She knows I’m a beginner, so I would have said was under no illusion but I think it was me that was! I will be getting help (I’ll be paying for some individual wedding-dress-related lessons in addition to the classes I attend). The dress (and related) will take up an enormous amount of time. She’s worth it.

  48. I don’t custom sew, except for little kids. Kids are amazed by what I do. They think my sewing machine is magic. They are curious and want to know more about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it and what this deelybob and that doohickey are for. They appreciate the finished product.

    Adults just assume it’s so eeeeaassy. And because it’ comes so easy for me, I should do it all for free. Or charge for a custom job the same price one would pay at, say, Walmart. That whole list of things to remember in your post is lost on adults.

    Easiest way to nicely say no: Respond sweetly with, “Sure! I charge $X per hour for my time and a job like this will probably take Y hours. Let me know for sure what you’d like to do” You’ll probably never hear from them again….but you didn’t say “no”! Someone that really respects your time and values your talent will make it worth your while.

  49. I can relate! I love to think about sewing, read about sewing, and shop endlessly for sewing. But the minute I’m doing it for a job (I’m a seamstress), it is not a lot of fun. 😦 But, it helps pay the bills and allows me to work from home. I do think the fast-fashion industry has “trained” people to think clothing should be cheap. Lots of brides/bridesmaids get sticker shock when they find out what alterations cost. (I always give estimates before I do any work, which helps cut down unnecessary extras.) Also, I think there is a perception that sewing must be kinda easy… after all practically everyone’s grandma can sew (especially here in the Midwest.)

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