Sewing For Money – How Much Is Your Sewing Skill Worth

sewing for moneyHow much are your sewing skills worth?  Are you being rewarded financially for your hard work and skill?  If so, how much should you charge? These are just a few of the many questions about sewing for money that have been asked on our chat group.

(In case you didn't know, we run one of the largest online Facebook sewing groups with over 30,000 members.  You can find us on HERE if you're interested.)

We have talked about this topic before in Selling What You Sew – How To Price Your Work, that article touches on how to price and drive traffic to your online Etsy shop. But, let's face it, we are not all on Etsy selling what we sew and many of the readers of So-Sew-Easy work from home with a more limited amount of time.

Before getting involved with So-Sew-Easy.com, I did a fair bit of sewing for money but I worked only with people that could afford my skills.  I don't mean to sound snobby or anything but I made seasonal storyboards, drafted patterns, made dresses and costumes, and designed accessories and jewelry and my prices were not the cheapest in the market.  Why? It was not a decision I made overnight, and it was less about the money and more about weeding out the bad and difficult customers.  And there are plenty… I had my share of scowling ungrateful, hard to please, obsessive, and horrible pain-in-the-butt customers.  It took me a few years to realize some people will never be happy, not at home, not in life, not ever, and you shouldn't waste your time and energy trying to please them.

How to avoid this sort of thing, how much to charge when sewing for money, and how to get fairly compensated for your work are obviously questions on the minds of many of our readers.

As an example, I will use Nita's question she left as a comment on the Selling what you sew – how to price your work.

Selling what you sew – how to price your work

Dear Nita:  To answer your question I have made this post because I think many will benefit from your question.

Nita asked “Hi my name is Nita and I already start a sewing business at my home. Like a part-time job. Just need some extra cash help out our bills. But I really need to know the right price for the product I made. I sew clothes like island dresses, ball dresses and top and skirt. I only sell it for $40 upward. I always think that the price it's not enough but I just don’t know how to work it out to come up with the right price for my sewing product. I only cut and sew but my customer comes with there own material.”

Hi Nita, this is a very complex subject and one that requires some market research in the place you are operating.

First, find out how your competition is operating.  This is perhaps the most important information you can use to price your goods.  You cannot charge what the market will not bear, but if you are far cheaper than what the market expects, customers may perceive your product as low-quality.

Second, charge a higher price but offer a better service: like a shorter time to finish the product, better fit, better finish, and great communication/attitude.  People are always willing to pay more for a better overall experience.

Third, find out who your customers are, why they are having clothes made, and what are their specific expectations.  If you meet the specific needs of your customers, you can charge higher prices.

The above paragraphs are my best and shortest answers, but at the risk of making my answer too long, I could not help myself but go into greater detail below.

Find Out What Your Competition Is Worth

Know how much your competition is charging for their goods and services so you can select your price smartly.  You will have to really weigh your skill and service vs. the competition. The aim is to give your customers a sense of fairness and will have them coming back, but will still leave you knowing that the work is worth your time.  Charging too much may alienate a perfectly good customer that could be coming back for more.  Charging much lower than the competition may harm your credibility.  When in doubt, mirror the competition and see how it works out.  After enough time, you will feel comfortable enough to tailor your prices specifically to your product.

Knowing The Quality of The Goods Your Competition Is Making

Check out the quality of the work your competitors are making and improve on their weaker points.  This practice will give your customers confidence in your product.  Two of the most common weak points are: “fit” and “finish”.  I cringe when I see a horrid finish on “ready to wear clothes”.  It amazes me what people are willing to pay for badly made clothes bought at a mall and then complain about the cost of handmade goods.

Find Your Ideal Customer

Learn who you want to sell to.  Who is your ideal customer?  Why is your customer looking for hand-sewn clothes? How can you help your ideal customer build a wardrobe?  In other words, learn to become a dependable expert in your work.  Learn the reasons why your customers are looking for hand-sewn articles.  Is it fit? Quality? Price? Attention? The Experience? Whatever it is in your area tap into it.

Retaining Your Past Customers

sewing-for-money

Good friendly service is the magic cloak to shield you from losing business.  A happy smile is one of the most contagious gestures that we possess, but so is a depressed grimace.

Refrain from talking about bad health, poor luck, debt, and bad news in general.  Nothing puts customers into a non-buying mood more than negativity — we all get more than enough from people around us and the news.  Your customers come to you because of your sewing skills and infectious attitude.

This is the part where you will need to become part sewer and part psychologist.  Sewing for others will give you a window to the most vulnerable parts of your customer's body.  Many people focus on the bad parts of their bodies and largely ignoring the best parts.  Your job is to help build back their confidence and highlight their best and help cover or disguise those aspects that make them insecure.  Which brings me to the following point.

Learn To Say Nosewing-for-money

I had my share of difficult customers and failures. In hindsight, I should have said no early on to most of them. Within the first two minutes, I could sense that this person would be a pain in my behind. Difficult customers will end up taking up all of your time if you let them, stripping away time for your bright and happy customers and sapping your passion.

In my experience, many of my worst customers tended to fit a pattern. They often would come with magazine cutouts of outfits that they would love to own, demanding an exact replica.  Impossible shapes for the fabric they would bring.  Wrong shapes for their bodies, and people insisting on having a garment made in a smaller size than they could realistically fit.  This person will not take any guidance or suggestions and you will embark on a guaranteed failed project.  I have made this mistake a few times, enough to cost me a lot of money and sleep time.  So learn to say no!

How To Find More Customers, And What To Do When You Do

sewing-for-money

There is a saying in Spanish “crea fama y acuestate a dormir” literal translation would be “create your fame then go to sleep”.  Let your reputation preceded you.  Word-of-mouth is your best marketing and it is free.  Quality and service will speak for itself.  But, be patient as it takes time for a great reputation to form and circulate.

When you do find new customers, put out the red carpet for them.  Make sure you understand exactly what they want from the experience and do your best to give it to them.

I hope this article has answered your question, Nita, and I hope the rest of you have learned something useful from my mistakes.  Don't be afraid to start your own sewing business. Begin small and with the tools you have right now, you'll be surprised how exciting the experience can be!

See you next time and happy sewing!

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39 Responses to Sewing For Money – How Much Is Your Sewing Skill Worth

  1. Pauline Lacroix says:

    Hi I just found your site and appreciate how informative it is. Thank you.

  2. Theresa says:

    Another piece of advice….keep your work place tidy. Someone was recommended to me. Her place was a mess with plastic bags everywhere and fabric rolled up on shelves, half completed projects h hanging everywhere. Needless to say, I did not get what I wanted. I think her mind was like her sewing room! I also went to someone who said if I unpicked the item and did all the grunt work, the cost would be cheaper. Happy sewing everyone.

  3. Shirley Polmateer says:

    A good article and great advice.

  4. Linda says:

    Great advice. I am self taught. I sewed for my family, did our alterations, and mending for years. As friends found out they asked me to do the same for them. Most were very grateful to have someone they knew do work for them. But with more and more word of mouth, I ended up with some crazy people asking for sewing. One lady thought she knew how to sew. She brought me fabric (which looked like what was leftover from some other project) and wanted kitchen curtains made. When I told her there wasn’t enough fabric for what she wanted, she started showing me how I could squeeze the pieces out of what she had! Some were on the grain and others on the bias. I tried to tell her what would happen if I made them like that. She really wanted me to do it, but I had to refuse. She called me for weeks afterward to try and change my mind. I may be self taught but I know the correct way to lay out pattern pieces and what happens when you don’t! I am on an Army post in Japan (husband is civilian) and mostly do alteration now. I do tell people up front that I am not really professional. I am self taught, but have done this for years. Most are happy to have someone to help them. Alterations in Japan are very expensive. I do not charge as much but feel I do a service for our Army families. I always do things for active duty, like sewing on new patches, bars, etc. for free. All part of helping the community.

  5. Maria Smythe says:

    Great article! Over years I have found one of the worst problems to be the client wanting a garment totally unsuitable for their fabric. And I agree with you regarding giving advice on sytle and suitablility of such for body shape. I once made a beautiful appliqued dress for a very short client. She wanted me to take the hem up, which would have ruined the entire garment on her, so I flatly refused. She kept coming back for years!

  6. Karen Minturn Brown says:

    If you want to go pro (and if you are selling your sewing skills, you are going pro), look into joining a professional group like Association of Sewing and Design Professionals (www.sewingprofessionals.com). You know how to sew (but such a group can help with unfamiliar jobs), but the professional group can help with the business side. Yes, I am a member of ASDP, but I don’t get anything if you join. I might get to meet you, though!

  7. Karen Boyd says:

    Great Advice. For most of my adult life I have been self employed or contracted part-time. While my service was different, a lot of the issues are the same. You need to set your own rules. This includes pricing, materials, turn around, changing decisions etc. You need to decide what level of service you will offer. Early on, I realized that I did not want to be the cut rate person and attract the miserly customers. If money is their MOST important point, they should go to someone else who wants to meet that need.

    I would want have a good look at the project before I agreed to tackle it. AND I would insist that I took the measurements of the person. I have two stories. First my a bide made my daughter and the other bridesmaids buy gowns a full year before her friend’s wedding. It was strapless and turned out to be a full size too big. I altered it. I had to un-sew 8 layers in many places to do a good job, It was hard and the expensive dress with cheap fabric was hard to deal with.

    As a graduation present I made my sister a beautiful dress. She lived a couple of hours away. she sent her measurements except she when she measured the back waist length she decided it couldn’t be right and guessed. When she came for the final fitting, the fitted waist was in the wrong place. I had included some couture details like a hand picked zipper. AAArrrrgggghhh

    • Mayra Cecilia says:

      Indeed! it would be harder to blame you for the job, when indeed the measurements are key to make the pattern correctly. Hand sewn zipper!!!I would have had a good cry and then fix it. Most people do not understand that altering an already made dress is far more difficult than starting one from scratch!.

      • Karen Boyd says:

        It wasn’t totally hand sewn. This is used in fancy clothes. Where people normally top stitch the zipper, hand picked uses the tiniest of stitches to attache the layers. Some times people emphasize the stitch by sewing in a tiny bead or decorative knot. When I fixed the dress I sewed it in entirely by machine. I didn’t complain or act angry, but I never made a garment for her again.

        • Mayra Cecilia says:

          yes, I know the technique and wether you want to play it down or not that is “haute couture technique” few know that to make those tiny even straight stitches takes mastery. I have the feeling you make beautiful art, wish I was a fly on your the wall:)

  8. Gaylene Buchhorn says:

    A great article, and goes along with what I am learning in a business class I am taking. I thank you for solidifying what I am learning and that helps me be more confident to ask for my time and talent are worth.

  9. Edward says:

    Thanks for the advice. I’ve just started sewing for money three weeks ago. You words are very appreciated.

  10. Liza says:

    Great advice! I, too, have a custom sewing and alterations business. I am recently retired and still young enough to enjoy my time. I charge $20/hr for alterations. I know most others charge less, but I give excellent service and turn their garment around in 2 days or less. I also don’t charge them for every hour I spend on their garment. First of all, that would be impossibly costly for them but it also serves to bring select clients to my business. A bit snobbish, but as I said, I enjoy my retirement and am able to make money on the side!

  11. Jan says:

    Hi I live in Spain as an expat. I opened a sewing repair and alteration service after years of teaching the subject. Your article is sew…on the nail I couldn’t agree more about learning to say No more often and being a psychologist in dealing with customers. In my teaching times I thought I had met every situation but in my first year as a business it has come up with more situations. …I must change some of my practices as I move into my 2nd year trading…I don’t let any of it get me down ..i continue to smile into the sewing machine learning as I go along…no to that one next time. ..thank you for this and many more articles.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Thank you janice for your comment, and congratulations on the courage of trying to make it running your business, I have a lot of respect for those who take the plunge and decide to make it on their own. It is not easy but so self rewarding. Wishing you many many happy returns in your entrepreneurial endeavors. I go to Spain almost every year and know could live there great choice. Hope to see there someday.

  12. Anthony A Sturrup says:

    As a tailor/ dressmaker people want designer clothes at closeout prices. They want to pay the same price for everything regardless of the complexity of the garment. Thanks for sharing

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      We must changed this attitude! Hand made cloths is and it will always be superior to mass produced garments.

  13. Viv says:

    An interesting and thought provoking thread. I make Harris tweed handbags because I love to do it, and have recently starting selling them at craft markets. I resolved at the start not to make to order – you know, the ‘I love this but could you make it bigger/in a different colourway’ request. I explained that I wanted to develop my craft and try different ideas, not make the same design all the time. Customers seemed to accept it ok. The other difficulty is email requests where I have ended up sending pics, followed by a protracted conversation when the customer kept coming back asking about sizes, strap length, linings etc. Legitimate questions but takes up too much of my time for a £40 bag. I have seen this happen over the years to my husband who is a potter, and often the ‘customer’, just doesn’t reply after he has spent ages answering their questions. So I learned from him and now I just say I only direct sell. I may lose a few sales but -hey. Of course I realise I am not dependent on these sales, my bags are really just a hobby and if I can sell some I am delighted. It’s different if you’re making clothes with all the different sizes. I can’t believe the buzz when someone is prepared to give me money for something I have made. It’s so affirming. As to pricing, I did what you suggested, looked at other makers and charged similarly. I sold well so might gradually ease my prices up.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Excellent! I enjoyed your comment, keep this up and soon you will have a string of followers. Very happy for you!

  14. Pretty Curious says:

    I made some shirts and matching bags out of gorgeous designer quilt fabric, that I just didn’t want to cut up for a quilt, which I love to wear. You’d be amazed at the people who want me to make them a top/bag outfit. I tell them it’s designer fabric, and would cost them a minmum of $150. They are shocked, but I get to keep on doing what I love for someone [me] who appricates it.

  15. Karen says:

    Great advise. I sew for others also. I had a women come wanting a skirt made even after seeing some of my work. She still made a comment of not wanting it to look homemade. I will not not make things that have the poor workmen ship of store bought. The pattern she brought was several sizes too small. When I told her what size she needed she did not want it made. If I want to work with them I do not tell them the size.

  16. ella says:

    The unhappy ones are the same in every type of craft. They are the ones who say, “I could do that.”

    The only proper answer is, “Yes, you could—if you had the time, the talent, and the tools. But you don’t, and so you won’t.”

    As a child, I once made glitter pine cones for sale at a local craft fair for holiday time. They were priced at ten cents. One woman said they were worth no more than five cents because she could make them herself. I was at that time too young to speak up for myself. But the lesson has stuck with me.

  17. Patricia Birch says:

    A very interesting article thank you. I am mostly alterations! which I hate but charge £10 per hour and so far I have had no complaints, taking up trousers/skirts, replacing zips, and letting out clothes. I have now started machine embroidery, mostly for friends and family (so don’t get paid) anything I do charge for I try to cover the cost of materials, and get very little for my time which can be quite considerable. I guess that’s the way of the world.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      It doesn’t have to be Patricia, in a perfect world what would you be doing aside from alterations that you can feel happy with?

  18. Shelley says:

    Fantastic article!
    Early on in my business I did not know how to say no. But, I have learned. I have a uniform altering and sewing business that I specialize in. But, it is amazing that people still want me to make them drapes, gowns, and even mend socks! NO! Not that I can’t do those things….I CHOSE not to. Mainly because of all the negative things you wrote about. ?

  19. Linda S says:

    I don’t sew clothes, I make quilts. I have had similar experiences as you describe. I’ve noticed that people who know nothing of the craft come with a set idea in their head that doesn’t translate to the actual piece. I once had a woman bring me bags of her children’s clothes she had saved from day one. She wanted basically memory quilts as the children were now in their teens. It was pretty easy to see what she wanted was to recapture the happy days when her kids were little & no quilt was going to do that for her. I would be cutting up all these precious memories & there was a good chance it wouldn’t fill that hole she was feeling in her soul. In addition, cutting & matching pieces from dozens of little outfits of different fabric content is very different than cutting pieces from a bolt. I told her it was just too intensive of a project for me & I simply couldn’t do it. You are so right about part seamstress/part psychologist!

    • Laurie B says:

      I know this thread is old, but I, too, am a quilter. I was commissioned to to several baby quilts for a friend’s son and DIL. They had no clue about the “craft”. I told them my rate – which was lass than half my regular rate because the two families have been friends over 25 years. After paying for the fabric, They still balked at the rate for the quilt. I made one delivered it and got paid, But they wanted 2. I made the second and decided to keep it. I put too much into it to sell it for so cheap.
      Know your value and make all financials clear before starting. Have them sign a contract. I’ve sewn for others and have not had an issue with my rate.

      • Mayra Cecilia says:

        Hi Laurie! I recognise your email and name! Yes it is, an as relevant today as it was when first published. I republish the articles that are worth mentioning again.

  20. Diane Hughes says:

    I agree with you completely.. how many times have I sat at my sewing machine grumbling and hating myself for not saying NO. I’m going to take your advice to heart. Thank you so much for the advice and taking the time to share it.
    I made this and sold it for $25. Took me a whole day. Your pattern and I had made one for myself and love it.

  21. Mariette says:

    Hi and thanks a million for sharing!

  22. Debbi Gerard says:

    I love your information! Thanks for sharing what you know.

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