Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sewing for Clients Part II: My Strategy

I finally made it back home on Thursday morning and it's taken me a little bit to get re-acclimated to my time zone (there's a 4 hour difference where I was in AK). Please forgive my lack of posting I hope to catch up by mid-week. As soon as I felt somewhat rested I jumped on the dress I'm making for my client detailed HERE.  In the same post I mentioned how much I enjoyed sewing for people. As promised I wanted to follow up that post by revealing my Client Sewing Strategy. Alot of you sew for others out there (or maybe not which is ok) but for those of you who do have your own strategy which is so great. This service could be in the form of alterations or dressmaking. Anyway, each of us are different and thus may have a different strategy on sewing for and interacting with people. I am in NO WAY an expert--I would like to put that out there now........, but what I've managed to do is create a system that works well for me. The development of this system is a combination of good information gained over the years, mistakes made, and a relentless desire to learn the art of sewing for others, predicated by the love of doing so.

When the idea of sewing for others surfaced, I realized I really didn't know what it entailed. Doing alterations for people was pretty straight forward. At first I had issues with pricing my services I used the prices of local alteration shops as guidelines. I was also able to find helpful alteration books HERE and RIGHT HERE. But the dressmaking process was a whole other BEAST.  So of course I did some research to help me gain some knowledge and insight so I could create both a comfortable and productive process for both myself and clients. I looked for some helpful books on the subject. I mean really, I had questions to answer like "how much do I charge?", "what types of jobs should I take", "how long is reasonable to complete a job", etc, etc.  I discovered that there weren't alot of books on the subject. I mean there are tons of book on crafting or selling your crafts for money but not so many that specifically address making clothes or doing alterations for people.  I managed to find two good books. They are pictured here....
Although the books are a little older, the information was relevant and was helpful. This information coupled with a few helpful insights gained from other experienced seamstresses, I was able to feel more comfortable with the idea and jumpstart a process. As mentioned before I've done only about 12 or so jobs. But I have to admit, those jobs have allowed me to tweak my process to where it is today and help me learn the following truths:

A FEW Details About the process:

* Every job starts with an initial consultation with the client. I usually have them visit the Big 4 sites to pick 5 patterns they like or bring in a photo of something that interests them.  We discuss this and the occasion for what they need the garment. We discuss their body types and the types of clothes they do or don't feel good in and their color preferences.  I give my professional opinion as well as suggestions. Once we come to a good decision on the pattern then we discuss fabric possibilities. After that I set out to get all of the info needed for project (pattern cost, fabric, notions, etc.) Within 24-48 hours I'm able to give an estimate of the cost of the project.

* I separate the cost of my projects into 2 portions: 1. Labor Cost and  2.All other costs (Fabric, Notion, etc.) . My labor cost is usually firm while I give my clients the flexibility to control the fabric, notion, etc. So if a client decides they want to make a dress out of real silk instead of a polyester satin, I help them to understand how that affects the overall price of the garment. Most of my clients like being able to control the pricing that way and are generally ok with my labor costs.  Besides, I always work very hard to help my clients get the best price on fabric, notions, etc. But I have to be involved in the fabric picking process. Since I have to sew the garment I have to ensure they're getting the correct fabric for the project. As a side note, If my client is adamant about using a difficult fabric such as chiffon, then my labor costs may be a little higher.

*After all of the fabric and supplies are purchased by the client, a work agreement is filled out with details project details and pricing. Once it's signed, and 25% of the labor costs are rendered, I begin the process of sewing for my client. Depending upon the pattern I can do a number of things. Sometimes I tissue fit, then do a muslin, then do several more fittings with tweaking. It just depends on what I'm making and it's level of complication. One thing I do like to do are muslins because it helps my clients to get a sneak peek of the finished product. Either way, I schedule anywhere from 1 to 3 fittings. Once the final fitting is complete,  I no longer need to meet with my client and I work towards completing the project.

*I usually allow for a month maximum from start to finish to complete the project. That means from the initial consultation, fabric searches, all of the fittings, to the final piece. It can take less time that that depended upon whether or not we need to order fabric, schedule a few fittings around their busy schedules, etc.

*As far as pricing goes my labor prices are as follows:
-Formal dresses starting at $90
-Dresses starting at $60
-Skirts starting at $30
-Shirts starting at $40

Here are a  FEW important things I've learned along the way:

* I don't have to accept any and every job. Being selective gives me the freedom to select those in which I feel I can yield the best results and prevents me from getting in over my head.
*I can't possibly fulfill every request. There are some items outside of my experience level and I shouldn't feel neither bad or insecure about this.
*When I work with clients it's imperative I consider myself a Professional. That's not the same as being an Expert. But it means all the difference in how I interact with my clients. People want to feel they are dealing with someone competent.

* I only work with people who not only have their own ideas but are open to my suggestions and professional opinion.  I won't work with people who are too indecisive or people who are too domineering. On one hand the person may not know what they want and on the other hand may be too dominating and have unrealistic expectations. Both can lead to disaster!!! I can usually determine the personality type during the consultation and thus make the decision on whether I want to proceed with the project.
*The fitting/sewing process can be a little nervous for the client. So it's important to do what's necessary to keep them at ease. And it's important to completely communicate the process with them.
*I WILL NOT work for peanuts!  As seamstresses we know how much work goes into our garments. I can't undercut my hard work and worth in order to save someone else some money. If you want something cheaper than buy it RTW. But if you want to have it customized and tailored to your specifications, then be prepared to pay  for those services. A good seamstress is worth her costs indeed!!! This was the hardest and most important thing for me to realize. The only people I work with are those who are willing to pay my prices (which are extremely fair)!!! These are the kind of people who don't expect something for nothing---which in the end are usually the best people to work with:)

So here are just a FEW of my strategies and thoughts about sewing for clients. This is such a passion of mine and I could talk on and on about it. Again, I love to sew for other people if the conditions and projects are to my liking. In all honesty I prefer alteration work because the turn around is quicker and I tend to make better money for the time spent. But I love to pick up the occasional sewing project.  Speaking of which, let me get back to the current client project. Hope to be completely done in the next day or so.....
Next Up: The Fabric Giveaway Winners!!!!


  1. What a great blog post. It is always interesting to read such contemplations. :-)

  2. Really insightful post. I can remember a time when I wanted to sew for others. I was a stay at home mom of three little ones and wanted 1) an outlet and 2) to earn extra money. I probably should have been more selective....the way I saw it - PEOPLE WERE A TRIP!!!!!!....back then. LOL! Best wishes and much success to you!

  3. Thanks for sharing the things you have learned with us. It will help so many people. I don't sew for others at this time; but if I ever do, this will be a wonderful guide.


  4. Great post. I am just starting up my costuming business and this is exactly what I needed to read!

  5. Great blog post. I recently stopped sewing for profit. I stopped because life has been really hectic lately and I never wanted to sewing to be related to stress. I definitely agree about not working with indecisive and domineering customers. I can't! The last person that approached me wanted contract work for some samples. She's a "wanna-be designer" that had no idea how clothing is constructed and had no desire to consider my input. I wished her well. Maybe I'll try this again next year. But as for now, I only take on simple alterations.

  6. Great posting!! I stopped sewing for others years ago. I want to enjoy my sewing. I found that too may times the clients did not want to pay for Quality workmanship.

  7. Thank you for this post - it's really helpful for me.

  8. Great post! I haven't been sewing for super long, but I've already had requests to make random things for people. However I've been to scared to go forward with it! My biggest hesitation is not knowing how to price my work! (Since I'm not an expert by any means I feel like a fraud actually charging at all!) I'll be keeping this post bookmarked for reference in the future!

  9. Very interesting read. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Thank you for this post! I run my own sewing business, and for the most part, I try to do everything you do, but I'm still learning, and it's nice to see everything written down! It's like a policy! I will definitely be printing this out to use as a reference. Thanks!

  11. Thanks Ladies, I'm happy you found this helpful!

    I truly understand why some of you scaled back on sewing for others. Alot of people sadly don't really grasp the worth of the work we do.

    Kristin, good deal about your business. I actually do have a business policy that I give to all of my clients. That way I ensure all of my clients get the same info. If you'd like a copy please let me know.

  12. Thank you for this post - I am struggling with this very issue at the moment, complicated by the fact it is a friend who wants me to help her reproduce designer RTW at a cheaper (to her) price. But I'm going to stick with your advice and price my time accordingly, if I end up doing it all


Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment and for following me on my 10,000 Hour Sewing Challenge:)


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