Sewing For Others For Pay Or For Free: Do You Do It?

I get asked to sew things for people. 
Sometime people are willing to pay and sometimes they aren’t. 
I work sometimes as a costume designer for the local theatre .  I am really grateful for of it because not only do I get to do work I love and get paid for it, but I also meet some really interesting people. Recently I was asked by a colleague to work on an outside project of his for no pay. I initially said yes because it sounded like a really fun period piece but in going over the project I realized I would have to put together more than 25 costumes in 6 weeks. I had to let him know it was just too much work for me but that I would help him rent the pieces from a rental warehouse or borrow them from various theaters.
I felt guilty because I hate to disappoint people but I am learning to say no to projects that  will take time away from  my family unless the benefit outweighs the cost.
I created several vintage style dresses in September for a charity fashion show that earned money for an organization called Life Centers. They raise money for girls who are pregnant, don’t want to have an abortion, and want to go the adoptive route. I was happy to donate my time and energies for what I felt to be a really worthy cause.
If you have searched my blog you can see I make wedding dresses, first Communion dresses, and baptism dresses for people sometimes. It is interesting and creative work. Since I have started doing this I have had some nice girls ask me to alter their wedding gowns. For those of you who sew, you know that altering ready made gowns can be a nightmare! I would rather make something entirely from scratch than have to do this kind of difficult and tedious work.  I should probably do it just for the money but bridal alterations are really difficult and the work is often undervalued and underpaid. So when people ask me to alter their bridal gowns which are usually made in China and badly fitted, I have to tell them, “Sorry, but no.” 
The same goes for other types of alterations. I have to admit, I  hate doing alterations, even on my own clothes I make! 
 Measure twice, cut once! 
A pile of projects for my family awaiting repairs can attest to this.
Does this mean I am a selfish seamstress?
How about you readers? Do you do a lot of outside sewing work for people and what will or won’t you do? 
I’d love to hear from you!

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  1. Victoria says

    I’m like you in that it depends on what is asked and who asks it. For my close friends and family I will make them things or do repairs for free. For others I never charge very much anyway when I use to do it for pay. It is a good thing you realized the extent of the work required for your friends project, to me it seemed he was asking a lot, no guilt!

  2. says

    I try as little as possible to sew for others. First off, I would stress to no end over the final product. If I’m making it for myself or my kids, I aim for perfection but realize I make mistakes and that’s fine. But if I was sewing for someone else (whether it be for pay or for free), I wouldn’t be able to let those little mistakes go. Secondly, most people have no clue how much time it will take or the cost of supplies. I have 4 kids and a busy life. Sorry! but my family comes first.

    I have happily made things for charities or for gifts but that’s the extent of my sewing for others. Typically, when a friend approaches me about sewing something for them (whether it be an alteration or what have you) I offer to teach them. I’ve only had one person take me up on the offer…

  3. Sew Country Chick says

    @ Cindy, I have told people I would teach them too and it does put an end to the question!

  4. Crystal says

    I think it is wise to think through various scenarios, so you know what your boundaries are and have a ready answer. I agree that the request you changed your mind on seemed like too much to ask for free. It has seemed a trendy idea on the blogs to be a “selfish seamstress” and I actually agree with a lot of the points made, and would probably say no to many of the scenarios explained. One definitely needs to consider their time and not being taken advantage of. However, I have had to give more thought to what I would and wouldn’t do.

    As a person of faith, I believe Jesus has given me gifts to use for the benefit of others. Being a creative type, a lot of my hobbies and time end up being spent on myself. So for me, I think it is important to find ways to use these talents to “love my neighbor as myself”. The work you did for your charity of choice would fit into something I think I would do. I have also made things and donated to auctions and for gifts, as well.

  5. says

    My daughter did alterations for people. They would beg her to alter things that would not work. She would do it and it didn’t work and so they refused to pay her. She doesn’t so for others anymore.

  6. Charlotte says

    I think that if something is worth having, I will pay for it. A work colleague asked me to take up her trousers. I’m afraid I said no. She could get them altered in a shop in town for £7 (NOT alot) but she didn’t want to pay. In other words she didn’t value the work involved. I have a full time job and I just sew for myself because I know I will value the end result!

  7. Lil' Bit and Nan says

    It depends on what is being asked and what fabric it is. I charge for custom dresses, especially if I have to purchase the fabric and notions. I don’t charge for hem alterations because it is so easy (typically ready to wear items)I say “no” a lot. I don’t think you are selfish. You have a lot on your plate. I believe family comes first. – Bethany

  8. Courtney says

    I’m a bit of an anomaly it seems, but I absolutely love sewing costumes and fancy dresses for others! I’m not sure why but they joy of seeing someone else so excited about something I made is the absolute best.

    In the past I’d always done it for free, but now that I’m starting to try and make a living from it I’m getting some definite hesitations from people. The ever growing problem of wanting couture quality at Wal-Mart pricing.

    I refuse to do alterations though. It always seems to be the first question someone asks me as soon as they find out I sew. ‘Oh you can sew?!? Can you alter ____ for me?” Ugh, boring!

    In reality it’s just too much of a hassle to try and alter a finished garment, so I point them towards their local dry cleaners. Almost all of them will alter clothing for a really good price.

  9. Marie says

    I don’t think you’re selfish at all! You make so many things for people other than yourself, even if a lot of them are for family and friends. I find that my stitching time is so limited, that I like to keep as much of it for myself as I can, apart from when I make things for loved ones and friends. I often think that some people don’t really the time and effort that goes into making things sometimes…if they did, they probably wouldn’t ask for free favours ;o)

  10. Alisha @ Crafty Brooklyn Army Wife says

    I am the same way as Victoria. I will sew for my family and closest friends, but, for others I would charge them for my time, cost of fabrics, notions, etc. I am also like Cindy where I would be worried to if something didn’t come out to how someone wanted it…that being the perfectionist in me (aka Martha Stewart syndrome).

    My sewing instructor who has become one of my closest friends has to deal with this all the time. She teaches adults and children at a local college, she works at a bridal shop, she used to sew at the ballet and there are people always asking for her to sew something for them.

    I guess I’m a little selfish too, I love to sew for me, for my husband E, Holly (our fur baby) and get so much enjoyment from it and I get to see the finished projects all the time.

  11. says

    You should take a look over at The Selfish Seamstress’ blog! She has a couple of hilarious posts about reasons not to sew for others. I don’t generally sew for others unless it’s family, but I have actually had a couple people want to learn to sew, which was incredibly fun.

  12. says

    I could have written this post because this is EXACTLY how I feel! People just don’t understand the time and work that goes into sewing. I hate doing jobs for friends because I never charge them full price and then I end up resenting the project. And I totally feel like Courtney in that alterations are so boring! And I agree with you that I would rather make something from scratch than do an alteration. Am I a little too excited about your post? It’s just that I am so happy that someone expressed how i feel:)

  13. Miriam says

    I have a workmate who has asked me to sew for her and alter things through the years under the guise of “helping” me out when she thought I needed to earn money. I started saying no several years ago. 1) She didn’t pay me enough to make the inconvenience worth it to my family; 2) she asked me to alter things that were not alterable in the way she envisioned; 3) I don’t alter those things for myself, let alone others; 4) I do not see myself as a personal seamstress for anyone outside my family.

    I have found myself more able to say no so much more easily in recent years. I don’t need to make myself sick over something someone else has no clue as to how intricate that “little” job they are asking me to do for them. Especially if they are going to be nitpicky about it.

    Most of all, MY family comes first. Period.

  14. says

    I. Hate. Mending. Ok, maybe those are too strong of words but you understand. Once people know you sew they automatically assume that you know everything about sewing and can alter any piece clothing with no problems. I usually refer people to a friend who loves to alter/mend and needs the extra cash. She loves it and I get out of doing a job I don’t really want to it!

  15. says

    Is it really the same everywhere in the world? :o) Because I feel the same as you do. In the past when I needed even that little money, I sewed for friends and neighbours. But it was so much stress. I’m, just like you, not a professional seamstress, so I don’t know all the tricks, so I’m never sure that the dress-skirt-shirt-jacket I make, will turn out well. Usually they do but the next time I’m just jittering again ’til I let out the ready piece from my sewing room. In sewing for others I’m perfectionist too, the smallest mistakes (what nobody else could see) I find and I have to correct. And the customers (both friends and else)… They make up their mind and want changes when their order is in progress already and sometimes they want me to make miracles. So I’ve learnt to say no. I chose to sew what I want and if people like it and it fit them, they could buy. It’s so much more comfortable to me.
    I also hate repairing, but I do sometimes, if it doesn’t take too much time.

  16. Alix says

    I too am completely with you on this – found myself smiling as I read and thought ‘I’m not the only one who feels like that!!’. I hate doing alterations and taking up hems, but am completely hopeless at saying no. Luckily there aren’t many people who ask me these days, as I don’t charge and I think in the end they feel guilty! I like the idea of offering to teach them to do it! On the other hand, if someone asked me to do bridesmaid dresses or something like that I’d be happy to do it, even though it makes me nervous as hell!

  17. says

    I really love to sew for others, but I price my work at what I consider to be a fair rate. I made a wedding gown last summer that I was very proud of and netted $700. I wholeheartedly agree with most posters that alterations are boring and that people undervalue them. I don’t do them unless it’s for “under-the-same-roof” family. I only recently stumbled upon your blog and I’m really enjoying it. Thank you!

  18. says

    I really love to sew for others, but I price my work at what I consider to be a fair rate. I made a wedding gown last summer that I was very proud of and netted $700. I wholeheartedly agree with most posters that alterations are boring and that people undervalue them. I don’t do them unless it’s for “under-the-same-roof” family. I only recently stumbled upon your blog and I’m really enjoying it. Thank you!

  19. MJ says

    Pretty much everyone I know knows that I have a sewing Business, not just a sewing hobby…so I give prices immediately if they ask for something but usually they describe what they want and ask how much! There are 5 or so friends that order stuff all the time so they get better prices and I throw in freebies all the time for everyone and of course I sew lots as gifts.

    I also HATE alterations. The only things I agree to do is replace elastic, buttons and hem pants. But everything else I send to my mom who either can do it, doesn’t mind or, like with wedding dresses, has 5-10 contacts that do that on a regular basis.

  20. Lady Danburry says

    I don’t work for free for anyone accept my parents, my husband and my siblings. I owned a tailoring shop for a long time, and sometimes people would ask for discounts (ridiculous I know!) In the beginning, part of me wondered if I was charging too much. But after a while, I realized that I do great work that is very valuable. Also, NO ONE in any other field of business works for free. Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you don’t deserve payment. Charge everyone. absolutely.

  21. says

    You seem to have a really good system, nothing selfish about it. I like to sew gifts, but I hardly ever get asked to sew for others, actually the only person who ever asked me to sew something for her is my mum and she has realistic views about how much time something takes. I don’t mind mending little things though, I usually have neddle thread and a few buttons with me so if somebody breaks something I just fix it right away, its not that boring if you have a chat meanwhile. But I fully agree with everybody who said work should be payed for, the more I sew the less comfortable I get everytime I see cheap clothing in stores because with some prices there is no way that the women who sewed them get anywhere near fair payment.

  22. Sew Country Chick says

    Its so true! Im often amazed at how something that had to take hours to make is selling for just a few dollars. The exploitation of foreign labor for the greed of corporations is one reason I sew for myself. China is notorious for using child labor, working them 16 hours a day sometimes.

  23. Tina says

    My goal is to get good enough at this little hobby to actually make a living at it (well, that and writing… yeah, I’m going to be poor for EVER!). I think it’s hard to decide what to take on and what not to. I also think, on some levels, it’s really unfair of people who know you sew to ask you to undertake huge projects and not offer some sort of pay. So it’s a really thin line to traverse. I think you have to have a definite and realistic idea of what you’re willing to take on, what you’re not, and if you want/deserve to be paid for it.

  24. Rachel says

    I enjoy sewing for my family, my sister and her kids being the main ones besides myself. My grandma always sewed for her family and all of us and I think it is a very wonderful gift for those who truly appreciate it. I know my family does and I want to pass that spirit of sewing that I learned to them and maybe one day they will want to try. But I have learned my lesson about sewing for those who don’t want to pay or for those who do not appreciate the hard work. I have many things I want to sew and to take time away from that they should be willing to supply the materials atleast or be really giddy when I am done 🙂 just sayin’

  25. Kitty says

    How do you determine who much to charge for a sewing project? A woman wanted me to make her a shower curtain out of two lined drapery panels, plus she wanted two table runners from some other fabric. I charged her $70 for all of it, which was WAY too low in light of the scope of the project and the nunber of hours it took me. This was my first (and possible last) project for pay.

  26. says

    My daughter’s co-worker paid me to make him a StarTrek costume. I didn’t charge enough and decided I wouldn’t do that again – and haven’t. It turned out nice, but just too much work and stress for too little pay. I do, however, teach sewing classes. If something doesn’t work like I want – I tell them this is expected in sewing and get used to it. I provide a sewing kit and box to keep it in plus they get to make a pillow in the first class – they’re hooked once they make something! I prefer to teach someone how to sew rather than sew for them. That way, they learn what it really takes to make something worth wearing. I have sufficient patterns, tracing paper and material to get them started – once they make something that fits them, they want to do more. When I am able, I even pass on sewing machines that are in good working order and I don’t have too much invested in – that takes away their excuse for now continuing. Alterations is a tricky job – you can make a minor mistake that can’t be corrected and there goes your reputation. Easier just to say “No”!!

  27. MsKRS' Pink Stitches says

    I am sooo with you on this one chick..I absolutely HATE when other people ask me to sew for them…I only sew for myself and my immediate family; which is my daughter and I…I guess it irritates me so much because they just assume that you want to just because you sew…I always tell them to learn to sew things themselves and some get mad, some say okay (but they never do, and others just act like they dont hear you while they ask and ask again for me to sew them something…Like a couple of the ladies said before we are not professionals and the things we make may look very good to those that do not sew but we know all the little issues the garment has…they dont understand that we arent comfortable with taking money for things we’ve sewn; its almost dishonest….Idk I just dont sew for others and if I’m selfish then so be it…but I feel they are selfish because they refuse to learn to do something so valuble for themselves….Thank you so much for sharing this post…I needed to see this….:)

  28. Without the 'H' says

    I was looking for a forum to vent about my pet peeve when people ask me to do alterations for them like i’m a one woman shop where they can get a deal. I’m a fashion student and do know how to sew, but if I wanted to do alterations for a living I would work for an alterations shop. They are time consuming, can be costly and are not worth while unless you have an organized workroom and expense system like an actual alterations shop does. I have always turned them away unless it’s for my immediate family because they don’t understand the labor that goes into it if you are not a full functioning alterations shop. I have worked for those shops before and it’s much more cost effective for someone to get their clothes fixed there; they’re fast, reliable and in business for a reason. Fashion students are usually looking to work in a technical industry position that is beyond sewing, sewing is the last thing any fashion student wants to do in their free time. Now, I’ve decided that it’s best to act as an alterations consultant; i’ll look at the garment they want to have fixed tell them what would be needed and then recommend a local alterations shop instead of doing any favors. Because I seriously take that question as an insult.