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Big dilemma with a customer….Help!

Beavette | Posted in General Discussion on

So here is the deal….A woman brought me her daughters prom dress which is completely beaded from top to bottom. It had a train on it that she wanted removed. I had the girl put the dress on and I marked the new hemline. The mother said she thought the front would be to long if left like it was so I raised the front an inch. The whole job had to be done by hand because I could not use the machine. She also asked that the straps be shortened to hold the boobs in better, so I did. The hips also needed taken in where a bubble protruded on each side. (one side had a zipper to deal with as well where I was taking it in on the side)This was ALL done by hand.
The end fitting was a shock. The dress was about 2 inches from the expected hem line, and because the beads weighted down the dress, the hem raised when the train was removed. I mentioned that this was new to me in the beginning, but the customer was really not 100% satisfied, so feeling a bit responsible for this, I only charged her $30 and sent her on her way….mind you the dress looked good on the hips and on the straps, and even on the hem in my opinion. (The daughter when asked said “it’s fine”) Customer paid and then left with the dress.
Later that evening, the woman called to ask me if I had the pieces that I had cut off, and could she come and get them to try to fix it up herself. I said sure and I was sorry that she was disappointed with the dress. She hadn’t come by to get them yet.
Next morning,(today) the woman called to ask for her money back and said her daughter had a breakdown and the dress just will not work and considering how much they paid for the dress felt that she should get her money back so she could go find something else, because a new one like that would take 8 weeks to be delivered. In haste, I said fine I’ll tear it up, and hung up quite upset.
Here is my dilemma..I am already out many hours of labor, I know I should just say to bad and sorry, but I feel I have a reputation in our small town and she was referred to me by an important person in the business community.
My daughter thinks I should call her up and explain that labor is labor and she can’t get her money back especially when I charged her a fraction of my times worth.
What do you think I should do? Tear up the check and say bye bye, or call and confront.


  1. kbalinski | | #1

    Sorry to hear of your dilemma.  How frustrating and stressful knowing the time it required and the amount of work you did that enhanced the look and fit.  If it were me, I would say bye bye and chalk it up to a lesson learned the hard way.  If you already told the woman you'd rip up the check, then move in that direction.  If she contacts you again to complain more, then I'd share your opinions with her.

    Good luck! 

  2. Ralphetta | | #2

    What a terrible experience. I don't think i would have anticipated that result. It sounds to me like you did FAR more than $30 work, so I think I would just give her her money back. Let her see what $30 will get her elsewhere. Your reputation is worth more than that. Of course, the next person will be warned about the potential problem. If the train removal caused a weight difference, would a drapery chain in the dress hem have pulled it down enough?

  3. MaryinColorado | | #3

    Oh, I am so sorry that you had this terrible experience!  Since you already said you would tear up the check, ethically, I think you should.  I would also keep her and her daughter's name written down somewhere so you never deal with them again.  Your reputation and good name are so important, especially in a small town!

    In the future, I would tell customers up front and even have a large sign that says "time and labor fees are nonrefundable". 

    That woman has alot of gall, maybe she's too stressed and overwhelmed to be humane!!!  I once gave up a very close friend  because she turned into a woman like that.  She started treating clerks and waiters badly and acting as if she were "better" than others.  It was embarrasing, I tried to discuss it with her to no avail over several months, thinking she would go back to being the nice person she had been for over 5 years.  One day we were in a neighborhood restaurant and she whistled and snapped her fingers at the waiter!!!  He happened to be a teenage friend of my son's.  That was the last straw!   I paid for my lunch before it was served and explained the reason to the manager  before I walked out.  Two years later, she was asked to leave an upscale restaurant and not to return because they wouldn't tolerate thier staff being treated poorly. 

    Everything comes full circle, like the "Golden Rule"  "Do unto others as you would have done to you".   I believe in Karma, for what it's worth.  You can be proud of yourself for being such a good person in spite of the pain it caused you.  Mary

  4. dollmarm | | #4

    WOW,  You  never  know just what people can really sink to - I agree with the others - it does sound like you did more than the $30.and then to come back and want it for free wow - you know what goes around comes around. Many yrs. ago I was asked by a co-worker to talk to her friend who wanted this a dress made.   I agreed to talk to  her and then we made an agreement and she up stated up front how much she would pay me as she made her other seamstress she had used and her price was better than I had thought of asking. First of all this lady did not tell me that she had already cut out most of the pieces and or anything about the material.  There was a fine nap and she the pieces were coming and going in all direction and it was a mess.  There was not enough fabric to begin with and she laid it how she felt and then started cutting.  I had no idea of all this until I got to work one day and the co-worker gave me this large bag to check out.  First mistake,  I took the bag home & didn't look at the office so I could have atleast shown them there. When I called the lady & explain why it could not be done  - she was livid w/ me! This lady bad mouthed me to others and I could not get anyone else to trust that I knew what I was doing cause I was young.  The lady was very important in the community, plus I was new.  Then she lied telling the others I cut out the fabric when she had.  I was so young and inexperienced that I didn't try again for quite a while and we move from that area.  However others did see with the clothes I had made fitted right and etc...   You trust ones to be honest and wow. When I lived in India I had a Beaded Ball-gown altered when we were to attend the Marine Ball and I had several fitting and alterations and would have paid whatever to get it to fit just right.  Mine was completely full of handstitched beads and it was heavy.  All alterations were hand made and time consuming so I know the work you put in.IT is no small matter to have this fitted correctly.  I had purchased this gown from the lady who originally made it and she wanted to fit it just - it was in the cost of the dress.  She was an up & coming Dress-maker there in India.  She originally made it for a Beauty contestant.  The  lady wore it once and gave it back.  SO I got a great deal. She went on to make many of dress, jackets and more for many while we were there and her business is a success.  We never knew why this Beauty Contestant didn't buy this gown.  But for whatever the reason - this designer made it fit for me as if she had originally made it for me in mind.  TO make this long story short - you were terribly mistreated - like with the lady that lied about me in my first years of sewing for others - you come across those and unless you have a signed written contract for what labor is and that is a cost paid just for your time.  That is hard to establish when you first start.  I didn't have that and I wish I knew more of what I know now - we grow and we learn as we go.  When my kids were little and I started watching kids in my home - I had a contract drawn up with each family w/everything explained out, even if they were my friends.  When there were problem we could go back to the contract to make sure what was and was not explained out.   Most of the time I was respected for it and that in home business lasted for several years until we moved once again. I really wish you well with your sewing business - Some day in her future she will be reminded how she mistreated you and she will wish she had handled it better and a tleast paid for your time it took you. Happty Easter,  :~)

  5. Ocrafty1 | | #5

    I'm so sorry you had a client like her to deal with; but it happens. Since you told her you'd dispose of the check, that's what you should do. You'll have to chalk this one up to a learning experince; albeit, a bad one.  For future reference: go with YOUR instincts when it comes to sewing. If your client had felt confident enough to do the alterations herself, she would have...just to save the $$ and have bragging rights.  If I have a client who is questioning my judgement, I tell them that my experience has taught me that I'd rather have to refit a garment, than make it too short or small. Fittings are figured into the cost of the alterations, and I always tell them that there will be a minimum of 3 for alterations....the first to get the basic shape/legnth; the second to see if I need to make adjustments; and the third to make sure it fits perfectly.  I do not go to their home; they come to mine. I will adjust my schedule, somewhat, but I am not at their beck and call. I do not take business calls after 8PM...I tell them the have to call back.

    I require all of my clients to state that they are satisfied with the end result...for most this is verbal, but there was one instance where the client basically didn't want to pay for all the alterations. She liked the way it fit, but decided that she wanted the bodice tighter...I realtered it...and she could barely breathe..but she was ecstatic with the way it made her look. I had her sign a statement that the alterations were to her specs.  She called me 2 days later and complained that she couldn't breathe in the gown...Duh.  I told her that she'd asked for the 2nd bodice alteration, against my recommendation, and that if she wanted it altered again, she'd have to pay again. It just so happened that I had made price increases the day after she picked up the dress....(on purpose...in anticipation of her call.) She paid...extra!, but I will not sew for her again....I'm always "booked" when she calls.

    My worst case was a sewing job for my sister, a hairdresser. We both learned to sew in 4-H...she's only 15 mos. younger than me, but she didn't pursue sewing knowledge after 4-H.  She'd bought a beautiful reembroidered black alecon lace fabric to go over a charmuse for an evening dress.  She thought she could make the dress herself and had begun sewing it...it didn't fit, because she didn't fit the pattern correctly. She called and asked if I could fix/finish it. After looking at the pattern and seeing the dress on her, I told her I could fix it.  I pin fitted the alterations on her, and took the dress home and started working on it.  One of her favorite clients was an older lady who had taught sewing at the HS we graduated from.  This dear lady was an excellent, experienced seamstress, who really knew her stuff...from scratch.  Sis told her how I'd gone about pinning the dress. The lady told her that there was no way that I could fix it if it wasn't cut properly to begin with.  My sister is very tiny, and by taking the dress in at the back, sides, and repositioning the front bust dart, and the armscye, it would have fit perfectly. I know there are ways to alter a dress when you need to make it smaller all over, but since this lady....who, by the way, did not do alterations...told sis that it couldn't be done that way, (she recommended buying new fabric and starting over) Sis decided that I didn't know what I was doing and asked for the dress back. She threw it out, even though the lace cost over $70/yd...back in '81.  What made thing worse, was that she and her 'teacher' friend told the story to most of the clients that came into her shop.  It did nothing to help my reputation. Only my integrity, and insistence on quality workmanship from myself restored my reputation.

    Just keep your standards high and don't take any guff from clients who don't know what they're talking about. Give them your expert advice, and if they don't want to take it, let them take their business somewhere else...and give someone else the headache!


    1. User avater
      Flax | | #6

      AMEN SISTER : )

    2. Beavette | | #7

      Wow, Thank you for all your wonderful stories and advice.
      You all have helped me decided to take my own gut feeling and flow with it. I think I just needed some justification for what I was feeling and my 19 year old daughter needed an example of how to deal with difficult people. Today's youth tend to think monetary gain is the ultimate end, where I still think that moral and ethical actions bring peace to the mind and the situation. I did tear up the check and sent a note with the check explaining the situation to the customer, this way I got some closure and could put it behind me. I have learned from this ordeal and will do things a little different in the future. Sewing is my passion as well as my business, and I just wanted the customer to be happy with the results of my efforts. I am a fixer.....you all know the type I am sure. I have to remind myself from time to time that I cannot fix everything, and this is one of those times....

      1. mainestitcher | | #8

        I can't make you feel better. Well, maybe. I had a boss, who in his past life had had a boss, who would periodically say, " YYY, you screwed up! You're always screwing up! And do you know why? You're the only one around here who does anything!" You're more likely to make mistakes whenever you try anything new. I'm not entirely sure, given your description, that it was you who made a mistake. Were the straps pinned in the shortened position before you pinned the hem? Was the dress chiffon? Sometimes chiffon "Jumps" when it is cut, with less weight to hold it down. Did you measure the shoes on prom girl when she came in for her fitting? Or could she have swapped shoes to make herself taller on prom night?In the store where I currently work, we measure the heel height of the customer's shoes, and record it. We then take the customer's bust, waist, and hip measurement and record those, too. On the ticket, in pen. A really good idea, especially when a woman comes in and her waist and hips are two inches bigger than they were three weeks ago.Requests by customers that go against our better judgment are noted, "PCR" (per customer request).

        1. Beavette | | #9

          This ordeal was odd to begin with. The strap shortening was an afterthought of the mother, so I do believe that shortening the criss-cross in back straps 1 1/2" did contribute to the shortening of the gown...especially at the sides, also the girl did have on shoes at the fitting, but I didn't remember them being as tall as the ones she wore to the final fitting. I am taking notes on your comments ...I will keep everything in mind...I like the "PCR" term, I could have used that one....The mother insisted I shorten the front despite my suggestion of only removing the train. This whole situation has been a week long mistake.....I have grown from the experience that is for sure.
          Thank you,

        2. Ocrafty1 | | #11

          Great Tips for all of us who sew for others...not just clients.  Thanks!


  6. DonnaCouture | | #10

    Hi Beavette, If I may give my opinion?

    First, because you forwarned the mother that you did not do beaded dresses, you should have declined the job.  And most importantly, since you are the expert and not the mother once you agreed to do it, it was your job to access the fitting options as well as how to go about the work to be done.   For instance: the straps......was the daughter wearing the proper undergarments at the time of the fitting of the gown?  If not, that's the first thing to establish.  If she was, by listening to the mom regarding pulling up the straps, that causes the hip area of the dress to rise too.  So that causes another fitting area to do.

    I don't know where you work area wise, but I have done costuming, bridal, etc from East coast to West and doing beading and other hand work is very time consuming.  You should have charged her $30/hour and explain why before you started the work.

    The best thing now is to refund the customer, be polite about it as the professional that you are, and know that it will never happen to you again.  Also remember, that there are always customers that can't be pleased.  It's one of your tasks in the business to recognize who they are!  Don't let the situation discourage you.....it is simply a lesson learned.

    Sincerely, DonnaCouture 

    1. Beavette | | #12

      Thank you for your words, they inspire me and acually bring tears to my eyes..thank you again.

      1. dollmarm | | #13

        Its amazing how much info. you gather from all and how much you learn.  I have been amazed how much I thought I did and didn't when I started asking for more insight.  I pray you continued insight and wealth of knowledge as you continue to sew.  I do some day want to get back to sewing for others.  But I will need a helper in the home with all or another one to help out with extra sewing - actually would love both so we can do it all together.   :~)  There is so much we see after the fact too, yet we trust and are so hurt as those that first ask for our help treat us as they were doing us a favor.  DO yo have other clients to sew for?  Sincerely :~) tera

        1. Beavette | | #14

          A bit about me........
          I have a degree in Fashion Design from The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco 1988. I have a small design studio next door to my house in downtown Benicia(California-Bay Area)I have been sewing for clients about 20 years now, but just full time for the last two years. I home schooled my two children and sewed part time and taught sewing class while doing that, now that they are in college, I do my studio sewing on a referral basis. I don't advertise, but through word of mouth, fliers around town and business cards at the fabric stores I am always busy. I have regular customers that are always bringing me sewing jobs. They range from simple alterations to custom design creations. I have busy seasons and slow seasons. 99.9% of the time my customers are happy and therefor my job and I are happy.


          1. dollmarm | | #15

            OH I be so jealous of your degree-  mine is from the the school of hard knocks of sewing.  I grew up and lived in Ga until I met my hubby and then he went into military. My background is medical and I was to be a Nurse; met and married my husband and then worked with Handicap and Mental Retarded children at the John F Kennedy School in CA.    I too home taught my children when our daughter was in the 2nd grade on ....  She scored very high in her GED and went on some college courses.  She was the youngest police detective, but too much going and she and moved to TN with her now hubby and she is expecting.  She sews some.  I made all my clothes when I was a teen,  My parents were poor and I wanted all the latest fashions and couldn't afford them.  MY grandmother was a professional seamstress and she was the expert zipper lady as many called her.   When I left home I sold several hefty bags of clothes - too many to ship when I married.  I love to see what I can come up with.  There was a college I wanted to attend in New York but my family was too protective to send me.   I had won contest and etc... but they still would allow me so I chose Nursing and then married.  The training I had working with those kids was great - for I have a 24yr. Autistic son and it's amazing how much in life it prepares for the next stage of life. 

            MY grandmother made almost all my clothing growing up.  It was neat watching her, she would take us in a store & we would pick out what we wanted she would look it over - give it that tacky look & we would leave.  She would measure us and by the next week we 3 girls would have new dresses.   My 4th sister was born when I was 13 and we are the closet and bless her heart she has no sewing  skills but she is a nut and fun!  I sewed alot for my daughter growing up.  I did as my mother would do - she would stand us up on the table and blind fold us and try these patterns on us.  She tried on all sorts so we never knew if we were getting dresses or pants or a top and skirt.  I thought wow what a weird thing  - well I did the same thing for my girl and it was fun to surprise her.   I wish I had the time to sew more for her.  She is much bigger than me and  she makes some of her things - right now being pregnant she doesn't want much new.  Her hubby bought her a few things to do until after the baby comes. My daughter is simple and I am more the crafty one.  WE do have a craft area in our great room and a table with an Easel for my son for painting.  That's fun.   I do see you have many others to sew for and this lady just lost a good thing! So sorrie, but it will be more her loss, in the long run of things,  Enjoyed getting to know ya:~)  tera

          2. Beavette | | #16

            You sound fun...and very dedicated to your family, that is great to hear. My final project for graduation was a maternity line because I was 8 months pregnant with my second child when I was in my last year of college. It was actually fun, because I used myself as the model. I was one of the older students in my graduating class, most were single and not even thinking about kids yet, me on the other hand, had two during my schooling and only 11 months apart, so maternity wear was my specialty at the time...My daughter is not a sewer, and I am sure when she starts to have kids I will be called upon to do the sewing thing.
            Glad to get to know you too.

          3. dollmarm | | #17

            Sewing Maternity would be neat and exciting.  Great to use yourself as a model too.  My daughter and I had talked of me making several things for her, but lives several states away and she stated for now to wait when she will need better clothing for after the baby. I had fun sewing and shopping for the maternity clothes I loved it.  I also would make matching dresses and jumpers when she was little esp around the holidays.   I have a couple of pictures of us both when she was a little girl.  It has been great knowing you too.  Happy sewing and I am sure we will yack some more in this site and others through out this gatherings postings,  :~) 

          4. fabricholic | | #18

            I would love to see the pictures of you and your daughter in the matching outfits. How fun!Marcy

          5. dollmarm | | #20

            WOW I will have to go look at some photos - I will get back with u on that one ! :~)P.S. good advice on the customer and road rage.  Sometimes we are going along getting to our destination that we do accidental cut some one off and they do not handle it well and we have to be the bigger person and that is extremely hard sometimes esp when we not did intend any harm to begin with.  I lived with an abusive dad that would explode at anything and at time and you never knew, what would set him off. IT is amazing how much can build up and you have to deal with and you are not the one that meant the pain from the start.  Character is built in how we correctly deal with characters  :~)

            Edited 3/31/2008 11:16 am ET by dollmarm

  7. fabricholic | | #19

    You did fit the straps and the hip area and should have been paid for that. You did the right thing by tearing up the check. Let it go. I have been studying about the Holy Spirit and I am learning that getting someone else riled up and maybe they sin because of it, is something I should watch out for. I had a road rage problem with this guy that got mad at me, because I got in front of him on the on-ramp. He pulled beside me and I said that he should learn some manners. He started really cussing then. A few days later, reading my Bible study, I realized I had actually caused him to get riled up and sin. In my opinion, you did the right thing. Does this make any sense, what I am trying to say?MarcyMarcy

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