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setting fees

MissLou | Posted in General Discussion on


I recently became a member to this Website and wish everyone a happy new year.  I also recently became a first time shopgirl, I opened my first sewing studio, I had outgrown my second bedroom in my condo.  I am working on a shoestring budget with the idea that I need to earn enough sewing to pay the office rent and the water cooler fee.  I was reading past discussions about setting fees and I have determined that I am the cheapest seamstress in Dallas.  Writers from the posts from April 2007 encouraged a sewer that fees could be set at $20-$30 an hour for labor.  My meager fees are $12-$15 per hour and that does not include fittings or delivery or for time purchasing supplies such as threads, etc.   Help! I feel like I am clearly out of the ballpark.

Miss Lou


  1. damascusannie | | #1

    You have to set your fees high enough to cover operating expenses: rent, utilities, wear and tear on your sewing machine(s), mileage if you do deliveries, etc. On top of that, you have your labor costs for ALL the time you spend on an item, including fittings. You may wish to offer one free fitting as a sort of incentive, but no more than that and I'd recommend that it be the final one, which should take the least amount of time because the garment is done and ready for delivery. Your fees must be high enough for you to make a decent wage after expenses. We are having a similar discussion on another forum and it's time for professional seamstresses to get paid a fair wage for their time and talent!

    1. User avater
      ThreadKoe | | #4

       Successfull business (of any kind) need a 60/40 split of the PROFIT (after all expenses) in order to survive.  60% goes back to the business for future product purchases, remodels, equipment, gas, and float.  The 40% goes into the pocket of the owner as paycheck, if the business can survive removing the whole 40%.  Of that 40%, half should be SAVED for slow periods, when there is no income, or when the business needs all the money earned. 

      When a business goes to a lending institution for a loan, or for a line of credit, that 20% sitting in the bank will make the difference between a yes and a no.

      When setting prices for your work, remember this.  Are you really setting your prices high enough to live on????"?"?"?"????????"   Cathy

  2. sewchris703 | | #2

    Think of it this way: mechanics and plumbers all make $50-75 (or more) an hour. Why shouldn't us dressmakers make a decent wage?Chris

  3. gailete | | #3

    The few times people have asked me to sew for them and I've quoted a not high price, but a sufficient one they look like they are gasping for air. I don't know why people think everything should be made for $5-10. I even had a young lady ask me to make her some dresses. She was a minister's daughter and apparently had had people sewing for her all her life as gifts. When I told her that if I made dresses for her it would cost way more than buying them in the store and she wondered why. Then I told her the costs of fabric, etc. plus my time--it was the plus my time where she choked up. I guess she thought I, a single, divorced working mother, should spend what little free time sewing for FREE for this young lady who had a full time job and still lived at home for free.

    All this to say, begin how you expect to end. Figure out your customer base and who you want to sew for. Don't waste your time sewing for people who don't appreciate your work and as the other ladies mentioned charge for every bit of time you spend on their project, including time for the phone calls they may make to yak about their project and their love life. When they know you are charging like a lawyer, they will cut things short and not waste your time. As long as you are confident that your skills are worth it, charge enough per hour to cover the costs of your business, any notions you use need to be charged for also right down to each little hook and eye.

    Kathrine Spike has a great book out about this and explains it clearly. Having a price list that you can send customers so they can have an idea what their project will cost will be helpful.


  4. DesignandSew | | #5

    Glad to hear you are expanding your business...now it is time to start thinking like a business person if you want to stay in that business.  We "people of the cloth" love our work but we don't always charge the way we should.  I just finished a gown for a very happy customer (this was the dream bride...everything I did was perfect) and this is how I charged and protected myself at the same time.  Create a contract for custom design work, itemize items only for standard alterations, do not itemize for custom work but give the customer one price.  Include in your contract the charge for changes after work has begun on the garment (after it's cut).  Include a design and pattern fee if it's your own creative work, include a set number of fittings (I like at least three/four for a custom bridal gown)  Include the terms of payment, (ex. 1/3 down, 1/3 at first muslin fitting, and final payment due two weeks before pickup) Include delivery fees if they want delivery and no refunds on anything once the fabric is cut.)  By charging what you are worth you will eliminate customers who don't take your work seriously.  I took the advice of some Gatherings members last year (I think you might have referred to the discussion what should I charge) and fabrication expenses and multiplied them by 1.5.  I choked on the price at first ($3600 for the gown) but I drew up the contract, sent it to the bride and she sent me the first two payments, no questions asked. (I said she was the dream bride.)  In exchange she received a custom gown that fit her perfectly and I included a few little touches that made the gown more special.  At the third fitting the bride and her mother were so happy they told me I undercharged.  I hope this helps, stick to your guns, there are people who will pay for quality work.  Good Luck!

    1. Luecien | | #6

      I agree that no one should under charge themselves when it comes to their time. 

      I have sporadically sewn for people.  I was let go after 20 years of service and want to focus on making a business using my sewing skills of over 20 years.  Moving it to the business level.  Already own the required equipment (sergers, hemmer, sewing machines) and recently invested in an Brother Embroidery Pro II.  Not sure if I should have done the Brother Embroidery Pro II, hopefully it won't be an expensive lesson.  All in an effort to prepare for the business of sewing.  In addition, I've regiestered a business name, setup an business account with the local credit union.  Hopefully I didn't pull the cart before the horse!

      Even with the economy being as it is there are those out there who require and are interested custom, quality work and are welling to pay for those services.  At one point, I thought about weddings, more on bridal party vs. wedding gown, proms, embroidery projects.  

      How did you market yourself?  Do you have any suggestions for getting the word out?

      Does anyone have suggesions out there.  I know I'm good at what I do.

      1. DesignandSew | | #7

        I haven't really marketed myself but I'm starting to get some feedback, word of mouth is always good.  You are taking it more seriously than I did, I still have a full time job so a sewing business takes back seat to it unfortunately.   Have you befriended anyone at a local fabric store that could refer customers to you?  They usually have a job board for posting business cards, etc.  What about a web page displaying your work along with your contact information?  You might be surprised about the interest people have in embroidered items.  Everyone that I know that embroiders for a business has more work than they can handle, especially during the holidays.  The reason is that once they embroider for schools, groups, and corporations they don't have just one item per client, they may have 30 jackets needing the same design and team name.  This could actually provide your cash flow because they are small projects that take less time while custom sewing takes longer but provides bigger payoffs when you are finished.  I hope this helps.  Keep all of us at Gatherings posted, I would love to know how you do.

        1. Luecien | | #9

          At one point I had a full-time, but with the acq. many were let go.  At this point I needed to do something.  At this point it is slow starting.  Right now I'm working on a project which is turning out to be less creative.  I really need to step it up since the assignment I am currently working on is scheduled to end in July and would like to have the business really up and running.  Should have done it sometime ago.  Wish me luck!


        2. Luecien | | #11

          Thank you for your suggestion.  Trying to get through this time consuming project so that I can move forward.  Took it on because it was a friend.  While I'll get paid, it has taken me more time than usual!

        3. KharminJ | | #13

          Good fortune to all you new sewers-for-hire!

          A simple thing you can each do, is to put more information about yourself, and especially where you're located, in your Profile here! It can help generate more accurate advice, and with this marvelous WWW thing we all play on, you can never tell when I may know someone in your town who needs exactly whatever we've just been talking about! "Networking" is one big reason we keep coming back!

          Kathleen Fasanella has a terrific website at http://www.fashion-incubator.com/products_services/ that covers many many facets of sewing-as-a-business, including a fascinating blog where you can ask questions and get feedback. She also is on this forum (doh! that's how I found her stuff in the first place!) but I can't remember her screen-name right now... There are also many previous threads that touch on this vast subject. (I just hope your Search skills are better than mine! LOL)

          Don't be afraid to more than cover your costs and make some profit - that's why you're doing this after all!

          Rise and Shine in 2009!


      2. User avater
        MissLou | | #8

        Greetings, and thanks to all who offered encouraging words and great advice.  I will be looking into revising my fees with all new customers who request information from me. 

        Also, to Luecien, I work part time at a fabric store, which is a great resource in itself.  You can go to your local fabric retailers and ask if they have a notebook or some sort of posting system to put your business cards and/or professional flyers.  If you are already a frequent shopper at a fabric store, mention to the staff what project you are working on or what you just completed.  Often times the people near by may be the next customer you get.  Many times customers are buying their fabric and as I am cutting it they will ask if our store has anyone we can refer them to for the sewing of their project.  We refer them to our seamstress reference book.  I have gotten many sewing jobs this very way.

        Good day to all and happy sewing!


        1. Luecien | | #10

          Thank you so much for your advice. At one point I was working with someone, however, they were not generating enough work for a partner.  I found myself spending more time on their business and less time getting myself together which proved to be very frustrated.

  5. Susan -homedecsewing | | #12

    MissLou, What are your strong points in sewing. Just my story but I think we all have something to share on here. Do what you love to do and do it the very best you can. I personally had to switch from sewing any and everything, to just home decor. And the reason was ,I love it ,I am very good, and it pays much more with less customers.We all need to realize our talent and not let people who think we should sew for free because their mom or gramma did it all for free, keep us stuck. Being the people pleasers some of us kind ladies seem to be , we lose our selfworth and guilt ourselves right out of asking what we are worth. Not to mention sewing is a dying art. Try not to be wishy washy. Study your competitors prices. Make a price list and know you are worth it  ! And write things out on contracts ,Good luck, with kind regards, Susan

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