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setting fees

llou1of7 | Posted in General Discussion on

Greetings! I’ve been an avid seamstress for 30+ years. I’ve made period costumes for theatre and designed hats. I’ve also made countless gifts, most of my clothes, and all my sewn home furnishings over those years.

But, other than a shortlived stint making period hats for a vintage store on consignment, I’ve never done it for hire.

Oops. Correction: back in the 70’s I agreed to do some blackwork embroidery for a friend’s medieval shirt. Then I discovered that in order to make the fee affordable for him, I would get paid roughly 43 cents an hour 🙁

I’ve gone on merrily since then doing it for love. But I am now faced with the opportunity to do it for money.

Two people in the last week have asked me straight out to sew for them. One woman in a grocery store yesterday complimented me on my hat. When I told her I’d made it, she followed me out to the parking lot, asking for my business card. She was quite serious.

A friend of mine –a man– wants a long, very slim-fitting duster coat similar to the one worn by Neo in the Matrix. There is a pattern, but I will need to alter it for him and it has princess seams (prince seams? ;). He also wants some design alterations that won’t be very difficult to do.

In both cases, this work would involve, not design from the ground up, but adapting patterns to suit the buyer’s wishes and fit.

Here’s my question. I have NO CLUE what to charge them, and they both want to know what I will charge them –and soon.



  1. suesew | | #1

    The coat sound like $100 maybe $150 plus materials- depends on the amount of tailoring. Is it a costume (where you can get away with leaving out some of the innards) or is it a real tailored menswear deal. How much would he have to pay for a real one. Don't give away your work. How many hours of work go into the hat? I'd charge at least $20 an hour.

  2. dressed2atee | | #2

    Hi there, I just attended a meeting with Professional Association of Custom Clothiers on this very topic!  There is a program out there, when I get home I will send you the name---but it figures out how much to charge based on how many seams you sew, hand sewing, cutting and laying a pattern, consultations/fittings, etc.  The sample used a skirt and the charge with around $35 an hour.

    We all are guilty of shortchanging ourselves when it comes to sewing for others!

    I agree at $25 an hour on both projects.



  3. Teaf5 | | #3

    Long ago, I did consignment sewing and found a formula that suggested five times the cost of materials. That added up to very pricey garments but just barely made it worth my time as a starving student.Nowadays, unless I was bored to tears and couldn't think of any other way to spend my time, I would find a similar item at retail and then double the price for a custom-made one. A lot of people think that having something sewn for them will end up costing less than buying it would, but that is true only in third-world countries. Those who want something distinctive and unique know that it's going to cost them more than the normal retail price, so your task is to find out which group each customer fits into, and then sew only for the latter. Let us know what you decide to do!

    1. mainestitcher | | #4

      I agree, and tell folks who phone now, "Two to Five times RTW."  Often they don't continue (and that's why I have a day job.)

      Perhaps a more tactful way to say this would be, "And what is your budget for this item?." 

      I work part-time at a bridal chain (Yes, the big one) and every day I marvel at all the different fabric and trims that go into a garment that sells for less than I could make it for myself, and it's not even on sale. 

      This week a woman called my home, wanted the shoulders raised on a dress, and wanted it in five days. I told her $30. Potential customers don't always see or understand the steps involved, and I was figuring "worst case scenario."  She said, as people often do, "I didn't pay that much for the dress." I suppose I could have phrased it more gently, but I did tell her that whether she got the dress at Nordstom's or Salvation Army, the labor to alter it was the same. 

      The only thing that annoys me about the big discount stores (I've worked there, too) is that the American public has grown accustomed to the idea that anything they desire can be had for $19.95.

      1. tmorris1 | | #5

        Something that I do to offset the cost of producing a garment (won't help if all that you are doing is alterations) is to have my own fabric shop at home. I will scour the discount fabric stores and buy up 5 or 10 meters of fabric when it is at a really good price. For example I just bought 10 meters of this brilliant Armani suiting for $2.00/meter then I will mark the original price of the fabric (before discount) and sell it to my customers at the original price ($36.00/meter.) I know it may sound underhanded, but my customers prefer being able to touch the fabrics, drape them together, etc, and I just look at it as I have done the work in finding this stuff, and I am going to reap the rewards. Plus it gives me a way to "mark stuff down" and give my customers a deal sometimes. What they don't know will never hurt them

        1. Sewdance | | #6

          Making a profit on fabrics, etc. that you sell to a customer is not "underhanded"!! If you sell an item for the amount you paid for it you haven't made a profit.In regards to pricing - if, as suggested, you charge $100-$150 to make this coat and you're figuring labor rate at $25.00 per hour that means you must complete the project in 4-6 hours total. Is that sufficient time?? Be sure to include everything- the time it takes to meet with the client, obtaining fabrics/notions, cutting, sewing, fitting, finishing, pressing, delivery, etc. What an item of RTW clothing costs does not have any bearing on what you should charge for a custom made garment.

          1. tmorris1 | | #7

            Thank you Sewdance, I sometimes have to remind myself that some of my customers would gladly pay $15.00 for a jacket that I had spent 3 days finishing with hong kong seams. Buying fabrics in advance allows me to be the perfectionist and still turn a profit.

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