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What to charge family?

MichelleinMO | Posted in General Discussion on

I have a problem as my sister’s boyfriend wanted me to put in two new zippers into his Carharrt Vest.  When I found the zippers it was $20.00 just to have two shipped to my house.  I figured he would not want to spend that much for two zippers for half worn out vest But He Did!

Yesterday it took me an hour just to rip the first one out.  I am thinking to myself this is a nightmare job.  I don’t like alterations and I will never do this again. 

Plus I had to double wash the two vest twice to get the smell of chewing tobacco out of them.  Then I had my time looking up on the Internet to find the Number 10 zippers that are brass. 

How am I going to end up charging this guy?  I don’t want to do it for free -no such way.  I won’t charge him for washing the garnets or finding the zippers although I am going to list it on the invoice with a charge of $0.00 for those two duties.  What do you charge for ripping something out that took an hour.  It had double or triple stitching to tear out.  What is a fair price.

Also, despite trying to order the correct length I am going to have to modify the zippers by removing teeth with needle nose and cutting the zipper tape.  I can see now in the beginning I am going to cut people off with “I don’t do alterations.”

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!



Michelle in Joplin, MO


  1. Emanzio | | #1

    1 Euro; I charge my husband 1 euro for jobs I dislike and I have to do to drive him happy.
    Most expensive fair is 15 euros only in case I do something very wrong and that offends him much; it looks more like a fine.

    Good luck.

  2. starzoe | | #2

    Personally, I would charge him the regular fee for everything. If he is happy to pay $20 for two zippers, once he hears your story on how much work it took he just might be agreeable to pay you what your time and effort is worth.

    But I don't know the man or how he fits into the family. It's touchy, isn't it?

  3. ellaluna | | #3

    I am struggling with this right now myself. In my area, stitchers at the basic level make about $12/hour. I would figure out what you would quote to a complete stranger and write it up on your invoice that way.

    Give him that invoice. Then tell him that because he's "family" he gets a 50% discount.

    And I would totally charge him for your RESEARCH! That's a valuable service, and one you were able to do because of your years of experience and knowledge! The washing, well, I'd at least charge him cost - your water, detergent, etc. That stuff adds up.

    Whenever anyone approaches me (like a stranger or acquaintance, for example) about alterations or sewing, and I don't want to do it, I think about what $$ amount would be worth it to me to overcome my distaste for the job, and then I quote them that amount. If they like it, great, I'll take their money. If they don't, then they can find someone else to do it.

  4. sewslow67 | | #4

    I agree with Starzoe; it's touchy ...but do charge your regular amount.   I suspect most of us have been in that awkward position.

    My latest solution (which is working out quite nicely) is to start to laugh (which is natural for me, as I absolutely hate to do alterations) and then say:  "I'd be willing to do it, but I doubt you'd want to pay what I'd charge".  (And then really hike up the charges).

    Another one of my favorite responses is to say:  "Surely you jest!  (giggle) Except on rare occasions, I don't even do my own alterations"! 

    NOTE:  (What they don't know is that I don't do my own alterations, because I don't buy something if it doesn't fit, and I sew most of my own clothes from scratch ...which don't need alterations!)

  5. User avater
    JunkQueen | | #5

    I like ellaluna's solution, i.e., to write up an invoice as if he weren't family, then verbally give him a discount. That way, he knows what your work's monetary value IS. This would seem to me to be a way to discourage the thought that alterations should be cheap!

    As to alterations' prices in general, a good rule of thumb for distasteful customers and/or jobs is to charge 'em 'til you're having fun.

    Edited 4/16/2009 3:06 pm by JunkQueen

  6. User avater
    ThreadKoe | | #6

    Write the bill with all time charges! Then call around and price what the other usual places charge for a similar service. Charge the highest price. Decide on a family discount, somewhere between 15 and 50% off. That is what most stores give staff for discounts! Only discount the labour charge tho. Most people get upset because they do not get paid enough by family, or expect to get work done for free. Set the example now, and you won't have to worry in the future.
    One of my friends has something she calls a PITA tax or charge. It is an extra 20% or extra charge for troublesome problems or extra time. (Pain in the A$$) he he he It works for her. Cathy

    1. User avater
      JunkQueen | | #7

      Good advice Cathy. That PITA charge is what I mean by "charge 'em 'til you're having fun."

      1. User avater
        ThreadKoe | | #8

        I like your charge till your having fun idea as well! Mind you, the other option is to stall on the job until they give up in frustration, tee hee hee. The shoemaker's children have no shoes, and the tailor's children run in rags... Cathy

        1. User avater
          JunkQueen | | #9

          *Grin* I do not disagree with your stall tactic. Has held me in good stead for many years regarding many unwanted (read that uncompensated) projects.

          1. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #10

            *Sigh* Must be the weather getting to me, or that basket of mending that I must do for myself, tee hee. It has been stalled for a while, he he he. Perhaps the promise of a Saturday Yard Sale or two to get me moving? Cathy

  7. Ocrafty1 | | #11

    I also agree with ellaluna's suggestion. I run into this all the time with family/friends. I make up a very detailed estimate/invoice, listing everything that I expect that I'm going to do. When they pick up their garment, I give a second invoice detailing everything I've done. There are times when they are different...and I have proof of what I've told them up front. I do this for all of my clients! I give this to them before I agree to do the alterations, or as soon as possible after I agree to do the job. This lets them know exactly what is required to do the alterations. If there are any changes...you might run into something you weren't expecting...such as a seam that needs repaired first, in order to do what they want done, I notify them before continuing the project. They may decide that it is not worth fixing after all...and they can't say that I changed things on them...I also make a note of the date I notified them on the final invoice.  

    There is a lot of work in doing alterations...many times much more than making a garment from scratch. I also show the discount that I'm giving them in red....usually 10-50%, depending on how close I am to them...family gets 50%, if they are only neighbors that I'm not very good friends with, its 10%. You deserve to be paid for what your knowledge and expertise in what you do.  If they could do it themselves....they would!  So get paid for everything. 

    I've learned this the hard way.  Thread, broken needles/pins, detergent, spray starch, interfacing/stabalizers, seam binding, pearls and sequins, bits of lace, wear and tear on your machine (especially when working with very heavy fabrics) all of those things add up...even if you already have them in your stash....you have to replace them!  So charge accordingly.  In my area of Indiana, the usual charge for replacing a jacket zipper is $25...and that is for the labor only. You had to wash the jacket and research/purchase the zip. If you had to order it, you also had shipping charges. Charge him for that! He could have at least washed the jacket...You aren't his laundress! You are a seamstress!

    I charge $5/hr. for research. That can take lots of time.  If they know how and want to do the research and order what is needed...let them do it. If I have to go with a client to get fabric/pattern, etc., I charge $10/hr.  Like I said, they are paying you for what you know.  Don't dismiss what you know...charge accordingly for it! Also, if it is something that you really don't want to do....add the PITA charge....just figure it in on your hourly charge.  Also, if someone brings you a 'rush' job...charge half again what you'd normally charge; and let them know what the added charge is for this!  They are expecting you to dedicate much more of your time...in a hurry...for something they put off.  If they don't want to pay....let them go somewhere else. Usually, they'll pay...they don't have many other choices at that point. LOL!


    Edited 4/17/2009 9:52 am ET by Ocrafty1

    Edited 4/17/2009 9:59 am ET by Ocrafty1

    1. mainestitcher | | #12

      I don't stall, (I dislike it when someone wastes MY time) and I don't discount. I think it's bad business to surprise the customer. I have an exceptional family. I can't think off-hand of any time I've charged them; but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've been asked. Living 45 minutes away from the closest family member has is benefits.Not everyone like to do alterations. (I do.)Not everyone who likes alterations likes to do zippers. (Not so much.)Even when I work with the public, I have no reservation in saying, "I can replace the zipper for $25. If you'd prefer to buy a comparable used item from Goodwill for less, I understand."There is even a new policy at the store where I work: quote the price to the customer before going through with pinning; that way, she can say yes or no, and time isn't wasted when she can't or won't agree to the fees.A former boss of mine was particularly frustrated with the zipper issue. It can take a lot of time to take out a zipper. Then to find one to put in: It was a dry cleaner, so the practical thing to do was to try to stock the size/type/colors most likely to be used. Good luck with that. Ordering zippers was a money-losing proposition since the minimum S & H now runs around $7.50 to $10.00 So, the shipping is $8.00. The seamstress's wage for an hour and a quarter, $15.00. Andrea the clerk handles the jacket three times, once to take it in, once to "rack" it, once to hand it back and collect the fee: $2.50. zipper is $5.00. We're up to $30.50. I've had a fair number of customers at home and otherwise who say when presented with the cost of repair, "No thanks, I could buy a new ______ for that price." I wonder, if the economy stays this way; will people continue to buy throw-away clothes, or will they start to buy quality items that are worth repairing?

  8. Teaf5 | | #13

    I never charge family or friends, but I often barter or exchange with them. I don't keep track, but I feel the goodwill/community spirit usually has a lot of rewards in and of itself, and I don't accept projects that aren't interesting or reasonable for my available time.

    I agree with the "written full price/family discount" price for this case, but in all future cases, I would detail the charges in an estimate and get that agreed to before doing any work at all. Auto mechanics and computer techs do this all the time; they even include a clause for adding charges--subject to agreement--of anything extra they find might need to be done.

    The best estimates are those that account for as much of predicted problems as possible, allow for the possibility of additional charges, and come as close to the final cost as possible; some techs even slightly over-estimate in order to make the client feel pleased by a final cost less than expected.

    Good luck, and let us know how it turns out!

    1. rbjohn | | #14

      I never charge family or friends, though sometimes they insist I take something. I did a Carhart jacket this past winter and no matter how much I love the person I did it for, next time, I would rather buy him a new coat. Even my trusty pfaff 1222e didn't want to sew through it. It took me hours to take the old zipper out. Have to say, it it one well constructed jacket. BUT NEVER AGAIN!!!

      Brenda in MI

  9. Lilith1951 | | #15

    I don't sew for a living or do alterations.  I do work in a place where most people know that I do love to sew.  They've seen my quilts (in a raffle) and many of my clothing items that I've made through the years.  A few months ago a woman asked me if I would do her a favor for which she'd be happy to pay.  She asked me if I had time to do a rush job and hem her young daughter's new pair of jeans.  She said she'd understand if I didn't have time (she needed them in three days, which was only two nights for me because I had a committment one night.)  She was really nice and knew that it could be an imposition for me.  She did not make me feel obligated to accept the job.

    I hate alterations, but most especially I hate hemming things and MOST especially I hate hemming jeans.  My husband is shorter than average and I have to hem everything for him.  My grandson is chubbier than average and I have to hem everything for him, too (mostly jeans.)  I always wind up with pin pricks and scratches all over my hands from these jobs.  So this was a real pain in the butt for me, BUT--since she was so very nice in the way she asked me and not assuming that I'd jump at the chance to make a few bucks, I did the job.  We did not discuss my fees first, because I knew I wasn't going to actually charge her.

    When I returned the jeans, so looked at them and was very pleased and when she asked how much she owed me, I said this:  "I really hate hemming jeans and I did this as a favor because I like you and you asked me so nicely.  All I want is your promise that you will not tell ANYONE else who works here that I did this for you."  She smiled and agreed.  She could easily have afforded to pay me the going rate for this ($6.00 locally, but they have special equipment for it) and I would not have felt badly charging it, but it was better this way.  I don't want to get everyone's hemming jobs, zipper replacements and other alterations where I work 40 hours a week. I sew for my own satisfaction and enjoyment.  Mending and alterations are necessary at home (like laundry and cleaning toilets) but I don't want to do it for other people.

    I have done a couple of other jobs through my workplace that I only accepted because I really liked the person who asked me.  They were simple and nothing that made me cuss or caused my physical discomfort (grin) and sometimes I just asked for them to write a check to my favorite charity.  I was happy and they were happy.

    I used to take my dad's pants in and out all the time as he lost and gained weight.  He ALWAYS offered to pay me and I never took it.  I just wish he was still here so I could do that simple thing for him (and it was such fun to tease him over this.)

    I agree that if you are going to do this for money (which you certainly deserve), then you need to give an estimate up front, as accurately as you can and preferably in writing.  I also agree with giving a discount for friends and family.  I think 10-20% is great for close friends and up to 50% for family if are you are close (sometimes we're closer to our friends than our family :-)  Don't be shy about accounting for how you spent your time. But also be generous in discounting for people you are close to.   

    1. Ocrafty1 | | #16

      I agree with the 'close friends/family' discount wholeheartedly!  I've done major alterations to (took an elaborate wedding gown from a size 14 to a size 4) or made wedding gowns for friends or their children.  I gave them a 'quote', got their check, (I only take checks from people I know very well...I had a client who stopped payment on one, (the Bi*&%, and she kept the garment, and told people that I didn't know what I was doing...never again! It wasn't that much $$, but GRRRR!) and put that uncashed check in their wedding card, as my gift. Those are the fun ones. Many times I will also 'barter' with my friends/family.  I have a sister who is a hairdresser...she knows how to sew, but hates it. I also did all 6 bridesmaids gowns for my youngest sister's wedding as a gift to her.

      I do sewing because I love it. I do alterations, because it is the most lucrative way for me to earn $$.  I'd much rather make something from scratch, but more people need garments shortened, taken in/out than want to pay for something very well made.  They've learned that Walmart is cheap...and that's also the quality they get. I agree that if our economy keeps going downhill, people may decide that it is more economical to have well made garments that will last.  That is what people who lived during the 'Great Depression' still do.  I have several clients that are from that era, and they will have things 'made over' and/or altered rather than buy "throw away" clothing. Those clients are a joy to work with, as they appreciate the work that goes into a well made garment and are happy to pay for it.


      1. moira | | #17

        I also once had a client who stopped her cheque and said the dress didn't fit - fact was she came in different structured/unstructured undergarments for each fitting so it was made to fit one structured basque bra, and she then complained when it didn't have the same fit over an ordinary soft bra. I now specify that the correct undergarments are worn from the first fitting onwards.
        A recent job has been four elaborate bridesmaids' dresses for which I've been given half payment and had agreed by signed contract to have them done by Easter, but two weeks on, I still have the dresses and no further payment. I'm not really worried as I know it'll come eventually, but more annoyed because I had assumed the dresses would be collected and paid for by the required date, and it was requested that these be ready in good time, though the wedding's not till July. So Muggins could be waiting another three months for collection and payment! I've thought of informing the client that two weeks from now, unless collected, the dresses will be posted on eBay!! (Just in a cross moment!)

        1. User avater
          ThreadKoe | | #18

          Perhaps a friendly call to the clients reminding them that the dresses are ready for pick up and you need the space for another bridal party would be in order. They probably assume the dresses are safer where they are for the time being. Cathy

        2. Ocrafty1 | | #20

          I agree with Cathy... call them and remind them that the dresses are ready for them to pick up. I'll bet that there may be a problem with them coming up with the $$ at this time. With all of the economic junk going on, and the costs of a wedding, they may be strapped for cash....and the wedding isn't for a while yet.  They probably assume that you have lots of space available for storage and since you custom made the garments...what else are you going to do with them??? 

          I still have a couple of dresses that a client left here last fall...before she left for FL for the winter. I'm sure she thinks that since I sew at home, I don't have any better use for my space. She even left everything needed to make a salsa dance dress (pattern and all) that she decided she couldn't afford to pay for me to make at the time.  People can be rude without realizing it. If I had her address, I'd drop it off at her 'summer home' here. 

          I may decide to charge her for storage....now there's an idea!  Try that one on your clients....bet they pick them up pretty quick.  You said you had a contract with a pick up date listed.  Yep, give them a date to pick up the garments, then start charging for storage. Bet you'll get your $$ pretty quick!  LOL


          1. moira | | #21

            I took Kathy's advice and rang the other day explaining that storage was becoming a problem. I think there may have been a bit of a cash flow problem but the dresses are now due to be picked up by the end of the week, so all is well. Yes, charging for storage would probably eliminate this sort of problem! I guess it would if I were the one paying anyway!

          2. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #26

            I am glad that the reminder call worked, particularly as you had a specified finish date in your contract with them! As I have been reading through many postings by people who run in home businesses, or sew regularly for others, there seem to be many of these little issues that crop up. If you had a contract that covered all of them, it would probably run several pages long.
            I have been running it through my brain as an exercise, and wondering just how do we deal with it? An info package handed out (that no one will read) with limits and liabilities? Or just post notices on the wall? Or do we post a general 2% charge for late pickups or delays in payments at the bottom of our bills? Cathy

          3. sewslow67 | | #27

            Perhaps the "dry cleaners trick" might be the solution; i.e. every dry cleaners I've ever used had a policy that said:  "We are not responsible for any garment left here for more than 2-weeks (4-weeks, whatever).  Therefore, if you love your item, pick it up in a timely manner."

            That message is usually printed on every receipt.

          4. Ocrafty1 | | #28

            Love it!  I'm going to add that message to the bottom of all of my invoices/estimates from now on!  Thanks!!!!


          5. sewslow67 | | #29

            You are most welcome.  I know that message sure kept me on a timely pick-up schedule. 

          6. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #30

            Brilliant! That and the 2% on overdue bills......Cathy

          7. sewslow67 | | #31

            Chuckle ...it does help to keep people on the ball, huh?

  10. dominote | | #19

    Michelle, in the past Carhartt would either replace the zippers in their products free of charge, postage is paid by the owner of the garment either way, or they will send free of charge the zippers needed to be replaced. In other words the CORRECT Length.

    I know this as I had an alterations shop when we lived in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. Zippers probably were 50% of my work. They diffinitely can be a pain. I did find out, as least for my thinking that Carhartt were alot easier to replace than the Columbia brand.

    Hope this helps you in some small way. :)

    PS. Now I try to keep my alterations to bridal wear, much more fun and smells so much better.  :) 


    1. hemster | | #22

      I'm glad to get that nugget of info about the Carhart zippers being replaced by the company.  In my research I have also found that Columbia replaces the zippers on their products-you pay postage there.

      I have a trick for nasty zippers on older jackets and things. Like the 15 year old coat someone just wears to take their dog out.  I offer a  discount if I can just cut off the old zipper (carefully, as close as I can) and sew the new one just under the edge. There are no seams to take out but it usually looks just fine. I did it to my own and show it for an example. I saves a perfectly usable jacket or coat from going in the garbage.

      1. Ocrafty1 | | #23

        I know that trick...I actually had a neighbor bring me a jacket and a zip and asked if I could do it that way.  Loved it.


      2. dominote | | #24

        Man, that is an absolutely great idea, and I would have never thought of it. Ican't tell you how many hours I've spent taking out zippers!!  Good reminder about Columbial products too,I know that, just failed to mention it. Glad you did. We need to share ideas when ever we can, especially if it makes the sewing process so much simpler. I would truly die if I couldn't sew!!!

        Have an awesome day!!!


  11. GoodFibrations | | #25

    Beware of monied dealings with friends and family. I find it better to exchange "talents".  That way, each gets something they want or need and there is never hard feelings about money. The arrangements can be made up front. Reimbursement for materials is somewhat acceptable but often the person providing the "talent" also has a better source for the "goods".  Here's an example: exchange those two zippers & installation for a tune up on your car or some other such item. If the fellow wears carharts, he's likely a "hands-on" kind of guy.

  12. gailete | | #32

    Over the years, I have made many items for family members and never took a payment then several years ago my sister specifically asked me to make a baby quilt for a coming grandson. Then showed up at my house with two completely dissimilar sets of fabrics wanting both worked into the quilt and telling me the clerk at Walmart had told my BIL that I could such and such with the fabric. I was a bit stunned and asked if I could do what I wanted or did I have to go with this plan? Thankfully she let me do what I wanted as there was no way those fabrics were going to go together without some real maneuvering. I made the quilt top (including buying more fabric for the top), bought the batting, bought the backing fabric, bought thread,pieced it all and machine quilted it and then gave her the quilt with all sorts of exclamations of how pretty it was, blah, blah, blah. My fault on this one, when she asked what she owed me I said to pay what she thought was fair. I about fell over when I saw the size of the check and decided I would NEVER to that again. All those years of sewing for free apparently had given them a very odd idea of the cost of the supplies and time of making the quilt--after subtracting the cost of what I had to buy, she had given me less than $5/hour.

    However, my husbands brother came to me at Christmas a year ago and asked me to make a quilt for his grandson. He asked if $200 was enough to get me started!! What fun going to the store to pick out what I wanted and when I was done he paid me more and has mentioned many times how his grandson loves the quilt. No only did I get a fair amount for my work, I knew he appreciated my efforts.

    I learned something from all this. If I feel up to it, I will sew for a family member if they ask, but they WILL pay me a decent amount to show that they know what the work is worth. If I choose to not take all the payment that is my choice and of course I still get to make gifts if I want for family members. The above mentioned BIL is getting a quilt for Christmas if I can get the time.

    I see no reason not to charge a family full invoice unless they also do you equivalent favors such as "how about I clean your house for the next month while you make me a new dress?" I suppose it depends on the family, but I got tired of being taken advantage of by mine. If I want to sew for free I will pick a charity to sew for.



    1. User avater
      MichelleinMO | | #33

      Dear Gailette,

      I am thinking like you Gail.  When I told my sister I wanted $12.50 for putting in each zipper and I told her the total was $45.00, which included the $20.05 that I was charged for both these zippers there was just silence.

      I went on to describe how I had washed the coats and it took me 2 hours one each to rip out both zippers.  She went on about how she could of washed the coats and ripped out the zippers.  Plus, she couldn't pay me for a week, which I am leaving for Nancy Zieman's Sewing Expo next Wednesday so much for having the extra cash to spend at Nancy's Notions. 

      At the end I jokingly mentioned I wouldn't be doing alterations that it is easier just to make something from the beginning.  She is a hair dresser and I wonder how she would like getting paid a week after doing my hair.  She would be plain mad.  The old saying you can't do business with family is true in my family. 

      What is the old saying "Fool me once ................  I can't remember it, but I am sure you have heard it.


      1. sewslow67 | | #34

        >>>What is the old saying "Fool me once ................  I can't remember it, but I am sure you have heard it.<<<

        "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me."

        1. User avater
          MichelleinMO | | #35

          Correct, thank you Sewslow, which is my name on PatterReview.Com.  We must think alike.

          1. sewslow67 | | #36

            You are most welcome.  Yes, we must think alike, and possibly sew alike as well.  I am slow because I like to enjoy the process of sewing as well as carefully "finishing" each detail on the inside of the garment as well as the outside.  How about you?

            On Pattern Review, I am "Sewslow67", same as on Gatherings, although I've not gotten into any discussions yet, on Pattern Review.  I guess I haven't really learned the benefits of that Website yet.

      2. gailete | | #37

        Awe, yes, you do understand! When this same sister had finally gotten all the kid's out of the nest, one of the bedrooms was converted into her 'office'. I machine embroidered a lovely wall hanging proclaiming it her space and gave it to her for a surprise. The surprise was on me because she glanced at it (didn't look at it long enough to LOOK at it) and said thanks and put it down and walked away. Those two incidents were enough for me. I wished I could have picked it up and taken it back home for myself as it had taken maybe 20 hours to sew out and I made sure it was in colors matching the room etc.

        I'm so sorry your sister did that to you. I bet she expected $5 tops for replacing a zipper and that should have included the price of the zipper! Non-sewers have no clue and I have decided to only sew for those that do have a clue and appreciate the time and care involved for whatever project it is. The price for notions is only going up to where now I only get thread when it is on sale, etc. to make it affordable to sew and when we make stuff for others, you see the big outlays, but thread and sewing needles, etc. just kind of slide by.

        I trust you enjoy your trip. What fun that must be. I got to go on a quilting cruise once with Doreen Spekman years ago and glad I have that experience to remember since poor health keeps me home most of the time now and conventions, etc. are out of the question. :(


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