Apr 21, 2014

6 Reasons Why I Avoid Custom Sewing

Whenever I tell someone (usually women) I sew, I instantly spot that specific look in the eyes of my interlocutor, which demands (no, it doesn't even ask) me to sew her at least one garment. Some assume they'd pay me, some hope I'd do it easily, quickly and with no fee, but some don't even think my work is worth being paid for.
Most often my reply is - "I don't do custom sewing". However, this response confuses others, some even get offended by it, taking it personally, as if I refused to help them.

When I was much younger, an advanced beginner in sewing, I tried custom sewing; my first pocket money was earned this way, by sewing a skirt or a dress here and there for my friends. And then I faced a total debacle - I sewed a pair of pants for a friend, which she didn't like at all. She paid me unwillingly and never asked me to sew for her again; on the other side, I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth. That's when I learned a valuable lesson about this trade - custom sewing was in no way equal to sewing for myself.

Since then I've been avoiding custom sewing, and when I accept to sew for someone, I usually charge it a lot. And I tend to sew only those garments I find interesting and challenging, while rejecting everything else.

Here's why:
  1. When sewing for myself, I have the right to make a mistake, ruin my fabric, give up because I don't like the garment I'm sewing, or it doesn't fit right, or the fabric doesn't behave as I expected it to, etc. When sewing for a client, there is no such option - the client expects her clothes to be done in arranged time frame, to fit perfectly and to be sewn without a flaw. "I can't" or "I'm not in a mood" are out of the option.
  2. When sewing for myself, I know exactly what I want to make, which type of garment is flattering on me and which fabric to use to make it work. When sewing for a client, there's always a possibility I didn't understand her well, the garment's style doesn't suit her, or the fabric is not appropriate for the garment she wants. This issue can be resolved if the client brings me a picture of the same or similar garment, and if I have an option to advise her on what type of fabric to look for.
  3. When sewing for myself, I know how to make the garment fit me because I know by body well - I know I need to raise the waistline, crop a jacket, make a SBA, etc. When sewing for a client, I don't know her body features well, and I don't know what to pay attention to. Everything I do on her body is my first time and every detail is equally important. And I am not a dressmaker with a long experience in custom sewing, so I can oversee some items. This issue can be solved by making a muslin or toile that would serve for fixing all the problems and fitting adjustments before cutting the fashion fabric. 
  4. When sewing for myself, I sew only when I'm in the right mood, when I'm not tired and when I feel creative. When sewing for a client, I sew when I have to, in a limited time and with no true motivation. And, I'm afraid there's no help for this problem!
  5. When sewing for myself, I can wear the garment after all the effort that's been put into it. When sewing for a client, all my work goes into someone else's hands. The only satisfaction I get is the client's smiling face.
  6. When sewing for myself no, I'll overwrite this, as I was going to write about garment alterations and fixing. I almost never fix my old clothes! I don't like doing it, as I'm guided by an idea that I would rather make something from the scratch than fix an existing garment. I don't want to change broken zippers, shorten pants, mend jeans or sleeves, widen or narrow down skirts and jackets or change the torn lining. The clients, relatives and neighbors usually ask for these small fixes, and think they can pay me with a chocolate.
    However, I do make exceptions in some cases, when the people asking for a favor from me are the ones I find worth the effort. I won't ever reject them, even though I detest fixing clothes. But I'll say no to all others without a problem.
I think I've listed enough reasons why I avoid to custom sew for clients. However, I do make an exception once in awhile, which has lead me to meeting some really nice people, making some great creations, and got me spotted by one of the very interesting companies.

Štepalica: The VLISCO dress
photography: Nikola Zamurović

So I'm interested to know - do you do custom sewing? Do you generally enjoy in this kind of work, and do you think custom sewing is payable?

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  1. I agree with you totally on custom sewing. I use to do this and my husband would ask me why, especially when I felt so stressed about it. I even bought a book to teach me how to say no to people who wanted me to sew for them, especially in clothes that would never suit them. I now only sew for myself, my daughter and my Mum. And I feel so liberated when I say NO to custom sewing.

  2. I do custom sew and have for 30+ years. I specialize in debutante, bridal, and formal wear for one reason: It is what garners the most appreciation and the most payment for the work I do. The truth is that the consumer has been so ill-educated (addicted) to clothing with a warped sense of pricing, that there is little or no respect or understanding of what it takes to make clothing - that includes the fabric as well as the clothing assembly. It's really a lack of education. If they only knew what it took to make clothes, they wouldn't even dream of asking you. Maybe what we need to do is when folks ask us to "give" them clothes, we say OK, but they have to be with us the entire time while we're making it, so they can actually see what goes into it. They can also be around when we need to ask questions like: 1.) Do you like it tight or loose around your waist? 2.) Do you like it tight or loose around your hips at 4"? 3.) Do you like it tight or loose around your hips at 9"/10"? 4.) Do you want the hem long with heels or short with flats? 5.) Do you want elastic or darts in the waistband (and explain the difference in feeling and fitting) 6.) Do you want this out of wool?....cotton?...linen?...blend?....what blend? 7.) And on and on and on.....

    When I interview (and I do interview them) my clients, I'm not only assessing whether they will understand this process, but also whether or not they will pay. If I get any funny feelings (they usually want way more than either what they need or what the occasion calls for), then I just lament that gee, I wish I could, but I can't get the fabric....or the notions.....or the whatever it takes to make the garment.

    When I get a request to make a tailored jacket or a tailored pair of pants, I just flat out tell them that it takes as much time, effort and knowledge to make that out of wool as it does out of silk, yet you will come closer to paying me for my time if it's out of silk than if it's out of wool, and they all agree. There are a few clients who understand when I do a pair of pants for them, and they have them done and are thrilled and usually want more. That's OK, but they are much older, and understand the value of good, well-made, well-constructed garments made with quality fabric. I have even been known to do hand-ticking top-stitching on these garments and they are totally elated and know what it takes and means.

    Most of the time I recommend my students not get into this cause it's such a slippery slope - mostly because you have to do educate the customer to the point that the customer gets bored, or even better "gets it" and then walks away thinking how can she ever afford another piece of clothing....again?!!!!!

    It's an interesting conundrum because we as sewist watch our friends and family throw their money away on cheap/fast fashion that can't possibly even compare to the garments that we make - even when we "try" and knock off the cheap/fast fashion stuff, our garments come out so much better, stronger, more durable, last longer that it's shocking - I still shock myself when I do that - clothes that I expect to last for a year (at the most) are working for me 5 years later! It's beyond shocking - it's into the unbelievable category. But you try to tell that to your friends/family who are shopping at the mall or big-box outlet and they can't get past the "It's only $7.99. How can I loose?" mentality.

    1. Claire, thank you so much for commenting. I know you're a professional seamstress, and it feels great hearing a word of wisdom from someone as experienced as you are (I've seen your work and have been learning from you.)
      It feels comforting that even you, who are an experienced professional, face these challenges. I think it's brilliant that you educate your clients so that they can appreciate your time, skills and effort.

  3. This is a wonderful article. I'm happy to sew people gifts, or make them something *if* it fits with a tutorial I'm writing. I'm happy to sew for members of my family who understand what goes into the things I make. Some people who will ask me what it cost me to make something I'm wearing, and they are the last people I will sew for! You can see them calculating the cash, but no clue about the time. In contrast, I have a wonderful friend who I sew for all the time. She brings so many ideas and pushes me to try new things, and asks me about what I'm doing as I make things. The whole process is so encouraging! But because she doesn't pay, its ok if I take a couple of attempts to get something right. The worst alteration I ever did was for a (former) family member who asked me to take some trousers up for her. 'Ok,' I said 'Go put them on and I'll pin it.'. She refused to try them on, saying 'Oh no that's not necessary, just take them up a bit'. Go figure.

  4. I hate it. It sums the joy out of the activity. The only one who hates me sewing for others more is the husband who has to live with whining, put upon me!

  5. I do not sew profesionally and I don't want to. As Prttynpnk said, it can suck out all the joy. I have one exception. I live in the US on the border with Canada. There are two Canadian women, mother-daughter, who totally get it. They understand fabric, quality and my time. Once in a while I will make garments for one of them or do a refashion. Those Canadians are very thrifty and I have made more than one lovely refashioned outfit for them. They are truly FUN to work with as we can talk and bounce ideas, etc. They just really get the process. I have found in visiting Canada and meeting the many Canadians who have second homes in our area, that they are not into fast fashion like we are. They see the value in spending dollars on quality clothing and would rather have one positively elegant winter coat with an Hermes scarf that a whole pile of winter coats of questionable origins. I know I am generalizing here, but this has been my personal experience over the years. My two ladies have nor problem paying for what I do for them because that is what they want and they understand what it takes. Anyone else, forget it!

  6. No way would I sew clothing for others, but I have sewn home decor stuff for people for pay. That's pretty hard to screw up being that there is no fitting- just sewing straight lines mostly. And I agree about alterations. I absolutely, positively hate fixing clothing. I have made exceptions and fixed things for others- but only my husband and a very dear friend. I can't stand it when someone finds out I sew and then asks me if I would hem some pants for them!