I’ve committed myself to making my sewing more about the process and less about the product. I’ve decided to start writing occasional posts about the emotional side of sewing.
“You made that!?” This statement is usually followed by a slight narrowing of the eyes and a far-off, calculating look. I wonder if she can fix/hem/make…
Before I can twirl, gleefully put my hands in the pockets, or make some self-deprecating remark, my conversation partner has already asked if I do alterations. Or how much it would cost to get a custom dress made for whatever special occasion. Or if I could make “cheap” curtains for her son’s student rental.
This question is an especially loaded one for me. As a student in need of extra income, I did alterations. I always under-charged as I was afraid to lose business to actual tailors or dry-cleaners. I always assumed my skills weren’t honed enough to charge a rate even resembling minimum wage (I come from a community of sewists and didn’t fully appreciate how few people could actually sew on a button). As I was unemployed, I guess my time wasn’t worth that much anyway.
When my current coworkers began to wise to the fact that I sewed a lot of my own clothes, I began to have colleagues ask for repairs and alterations, which I did for a while. I continued to ask below the going price as I felt, these are my friends, I can’t charge them an arm and a leg! I felt more that I was doing them a favour than providing a service.
In fact, I felt weird monetizing my sewing at all as I knew that no one could actually afford my services if I were to charge a decent, hourly rate. There is so much involved in my sewing that I find it hard to give it a price. Then, I had this genious idea to do alterations and repairs for friends and family as a way to raise money for the charity bike tour I do annually. This relieved the guilt of taking my friends’ money for doing something I find relatively easy and helped me reach my fundraising goal. It meant, however, that most of the time I spent at my machine involved other people’s jeans and a crap ton of curtains.
It also meant, however, that I was sewing on deadline (translation: taking shortcuts and not always doing a good job) and that I wasn’t learning or creating anything. I also began to procrastinate, and even dread, sewing.
So I stopped. I gave back the most recent set of long, linen curtains to hem and said I just didn’t have time and it would be easier for my co-worker to bring them in somewhere. I decided I would no longer take on any alterations or repairs work. I also decided that custom sewing would be a service I offered only to very special people and would never agree to unless asked. (My mother and husband are probably the only exceptions to this.)
This past Christmas, I pulled my sister-in-law’s name for our family gift exchange and felt inspired. Hot off a pattern drafting course all about skirts, I decided that I would design the perfect skirt for Gwen, a busy, working mother of two and use the Scottish tweed her parents recently unearthed from grandparent’s past vacation.
I finished the first muslin and wrapped it up for her for Christmas, knowing we would wait until her return to work in May to do a fitting. So on our next visit, we pulled out the muslin and pooled every straight pin in her house. Of course it was pretty much all wrong – I had to draft from covertly acquired measurements!
When I finally got around to transfering the changes onto the pattern for my second muslin, I started getting pretty pumped. Doing the second fitting this weekend got me very, very excited. Only a few more tweaks! I can start working with the actual fabric!! Pleats!!!
I decided to figure out why I was so dang excited about this project, but usually hated sewign for others. I realized it boiled down to a few main points:
- I got to be creative. I loooooooved getting to think about the elements that would make Gwen’s perfect skirt: hip panels cut on the bias for some covert elasticity; conservative design for work with some fun play with pattern for interest (part of my wants to call this the mullet skirt, but that would be so, so wrong); pleats for mobility without worrying about flashing someone with your slit as you pick up your baby, as well as others.
- I got to learn something. My original design had two large box pleats (read: easy). For my second draft, I decided to go with one-inch knife pleats instead. This forced me to research and practice making pleats, which is awesome as they are simultaneously super trendy right now and timeless. Stay tuned for my post all about my love of pleats!
- I got to take my time. While I have had some self-imposed timelines, I know Gwen is cool with me taking my time on this skirt. It isn’t for some special occasion, and the design is fairly classic, so waiting isn’t going to make the skirt dated. I appreciate that I am able to take my time to make something Gwen will love to wear and I feel proud of.
I’m curious to hear from you! Do you sew for other people? Do you have criteria for the types of projects you take on? Are there specific people you will (or won’t) sew for. Do you charge for your sewing? How do you decide how much to ask for?