Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sewing on Commission

I've just starting taking sewing or knitting projects on commission again. Its been more than 5 years since the last time I said yes. But for very good reason...

I think a lot of craftsman will agree with me on this one. Once people find out you are a sewer, knitter, quilter, etc they will eventually ask you to make something for them. Its not wholly negative, but there are a lot of abusers out there hoping to get a lot for a very little bit of compensation.

So I haven't taken on many of these projects in the past.

I made a few Greek god costumes for Kathryn's high school play. (for free I think)

Made her a prom dress too (though I have never seen a picture, so in my mind I still don't believe she actually wore it) (Mom bought the fabric, I think)

I made lots of ballet costumes (but in return for discounted or free classes)

But I've only done one project where someone truly hired me to sew something.

It was not a positive experience.

A parent at the ballet school I was attending wanted me to make her daughter a pirate skirt. She purchased the materials and gave me a general idea of what they wanted. Now I should mention this was actually almost ten years ago and I've learn soooooo much about business since then.

Clue: She bought the cheapest materials she could find, and balked at the amount of material I requested.

I agreed to make the skirt. It took me about 3-4 hours to make AND I didn't have a pattern to go by, so I made it all up as I went along.

The finished product was a very full and shiny black skirt with pink net layered underneath. It was exactly as her daughter described. My work was good considering the crap I had to work with.

In return for my services I asked for the same hourly rate I was making at the time. I think it was slightly above minimum wage.

The woman went crazy on me. Why did it take so long? Way too expensive! Could have bought something at a costume store!!! Crazy! Crazy! Crazy!

Which brings me back to my point. Every one's handy work is worth something. Its just that everyone has their own price point for things. Frankly, most non-crafty type people I've encountered undervalue hand made articles.

So now when people ask me to make something for them, I have a much better tool belt for handling expectations.

When my friend Christina asked me to make her daughter a ballet outfit, I tried to get as many details as possible. But it was also a safe transaction. Christina is extremely crafty herself and knows how long things take. Plus she watched Dottie for a week so we could go to Boulder, so I was happy to refuse payment for my work. Watching Dottie would be more than enough for me.

When I was approached recently to take on costuming for productions at my job, I said I would happily refer them to professionals I know.

But when a fellow adult ballet student approached me to make curtains for her daughter's room...I said yes.

She came to class with the materials in December. I looked at the raw fabric, checked to make sure there was enough yardage, pointed out the flaws in the vintage fabric ahead of time, and gave her a realistic deadline.

Why take this project on? Well, I got the back story on why she wanted me to do it, and I could sympathize. She's had the fabric for 5 years and still hadn't made the curtains. She's reached the point where paying someone to do it was easier than looking at it in the closet for another 5 years, when her daughter will out grow the pattern and want something more cool. I totally get it. Plus, it was a simple project I was sure I could finish in about 2 hours. Not a big commitment for me, and not shocking for the client either.

So here they are...ready for delivery.

Now I'm looking forward to taking on more projects in the future. I just need to remember to only take on what I know I can realistically handle.


  1. I can totally understand why you weren't doing this for a while, but I think it's good you're getting back into it. You could probably make some decent money at it if you wanted to. I know you already know this....the customer is *NOT* always right.

  2. Zosia looooves her ballet clothes by the way. Thank you, they came out perfect.
    She runs around the whole house, jumping off of things, and I can remember for a few minutes, every so often, what it feels like to put on a costume you love and actually believe you are a ballerina....just undiscovered so far.