"Will You Make One For Me?"

It's happened to all of us, no matter what we like to sew. A friend (or a stranger!), upon learning that you made your handbag/jacket/quilt/napkins/cushion covers asks if you'll make one for her. "I'll pay you!" they exclaim. Your first reaction is to answer, "no, no, I'll do it for you for nothing." Here's why that's a bad idea.

If you don't charge for your work, you are declaring it valueless. And as we all know, it's not. It's taken you a long time to hone the skills you need to make a beautiful something. You've acquired the right tools and an appropriate workspace. You've invested, perhaps, in expensive specialized machinery. And while it's certainly your right to give all that away, it's also your right to expect to be compensated appropriately. Undercharging is nearly as bad as not charging at all. When you undercharge, you discount your own work, but mine and other professional sewers as well. We depend on a fair market to make a living. If you devalue your work, you devalue mine, and I need groceries this week.

So how do you figure out what to charge? Here are a few guidelines. If you're making a single item for a friend, consider charging three times the cost of materials. If you're using some materials you have on hand, make sure you add their cost to the total. I charge a little more for vintage fabrics or other specialty items like fancy zipper pulls or real leather handles and straps. If you're making several items for a craft show, benefit, or other quasi-retail sale, Then honestly calculate how much time you spend making the item, and add in your labor cost. Keep in mind that this is skilled labor--$10 to $15 an hour is reasonable. If that cute clutch purse will cost $10 in materials and $30 in labor, $40 is a fair price. Unless it isn't. It's possible to price yourself out of the market, so do a little research and find similar items being sold in a similar fashion.

Lastly, don't be afraid to say "No." If you don't want to make it, don't. I give you permission to say, "Oh, I don't have a minute this summer for commission work. I'll let you know when I do." Then smile and enjoy the compliment.


Joan Radell