Oliver + S

Sewing to sell

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    littleledbury @littleledbury

    I was wondering if any of you lovely sewers could help me?

    I have been making dresses under the boutique sewer program recently, but I am struggling a little with my costings and price points which I need to


    At the moment I am offering the music box pinafore (View B), the ice cream dress and the birthday party dress. The only addition to any of the patterns is a ribbon trim on the music box pinafore. I use French seams wherever I can to ensure the integrity of the final piece. I would love anyone who has experience of these patterns to give me your opinion as to the time required to make each of these dresses as an experienced home sewer. I know how long it takes me but I would like to use a realistic optimum time to keep my final prices genuine.



    with love Heidi @with love Heidi

    I haven’t made any of those dresses but my niece has been sewing a bag with lots of details like piping, corners and extra tags and commented the other night that “now I knows why the bags I like with all the details are so expensive, because the details are time consuming!”

    Hopefully someone else can chime in for you.

    cybele727 @cybele727


    My friends ask me all the time why don’t I start a business and sell what I make.

    Honestly, I don’t sew to sell because a dress takes me a good 10-12 hours from fabric decisions and purchasing to layout, cut, and sew. At $10/hr that’s a 120 dress not including mark-up for profit or supplies.

    Who will pay $150 for a dress that their child will out grow in 3-6 months? Who will pay a fair price for my labor?

    Good luck!

    meleliza @meleliza

    Hi Rebecca,

    There are a lot of factors here. It’s a really complex issue. Prices for something handmade are high because it’s labor intensive, but I guess you also need to be in a market that supports the high cost of custom work or have a niche that makes custom sewing a necessity. $10 is way to low for skilled labor. Do you know a carpenter who would work for that? Sheesh, my babysitter wouldn’t work for that. But, Americans are used to cheap goods and largely unfamiliar with the work that goes into something. So of course you can’t market to the Walmart shopping crowd.

    Some people still want custom work for weddings, proms, costumes, etc. And frankly, I do know a few people who would spend $150 on a play outfit. Have you seen the Bella Bliss catalogue?

    There are good discussions on this topic at sewing pattern review under sewing for business and Kathellen Fasicnella runs a blog called Fashion Incubator that deals with this kind of stuff too. I think Etsy has a lot of info as well.

    It’s a complicate topic that many of us think about from time to time, for sure.

    cybele727 @cybele727

    (I do think $10/hr is cheap labor for truly skilled sewing labor.)

    Sarvi @Sarvi

    Here’s the thing, sewing at home is time-consuming. Labor is the primary cost. Here’s an example:

    Pattern: $15

    Yard of Liberty: $35

    Misc materials (tracing paper, interfacing, ribbon, buttons): $5

    Packaging, shipping, email followup: $5

    Subtotal: $60

    5 hours of cutting, stitching, pressing, clipping at $20/hour: $100

    See what I mean? You can wiggle the costs but the main thing it comes down to is labor. Meleliza is right — you’re not going to bring your labor cost substantially lower than that without basically cheating yourself. That’s why I think it actually makes sense to go in the opposite direction — make the most complicated patterns in the best fabric. In for a penny, in for a pound. Somebody who is willing to spend over $150 on a handmade child’s garment would rather spend $250 and get one with ‘the works’ I think. This is why I deeply prize the garments I’ve received from ladies here — there is the monetary value of hundreds of dollars, and on top of that the personal value which is inestimable.

    Sarvi @Sarvi

    Oh, and agree with the above — try to hire somebody with two brain cells to rub together to just answer the phone for $10/hr. Not happening. What is your work comparable to? Should you make the same hourly wage as a housecleaner? a babysitter? a gardener? a cashier? Check the pricing on those services and see what $10/hr really means. In my city, teenagers make that at their first jobs.

    Jillls @Jillls

    It seems that some people are doing it to fund their hobby and not to make a profit or are doing really simple things like peasant or pillowcase dresses. I imagine ladies who are making a profit are serging rectangles together all day and people are buying it cause it is custom made.

    meleliza @meleliza

    Yes, there is a flood of low priced “hand made” things on Etsy. I suppose these people are just doing it for fun, because there’s no way it could be profitable for them. So I have doubts that Etsy is a viable market place. I’ve been going round on this for a good while now and I’ve come to believe that only a niche has potential. I’ve done a few things for clients over the past year and am planning a kind of launch in the new year. We’ll see how it goes. I mean, we need a second income so I may as well work on something I’m good at and enjoy.

    Nicole @motherof5

    When I sewed for others I charged $20 an hour (and that was before Tildy was born so five years ago).

    I had three SIL’s I took orders from for their nine children. (I think MIL may have picked up the tab)

    They were happy and I didn’t feel used.

    If you are just ‘using up’ fabric you may be happy to charge for your time only. As long as you don’t end up feeling resentful.

    I was asked to make my Goddaughters formal dress but I later declined as she was getting quite demanding and I was not sure I could deliver what she wanted. I was also informed she had a second dress if mine was not ‘right’. I think that was meant to reassure me but I felt like my sewing time (which is precious) was not valued at all. (I would have been making the dress for the love of it)

    I actually sew less for others now. Some people have accused me of it being a ‘cheap’ gift. I

    think if you find a cliental and sew just for them, it could work well.

    I am sorry is my response is a bit garbled, I have a headache.

    Good luck.


    I would charge a minimum of $60 for a baby dress (Ice Cream, Music Box) $70 for the Birthday Party. For that I would want fabric supplied.

    Maggie @Maggie

    Many people tell me I should sell what I make. I’m really just an advanced beginner. I have tried telling people my finishes are not good enough to sell, but most people never see anything handmade. Now I just tell people that sewing for my own kids keeps me busy enough.

    Etsy is a mix of the truly handmade and small businesses along side larger manufactures especially in Asia passing off things as handmade.

    rastis @rastis

    I’ve often wondered about people selling handmade things super cheap… it makes me sad that it just perpetuates the thought that home sewn is cheap and doesn’t have value…

    i figure they must just be selling a few things to help pay for their hobby, not as a money making venture…. because as anyone who sews knows, sewing is incredibly time consuming- not to mention all the love and thought that goes into each garment!

    i also used to sew lots of things for others, but there were more than a few instances when it wasn’t appreciated or simply taken for granted (i was once asked to make a whole wardobe for a child and when i did i was barely given a thank you- they also paid me nothing for my time or materials… it would have been cheaper and easier for me to go and buy that child clothes from the shops)… i swore never again after that, although i confess i break my own rules now and again… really if you sew for someone else who doesn’t sew they just.don’t.get.it… regardless of how nice they are, they just don’t understand the time and attention that has gone into something… and asking someone to pay you what the sewing is worth is tricky because you are competing with cheap, sweat shop clothes.

    i agree with the others that if you want to make it a business and not just sell a few things to pay for a hobby, then you need to go upmarket… make expensive things and charge appropriately! and good luck!

    Masha Richart

    To the original question, I have made only the Music Box and the Ice Cream of the three dresses you mention (and each only once, though I’ve made a passel of Ice Cream blouses). Both probably took me about eight hours from pattern drafting to final hem, though my Music Box was fully lined. I think if I made music box again, as written, using an already drafted pattern as I’m sure you do, I could probably do it in four hours.

    To the wider discussion, I have only once sewn for money. I was making kid apron/chef hat sets for gifts and was commissioned. I looked on Etsy to see what the going rate was, and I charged accordingly – $25 plus shipping. I carefully timed all of my work because I was curious to see what it would come out to, less the cost of materials. After all was said and done I made about $3 an hour for my labor. That just wasn’t worth it to me, and given the flood of $25 apron/chef hat sets on Etsy, I doubt that I could have sold this set for $46, which would have made me $10 an hour.

    As I’m sure many of you have experienced, people are constantly telling me that I could make money selling stuff. But somehow I feel that my love of sewing would quickly vanish if I were taking orders for pennies. Sewing what I want, for free, is much more enjoyable.

    Nicole, I’m sorry you were told it was a cheap gift. I definitely have friends who I know would feel that way (so I don’t sew for them). My sister thinks that sewing stuff is cheaper than buying it so she often used to ask for things for my niece. I had to give her a reality check about the cost of fabric – even without labor it is rarely cheaper to sew something!

    juliamom2009 @juliamom2009

    I’m actually starting to begin the process to sell some of my handmade clothing – most likely on Etsy. I have different reasons – it’s the fact that I love to sew, and that I realize that my sewing time with my little one is limited to a few more years most likely. In the past, I’ve sewed for others and made money at it; not a ton of money, but money nonetheless. Additionally, since I have a fabric shop, I have access to wholesale pricing on fabric, which really changes the game. So, it’s more of something to be creative and entertain myself more than anything!

    meleliza @meleliza

    Yes, I’d hoped to open a fabric shop one day too. Eventually. I think there’s a reason that all of the remaining fabric stores on Fabric Row here do custom work in shop. I’m curious though, do you pass the wholesale prices on to your custom clients? Or do you profit on fabric and labor? I think I would tend towards double dipping myself. After all, the fabric store has its overhead and labor too.

    Round the world girl, I think you make a good point about turning something you enjoy into your job. Its a good thing to think about. I have a few reservations myself, but I seem to really love little girls and love to see them love a new dress enough to make it worthwhile. I have made even ones who “don’t like dresses” smile. Dare I admit, I’ve even been daydreaming about wedding dresses?

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