Pricing Strategies For Alterations

Whether you have an alterations business, a sewing business, or you just want to do some hems for the neighbor down the street, you’d like to know how to price your work, wouldn’t you?

Years ago, I made craft items and large sized diaper bags to sell. My husband, a CFO, would always ask me, as I was figuring how to price something, “Are you doing this as a hobby or a business?” What he meant by that is that if it is a hobby, that’s one thing, but if a busines, I needed to be competetive if I wanted to make money on the product. So, because I already had thought about that, I knew I wanted it to be a business.

We’ve all been to craft shows where people charged so little that you knew they were just covering the materials that went into the item. My husband would make it clear that that was doing it as a hobby. I would respond by saying that no one would pay what it is worth. His response: “If you can’t make a profit, then that item isn’t worth selling. Give it away as a gift instead”.

So it is with a service. You need to make a profit or it’s not worth your time.

How do you figure out what your time is worth?

To begin with, make a list of the things that you sew or alter on a regular basis…things you have had practice at and feel comfortable doing. (This does not mean that you couldn’t do other sewing or alterations, but for this process, let’s look at what you have experience in.

For simplicity sake, let’s say you know how to hem pants. So let’s look at pricing hems.

The fairest way to price is by the time it takes you to do an alteration.

The first thing you want to do, is to hem about three pair of pants. I’m talking about straight legged pants since those take the least amount of time. I explain that process in this post.

Some of those pants can be cut off, turned up twice and stitched and it probably won’t take you more than 10-15 minutes to do that job. Others pants may require that you take out the original stitches first because you’re only going to take the pants up say one inch and you need some of the fabric in the original hem to do so. Then you press out the original folds and re-hem the pants. This process may take a little more time. You may want to charge a little extra for a hem like this.

Then, there are flared or tapered pants, which may take you more time than hemming straight legged pants. Make a note of the time it takes you to do that.

I had you mark the time it took you to hem three different pairs of pants. You can take the average of the three noted times and base your rate according to that or you may want to charge based on the longest time of the three pairs. Let’s say it was 30 minutes.

Now, call around to the various alteration shops in your town or city and see what they charge to hem pants. Do they charge for different types of hems? Some may have one price for jeans and another for dress slacks. If you don’t have an alteration shop in your town, call a larger city. It doesn’t matter if that city is 200 miles away. You just want to get an idea of what the competition charges. Don’t call your Aunt Sally who does alterations because chances are she may not be charging the market rate.

Let’s say that in the city, they are charging $12 for a jeans hem. If that is true, then you know that they are making more money on a hem that they just cut off, fold up twice and stitch, than the ones where they have to take out the old stitches first. Maybe they are charging $12 for all hems.

If it takes 30 minutes to do a hem and they are charging $12 for it, that means that shop is charging $24 an hour to hem pants (30 minutes times 2 = 60 minutes) or (12 x 2 = 24).

Now, if you divide the hourly rate ($24) by 60 minutes, they are making .40 cents a minute. Now you have a base rate (by the minute and by the hour) for all the sewing that you do.

I have a spiral notebook that I used when I first began that tells what each alteration was in detail and how many minutes it took me to do the alteration. You might want to do the same. Because, all these years later, my rate is higher and all I have to do is multiply the number of minutes it takes by the minute rate I charge.

In addition, I may not do a certain alteration very often (there are some that I have only done once or twice in 20 years!) so this notebook is very valuable in helping me give an estimate to the customer should they ask for one.

When giving an estimate, be sure to tell them that it is a ballpark figure because you want to give yourself room for very strange construction that you find once in awhile in some ready made garments. Sometimes certain alterations just take longer than you thought they would.

I don’t charge for the time that it takes me to rip out a mistake that I have made, in case you’re wondering.

I realize in some parts of the country, the base rate for a hem will be different. Maybe you live in Kansas and shops charge $8.00 to do a basic hem. In New York City, they may charge $25.00. In my city of about 130,000 people, I just made the phone calls to the local shops again and they are charging $12-$20 per hem.

Now, when you are getting started, you may want to charge the same or a little less than the shops in town because you want to pick up some business. I would caution not to underprice yourself! Again, this is not a hobby. Of course, you may be tempted to give a huge discount to family and friends, but if they went somewhere else, they would have to pay full price, so charge them what you feel comfortable charging.

This is a chart that I put on a flyer back in 2003 when I began doing alterations again after a break of a couple of years.

You can see that I called several shops and noted what their prices are below for certain alterations:

PRICE LIST COMPARISON FOR ALTERATIONS*

November 2003

 

                             The Sewing                 Burke               Amazing                  Linda

Hems                     Room                   Cleaners             Alterations             

 

Pants

Unlined:               $18.75                     $16-19                $12.00                    $12.00

 

Lined:                   $25.00                      $25-30                $16.00                   $16.00

 

Skirts & Dresses

40” unlined        $18.75                      $31.00                $15.00                     $15.00

 

40” lined             $25.00                       $50.00                $20.00                   $20.00

 

As you can see, I tried to match or price slightly lower than all the other shops. At that  time, shops were charging one price for all their hems. Now, they charge based on the work involved.

What about other alterations? You may want to try several different alterations and see if the time it takes to do each one justifies the price you are charging. If a waistband takes 30 minutes to take in and you are charging .40 cents per minute, the price is $12. Can you justify the price? I think so. I think, at least in this area, $12 to take in a waistband is reasonable.

I like to compare the skills in sewing to those of haircutting. Let’s say, for simplicity sake, that it takes 20 minutes for a $20 hair cut. That salon is making $60 an hour. Her skills aren’t any more valuable than yours and yet she charges $20 and no one batts an eye. Plus, you have to go back every six weeks and have it cut all over again!

What steams people is that they bought their pants for $15 on sale somewhere and they have to pay about the same amount for the hem. Well, we all know that the pants were so cheap because foriegn labor is cheap and they didn’t pay full price for them. So, you just need to work with customers who don’t mind paying you what you are worth. Don’t worry, you’ll find them.

It may take some tweaking on your price list before you get it right and are comfortable with it.

Be sure to add a little for the price of thread, needles, etc. Of course, if you have to buy lace or a zipper to do the job, add that to their bill. You don’t want to have to take anything from your bottom line.

Don’t feel bad about charging more for a “rush”. I often have girls call me and say they need their gown altered in 2 days. When I do a rush for someone, it means I have to put another customer’s item on the back burner or it means I have to work longer hours. So, they have to pay for that. I charge a minimum of $5.00 or 10% of the total if it is a rush job. No one has complained. I probably should raise the price to 15% and treat it like a tip.

When I charge for bridal alterations, my rate is higher per hour and I charge for the time it takes me to fit the customer because if I didn’t, I would lose 30 minutes to an hour worth of pay. That adds up!

Hopefully, this has given you a little more confidence and strategy on pricing.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this. How do you price your sewing or craft skills?

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103 Responses

  1. I am glad to see a detailed pricing post. Very good thought looking at whether or not the service will be profitable and at the prices of competition. I also like that you considered opportunity cost of your time. That said, I disagree with pricing based on cost. Should you not look at:
    1. what is the value of this service to your customers?
    2. what are the different segments and what is important to each? can you price separately for each segment? For example, can you charge a higher price for rush orders or for a different hemming process?
    3. can you charge differently for different dresses people bring in? You already say that for bridal dresses, but this should be done because the value is different to the customer and not because it takes you more time. It costs way more to buy a new wedding dress compared to the cost of altering a used one.

    Not to take anything away from you, very nice post.

    -rags
    4. Can you offer them a package? for example, all you can eat for a monthly fee?

  2. Thank you for your comments, Rags. I appreciate the questions and your thoughts. Let’s look at each one:

    1. I think if I understood you correctly, my answer is that the customers do value my services because I do a professional job and I do work that they don’t know how to do. I haven’t heard anyone complain about my prices because I am competetive with other businesses in town.

    2. Yes, I do charge a higher price for rush orders, for example. Are you asking should I price for each part of an alteration and then add them up at the end? That is basically what I do, but not quite sure what you’re asking.

    3. I charge for the time it takes me to alter an item, regardless of how much the person spent for the item and whether it is new or used. I don’t know how much they’ve spent on an item unless they leave the price tag on. If someone brings in a used wedding dress, it usually looks brand new, so unless they tell me it’s used, I don’t know.

    In general, if they bring a casual dress to me, the hem may not be as complicated as hemming a wedding dress. However, I have seen hems that are very complicated on casual dresses before and the customer understands that just by looking at it. They usually remark on it before I have a chance to.

    They are paying me to make the dress look amazing and fit them well. If I go by how much they spent on an item, then I’m afraid I wouldn’t be in business very long.

    4. I am guessing that these questions weren’t meant to be here.

    All in all, after considering your thoughts, (because I thought about other ways to price before I began this business), I still have to say that pricing by the time it takes me is fair to all involved. I have a pretty good sense of estimating the price when the item comes in.

    I forgot to mention that I sometimes over estimate if I’m not sure how much time it will take and then when I charge a lesser amount, the customer is very happy. It’s a win-win for all of us.

    Let me know if I misunderstood your questions or comments. Thank you!

    • I agree with the answers. I tend to charge by the job to keep pricing simple. I might lose money here and there, but I charge $10 for machine hems and $20 for hand-hemming (slacks, etc.) I usually get paid a little more for “job well done” or ‘tip” (call it what you will). I also make and sell things so the profits from those items tend to offset what I may have missed out for alterations.

      • Thanks, Marilyn. This is another way to price! I appreciate your stopping by and commenting here. I think it’s good for the reader to have many ideas to ponder for themselves. Linda

  3. Hi
    Thanks for taking the time to answer.
    I did mean the questions for your blog, as you see I am not spamming with any other links :)

    Costs are important only to see whether or not you can run a profitable business. If you charge based on time it took you then there will always be someone who will charge less for their time. The conversation shifts to price from quality and value.

    By value I meant can you estimate in dollars what it is worth to the customers and not about prices.

    Let us look at your point on estimating value of the service to customers. I agree that you cannot find the price they paid for the item. It is also true that customers do not know the value of they service they get.
    Can you make a general classification based on material or type of dress? If I want my dress pants altered, the value I get from altering it is the extended use I get from it before I make a new purchase. So I should be willing to pay a fraction of that savings to the service.

  4. I knew you were not spamming, but comment #4 said something about “can I offer them a package” and “all you can eat”. And, comment #4 was put in after you signed your name, so I was confused by those things.

    Yes, you are right, there may be others who charge less than you do and customers may go to them. That’s a risk you take. That’s why it is important to know what others charge and how well you do your job. If you are new to the business and don’t make a hem look professional, you will start to lose customers. Conversely, if you charge twice what the competition charges, you’ll lose customers as well.

    I think I understand what you mean in the last paragraph. As a consumer, you take into consideration how much wear you will get from that item before you have to buy another one. If it will get lots of use, you might be willing to pay a little more for the alteration.

    Then, there are some consumers who don’t really care if their pants are too long. They will just use safety pins or tape to keep their hems from dragging on the ground. So, for them, having an alteration done is something they are not willing to do.

    Those are questions consumers need to ask themselves. Great conversation! Thanks so much for your thoughts!

  5. Pricing has been one of the toughest issues I have had to deal with since starting my business over a year ago. I purchased a book by Barbara Sykes called “Pricing Without Fear” and that helped me a great deal. Mostly, I try to stay competitive by pricing what other sewing businesses are doing in this area. However, what took some of the fear out was my decision to offer the best job I could do for the customer. I still need to pickup some speed, however, I won’t be the lowest in town, either. In my area, a pair of pants cost from $8 to $12. I charge $10 and sometimes I pickup and deliver. I still think I am undercharging. How long should it take to hem a basic pair of pants? It takes me about 1/2 hour from initial preparation to finishing the details.

    Another issue that bothers me sometimes is that I work out of my home studio. I thought I should charge less since I work from home. Should I charge the same price as someone in a shop for the same quality?

    • I also work from home, try to keep my prices competitive. I have some very loyal clients and always appreciate their loyalty. I have 40 years experience. What I’m finding in working from home is that you are at the customers disposal from early morning until late at night sometimes. Also my home is a business and not a home. I feel that I should be compensated for that. That said, being self employed is a blessing for me.

  6. You’re right on…stay competetive with your area! Don’t think that because you work from home that you should charge less. Your customers are paying for quality of workmanship, not where your location is (unless all your customers have to drive out in the country 25 miles or something!)
    Different hems take different amounts of time, so maybe your best strategy is to, again, price your hems according to what others charge in your area.
    Hope that helps.

  7. I have found that its best to charge on the higher end if you want to work smarter not harder. I give my customers the best quality and service out there but they have to pay for it. The fact is that some people can’t afford what others can and there are other alteration shops that they can go to. The fact is, ” I can’t afford the customers that can’t afford me!” I’m not looking for the quantity of work but the quality of work. I would rather do one job and get payed what its worth than to do five that pay less and make the same. If your not as good than charge less, but if you are good than charge what its really worth..Don’t forget to factor in daily overhead when setting your prices. If you have been in business for more than five years working full time and don’t make at least $30,000 per year after expences you arn’t charging enough! Your a professional…………..arn’t you? Charge like one!!!

    • All I can say is “Bravo and well said”. I am off to raise my prices!

      • May I just add, one thing I have found is that you want to stick to your price. If you feel that someone wants a lower price, you really need to stick to the price. I made the mistake of doing a hem for a lady who was not exactly well to do and I only charged her a pittance for the work. Well next thing I know she has some other alterations and expects them for a lower price too. I got off on a very wrong foot. And she also told her relative that I did her work for less!! What a mess! Lesson learned!!

    • Thanks Christy, pricing has been a big problem for me. I started my business working out of my home I 1996 and just moved to a store front and am trying to make the pricing transition has been hard.

  8. Wow, what a story! And what a great lesson. That is such a good point you make. Thank you.

  9. At last! Someone that speaks my language!. I have finally set myself a minimum. If it is a simple fix during prom, mardi gras, or pagents, it is $20.00. Sorry, if I touch it and thread a needle, 20 bucks. Now, If I could only stick to my guns and charge extra for the “rush” job…. I also figure a fitting into my charges. I know that I still don’t charge enough, but I did go up. It does look like I am too dang cheap to hem a pair of pants though. I talked to a seamstress in Mobile. She said to figure by the hour and not to be under 10.00 per hour. She also said to get 25.00 plus alterations for a rush job. Hey, what is minimum wage? Aren’t we scarcer than frogs teeth? We all need to step up and get what we are worth. Now, if I can only take my own advice. Scissors in the air ladies!

    • Yeah…..thanks for the motivation. I am working on a rush alteration for a mans coat. I was feeling guilty charging $25.00/hr and it’s taking at least 3 hours. The man makes a minimum of $75./hr so why am I hesitating. The longer we underprice/undervalue ourselves as seamstresses, the longer it will take people to take us seriously.

  10. I mostly do alterations for a bridal salon in a small town. I don’t think that should mean that my prices are cheap, however. My rate is $25-30 per hour. I think that’s fair! I really prefer to charge based on my time rather than the job. I do run into situations where one of the other seamstresses charge less for the same alteration. They want to charge only $5 to sew in bra cups or for a bustle. On the other hand, they always charge $45 for a hem whether it’s a 3 layer (lining-satin-chiffon) or a thin satin or taffeta that is glued w/stitch witchery. How would you deal with that when the store does not set the prices?

    • Deb,
      I am totally on board with your prices. If a customer ever questions your prices, tell them you have confidence that your work is of utmost quality and your service is excellent. Don’t drop your prices because the other places are doing inferior work (using stitch witchery for a hem is pretty lame.) And there’s no way I charge $5 to sew in bra cups! I have only had to explain my fees a few times in many years. Most people are comfortable with my explanation and I always offer them sincerely that they are free to go to another shop if they’d rather.

      Stick to your guns on this one. Your rate is just right. Good for you!
      Linda

    • Debbie
      I was in bridals for 20 years but that was through the 70″s and 80″s -bridals have changed but I still take them in my home based business. How are you treating the bust dart that needs taking in on almost every strapless dress. It’s such a big job–any hints??

      • Hi Debbie,
        I am not seeing a bust dart on strapless here! What brands are you seeing them on? Seems like the few I have are corrected when I take in the side seams at the bust, but let me know some more details on this. you’ve gotten my curiosity up!
        Linda

      • The last 2 years I have put in more bust darts because the manufacturers think if the waist goes up so does the bust size.
        I do many by hand with small culture stitches. IT is easier than trying to get them in the machine. Sometimes the sideseam take in does not pull the bust close enough to the body.

  11. Thank you for this much needed and wonderful post!

  12. Hi I’m so glad I came across this site! I live in Scotland (UK) and have just started officially doing alterations. I based my price list on some I got from the internet and a well known dry cleaners. I work my costs out the the nearest 15 minutes and price my work at £10 per hour. My prices are just a little bit below what the drycleaners are charging so I know that I have priced it right. However, I can also design and construct pattern blocks and have a different pricing for that totally as well as making up someone’s bought pattern. I have done some really tiny little jobs (burst seam in armpit of pj’s) etc., as well as bigger jobs (massive curtains!) and I work from home, having converted our utility room into the littlest sewing workshop! It works though. Once again, thanks for this site, have added it to my favourites!

    • Hello!
      Oh, your business sounds wonderful and how great you are able work from home! You know your prices are right when you get return customers. It sounds like you are very well rounded in your skills…that’s great. I love doing many different kinds of alterations because you never get bored. I used to work in our utility room in our former home and it worked out just fine.

      Happy Sewing and thank you for your kind comments!
      Linda

  13. Sorry, that’s £15 per hour, was thinking about an alteration I had been working on! By the way, wool and polyester mix easy care trousers are a bit of a snaggy pest to shorten the hems of…!

  14. Hi Linda,

    I just had a potential client who wanted to pay me $40 to hem her wedding dress that she purchased from a popular wedding shop where she paid only $70 for dress. I quoted her $65 to hem a 3-layered chiffon-satin-satin dress which I know is reasonable considering how time-consuming it is to measure out the hems. This is the first time I was questioned about my pricing since I have charged more for formals in the past and no one blinked an eye. Do you bother to overcome such an objective? What does the cost of the dress have to do with alterations services? Seems to me if a bride gets a deal on the dress, then she can budget to have it tailored to her specifications.

    I think it is interesting how we as workers want an increase in our salaries but we don’t understand the value of anyone else’s work.

    • You hit the nail on the head. Great point. I do get that alot from customers….stick to your guns. Your craft is a specialty. They are coming to you because they know that they can’t do the same work with professional results or they don’t have the time to. But with most people, it’s because they don’t know how to do a proper hem and they are scared to work on that fabric.

      By the way, I think $65 is too little to charge for three layers with chiffon in the mix. Next time, you have my permission to up your price. What are the other places in town charging?

  15. Would you believe the places in my neighborhood charge $8 for a pant hem?! I live in Chicago- I’m surprised.
    I just discovered your blog- it’s great, and this was helpful! I am hoping to get a few costumers for alterations, but I am not charging $8, that is too little!

    • Wow, that surprises me too! I’m so glad you like the blog and find it helpful. Thanks for leaving the comment and I wish you the best in your new venture!

  16. Finding your blog was a great start to my day! Thanks, sewfordough–it’s refreshing to read your well reasoned pricing strategies.

    Like many of us, I always feel like I should have been able to do a job more quickly, so I’m loathe to charge enough to cover my time. My hairdresser daughter is my best ally: “Mom, you’ve GOT to charge x per hour! It takes what it takes!” I had been shooting for $20 per hour; now I’m working towards $25. [So far, I'm averaging $16 to 20.]

    I wanted to encourage those of you who work from a home office and live ‘out of town’ to consider this. Offering ‘complimentary pick-up and delivery’ can be a GREAT way to serve clients who aren’t up to the drive out AND add up tax deductible mileage that helps to offset your profit come tax time. Remember to keep accurate records in a mileage journal in your car: meetings with clients, making deposits, shopping for supplies–all these are valid business mileage deductions. At $0.50 per mile, my 34 mile roundtrip to town knocks $17 off my Schedule C “Gross Sales and Receipts.” (Yes, I did my grocery shopping and picked up a daughter from dance while in town.)

    Well, off to my quiet time and then to work. I have to repair a sequined top–take in the side seams so I can ‘rob’ the sequins from the seam allowances there and in order to replace ones that had fallen off critical front and back areas. You can be sure I’ll set my timer for this one-of-a-kind job!

    May God bless us all, using the work of our hands to be a blessing, serving gladly with the gifts he’s given us!

    Susan

    • Awesome Susan! The only thing I might suggest is to have your customers do all your shopping for you. You really can’t charge the hourly rate to do it for them and I find that they buy things I wouldn’t have bought. I let them pick out and buy their own buttons, bra cups, fabric, etc. That way, it frees me up to sew and do fittings!

  17. I’m so glad I found this site. – Getting ready to retire from my regular job to work in my first love job on a part-time basis. I’ve been doing alterations on and off for 30+ years with not one cent in advertising. Word of mouth is the best reference one can have. Now I have to get my prices in line. My monumental project is a major alteration, bustle and hem on a wedding gown. Wish me luck. I’m taking day off from my regular day-job to do this word of mouth fix for a wedding 10 days away!!

    • I tried to email you, but it failed. Not sure why. Do you have any relatives in Norman, Oklahoma? I know of someone with the same last name there.
      It sounds like you have a big job ahead of you, but since you have done alterations before, it will be a piece of cake!
      You are right, word of mouth is the way to go!
      Yes, get your prices right so you aren’t doing this for next to nothing!
      Let me know how it turns out,
      Linda

  18. Hi Linda,
    I’m wanting to start a sewing business at home, have did it in the past. Bought a sewing machine back in the 80’s and made enough to pay for it in a few weeks. Also made my boys pants for Catholic schools, gym shorts, and daughter;s skirt for graduation. but I don’t know how to advertise on the internet. I don’t want to invest a lot of money. Just alterations and small sewing jobs. Nothing fancy, any help would be welcome. Enjoy your site.

    • It would be outside my realm of expertise to recommend a specific way if doing this. Your best bet would be to ask someone in the “techie” department.

      Linda

    • I advertise my business on Google. It is a free service. I get so many referrals from new customers looking for clothing alterations in the area. Another hint: I was a telephone operator back in the 70-80″s and we had to look up phone numbers for customers through directory assistance. Back then we had a man who owned several businesses in the area and some were motels. He made sure all his business names began with the letter A, such as A Knight’s Inn, A Cut Above or American Dry Cleaning. When a customer wanted the name of any motel or beauty salon etc. in the area we would check yellow pages and his business would always be first on the list and of course it would be the first listing we would begin reading off. He got more business than someone whose business name might begin with the letter S for example. When naming your business keep that in mind. Since I am advertising on Google for free my business comes up first before all other alteration services in the area. I do not advertise in newspapers or yellow pages because they seem cost prohibitive and I am not sure too many people even use the telephone directories that often with cell phones being so popular. I have made my own tear off flyers and business cards and have placed them on community bulletin boards and our local post office bulletin board. I also have contacted local dry cleaning services in my area that do not offer on site alterations and have left my business cards for alteration referrals. They are more than happy to refer customers to my business. I have a small sign in my front yard and I find that word-of-mouth referrals are my best advertisement. I also pass out business cards to each new customer and if they request extra cards I pass them out. I always keep business cards in my purse just to pass out or leave in stores. You can also contact stores such as Penney’s or Macy’s that sell clothing and leave business cards for alteration referrals since most stores no longer offer on site alteration services.

      A few years ago we had a bridge out on a major highway and when I found out how many people crossed over that bridge I was astonished. I lived about a 1/4 mile from the bridge in a very small village. I wanted to corral some of those customers to my business. I made a political sized blank poster board and painted on it Clothing Alterations with address and phone number. I placed that sign on the detour route at a 4 way stop. People would stop and see my sign. I can’t tell you what a Godsend that detour was for expanding my customer base even though it was a headache for everyone else. Be creative with your advertising. I even have my own Facebook page with my business name and have posted photos of some of my alterations and other interesting sewing photos.

  19. Years ago, my Mother in law did some extensive alterations for a plus sized client. After reading your blog and comments, I will tell of her experience. A lady brought her several size 12 patterns..my Mom in law, now deceased, upsized all of these patterns to fit a size 20 woman. She sewed I think 6 outfit for her. Anyone who know anything about the general public knows that you truly have to be wary of who you sew for. Well, my trusting m.i.l. got totally ripped off by this woman. The lady wrote her a check for a certain amount, and left with all 6 new outfits. No telling how much time my m.i.l. took to redo the patterns etc.
    and some items require matched plaids. Well, the woman wrote a bad check..it bounced and the lady skipped town. All of that labor intensive work she did was for naught. After that, or soon after that, my m.i.l. opened a quilt store in Virginia, after years of wanting to get into the quilting business.
    How do you all keep from getting ripped off ? Do you accept only cash, use credit cards or what ? That’s one question.
    I have been sewing off an on for a number of years. I recently did a favor, totally unpaid, for a friend whose over sized grandchild could not fit into any of the plaid uniforms that they private school uses.
    The uniform shop didn’t have her size. First of all, I have learned that nobody wants to cooperate with anyone who may take some of their business from them. The uniform shop refused to tell me and another customer where they purchase their fabric. This was all well and good. I knew that I could produce a skirt for this over sized child..if only I could get the fabric ” code”. Well, no such luck.
    The schools in Louisiana start mid August…since this child is wearing an adult size 41 inch waist, she did not fit the standard. Her self esteem was crushed when the lady in the uniform shop informed me that ” you can’t afford my prices for custom made”…with a bitchy glare. ( she assumed I couldn’t afford it,but after her poor attitude, I walked out of that shop and vowed not to return).
    The following day, I found two brand new smaller sized, same plaid, uniform plaid skirts that matched the plaid that the school used. I took it upon myself to basically reuse and recycle these two pleated skirts and made one nicely fitting uniform skirt for this child ( she is working on trying to lose some weight…but that’s another blog).
    I was determined, especially after the woman at the uniform shop looked down on her due to her weight, to somehow solve this issue.
    This was the first time I had sewn for a while..as my Mom has alzheimers and she is a full time job now.
    The skirt that I made for that child..had I actually charged my friend for it….for my time, effort etc. , would have cost more than any 50 dollars..but this I did out of the goodness of my heart. I got a lot of satisfaction, though, from seeing the smile on this child’s face ! She was so thrilled to have a plaid skirt like the other children..and the school children did make negative comments to her the first few days of school..because she wore a solid black skirt and white top…due to the fact that she truly could not fit into anything local.
    After that, I started thinking of ” I could do this for other children”..but I would have to charge something. This lead me to find this blog !
    After reading your blog and reading the comments…yes, I sort of understand that what I did had value…and if I did this for others, or people that I don’t know, or consumers, I would not feel guilty for charging a per inch fee….because it took a lot of time to undo the hems, figure out how to remake or redo two skirts and re configure these to fit properly.
    I took photos of all of my ” before, during and after” and haven’t yet had a chance to photograph the child in the skirt,but will.
    In my case, the lady whose grand daughter needed the uniform skirt helps me, for pay, tend my Mom part time so I can get breaks from caregiving.
    There are many private and Catholic schools here that require these plaid uniforms. Even after trying to search online many fabric websites, I still could not find the uniform fabric.
    I am a nurse,but do enjoy doing many creative things. Wonderful blog.
    I think it really would be difficult for me to do this for a living…as I would sell myself too short…so, if I do this again, or even do any hemming etc. I will know NOT to over or undercharge.
    Nice blog / enjoyed the many comments..even the older ones.

  20. excuse my poor wording above..many typos etc.

  21. Thank you for the suggestions on pricing. I am putting my sewing machine to work, and the ideas will be very helpful.

  22. I am so glad to have found your blog! I have recently began teaching sewing classes for kids a local retailer here, which has lead to several people asking if I would do alterations, etc. I have just begun developing my business plan to start by own sewing business from home, but I have had the hardest time determine how to price things. I will have to get into the business mentality. As a question, how do you handle your business insurance? Your thoughts here have been so helpful and encouraging! I look forward to reading some of your other posts.

    • Thank you for your kind comments. That is a good question! my advice would be for you to get some referrals on a good insurance broker near you. It’s not the same as an insurance agent. These brokers handle insurance for many insurance companies, not just one. Take your question to them because they would know the regulations and laws that govern your state. Also, they’d know what type of policy or rider you need.

      Hope that helps! I wish you the best with your new business! Linda

  23. Thank you so much for all this wonderful insight. Have read every post with interest. Have done alterations for everything from wedding gowns to bathing suits. I used to do a lot for free for friends but my list of friends seemed to be getting very long, friends of friends. Am feeling used so have starting to charge for my expertise and art. Was at a loss as to how to charge until I read your post. Thank you for your business insights. I am amazed at the # of people who think that just because you can sew and are a woman you should do it for free or a very nominal charge. Guess my breaking point came when a friend gave me a dollar yes a $1.00 to alter a bodice for her daughter which took 3 hours of my time and involved a complete reconstruction. She just threw the dollar on the table before I could even tell her what the charge would be. I also run into the “got it at a great price and it just needs a zipper so I don’t want to pay a lot” type of attitude. Weeelll then you didn’t get a good deal did you cause it’s going to cost you to have me put one in! You have elevated our art with your posts and insights. Thanks. What is your “really been used” story?

    • Wow, I am so sorry you’ve had such bad experiences. You are so right. People think that if they didn’t spend much for the item, the alteration should just basically be free. You really hit the nail on the head. I cannot believe your story about the friend who put a dollar on the table before you had a chance to tell her what the charge was. The nerve. I have had that happen before. I had a friend ask me for custom dresses for her granddaughters (3). I told her she would be better off buying new ones for them as the labor would be more than she would be willing to pay. I took a huge loss on those and I don’t think I ever made custom dresses after that. I don’t have a story as bad as yours though. I am so glad you are not going to take that kind of treatment anymore. Yu are right. Sewing is an art and it requires expertise. I am glad that post gave you encouragement. Don’t feel bad for charging whatever you need to. If your friends don’t keep asking you to sew for them, others will. Don’t be discouraged. There are always people out there willing to pay what you’re worth, even in a bad economy. And, might I say, maybe those people aren’t very good friends after all. I wish you the best! Linda

  24. So glad I found your blog! I am working on getting back into the sewing business and just recently have been getting more work. Well this one woman wanted an older winter coat (thigh length) re-lined and I checked with other sources on pricing and quoted her a fair price (for our area) of $80. She commented that the coat cost her that much (years ago, I am thinking) and I explained to her that it included the cost of the fabric and I did have to rip out the lining, cut new and re-sew. Long story short, she said no thank you. I stuck to my pricing guns although I was severly tempted to give her a “deal” but having read your blog previously I resisted the temptation. I feel that people don’t value the expertise that we offer. I enjoy your blog and the comments of others, it lets me know that I’m not on my own!

  25. Thank you one and all for your stories. I am going to give this a try as a business from home. I have been commissioned to make a costume for an acquaintance and have built it from patterns, ideas and requests from the client and designs from my head about the “feeling” and style she was after. Trying to come up with a fair price for this has been an issue for me. No place in my area offers this service. I have done a blouse with pintucks, bodice, and ornate jacket all custom fit to the model. These items have been double lined, boned, and detailed way past the simple pattern used for the foundation of the garment, especially the bodice and the jacket….oh the jacket…I am very proud of it! I need to set prices for this and am at a loss. As I said, no place around here offers this service and I think I have found my niche, but I need to make a profit too. What can I do?

    • Hi Linda, Thank you for your kind comments. I think making costumes is definitely a gift. That’s why there aren’t many in your area doing that kind of work. It sounds like you have made patterns before and can translate ideas into patterns. Not many women can do that and I think you need to charge accordingly. By that, I mean that you should charge for all the time you have put into it. Perhaps you didn’t have that conversation with your client before you began the project. In the future, I would make it clear that you need to do that. However, if you didn’t talk that over with your customer this time, perhaps, this time, you don’t charge for the pattern making and/or the consultation time to figure out what he/she wanted. Perhaps this time you just charge for the actual sewing time.

      Sometimes, we take on a project and don’t realize the time commitment involved ahead of time. There have been many times that I did a “one of a kind” alteration and I told them ahead of time that I didn’t have a set price, but based on similar work, I could give them a ballpark price. For example, I might tell them that it may cost them between $80-$125 for a certain hem. They usually agreed to that ballpark. Very few wanted the estimate in writing, but I was always ready to do that if they wanted that.

      So, as always, I ask you to figure out what your hourly rate is going to be. Figure that out first before you start calculating a price. You need to make sure that your rate reflects the talent (gift) that you have.

      If you think about it for awhile and you still can’t come up with an hourly rate, write me back and I’ll suggest one to you.

      Hope all that helps, Linda

  26. Hi: Thank you for this website. I am sure it will useful to me in the future. Previously I operated a small sewing business at home in which I mainly sewed drapery for over 7 years.I tried teaching sewing lessons, but it was not my thing-customers came late, did not respect my time etc. Now I would deal with it better. Anyway, to make a long story short I enjoyed working at home and sewing – if I am not creative in my life I feel depressed. However, my husband’s work went bankrupt and we needed extra money. I went to work at a retail clothing store that provided basic hemming and clothing repairs to customers. I worked there 3 1/2 years sewing and working sometimes on customer service desk as well. But I found I was denying that my soul was dying within me with this work – hemming 15 or more pairs of pants 4 days a week. I got a steady pay, but could not share my creativity very often. I recognized I wanted more and resigned my position a few weeks ago – step of faith – left health benefits and a steady pay check. I thought that I should (note should) get a job in Social Services because I have a diploma in that field but have not really used it that much. Yet I am just realizing that I want my sewing business back again. I had tried to deny this fact thinking negatively – I have lost customers, hassle of getting insurance, etc. etc. But that is my heart’s desire. Previous to getting retail job I had been studying a book on doing clothing alterations (my way of learning) and I would like to do this as well as other sewing. Just need more confidence. My husband is a little skeptical of my earning potential. I had a price list previously and found people would pay more for drapery for some reason.
    Of course I had some pricing horrors as well. Made about $2/hr. helping out a lady once- adding piece to chair covers for wedding. Lady ordered over internet and they didn’t fit and shipping back would cost a fortune. Felt sorry for her and then felt sorry for me. My daughter and I worked day and night for several days to meet her deadline and her friends got involved telling me what to do. Oh well. Thanks for letting me share. Do you have any ideas how I can market my business? Most of my previous customers were for drapery, which you don’t get that often. Figure altering would be more often. Thanks, Debbie

    • Hi Debbie,
      Thanks for your comments. Because you love the creative side of sewing, I would encourage you to do more of the drapery, upholstery, pillows side of sewing. I find there is much more opportunity for creativity with those jobs. You said you could make more money doing that type of sewing over alterations anyway. You might look for builders who need their model homes decorated or for business women who want to decorate and would pay that money, but don’t have time to do it. Either visit places of employment where you can personally market your skills, or create a website. People just don’t go to the yellow pages to find a seamstress. That has always been rare. Good thing because that kind of advertising is expensive. If it takes you awhile to develop enough clientele, then, by all means, hem some pants while you get the other part of your business up and going. That way, you don’t have to learn a whole new skill set (alterations). Hope that helps!
      Linda

      • I understand what you are saying, but I just wondered if it would be better to focus on one aspect of sewing (drapery etc.) or be open to any type of sewing. Some people seem to advertise everything – alterations, wedding, custom sewing,drapery etc. Maybe I just need to get my confidence back. Funny, I feel a little rusty sewing now. Debbie

      • It really depends on where you live and how many people are sewing, doing alterations and drapery. It also depends on what your goals are. It sounds like making money is higher on the list than doing the kind of sewing that really brings you joy. But I was thinking you could combine the two and just do home decor. If you live in a small town or city and not many people sew, you may need to be e “Jack of all trades”. Just start and you’ll soon find out what fits best. You mentioned insurance. I have never taken out a policy for my business. Another reader asked about it too. Just wondering what you’d need it for. Someone suing you? Just have an umbrella policy on your homeowners policy. It should cost less than $100 per year. Linda

  27. Thanks for comments. Re: Insurance- I live in Canada so we could be different. I think I had to pay an extra $40/month for liability insurance because I had people in my home and when I went to their home to measure for drapes etc. Insurance agent said ordinary liability home insurance would not cover if I fell or someone hurt themselves when here (at the time I taught sewing lessons as well). I also paid little extra car insurance for driving to people’s home (like driving to work). He said other’s insurance would not cover me in their home either. Insurance is very expensive in Canada I find. One of our biggest monthly expense – car, home, life etc. Perhaps it covered if someone sued me also, not sure. It also covered if I had a fire (equipment etc.). At first I didn’t have insurance, but when I became a registered company etc. I wanted to do the right thing and notified insurance company.

    • Good for you to do the right thing. Yes, I believe the laws and regs are different in Canada than in the U.S. I wish you the best. Stay in touch. I’d love to hear what you decide to do and how it is going after you start! Thank you again for leaving such nice comments. Linda

  28. Hi Linda! I was asked by my sister who is a girl-scout leader if she could put my name out there as someone parents could go to to sew on the scout patches to the vests/sashes in case they need it. I said yes, but was a little undecided on how to price. Someone else did it for them years ago and only charged $1 per patch. I want to keep it cheap enough that they’ll be interested, but I think $1 is a little low. I was thinking at least $2 per – or I could base it on the amount. (Discount large amounts done at once.) I want it to be somewhat worth my time. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Sharon. I sew patches on scout items, dance studio items, and letter jackets. I charge $3.00 per patch regardless of size. I have been doing this for two years and still going. I have not had anyone indicate the charge is too much and I live in an area that money is spent cautiously.

      • Thank you for your response! It’s so nice to get feed-back – it makes you feel so much more prepared. I’m trying to strike a balance between making it worth my while, but at the same time keeping it somewhat inexpensive sort of as a courtesy (favor) for the scouts. I figure it would possibly lead to ‘word of mouth’ customers. Thanks again!

    • Hi Sharon,
      I am so sorry I forgot to answer your question here. Here is a link to a post I wrote awhile back. I think it might help you. I agree with you… $1 is not enough. As always, I figure out how much time it takes me, including my time with the customer when figuring out what to charge. I hope this helps:

      http://sewfordough.wordpress.com/2009/06/08/job-opportunity/

      • Hi Linda! Thank you so much for the link – this is exactly what I was thinking to put myself (name) out there to spread the word. I appreciate you’re responding, and as I’ve stated before, but I think it deserves re-stating – thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience, it really eases the mind!
        Sharon

  29. Thank you, thank you! This has been the most profitable time reading all of these posts! I started sewing patches as well and it sort of snowballed to the point of needing to price my work. When I read this I knew I had the right idea (per minute rate). Thanks Linda, I echo Sharon Tabaka’s words. I feel like pumping my fist in the air and shouting ‘YES’!!!

    • Oh, that’s awesome. So happy for you!

      • Forgive me Linda, I have ‘just one more’ question regarding pricing by time. Do you give the person a ‘ball park’ figure, or not mention price until they’re picking it up and can actually figure it out based on time. I’m only comparing it to bringing something to the cleaners (for example), they tell you when you bring it how much it will cost – so there’s no surprises.

      • If it’s an item I do all the time and I know how long it is going to take, I’ll give them a set price. However, there are so many garments that are put together in such strange ways, that it may take me a lot longer once I get in there. Many times, I will estimate a price over what I think it will be to give me that wiggle room. Then, if it doesn’t take me longer, I give them a price that is less and they are always happy. I can’t remember more than one person who wasn’t happy with my pricing and that person wanted me to do the work anyway. Hope that helps. Linda

      • Thank you Linda! That makes perfect sense. And you are so right about stuff put together in strange ways! I think that’s what makes me nervous – wondering if I will be able to put it back together again!

    • That is so funny! YESSS!!! Isn’t it empowering to share information!

  30. Hi! I am really enjoying this post! I’ve been altering things for years for family and friends for free, and I’m thinking about starting my own alterations business from home, now that my children area all grown. My question regards mistakes. I’ve never destroyed anyone’s item (thank goodness!) but I’ve always been afraid of messing something up, especially an expensive item, like a prom or wedding dress. Have any of you ever made an error like this? If so, what did you do?

    • Hi Jody! That’s exactly where I am at as well. If I charged my family I’d be rich! I’ve even brought the subject up to Linda. It’s funny how we all seem to think the same things – I was wondering the same as your question about making a mistake on someone else’s garment! Just the thought of it terrifies me, so I’ll always be waiting to hear the answer to your question! Good luck with starting your home business. I’m taking forever to really get going (confidence problem!), but I am, at least heading forward, just slowly!
      Sharon

  31. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise so freely with others. I have read every post on this page and found it tremendously helpful. I am turning 70 in Dec and I have been asked to do alterations quite often. Knowing what to charge have been a great struggle, and all the comments here have definitely helped. I have recently had to take the sides in of a prom dress which was lined. I had to take of some bead work under the bust-line to be able to do this, and sew back the sequins, beads and chain with diamante insets. This was a previously owned dress and some of the beads and sequins were missing on the sleeve (which was all sequins & beads). I was able to cover the empty spot with the beading scored from the things I had to take off previously. I live in New Zealand and charged her NZ$ 60, and was unsure whether that was maybe too much. Another person contacted me via email and said she wanted some pants altered, and that she would ring me soon to make an appointment. This is why I started searching for help. This lady got my details off a blog called LinkedIn. I would suggest that some of the ladies look at this site to advertise. Hope this will help them. Thank you once again for this forum. .

    • Thank you, Magda! How wonderful that you are so gifted at alterations and are filling a need there in New Zealand. I don’t know if your prices are customary for New Zealand, but you might try calling an alteration shop or two and see what they charge for different Alterations and see how you compare.

      That’s a good idea about advertising on Linked In. Many people use that website and it is very beneficial. Thank you for the suggestion.

      I wish you the best in this endeavor. Stay in touch! Linda

  32. I’m making covers for cushions that r 77by30 and pillows what pricing estimate would u suggest?

    • Cushion prices vary because sewing them is so variable. If they have a zipper-it would be a pretty good sized zipper (about 77″ plus at least three inches on each side to make it easier to fill the cushion. Then if you need to make and sew welt on both sides, that would add to your time. Sofa cushions these days are a lot easier and faster to make but this sounds like a window seat cushion and would probably require welt cord. That cushion would take me about 3 hours to cut and sew. Multiply by your hourly rate and add charges for your supplies.

      • Thank you, Fran. I answered before I saw your comment. I think your three hour estimation is a good one and you are right, there are lots of variables which would change the price.

    • I don’t know what your hourly rate is, and what this job might go for in your area. Your best bet would be to call decorating stores that make cushions and ask them what they charge and price accordingly.

  33. I cannot thank you enough for this blog, I need to supplement my income and have been thinking of alterations instead of sewing clothing as it is more needed during this time of recession and I think more profitable. Every question of how to has been answered here, thank you again, Kirsten

    • Thank you for writing in, Kirsten. I agree with you that alterations is a more lucrative aspect of sewing and in a recession, it is always sought after. I wish you the best in your new venture!

  34. So excited to have discovered this blog post while searching “what to charge for hemming a prom dress.” I am shortening 2 prom dresses. Both with underskirts, both jersey knit. One is very slim fitted, the other has more fabric in the skirt. I have been sewing for 40+ years and I am very nervous about doing this, but I really need the the money, so I am using my talent in a way that will generate income. I bought a micro fine needle for the machine. Do you use a special thread for jersey knit or prom dresses? Thank you for all the expert advice here!

  35. Just found your site. Great advice, especially comparing alterations to haircuts. I just made that comparison to a friend today. I, too, have been sewing professionally for 40 years (but for various companies). But when it comes to doing alterations at home I tend to undervalue myself. I had decided to give it all up and stick to my day job and then the phone started ringing. So I’m back in the sewing room. Again or still.
    Thanks!

    • Thanks so much, Marcia! I thought it was interesting that when you decided to quit, the phone started ringing! You have a gift and it’s Great that you are still using it!

  36. I love your site, I charge between $40-$60 per hr average for altering wedding dresses and any formal wear dresses. It takes quit a few hours to alter a huge ballgown wedding gown these days. There are so many layers on these gowns and so many hems, etc. to alter. Bustles take a while to install also. I install French and American bustles in any wedding dress that has a train. I work with three major bridal stores in the North Front Range in Colorado. I work from my home in Johnstown, CO; my business name is SewTique Alterations. I am so busy with altering bridal attire that I have to hire a seamstress to assist me in alterations. It is a busy business to be in all year round as brides get married every month now. It used to be most brides got married in the Summer, but now it is every season. I am busy 12 months out of the year. If you are thinking about starting a bridal alterations business, make sure you charge $40-$60 per hour; this is a serious business and these dresses take a lot of work to alter. I love what I do…… Cheer…..

  37. Hi! I have recently started doing alterations for a local laundry and dry cleaning shop. I went online and got several alterations price lists from my state, so that I could compare and contrast their fees; then I set up my own, based on an average. I do like the idea of charging by the hour, though. In my half-month of experience, I have already seen that one alteration goes by in 15 minutes, while another one may seem to take 15 hours! My craziest request has been to reattach the lacy elastic (elastic lace?) to a pair of panties–too strange! But, I guess the owner paid a pretty penny for those briefs, and was not willing to toss them-lol. I really appreciate your website, and I want to ask you if my thought of $15/hour is too steep. I don’t do bridal alterations (as of yet), but I have done prom dress work in the past, and I’m sure it will come up again. Thanks once again!

    • Hi Amy, It sounds like you’re doing a great job so far. As to your hourly rate, what part of the world do you live in and what is your sewing experience level? That will help me figure out if you are on target price wise. Thanks.

      • I live in middle TN, equidistant from Chattanooga, Nashville, and Huntsville, AL. One-and-a-half hours from each of those cities. I sew lots of emblems on clothing (scouts…military), do plenty of hems–unlined/lined/cuffs… Now I have gotten two requests for zipper replacement in light- to medium-weight jackets. I loved your recommendation that I make the customer purchase the zipper; in these two cases, I had already taken the orders, so I did the buying. One jacket has a 27″ green zipper with gold metal teeth. I was unable to locate an exact replacement. The shops I visited simply did not carry green zippers with metal teeth. I wound up buying a tan zipper with gold metal teeth, and the customer was agreeable. The ladies in the shop suggested I dye the zipper (I considered that); their other thought was that I take a permanent marker and color the zipper green! I was truly shocked that they would suggest such a thing. Good heavens! New paragraph–I am 56, and have made garments since I was in 8th grade, so I know my way around fabrics, notions and machines. New paragraph: This week, my most challenging/aggravating project is taking in a vest for a male customer. The fabric is inferior, and it would be better for him to buy a new vest, but there is emotion involved in this particular project, so I will try to keep the cursing to a minimum. Ha! I have already spent more than two hours deconstructing this miserable thing, so if I charged him by the hour, he’d be looking at $30+ in fees. I don’t think I will ever do vest modifications again.

      • I’m really glad you didn’t try to dye the zipper or color it with a marker! Both could have devastating results. As to your vest story. You made a good observation…some jobs are more work than the customer is willing to pay for. You learn with time what to take in and what not to. And yet, from time to time, a project you think is easy and is not will still sneak up on you, no matter how much experience you have. Thanks for your insight here.

  38. I’m so happy to find a group of like-minded gals!
    I’ve been doing alterations in my home for 3 years, after retiring from teaching. I, too, have often been in a quandry about what to charge. I started at $15 an hour, but my friends and family said I was selling myself short. So, with more experience and at their nudging, I raised my price to $20 an hour. The $20 starts when the thread goes into the needle and the needle into the garment! If I’m doing a custom garment, I charge for fitting time. As to buying fabric, I usually shop for fabric and patterns with the customer, charging for that time, as well. I do this because the customer usually does not understand the complexities of a pattern, or the attributes of a fabric. This helps ensure that pattern and fabric are right for each other! I also pick up and deliver, as I have elderly customers who are in assisted living or nursing homes and others who are pretty much home bound. I charge a small fee for pick up and delivery if the drive takes me more than a few miles from home, or extra time. No one objects.
    After checking around and reading all the comments here, I think I’m in the right price range for Casper, Wyoming. Very few folks have decided to go elsewhere when I give them a “ballpark,” always a little high for the reasons previously mentioned. If others want to work for less, so be it! My customers understand and appreciate the time and effort involved, not to mention the skill required.
    I love this work, and most of all, I love being on my own schedule. I also enjoy my customers, meeting new ones, and making them happy!
    My advice to the “newbies” in the business: allow time and money to keep your machines and equipment well maintained; change needles often, keep scissors sharpened, and use good thread!

  39. Amy I read about needing to find a green zipper and it wasn’t available at your local sewing supply shop. You can order wholesale thread, zippers and sewing supplies wholesale from http://www.WAWAK.com. They have really supper good prices and s/h is reasonable. I hardly ever leave my home to purchase supplies unless I need something quickly and can’t wait two days or a weekend to get my supplies. I call them up and order what I need and in two days it is delivered to my door by FEDEX. Depending where you live it might take a little longer as I live in Ohio and the company is located in Ohio. They send you a monthly catalog and also post daily online specials through emails. They are a wonderful company to deal with and the representatives are so very helpful. Just call and set up an acct. with them. They will take your credit card and keep it on file so when you order it is quick and easy. You also can place your order over the internet, but find it quicker to just call them at 800 654-2235. I charge my customer the s/h which is $4.89 and the cost of the zipper and tell them up front what the cost will be for the supplies. I usually round the cost up or down as I only deal in whole dollars. I also keep track of any supplies I might need to order such as thread colors or I may buy black jacket zippers in 30″ length when they have specials like BOGO and keep a few on hand.and place my order when my customer is paying the s/h so I don’t have to pay for the shipping and handling. Wawak allows you to charge up to $100 on a $4.89 s/h and any order over $100 is shipped free. I find it is just as cheap to order a zipper through them than it is for me to go to JoAnn’s. By the time spend my time, gas, wear and tear on my car and purchase a zipper it will cost me the same price or even more. This way I can sit right at home and have them bring it to my door.

  40. I have a question for those that have been doing alterations/repairs for a number of years from home: When people bring their items to you, do they just have them pre-marked or just provide instructions? I’m only asking because I don’t really have anywhere set up in my home to have people try things on. I have, in the past had a friends daughter whose dance costumes I alter just use my bedroom to try on, but I don’t know what I’d do with a stranger. Do any of you go to their homes to fit or measure? Any suggestions on how to remedy this problem, as always, greatly appreciated!

  41. While I do take care of alterations in my home, I am affiliated with a local laundry that wanted an alterations specialist. I have people meet me at that location to try on clothes they want altered. It works better for me than having them come to my home.

  42. I was sitting, shortening some curtains for a client, realising I had vastly underestimated the time it would take to do, when I came across your site. Your advice could not have come at a better time. I am just starting my own business doing alterations and custom garments ( I can pattern make as well as using commercial patterns) and have a fear of charging too much. My husband complains that I say “I wouldn’t pay that much for this service” but he points out that other people would pay for a professional result.
    My curtains client is getting a bargain and I will tell her so.

    • Jo
      Start keeping a chart on how much time things take you to complete(include taking apart), Set yourself an hourly rate and stick to it. You will make more money on things like hems but will lose on others so it will even out, don’t quote a price until you check you’re time chart , people want a price right away and if they insist- make it high.

      • Thanks for the advice. I have set my hourly rate and most clients are happy when I explain that. Most of the time I give a ball park figure ranging from reasonable to high and no one has baulked so far.
        When I went to drop off the curtains to my client, even before I explained that she was getting a bargain, she handed me a load of (really decent) fabric and said “I know you will make use of this. Next time you need to charge more :-)”

      • We all would like customers like that!!

  43. I am so happy I came across this blog. I mostly make custom quilts and backpacks. I had done some alterations awhile back by just putting a sign in my yard. I too did not know what to charge. We have a local dry cleaners that does some alterations and my prices were just slightly lower then theirs. After awhile I was starting to get requests for more tailoring of items then alterations, so I stopped with the alterations.

    Now, thru an acquaintance, I’ve been asked to hem some drapes. I have no idea what to charge and even if I want to do them. People around here do not want to spend the money. I’m in Florida, just outside of Tampa. Mostly a retirement community.

    • If you end up doing them, be sure to charge your usual hourly rate. You can call local upholstery shops and ask what theri rate is so you have an idea of what to charge.

  44. I have been doing alterations for many years. How do you charge by the piece when you have so many garmets to sew let say maybe 5 by the hour or by the piece.

    • Hi Cecilia,
      I always charge by the hour. I think it is fairer for me to do so. Some garments take longer than others and if I have 5 of them to do, I’ll sew all 5 and then set a price. I always give my customers an estimate on the item(s) before they leace and my estimates are always a little on the high side so that I have some wiggle room. Then, if the price is lower, I give them the savings and they are always happy about that. Hope that helps.

  45. Your article was the perfect thing I needed to read!!! I am a young seamstress in Hilo, HI trying to get a business going. I’m doing alterations here and there for friends and friends of friends. But I want to eventually have my own shop, just having a little trouble getting the ball rolling. I’m taking all of your advice and going for it!!! Gonna make it happen, mahalo!
    Julie aka “Cheeky Conversions”

    • Hi Julie, I’m glad you liked the post. Have you read the tab at the top of the page entitled “Sew for Dough”? I think it would be helpful as well. I wish you the best as you begin this new venture in paradise!

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