Saturday, June 2, 2012

Selling stuff you make: awkward, or is it just me?

This is kind of what the new Ravenclaw scarf I'm making will look like, except it won't have fringe all around the edges. 

One of my biggest goals is to own my own business one day, and earn a living from the things I sew (or knit or crochet, as a side project, I suppose). I'd love to be self-sufficient like that, and I hope to one day make that goal a reality. Which is why it's so ironic that I find charging people for the things I make to be so.... Well.... Awkward. 

It's not that I think my handmade stuff isn't good enough to sell: at the risk of sounding a little vain, I KNOW my sewing is ready-to-wear quality (and I'm striving for it to be better than that). I also know I'm capable of producing unique things that you couldn't necessarily find at the local mall. But I feel so presumptuous charging money for the things I make. 

A friend of mine just asked me to make her a Ravenclaw scarf (she's paying for it), and I agreed. I actually made a set of all four Harry Potter house scarves for someone a few years back, and got $80 for it. It's not often someone asks me to make them something and offers payment; a lot of people seem to think that I would like nothing more than to make them a complex dress/top/whatever, completely free of charge. I'm sure this happens to anyone who sews or knits, and it's pretty awkward. You'd think, because of that, that I'd be happy when someone offers to pay me for something.

So why do I still feel weird?

Does this happen to anyone else? I'm always afraid I'm charging to much... But, wait, what if I'm not charging enough? I see alot of stuff on Etsy that I think is far too expensive for what you're actually getting, and I worry about ripping people off. On the other hand, I am putting time and effort into making something, so I don't want to give away clothing for far less than it's worth. Should they pay for the materials? Should I? How do you reconcile this, and do you feel the same way that I do?


  1. This is an interesting question. I have similar feelings - completely uncomfortable asking people to pay me at all, let alone asking people to pay me what something's actually worth. Others have gotten a lot of free stuff out of me, unfortunately. I've heard that you should sell something for 3x the cost of the materials in order to accommodate for time and labor. I've made bags for people but the cost of those materials is already so high (magnetic snaps and metal zippers, fusible fleece, home decor yardage, etc) that I don't think I could ever charge them 3x that. Gotta save my friendships, you know?

    Since you're confident in your sewing skills and the sell-able quality of your work (I'm not so much), you should at the very very least ask people to cover the cost of the materials. Or, just start selling online where shoppers are totally willing to pay you a fair price!

  2. Totally know what you mean by this. I made a few dresses back in high school, and it was so weird to make my friends pay for them. However, the materials were so expensive, and all I was really charging them for was the fabric itself. What sucked the most was, two of the girls never even paid me for them. So I actually ended up LOSING money. So, I totally feel you on this one!


  3. It's incredibly awkward, I agree. I've done my fair share of just charging friends for materials, and I think that's not a bad place to start. If you're just starting out. But if you know your sewing is good and you're confident in the products you're delivering (and especially if you want to make a business of it!), then you owe it to yourself to pay yourself fairly.

    You would never ask your accountant friend to do 10 hours of work for the price of a half hour. You might hope for a bro deal, but you would never undervalue the amount of time and energy they've expended in making themselves an expert in their field.

    Think about it--if you'd spent the amount of time you've taken learning your sewing skills going to school as a doctor or graphic designer instead, you wouldn't be embarrassed to ask a decent price. You'd know you spent a ton of time developing a valuable skill. And, most importantly, society would know that.

    I have a lot of trouble charging people a fair price for sewn items because, to me, it seems easy. I would never pay $25 to have a pair of pants hemmed, for example, but coworkers have payed me that without batting an eye because they have no idea how to operate a sewing machine. I have painstakingly developed a skill they don't have.

    The problem with a skill like sewing is that people can buy a dress for $20 at H&M, so when you quote them nearly 10 times that much for a higher quality, hand-made-to-fit item, they balk because they're used to cheap, disposable fashion.

    Wow. That got long. Just let it be said for the record that I, Jessie, think that we, sewists, need to be bolder about asking a fair price. We're worth the time we've invested in ourselves. Come up with a base price for various items, and stick to your guns. You're worth it!