Saturday, July 25, 2015

When Everybody Knows You Can Sew

I've been struggling with this pumpkin table runner for several weeks, so I'm not going to talk about it today. I'll just say that more drama with the need for unexpected major repairs plus other crises have not given me enough time to really focus on sewing. Right now, I only know that my original border plan isn't going to work. I'll think about it tomorrow.

This doesn't look good at all. 

Today, I'd rather talk about a situation frequently encountered by that those of us who sew. It's that dreaded conversation that begins with, "You sew, and I just need this one little thing ..." Its usually followed by, "I'll pay you, of course." I feel like a deer caught in the headlights - momentarily paralyzed, not quite sure which way to run.

My high school graduation gift was a Singer featherweight sewing machine that I carried off to college with me. I sewed my own outfits, and I made a bit of spending money by sewing for the other girls in my dorm. I also worked in the drama department designing and sewing costumes. The experience was wonderful for expanding my skills, and the extra cash was more than welcome.

I learned something else, though. I loved to sew, but I absolutely hated custom sewing for others!

I  had no choice in fabric or design, and looming deadlines kept me working much too late at night. I dreaded fittings. People didn't seem to notice all the little imperfections when they'd purchased something factory made. They were disappointed when the finished item didn't look quite the same on them as it did in the artist's rendition on the pattern envelope.  It was so rarely quite what they'd had in mind. My goodness! What did they expect?

So, I don't do custom sewing. Period. I'll sew anything for my family and I'll enjoy every minute, I'll sew surprise gifts, Christmas gifts, and baby gifts, but I don't do custom sewing. I'd rather break my toe!

I don't think that people realize how much time is involved, and they assume they'll be saving money. If they were to pay me at the same rate they pay any other professional service, a plumber for example, the price would be ridiculously high. Just think how much it would cost to shorten a pair of pants at $50 an hour. It would likely cost more than the pants did in the first place. What about a prom dress at that rate?

If I really enjoy this person's company, I might say, "Why don't you bring your fabric over to my house and I'll help you to do it yourself?" More often than not, they'll withdraw the request, but several folks have taken me up on the offer, and a couple of them have actually discovered that they like sewing. More than once I wound up doing the sewing while my friend munched on cookies and chatted away. Only for a really dear friend would I allow myself to be manipulated like that.

"You want me to sew a flower girl dress?" The parent of a student had asked the question. "Oh, my," I said. "I don't know how I'd squeeze it into my schedule. I'd have to take three or four days of sick leave."

I hate being less than honest, but when I couldn't think of anything else, I've been known to say that my sewing machine was in the shop and at the end of a long waiting list for repairs. Fortunately, no one has offered to loan me a sewing machine to do their "one little thing".

When a person needs alterations made, I usually give them the name of someone who specializes in alterations.

The best response is usually the honest truth. "I'm sorry, I sew gifts now an then, but other than that I don't sew for anyone other than my family." I've stopped worrying so much about whether the asker will be offended.

Sometimes it takes awhile for people to get the message. Years ago, the principal of my school asked me if I'd shorten her daughter's gym shorts. She'd pay me, of course. I explained that I don't do that kind of sewing, I only sewed for family and to make gifts. I recommended two places she could go to have alterations made, but she was quite insistent, and she was my boss. I finally relented, but when she tried to pay, I refused, flatly. "I don't sew for profit," I explained. "Consider this a gift," and I walked out of the door. She never asked again.

It's become much easier to say , "no," now that I have this little pattern business. My sewing is more hobby than anything else, but when I say that I simply don't have time, that my business is making patterns, people seem to understand. Before the business that little word, "no," was much harder to say.

I'd really be interested in hearing how you respond to the request for sewing. I'm sure you must have a story or two. Send them to me,, and I'll include them in a special blog post.

Wishing you a fantastic last week of July.
Happy Stitching!


  1. For me, I can answer honestly that I am not a proficient garment sew-er, which is the truth. I have simply said no when someone asked if I could bind a quilt for her a few years ago, and she was stunned at my response. You are right that "no" is a reasonable response and that we can't worry about how some people react to "no."

    The applique part of your table runner looks great, by the way!

  2. Thanks for the input, Trisha. People really don't expect you to say no. I think the border is going to be very plain. There's enough going on with this quilt already. :)