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Pricing your Sewing: Price Lists

by Karen Maslowski, SewStorm Publishing

There are several price lists for dressmaking and alterations available for purchase, and you can also use the lists used by dry cleaners and alterations departments. However, you should use these as a guideline only. I want to caution anyone who uses price lists (these or any other) that they reflect many things, some of which may not fit your particular situation. For instance, the skill level -- are you sure you can sew as well, or do you sew better than the person whose price list this is? And how about how fast you sew, vs. this other person?

Also, the area of the country makes a HUGE difference (even the part of town you work from can change the price), as does the KIND of sewing you're doing. If you're designing couture level clothing, you would want to charge perhaps triple the amount as someone who is sewing from a commercial pattern and making prom dresses.

For instance, one price list that has been used many times in sewing as a business-type books is based on a 1978 list created by the Mississippi Extension Service. The rates included in this list are $4, $6, and $8 per hour. That might have been fine for 1978, but it's extremely low for today, and will not allow for much, if any, income above expenses. Alterations, in particular, should gross about $20 per hour, if not more, depending on your local market. It's ridiculous to consider sewing a couture-quality garment for $6 per hour, and in many markets it is possible to make as much as $40 per hour making window treatments.

Where do I get my information? Partly from being in business for myself, but mostly from the results of a survey I did a couple years ago of nearly 250 sewing pros. They sent me back information on what they make per hour--these figures varied from -50 cents/hour (yes, that's a minus!) to $50 an hour. Whose price list would YOU prefer to use?

A better way to price your work using a list is to begin with the price lists as a guide to figure out your own prices. A very good method is either through a unit pricing method or by using the factor system. I suggest two books for this: Claire Shaeffer's "Price it Right" for alterations (factor-based), and Karen Howland's "Unit Pricing for Dressmaking". These are both paperback pamphlets, available only by mail order, and are worth their weight in gold.

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