Sewing Tips

Can you Save Money by Sewing? #2

Previously I wrote about “saving” money by sewing….whether it’s possible, or even important.  Having an Etsy shop, I get requests to sew garments on a regular basis, and pricing them can be a challenge.  Most of the time my customers have an idea of something they can’t find anywhere, and it’s fun to create that vision. For example I’m working on a “Hamilton” costume right now, but it’s for Halloween not theater, so it doesn’t need to be heirloom-quality, but it still takes a LOT of fabric and quite a bit of time. For sure I’ll be “losing” money making it, yet it inspires me and that’s worth something.

Unfortunately I often get requests to copy something already available. Last night I received such a request, accompanied by this photo:


The customer’s sister-in-law found this dress at “a vintage fair”, and she wanted the same dress for her own flower-girl.  So I had a choice:

  • A: Accept the challenge! Obviously it’s a hand-crocheted bodice, and I can crochet (I can NOT knit!).  Looks like a simple silhouette, although that’s a lot of chiffon, and hemming chiffon takes forever. In my head this would be a $100 to $200 dress, depending on how fast I could crochet, even at minimum wage.
  • B: Look for the dress online and see if it’s readily available, and if so then give away the sale.

A 10-minute search showed that the exact dress is available at this Etsy shop and this one, also from this Ebay store and this one, and also from this wedding site. Therefore it’s fairly clear that it’s mass-produced, and sure enough it’s from this importer. Open that last link in a new window and you’ll see it’s a $15 wholesale dress.

Fifteen dollars, with free shipping from China.  For 3 to 4 yards of “chiffon”, several hours of hand-crochet, and sewing the actual dress, plus steaming, finishing, packing. I realize the government in China subsidizes shipping, whereas I have to pay USPS around $6 just to ship within the U.S.. I can’t purchase fabric for under $1 a yard and I’m not about to crochet for pennies. At a closer look, that dress isn’t even hemmed, it’s most likely nylon tricot, and I wouldn’t send out a non-hemmed dress.

Do I let a potential customer know that the dress isn’t vintage, and it’s not handmade? How else can I explain that I can’t take the sale?

What would you do?




  • Siobhan

    It’s a tricky one. I think your customer would prefer you being honest, especially if it means she can get a dress for $15.

    I’ve had a couple of similar situations lately. One woman approached me with an image of a dress she wanted made up for her high school graduation – it was basically giant lace motifs with a bit of illusion to cover up her nipples and crotch. The kind of thing a Kardashian would wear. I knew I could never get the right material and it would be more trouble than it was worth, so I sent her some links to AliExpress, where dresses like that abound. She declined and went on pursuing another dressmaker, thinking she could have a dress made for under $100.

    Another client sent me a picture which was from AliExpress. It was a very elaborate gown and I gave a corresponding quote. She was horrified, as a nearby dressmaker could do that dress for less than half my cost. The other quote was not nearly enough to even cover materials, so I suspect the dressmaker buys clothing from AliExpress, alters them and on sells for a profit. I didn’t tell the client this but I wonder whether I should have.

  • Sarah

    I would just be straight up with them! Whilst they might be annoyed they thought they were buying vintage they’ll appreciate your honesty! Or they should!

  • Janelle

    I would absolutely send them the links above and say if they want a genuine custom made high quality one with vastly superior materials and finishing done by you it will be $450 min. People have no idea the work that goes into this kind of dress and it’s made harder because etsy and ebay sellers pass off cheap mass produced Chinese imports as hand made with such ease. They won’t be annoyed with you, hopefully they will be grateful you showed them how to get the dress much cheaper than it was probably being sold for at the cough cough “vintage fair” cough.

  • JustGail

    I vote to let them know it’s not vintage, and not a unique.
    As a customer, I’d be a bit upset if I paid 2-3 times what I could get it for online. I have to wonder if the SIL didn’t say vintage STYLE and the customer heard only vintage.
    As one who sews, the customer may already know and is hoping you can make it up for half of what it costs online. You may enjoy the challenge, but do you really need the financial cost on yourself?
    As for Etsy, didn’t they give up all pretense of being only hand made and true vintage or antiques and start promoting sellers of mass-produced imported merchandise last year?

  • JustGail

    Another thought – had the customer said she wanted a dress similar, but using great-grandma’s doilies that had been waded in a drawer for decades, or wanted a more delicate crochet on top, or different color, or something to make it different from the mass produced one, I’d say go for it. Although I’d be charging way more than the $42.50 Etsy/eBay versions!

  • robin

    I would tell them, ‘I would have to charge you $ X.00 to make this, however, I found this same style on this website for $X.00’. I wouldn’t mind if they went with the China made dress. It will probably be worn for a few hours and it would not be worth the custom/handmade price. Most of my customers come to me when they have already done their research (not in my size, would need alterations, not in the right color, etc.). So that is helpful for me and the customer.

  • Marsha

    I wouldn’t take on the project. Making the Hamilton costume is fun; copying a mass-produced dress would be drudgery. I’d tell the prospective customer where they could buy the dress–I actually think that’s a good business practice in the long run. They’re likely to appreciate your honesty and it may bring you more commissions in the future.

  • [email protected]

    I suspect that a LOT of “dressmakers” are buying wholesale, slapping on a bow or flower, and calling it “handmade”. In fact, Etsy is chock full of shops doing exactly that. Their prices and quantity sold just don’t add up to handmade. Unfortunately many customers are all about price only….

  • [email protected]

    I ended up telling her, with apologies, that it wasn’t vintage….and that I’d gladly make her a similar dress. Then I gave her the links to the many places she could get it exactly as the photo.

  • [email protected]

    Well yes that’s exactly what I did….I sent her the links to Etsy and Ebay shops. I did let her know I’d be happy to make her a one-of-a-kind dress, but not THAT dress. It’s annoying how many shops are pretending their items are “handmade”….even though their stock quantities, and sales, and prices make it quite clear they could not possibly be.

  • [email protected]

    Yes sort of….when Etsy was gearing up for their IPO, they relaxed the “handmade” rules a bit to say that sellers could design their own product and then use production facilities to follow through, in certain circumstances, and with written application and permission. For example an artist could have giclee prints made, or a seamstress could hire local sewists. Sadly it opened the floodgates to multiple shops all selling the same items, that they could not ALL have designed identically.

  • [email protected]

    I’m sure she went with the Chinese import: I gave her the links and never heard back. That’s fine, the majority of shoppers are buying “disposable” clothes these days, and that’s not my customer. I just hope that I didn’t break her bubble about it being “vintage”….

  • [email protected]

    I ended up not taking it on, and giving her the links to where she can get it online. But who knows, I may hear back from her when she gets her dress: I often get orders for slips to go under the cheap mass-produced dresses! When customers receive factory-made dresses in the mail, they’re sometimes shocked that the quality is not at all what the photo showed.

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