It’s Tough to Find Good Help These Days

19Jun10

Top Tips for Finding a Great Seamstress

I recently heard a story from one of my clients who was unhappy with a custom sewing order. It was placed with a local seamstress (not myself) that she found online. Through our conversation, I was shocked to discover that, out of all the local seamstresses advertising online, I was the only one who had an online portfolio. As a business owner, I think having a portfolio is one of the best ways to showcase my work to potential clients. From a customer’s point of view, it’s one of the best ways to decide who to hire. When looking for a quality seamstress, keep the following tips in mind:

What‘s the Niche?

As any carpenter will tell you, it’s important to have the right tool for the job. The same is true for seamstresses. If you’re looking for a custom corset, don’t go to someone who only re-upholsters couches. Try to find someone who specializes in the item you want made. This will help you avoid a lot of headaches down the road.

Of course, as with everything, there are exceptions to the rule. If you live somewhere remote, you may not have a choice but to use the one and only local seamstress. If that’s the case, she should be able to offer you a discount while she learns to sew the items you want.

A picture really is worth a thousand words.

Ask to see samples of someone’s work. For a seamstress, this means a fabric creation she has made. It could be anything from a handbag, right up to her wedding dress. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just make sure you see it. Consider the overall look, feel, and (if possible) fit of the garment. If there are design drawings, take a peek at those to see how close the final product is to the original design. Don’t know how to sew? It doesn’t matter. Anyone can tell the difference between a poorly constructed garment and a fabulous one.

If you can’t see samples of someone’s work, you should, at the very least, be able to see a portfolio. Pictures may not show you everything, but they will show a lot more than words could explain. If someone doesn’t have pictures of past work, I’d seriously question their abilities. Don’t go by promises alone. They may be empty ones.

Meet & Greet

I use my gut to help decide how and where to put my money. How someone treats me, speaks to me, and relates to me, is a big part of whether or not I want to do business with them. I expect the same of my clients. If a client wants to chat a little by e-mail, or meet to discuss the project, that’s okay by me. I highly suggest meeting the person you’re thinking about hiring. If you get a bad feeling, trust it, and keep looking.

With that said, it is possible to choose a seamstress even if you haven’t met her. With so many people advertising online, you may find someone who isn’t in the same area or country as you are. You may love their portfolio, their ideas, and their manifesto. Don’t let physical boundaries stop you. You can get a good idea of how someone works by e-mail or phone. Are they personable? Do they take the time to respond to your inquiries? Are they listening to you? These are all positive signs that they run a quality business.

References, Please!

What’s the first thing you do when you buy a fabulous new outfit? (Besides showing it off to your girlfriends?) You tell people where you got it. Clients ordering custom sewing are no different. When they find a good seamstress, they want to spread the word. As a seamstress, I love to hear both positive feedback and constructive criticism. When it comes from a happy customer, I ask if I can use that person as a reference for future clients. Word of mouth is essential to small businesses. A satisfied client will happily talk about her experience. This means that reputable seamstresses will have references at the ready. Make sure you get, and check, those references.

No references? There are instances where someone may not have them. If this is the case, ask them why. It could be that someone is just starting out and doesn’t have clientele built up yet. That’s okay. Everyone starts somewhere. In cases like this, the seamstress should be able to offer samples, or discounts, until you are confident in her abilities. And there’s something very rewarding about helping someone get their start.

Stand By Me

When a seamstress looks at you, do you see dollar signs flash in her eyes? If someone only cares about the next order, or treats you like a meal ticket, chances are there won’t be much support after your order is done. Finding someone who will provide garment care instructions, do follow up e-mails and customer satisfaction surveys, and offer ongoing support is important. It also shows that the seamstress cares about more than the sale. They care about you and your needs as a client, and as a person.

Businesses often think that if they hear from a client after the sale, it’s only to complain. Not true. The business/client relationship is a symbiotic one that should be mutually beneficial for both parties. Happy customers will want to say so. They may provide photos, feedback, testimonials, and references that are valuable to any business. Businesses need customers. If you find a potential seamstress treating you like chopped liver, move on. You’re no one’s meal ticket.

A final note

In the end, the client I mentioned above was not happy with the other seamstress’s final product. This is lucky for me, as I now have her business. It’s not so lucky for the other seamstress. It’s certainly not so lucky for the client, as she wasted her time and money on an item she was not happy with.

High-quality custom sewing is not cheap. I’m the first to admit that. It takes a lot of time and attention to detail. It takes patience and good communication skills to understand what a client wants, and then to translate that into the final product. Don’t waste your time and money on anyone who can’t – or worse, won’t – offer the above services.

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2 Responses to “It’s Tough to Find Good Help These Days”

  1. Hi Laura . Well written and good tips for all readers . I always remember having to go to a seamstress when I was 11 yrs old to be fitted for a bridesmaids dress for my sister’s wedding in the 60’s . The lady was a brilliant sewer . She also had the patience of a saint when dealing with her clients . The dresses were full length lush dark brown velvet with lemon trimmings . Empire waistline and puffed short sleeves . My sister’s wedding dress was white satin , full length with curved trail . Although all my mother was a brilliant sewer she did not have the time to make the dresses herself so hunted high and low for a good seamstress. When I was young there seeamed to be a big difference between a seamstress and a tailoress . I was corrected many a time for not giving the ladies their rightful title . Does this still stand today ?
    I have worked in the retail fashion industry for 30 odd years as a window dresser and believe me had to display many an exspensive garment that was actually poorly made . To make it look good , I had to pin it and use accessories to detract from the shoddy workmanship . My mother never showed us how to sew but I had handmade clothes that other kids never had . On many occasions people would comment on the quality of my clothes and when I told people my mother had made them , they would pick up the hem and lool underneath at the way my mother had finished the seams and if there was an undertskirt sewn into the dress etc . I used to train people how to do display and the first thing I would say to them was that they need to feel the ‘ fall ‘ of the fabric to be able to display the garment correctly and to bring out the best in it . A bit like when you are sat in the hairdresser’s chair and the stylist runs their fingers through your hair before they cut it . To feel and see how your hair naturally falls or sits . . In the first years of my training I worked with many a seamstress because those were the days when most good fashion shops had their own alterations sevice in-store . How I wish those good old days were back .
    Portfolios are invaluable in any trade dealing with the public and especially on such a personal level as making clothes etc . If you feel good in a well made garment made to your own specifications and your stylist has worked wonders with your hair then a special day is even more special . I wish my mother had taught me to sew but I learnt a lot by watching her and really looking at the finished garment and wearing it . My mother was always glamorous and have been told that I am too . My daughter’s friends have said to her in the past that now they know where my daughter gets her fashion sense and classy act from . I’m sure that watching my mother and other sewers has paid off . Look after your seamstresses ladies .:-)

    • Apparently there is a difference in seamstress and tailoress. A seamstress does work for female clientele and a tailoress does tailoring work for male clientele. I didn’t know this myself! The learning process continues as long as you let it!
      Thanks for the great comments Jude! I always love reading your feedback.


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