Articles Q&A
How much should a Client be able to call the shots?
Business License
Talbots: Progress report
Sewing for a Retail Store

Local Regulations

added May 2003

How would one go about applying for a business license as a retail boutique
and be able to design some of the clothing under a more personal name and
label. Could I still keep the structure as one company. Retail and
manufacturing? I know I would have to keep my bookeeping in a separate
catorgized order. Please help! I know you can!
Thank You!

Contact your local Extension Office at your local Community Collage. They will have pamphlets that spell out the local laws and how to do these things in your town.
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Pattern Copyrights

added May 2003

Hello !
I read a question one onlooker had, but I never found the answer to this
particular question. Is it legal to sew off a pattern such as Butterick and
sell the clothing to the public? I called the paten office and the guy on the
phone says he thought that would be fine. Well, I need a more definite
answer. I'm sure you can help me.
Thank You!

Easy definite answer - it is never legal to sew off a commercial pattern and sell it to the public. BUT - it is rarely prosecuted. Using one pattern for one customer is never a bother to the pattern companies and they even don't mind you using one pattern for 6 bride's maids, but if you are planning on manufacturing many garments from that one pattern for sale you are asking for trouble. Of course it is only if you get caught, but I do not recommend you bank on it.

If you are planning on having a business that makes custom clothing, you need to learn how to draft your own patterns. Using ideas from commercial patterns is not the same as using the pattern as long as your basic design is yours and not theirs.

Some pattern companies allow this if you request a license for it. It will cost you some money, but may same you time in drafting and will keep you lagitimate.
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added October 2001

I am interested in setting up a sewing studio at home but I am somewhat worried about my personal safety especially when I have customers come in for fittings or to discuss designs. How do you protect yourself?

Personal safety is a concern if you are just starting out having strangers coming to your home, but it's not as big a problem as you might be afraid of. I do most of my fittings away from my home, but when I do have customers they are usually female. And most times, I am setting appointments when there are other people around, so I am not alone.

When, on very rare occasions, I have a male customer come for a fitting, he usually comes with a wife. I never allow men to come see me alone, especially if I have not worked for them or their wife previously. More often than not, the wife (who is already a customer) will bring some things her husband needs done when she needs a fitting.

In the 20 years I have been doing this I have felt unsafe only twice. They were both male customers and I was working alone in my storefront shop in North Carolina. Nothing happened either time because I phone called a friend to come over from the neighboring store until the customer left. We had set this up with a key phrase I could say over the phone that would say I was in trouble and she would come over for a "coffee break", or some other excuse.

So, the best defense you have in personal safety is to not be alone. You control when you make appointments. Don't ever let a customer dictate to you a time you are alone unless you already know them well. Have a neighbor handy to call if you feel a situation might not be safe.

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Getting Started

added October 2001

Please help, I want to start an at home sewing business, but I have questions and am not sure where to go or where to start with these questions. What kind of licenses do I need, are there any regulations on sewing at home and selling to the public and can I sew off of a pattern and sell it, if I have changed that pattern somewhat. Am I restricted as to what kind of care instructions I can put in my garments. These might be silly questions that I should know the answers to, but as I said I just don't know where to start. I also wondered what I would have to do to get to sell online.

I would really appreciate any information that you could give me.

A good place to start is your local Extension Office. Look under the business section of your Yellow pages. They will have free publications for the laws and zoning rules for your area. Unfortunately the rules differ all over. When I was in North Carolina, I didn't have to collect sales tax, but here in Ohio I do. The zoning rules will also tell you how you can run a business out of your home. Many communities don't like lots of traffic coming in and out of residential zones so they would regulate how many customers a day can visit you. This will also tell you if you can have employees.

Next you'll need to find your local tax office to get your business license. (The Extension Office should be able to tell you where to go) This is really a tax number so you can collect and pay sales tax. You may not need to collect tax depending on the laws in your area, but you do need to find out first because if you don't collect when you should you can get in a lot of trouble.

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The Legal Leap

added September 20000

Thanks for all this useful info. I want to go ligit, after 2 years of keeping records in an envelope but I'm having trouble making the legal leap. Will it be worth the trouble Iwonder. Your writings make it seem possible. va.

It really is best to be legal. Besides the tax benefits, it keeps you safe from the IRS fining you. It's well worth the trouble of getting things set up.

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Credit Card Headaches

A Posting to the SewBiz list November 1999

There has been some talk on the list about how to get a merchant account to accept credit cards from customers. I did this some time ago to use when I go to shows and to take orders online from my website. I had no idea what a headache it would be !!!!

There is a little known rule with VISA and MC. If you take a phone or e-mail order you are accepting all the risk of the transaction. This means that your customer can lie to his credit carrier and get his money back from you, and keep the merchandise. Many versions of what can happen are possible. I have been struggling with several over the past few months and have finally decided that you can fight City Hall or VISA/MC. I'm giving up my merchant account because it has cost me too much in all kinds of fees cutting into my profit and, in this last problem, I even lost so much money I ended up paying more than I made.

My first experience was afforded me by a customer in Washington state. He told his credit company that the machine he ordered from me was never delivered. A chargeback was issued by his company. When it got to my company they took the money from my business checking account without notifying me first. Three days later I get a packet in the mail about the chargeback reason and given 10 days to respond - 10 days from the time of the chargeback 3 days before. They didn't care that things in my account were bouncing in those 3 days because I did not know of the withdraw. Plus, I now had to prove the package was delivered. I contacted my supplier in New York who had to have UPS trace the package to prove delivery - which they charge for BTW. A copy of the signature card was sent to my bank and the money was returned to me.

Unfortunately, this was not the end - the signature was that of a receptionist in my customer's building that normally receives deliveries. This gave my customer the right to issue a second chargeback since the signature was not his, which he did, and once again the money was taken from my account without prior notice creating a second mess for me to deal with. UPS had to send a person to the delivery address and talk to the receptionist and get proof that she gave the package to my customer. A service we again had to pay for. My money was finally returned as the customer had to admit he did get the package.

As if that wasn't bad enough - I am now dealing with a customer in Florida who tried to cancel an order after I had shipped it. He was told he would get a refund if he refused delivery to return the product, but he would not be refunded the shipping and handling fees because UPS was going to charge me whether he kept the machine or not. He did not like this but agreed to it. Before I could get his refund processed he issued a chargeback for the full amount of the bill claiming that he canceled the order and never received the machine. His company sent my company the notice and my company took the money out of my account and I again got a notice 3 days later asking to prove that the customer didn't deserve the refund. I sent copies of many e-mails he and I exchanged during the ordering process, the invoice showing date of shipment and the e-mail with his cancellation request dated, and explanations of phone calls to and from him with me and my supplier in New York, all to prove I did make shipment and was due the cost. But I got denighed by my bank because I can not give them a signed paper saying he agreed to my return policy.

I am quit upset by all this. I am very sorry this guy doesn't want to pay for shipping of a machine he did not keep BUT I have had to do this many times. The company I work for does not refund shipping fees, nor does any company I know of. Why does VISA think they have the right to say what my refund policy should be? Why do they have the right to take my money before giving me a chance to solve a problem directly with my customer first?

Yes, I know they are fighting credit fraud like a wife who uses her husband's card without permission, or kids who use Daddy's card to buy something over the internet that he does not approve of. The credit companies want to protect their card holders, but there is no protection for the merchants.

I have complained to the customer service department of my bank but can get no one to explain why this is so. I am going to cancel my merchant account and take down my site. It's just not right for some one who is trying to do an honest business to get treated this way by VISA and MC. Any customer can just lie to their company and I loose my money. They don't have to prove a thing, but I have to cover all the bases. It's just not worth the trouble. I don't see how mail order companies survive with these rules.

So to you all, my sewing business friends, a little advice - If you think you need to accept credit cards than do it only locally in your shop or at a show where you can meet the customer personally and always get a signed receipt - AND have a refund policy clearly written on the invoice they get. In some cases Credit companies even have rules as to where your policy needs to be on the invoice in respect to the signature, and how big the words have to be. So, read all the fine print on your welcome packet and cover your a$$.

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Business License

I live in California and am looking into getting a business license to be a seamstress, alteration, decorative sewing, etc.

Look in your phone book for the county tax office. They can tell you if you need a license and tax number. Otherwise check your local extension office at the nearest community collage. They will have publications to give you for free on all kinds of laws particular to your city and county.

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How much should a Client be able to call the shots?

A post I made to a few sewing discussion boards November 1997

Something happened last week that I just can't get off my mind. I've talked to many friends and gotten mixed answers about what I should do.
And felt this could possibly be a good new thread. So here's the story - - -

I work for 3 Talbots stores here in Cincinnati. I work as an independent vender. Each store has an appointment book in which I have set times
that I will come and do fittings. The store Associates make appointments for their shoppers, I show up to do the fittings, take the work home to
complete, and deliver finished work when I return to do more fittings.The customers pay the store the amount I have asked for when they pick
up their items.  At the end of the month I submit a statement of work I have done. This gets compared to their receipts, sent to the home
office, and I get a check. I do not charge the customer or Talbots for the time I spend doing fittings.

At the end of the year I get a 1099 from the home office which I use to file my tax return. To me this proves that Talbots realizes that I am
not an "employee". I do not accept employee discounts or special gifts. I set my own work schedule and use my own tools. I even pay for my

But I seem to be having a problem with one of these stores realizing that I am not an employee. It's been my regular practice in all 3
stores, to keep a check-out and in log in the appointment book, where I list each item I am taking, work to be done and date I will return it. I
initial each line and then get a manager to check and initial it also. I write the list while I am still in the dressing room, pack up my tools
in my briefcase, bag the garments, put on my coat, and lug all this stuff to the front desk to get signed out. For some time now I have been
letting this one store also search my bags (including my purse) before I leave because it's an employee rule and I don't want them to think I may
be trying to shoplift. The other 2 stores don't ask to search my bags.

This past week, when I went to the front desk as usual to have my book initialed, I was told that I had to remove my coat and not put it on
until I was at the front door. I laughed and gave the assistant manager my log for initialing. She repeated that she wasn't joking. I calmly
said that I felt this an extreme request and that since I was not an employee, I wasn't going to comply with it. Besides, it would be very
difficult to do physically, probably creating a big mess at the front door as I drop the customers' garments on the floor so I can put on my
coat. She looked at me indignantly and insisted that since I spent time in the store working I had to comply. I replied that Talbots does not
pay me for any "work" I do while I am here and am therefore not an employee and do not have to follow any rules I deem silly. She continued
to insist that it didn't matter. I asked if they were going to have Shoppers check their coats at the door. She said that was a silly
suggestion. At least she agreed that it was silly.

I felt very insulted. I have served this store for 7 years and have never even taken a shopping bag without asking. I did leave the store
with the work I had signed out, without taking off my coat. I'm sure the store manager is going to request that I comply with this new rule the
next time I go in for appointments. I may have to choose between my reputation and the clients I get from this store. I would not mind
loosing this one store so much because I don't really get enough work to make the time I spend there for fittings profitable. But I am concerned
that loosing this store may force the other 2 stores to drop me once the corporation finds out why.

I have another problem with this request, other than my aversion with being accused of shoplifting. The city of Cincinnati has tried to
collect city taxes from me because I service this Talbots store that is within the city limits. I have proven to them that my business is not
inside the city limits and Talbots is just one of many customers. Since they report my earnings by a 1099, I was able to support my
self-employed status. But I am fearful that if the city of Cincinnati finds out that I am following employee standards at this store, they may
try to uses it to attack me again. I do not wish to be stuck for 7 years of back taxes over this silly coat rule.

I have pretty much decided what to do, but would like to read your ideas on the subject.

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Talbots: Progress report

A posting in answer to the many responces to my question about security, November 1997

All the responses to my question have been thought provoking. They have helped me calm down and think about this rationally. I can't believe how upset I got. It was not a good thing and I don't think it helped my image to get so upset in the middle of the store. I may have to
"swallow" a bit if pride to repair that one. I can't tell you how often I wanted to call the store manager and tell her where Talbots could
stick their rules, but I'm glad I didn't.  I'm still totally willing to give up this store if I have to, but I don't think this will be necessary. Besides,
even though the financial gain for this store is not as good as the other 2, there are many other benefits to me keeping the account. I do
get repeet customers on the side because of the good work I did for their Talbots items.

Your answers and those that other friends have given me seem to be clarifying that my choice here is a fine line between standing true to
myself and my own business goals and bending to the wishes of my Client because I am performing my job on their "turf".

Why did I go into business for myself anyway? It was mainly because I don't perform well as someone else's employee. I am egotistical enough
to want to call my own shots. I work better without someone watching over my shoulder to check up on my diligence. I like my sense of self-enterprise and think I should be let alone to do my job to the best of my ability because I wish it, not because some employer tells me to.

The simple question is: Where is the line between my responsibility as a Professional to do the job as I see fit and the rights of my customer to
"always be right"? I have had customers in the past chide me for following their wishes and ending up with a garment that I as a
professional should have know better and done differently. Some customers just don't listen when you try to educate them on certain
points and insist that they want it "their way" and when it ends up wrong, of course they are not the ones that admit it. But that's another topic.

I do realize that the stores I go to will have rules to protect themselves. And I need to comply to some degree if I have hopes of being
trusted ("covering my own butt" as one post put it). My main problem is that I do not have a devious mind. I don't stop to think how my actions
could be misconstrued because I am not thinking of how to rip off my customers. I am only trying to conduct my business in an honest manner.
It would be counterproductive if I had to be forever thinking about how my actions could be brought under suspicion every time I went to
accomplish something. I don't wish to waste my brain power on this silliness. And the idea of security rules to "keep each other honest" is
just so much politically correct language to me. What it says to me is, "I don't trust you. You might steal from me so I  am keeping my eye on

I am sure that Kelly ( the assistant manager that asked me to put my coat on at the door) was not being personal. She was only trying to do
her job well and protect her store. I knew this when it was happening, but that did not stop me from getting insulted and upset. I did talk to
a manager of the other store and found out that this is a long standing company policy, but they don't follow it there. They do perform the
purse checks, but this is not an odd thing in retail. Many friends have told me of various places they have worked that inspected bags as you
leave from your shift. But all have told me that they think the coat thing is pressing close to invasion of my personal rights.

I've also found out through a friend of mine who runs a store in the same mall as the Talbots, that the downtown store has been scrutinized
harshly in recent days by the home office because their shop lifting has been up. So they have been told to beef up security.

"Trust" is so important to me, maybe too important. I need my customer's trust to do my best work on their precious garments. Letting Talbots
inspect my bags at the front desk has always been difficult for me because I feel it throws a veil of suspicion on me that I do not want
customers to witness. I may be over reacting but I do think it hurts the trust I work so hard to protect. And I have never seen an associate have
her purse inspected at the front desk either. This usually gets done in the store room, out of sight of the customers.

So, I decided to offer this compromise to the store manager downtown. I would respectfully request, not demand that my signing out be done in
the dressing room before I pack up my tools and bag the garments. I would not put on my coat until the manager on duty was able to inspect
what ever she felt she needed to. Hopefully this would reinforce their trust in my honesty and gain me a more efficient way to leave, eliminating the stop at the front desk to unpack and repack all that stuff.

I had a nice little speech all ready when I got to the store. Unfortunately, the store manager was not going to be in and the assistant in charge for the day was Kelly. I really, really did not want to have to talk to her, but I guess I needed to. She let me in as if nothing was wrong and check my done stuff, then went about her business. Leaving me to mine without any extra supervision like I thought I might get. I was a bit shocked and had to rethink what to do. I felt I had to avoid another confrontation, so near the end of my time there I asked her if we could discuss a new check out procedure I'd like to try that I hoped would for fill Talbots' need for security. She said it sounded reasonable and she would do the check out in the dressing room for me. I felt awkward but it seemed to work well. I guess I was just shocked that she didn't give me a hard time.

So I guess the problem is solved unless the store manager doesn't think the new check out process is enough to for fill Talbots' rules. I'll
hopefully find out next week.

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Sewing for a Retail Store

Another post in responce to various questions on sewing for a retail store, December 1997

Besides my recent trouble, working for a retail store does have it's benefits.

1) Customer's not coming to your house is nice.
I dislike customers coming to my place because my studio is in my basement. A client has to tred through the house to get there. I wish I had a separate entrance like I did at our last house.

And because they don't come to you, they also don't call you at any time they please. I do give customers my number on the receipt they get at the store, but they never use it. I can better keep my home life and business separate this way.

2) Steady work with no advertising.
The store does this for you if they are on the ball and you are doing a good job on your end. The work load does vary from season to season when working for a store, but the slow times are usually when you would like them- mid-summer, and holidays.

3) Little hassle about charges for work.
I keep a price list at each store and refer to it when writing out the receipt, even if I know the particular charge. I hardly ever get questioned about the fees because this creates an illusion that the fee is out of my control. (This may be true if you have agreed to let the store determine the pricing)

4) Great tax right offs.
If you are doing pick-up and delivery, your mileage is tax deductible. It's not exactly like driving to any other job which is not tax deductible. You are driving from your place of business to a customer's and back. This is deductible. I do enough driving that about 50% of my car expenses for the year are deductible. And if your vehicle is new you also get to depreciate it by the percentage of deductibility, which could end up being a few hundred dollars your business did not spend, but it gets credit for.

5) Getting other work.
If you are good, customers will return to you when they have items they have bought from other stores.

6) Getting out of the house.
I like my days at the stores because it gives me a change of scenery and also gives me a chance to run errands while I'm out. Working at home can get so boring and lonely.

7) It helps my reputation.
This is one of the things I like about this job. Talbots has a good reputation already and it bolsters mine. I get a better class of customers because of it. And I don't get hassled about my charging much because they are used to paying for quality.

Robin seems to have a great handle on making the many decisions that need to be made when considering servicing a retail store. She is also
taking wise care to not allow the store manager to rush her into anything. He will be trying to get the best deal he can, but the sewing pro has the upper hand. An independent vender service will certainly be of great benefit to a store in many financial ways that do not include taking a cut of the money you will collect from the customer. The manager may not fully realize all the reasons for him to have you as an independent contractor, so you may need to be prepared to enlighten him as to why you are asking for the details you decide you need.

First off, he does not "need" to make money off of you. As long as you are doing the fittings, pick-up, and delivery, he is not spending any time, money or risk on you. He saves on unemployment taxes (federal and state), worker's comp fees, paid holidays and other employee perks,
health insurance, social security, and all the time spent in paperwork to keep tract of all these.

I have worked for places that took a cut of the money and it is not a very good deal for the vender. You end up having to charge so much extra
for his cut that the high alteration fee discourages customers from using the service. You get less work to do and it thus makes it less
worth the trip to the store. The particular contract I had stated that I had to charge the same for the service at that company as I did for
anyone else. I could not add a surcharge to the customers because of the cut the store would get. (I worked around this by giving discounts to my
other accounts that came to me for service)

If he does want to do the fittings and have you pick-up, do the work, and deliver, you could consider letting him take a cut. But this is
risky. You will need to have a policy in case a customer changes his/or her mind about the work done and refuses to pay unless it is done over.
Will you get paid again? or will you have to redo for free?

And if he does get a cut, what happens if a customer from his store wants to come to you privately, not at the store? Does he still get his
cut because the item was purchased from his store?

The benefits aren't all his too, the customers benefit from being serviced by an independent vender as opposed to an employee. An
employee, especially a commissioned one, will be trying to make that sale no matter what. Alterations to a not-so-right-fitting garment will
often be suggested to make that important sale. Even if the alteration purposed my not be right for the garment. An independent vender
automatically has the trust of a customer because she can give more honest opinions. She is working for the customer, not the store.

Next, how often does he expect you to do pick-ups and deliveries? You can't spend all your time in the store doing fittings. You'll have to
have time to do the work too. I have settled into once a week for each store I service. This is the most cost effective for me. Since Sandy's
store is close to her, twice or three times may be worth it. The more trips you can do the more convenience you offer the customer and
therefore the more work you will pull in. And your turn around time does not have to be the same as your frequency of trips to the store. Just
because you may make a trip every day does not mean that you have to have work finished in one day's time. Most alterationists I know do a
week. You could certainly offer less for an additional fee. It's a question of how much pressure do you like working under. Some people
need that adrenaline rush to do their best work, I do not.

This leads to Robin's question of charging for time and gas. I do not charge for these things specifically. I tell the customer that the
fitting, pick-up, and delivery in 7 days is free. People love getting something for free, but, of course nothing is truly free. I have over
the years determined how my prices need to reflect the time I spend on travel and fittings. I am afraid that I can not easily answer this for
you by giving you my price list. My time spent driving as compared to doing the actual sewing will be different from yours. And the cost of
living in our areas may also be very different.

What I did when I started this is to raise every price on my list by $1.00. As I kept tract of my time traveling, fitting and sewing, I began
to see patterns of where I needed to charge more and less. If you see that you get a lot more hemming then you do waist sizing,  you can lower
the hemming fee a little and raise the waist fee because it is more cost effective for your travel time to be getting more hems.  But you also
need to keep in mind that hems are one of those items that you can automatically charge more for to compensate for those tasks that you
will get few of but that are so very labor intensive that you will not be able to charge enough for.

It took me about 2 years to find that right formula for pricing according to my style of working and the tasks I was getting. I do not feel like I lost money during this time though. It was time spent learning which is never wasted.

One last word on pricing. Demand that it be only up to you. If the store wants to set the prices I would say no deal.

Other things I have found helpful through my experience:

1) What kind of a guarantee will you offer?
At first I offered only a limited guarantee on the quality of my work. If a customer coming to pick-up an item was not pleased with the stitching I would redo it, but if she gained weight or simply changed her mind on the hem length, I charged to do it over. Now, I do anything over for any reason. It gives me a much better reputation automatically. Which makes it possible to charge more for my services. If course I am very careful at the fitting to get my pinning correct with what the customer wants so I will lesson the chance of having to redo it. And I rarely have to do things over anyway.

2) Will the store allow you to do work on items not purchased in that store?
Say a customer is coming to the store for a fitting appointment with you and has a pant hem she also needs done. Will the store let you fit the
pants also? It is a question of liability for the store, but if you have worked up a good reputation, this could be a great perk for you and the store's customers. You get more work and the customer gets the added convenience of not having to make 2 trips to get all her alterations done. The stores I work with let me do this because they have found that letting my other customers make fitting appointments in their store usually means an extra sale now and then.

3) If you are doing the fittings in the store there are many things to consider. I have set times on set days that I let the stores take appointments. But my deal is that I will be in the store for the whole 3 hours so that walk ins can be easily accommodated. I get many of these because professional business ladies can not always make sure appointments. When I worked by appointment only, I used to get a lot of cancellations at the last minute because a boss needed something or a meeting went long. Now I get more work because they know they can drop by anytime during the 3 set hours and get fitted.

In some ways it is a lot of effort. Some days I am just sitting around wasting time. I do often bring some hand work to keep the time filled and productive.  But when the system works, I get plenty of work to make the 3 hours I spend in the store profitable. I can end up with 3 to 4 days of work from one session at a store.

4) Insurance is important.
Many sewing pros who work out of their homes depend on their home owner's insurance to cover possible losses to customer's goods. You need to check if this will also cover items in your vehicle. Maybe your car insurance will cover, but you probably will need to get an extra policy
to cover you when you go to the store and the customer's items and you travel with them.

5) You may find it helpful to wear a name tag while in the store. It gets a bit annoying to have customers ask you questions about stock as if you were a clerk. And they will do this often! Having a nice name tag made will solve this. Even if it is only your business card laminated with a hot glued pin on the back. Besides, it adds to the air of professionalism you'll be wanting to achieve.

I hope this has been helpful to any of you, including Robin, who is thinking about this type of business opportunity.

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