The Selfish Seamstress loves to read other people’s sewing blogs.  She does this mainly in hopes of finding mentions of herself.  (Secondary reason: So she can steal your ideas.)  Recently she has noticed some bloggers making comments somewhat along the lines of, “I wish I could be more like the Selfish Seamstress!”  How tremendously flattering!  Are they jealous of my long flowing hair?  My remarkable intelligence?  My keen sense of style?  My intermediate sewing skills?  My adorable tuxedo cat?  Then it dawned on me:

People admire my outstanding ability to tell friends, family, and colleagues to bite me and die when they ask me to make them stuff.

Well, I can’t blame you. It’s quite the black art, and you can’t just develop these skills overnight, especially if you’ve spent years generously giving of your time and effort sewing stuff that leaves your hands never to return again. (Of course, the Selfish Seamstress was born without a capacity for generosity and compassion, and thus has quite the head start). If you’ve been sewing for others for a long time, it can be as hard to turn your back on unselfish seamstressing as it is to quit carbs. Because much like French fries and cookies, blood-sucking vultures are ubiquitous and hard to say no to. They often operate under innocuous-sounding code names like, “best friend,” and “granddaughter” to trick you into doing stuff for them.

As with many bad habits, quitting cold turkey often leads to relapse.  An alternate plan of action may be a gentle ramping down by prioritizing which unselfish sewing projects are the biggest waste of your time and cutting those out first. To help you out with this, I offer a handy set of general guidelines for those just getting started with Selfish Seamstressing:

The Selfish Seamstress’s Handy Beginnner’s Guide to Sewing for Others

Costumes for kids:
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Kids vary in the amount of gratitude they feel or express when you make them a present. They may be thankful or not, but by and large they are not going to feel  indebted. Many of them live in a dreamworld in which people give them stuff just because they’re kids.  This attitude buys you NOTHING.  On the other hand, if you’re going to make something for someone, it may as well be something that they really want and really get excited about, rather than something that’s going to hang unworn in a closet gathering dust and breeding resentment (on your part), so costumes are a good way to go. Plus, kids’ costumes are generally low-effort and use low-cost fabric (because why would you knock yourself out for something the kid will wear a couple of times and then promptly outgrow?) which means more time and money left for you to make something nice for yourself.

Mending and alteration:
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Yuck.  If ever there was a thankless job, it’s getting other people’s clothes to fit them.  It’s boring.  It’s uncreative.  People think it’s no big deal since, after all, you just love sewing, right? The only good thing that can really be said about mending and altering stuff for other people is that it often is a fairly quick job.  Hemming a pair of pants takes a relatively short amount of time compared to, say, making six bridesmaids dresses in different sizes for your friend’s niece’s wedding. The big con though: If you do it once, people will have no problem asking you do to it again. Hemming the pants quickly, but then not returning them for a couple of weeks because you’re “still working on them” may help prevent future requests.

Home decor sewing:
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I have to admit that I’m biased about this one because I find home dec sewing to be dull dull dull.  Mmmm…. sewing endless straight lines on heavy fabric. Just thinking about it bores me to the point that it makes quilting sound fun. (Haha, sorry quilters!) The upside of this one is that home dec sewing is the type of unselfish sewing for which you are most likely to get paid.  For some reason, people seem to think that making window treatments is a real job that warrants compensation, while fixing a torn skirt or sewing a dress from scratch is just a nice gesture from a buddy. All I can say is, if you must do it, milk it for all it’s worth and don’t fall asleep at the machine during one of those 72″ hems.

Clothing for men:
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Men are not unlike kids in that their degree of receptiveness and gratitude varies. From a technical standpoint, men’s clothing is the worst unselfish sewing you can undertake because it’s often so labor intensive. Men’s clothing is detailed, with cuffs, plackets, collars, welt pockets, lapels, etc. – all the good things you love to sew for yourself, for SOMEONE ELSE. It takes a long time and it can be fiddly. A lot of men also prefer clothing that is uncreative- often the kind of handmade clothing they would be happiest receiving is the kind that looks like it came from the Gap.  Tiny unique touches and details may just be the thing that makes a guy say, “That’s not really my style,” and relegate the garment to the back of the closet. And, as everyone knows, resentment varies in proportion to the amount of work put into an unworn garment. The more work you put in, the more you despise the recipient for not wearing it!

Clothing for women:
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Although sewing clothes for women could be relatively painless (a simple knit top with four pieces for your grandmother who loves it because you made it and wears it every time she sees you), it could go horribly, horribly awry.  You haven’t truly felt rage boiling in your veins until you stand in front of the mirror while the recipient tries on your hours and hours of labor and says, “It’s really nice. Ummmmm, I’m just curious, but if you wanted to, could you make the bodice spaghetti strap instead of short-sleeved? Not that it’s not totally fine like this, I’m just curious. Also, do you think maybe it should be a little shorter? And do you think we should have gone with that other red fabric instead?” Is your temperature rising yet?  Mine is just typing this :)

This list is not comprehensive, nor is it without its exceptions to the rules, but it should provide a decent jumping off point for those looking to build up their Selfish skills.  How about you?  Have you got any tips for S.W.A.G. sewing to avoid?