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Sewing machinists work in the clothing and textiles industries, stitching sections of material together to make products ranging from fashion garments to soft furnishings. Their work begins when a sample machinist has made a specimen based on a design pattern. When the design team is happy with the product, sewing machinists produce the finished version.
Typical tasks include:
- feeding garment or textile sections through the machine
- stitching full garments or other products together
- adjusting machine settings for different jobs
- checking that finished work matches pattern instructions
- carrying out basic maintenance, for instance cleaning and oiling machines.
Sewing machinists use different machines for different jobs, with many of the machines used now computerised. They may specialise on a particular machine like a buttonholer, but it is quite common for them to use a number of machines, including overlockers, hemmers and bar tackers, to carry out a range of tasks and produce different finishes.
In clothing manufacturing, sewing machinists work with a variety of fabrics, such as cotton, wool and leather, and can work on a number of lines or concentrate on a particular style, for example sportswear. Away from clothing, sewing machinists work with industrial fabrics, for example those used in sail making.
Hours and Environment
As a sewing machinist you will usually work 37 to 40 hours a week. You will have the opportunity to work overtime and part-time hours.
You will normally work within a team in a factory under supervision. You will spend most of your time sitting at a machine and factory work can be noisy. Self-employed machinists work in small workshops or from home.
Skills and Interests
To work as a sewing machinist, you need:
- good practical skills
- the ability to work quickly and accurately
- good eyesight
- an appreciation for detail
- the ability to work in a team and alone
- the ability to concentrate for long periods and do repetitive tasks.
You do not need any formal qualifications to become a sewing machinist but employers will expect you to have basic sewing skills. Most companies will ask you to take a practical test at interview. Personal qualities, such as reliability and a keen interest in design, are also important.
A variety of creative arts courses offered by local colleges cover some of the skills needed as a starting point for this career. Courses like City & Guilds Design and Crafts, levels 1 to 3, are open to all ages and include the following options:
- Sewing Machine Techniques
- Machine Knit Textiles
- Stitched Textiles
- Machine Embroidery
- Pattern Cutting.
For more details contact Skillfast-UK, the Sector Skills Council for the clothing, footwear and textiles industry (see Further Information section below).
You are trained on the job and can work towards one of several NVQ/SVQ qualifications. These include:
- Manufacturing Sewn Products at levels 1 and 2
- Apparel Manufacturing Technology at Level 3.
You may be able to start as an apprentice with a clothing manufacturer or textiles company. Companies may ask that you have some GCSEs/S grades before offering you an apprenticeship.
Funding for apprenticeships is available for 16-24 year olds and some over-25s. To find out more, visit www.apprenticeships.org.uk. For information about apprenticeships in other parts of the UK, see Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Most opportunities for sewing machinists are with clothing and textiles manufacturers, and smaller retailers specialising in making up garments and carrying out alterations. While there are potential employers all over the UK, there is likely to be a higher concentration of opportunities in the East Midlands and north-west.
Skilled machinists can become sample machinists and work with the company designer or directly for a customer, making up product samples before the final version goes into production. In larger companies, your options include supervisory management, with responsibility for running one of the manufacturing lines, staff training, quality control and pattern cutting and grading.
With experience, you may be able to set up as a self-employed sewing machinist, combining your skills with others, such as tailoring or dressmaking (see the Tailor and Dressmaker profiles for details).
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
Sewing machinists start between £9,500 and £11,000 a year.
Experienced sewing machinists can earn between £11,500 and £15,000 a year.
There are often bonuses based on your output and some companies base salaries on piecework rates.
Further Help and Advice
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The information contained in our Career Profiles Database was correct at time of publishing, but since publication certain details may have changed so please use this section as a research tool and in some cases further research may be required.
Careers Database Information By Learn Direct Advice