Sewing & Fabric Alterations: Career & Education Requirements

Training in sewing and fabric alteration typically includes workplace-based skills development, though career training through a school can be pursued. Find out about the requirements of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for sewing and fabric alterations workers.

Sewing and fabric alterations professionals have several career options, including sewing machine operator, tailor or upholsterer. Most people in these positions get on-the-job training or complete an apprenticeship, although some take courses at vocational schools. The job outlook in these fields is not promising for the immediate future.

Essential Information

Sewing and fabric alterations professionals produce clothing and other fabric goods for consumers. While these workers sometimes complete training courses offered through vocational schools or apprenticeship programs, many learn their skills on the job.

Career Sewing Machine Operator Tailor Upholsterer
Education Requirements On-the-job training On-the-job training High school diploma, on-the-job training or apprenticeship
Projected Job Growth (2014-24)* 27% decline 9% decline 4% decline
Median Salary (2015)* $22,550 $25,830 $32,020

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Sewing and fabric alterations professionals typically create, alter and mend clothing or other fabric goods. Some career options in this field are explored below.

Sewing Machine Operators

Sewing machine operators usually work for clothing and other fabric goods manufacturers and may receive their training from other employees or a representative of a sewing machine company. These workers are presented with pre-cut pieces of fabric and material to sew together using a machine. They may also be responsible for adding buttonholes or fixing stitches.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment for these workers was likely to decline by 27% from 2014 to 2024 (www.bls.gov). As of May 2015, the BLS indicated the median annual salary for sewing machine operators was $22,550.

Tailors, Dressmakers and Custom Sewers

Tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers can begin formal training while in high school, as many schools offer sewing classes to students. Other options include enrolling in a vocational school or community college program that offers training in fashion design, sewing and alterations, such as the certificate in clothing construction or Associate of Science in Apparel Design.

The duties of tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers include altering, repairing and even sewing custom garments for their customers. Many of these professionals work in dry cleaning shops, as customers of these establishments often appreciate being able to drop off a garment to be cleaned and repaired at the same time. They may shorten hems, record alteration requirements on clothing tags and insert padding.

The BLS predicted a nine percent decline in employment levels for tailors and sewers between 2014 and 2024, noting that while many people don't use these services, there is demand among affluent clients and high-end stores for custom sewing and tailoring. The median yearly salary for dressmakers, tailors and custom sewers was $25,830 in May 2015, according to BLS data.


Upholsterers may have the option of completing an apprenticeship, but can sometimes also complete training at a vocational school or community college. They learn to use fabrics to cover furniture and may work to produce new pieces or use their skills to repair damaged items.

Working conditions can be dangerous or unhealthy for upholsterers who work with sharp tools, engage in heavy lifting and sit or stand in awkward positions for short periods of time. Common duties for this position can also include locating furniture defects, removing furniture webbing and securing furniture frames.

The BLS anticipated a four percent decline in employment levels for upholsterers between 2014 and 2024. The continued demand for refurbishment and repairs of vintage furniture was predicted to be a factor in the employment level remaining status quo. As of May 2015, the median salary for upholsterers was $32,020 per year.

Sewing and fabric alterations professionals all work with the creation and repairing of fabric goods, but they can pursue various occupations, such as sewing machine operator, tailor or upholsterer. They can complete training classes through vocational colleges or learn on the job. These careers are all declining in job opportunities, however, and those who want to break in can find apprenticeships to stand above the crowd.

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