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Sewing Professions: Overview of Career Education Programs

Sewing is generally a skill learned without formal educational training. Continue reading for an overview of the education options, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

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Sewing professions include tailors, shoe workers, patternmakers and fabric menders. These professionals are not required to have any formal postsecondary training and often learn their trade through on-the-job training, though vocational studies are an option.

Essential Information

Sewing professionals are needed in many industries, including apparel manufacturing, shoe making and furniture making. It's a challenging career that requires specialized knowledge and skill. Most training and education can be gained on the job, through an apprenticeship or by attending vocational school.

Career Titles Tailor Shoe Worker Patternmaker Fabric Mender
Required Education On-the-job training On-the-job training On-the-job training On-the-job training
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% decline for tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers* 15% decline for shoe and leather workers and repairers 26% decline for fabric and apparel patternmakers 13% decline for fabric menders, except garment
Median Salary (2015)* $25,830 for tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers $23,630 for shoe and leather workers and repairers $43,900 for fabric and apparel patternmakers $24,490 for fabric menders, except garment

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Sewing Job Descriptions

Sewing professionals work with materials bound together by needle and thread. Apparel workers cut materials and sew them into clothing, while tailors or dressmakers may create custom clothing, alter existing apparel or repair garments for clients. Many jobs are available in the realm of manufacturing, where workers commonly perform specialized tasks in large-scale garment production.

Fabric and apparel patternmakers take a clothing designer's original model and convert it into a pattern that can be laid out on a length of fabric for replication. This work usually involves using computers to outline the parts and draw in details to indicate features like pleats or buttonholes.

Sewing machine operators assemble and repair sewing equipment. They should know techniques for reinforcing seams and attaching buttons, hooks, zippers and other details that go into clothing production.

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Education Options

Employers in the sewing trade prefer to hire those who are at least high school graduates or the equivalent. However, vocational schools and sewing schools offer programs that teach advanced techniques and even business management. Vocational training programs can take anywhere from six months to three years to complete and may prepare students for jobs in the garment business. Classes or degrees in business administration or marketing may also prove useful in the sewing industry. Aspiring sewing professionals may also want to seek out apprenticeships in their area to gain supervised, hands-on experience.

Some schools may offer a professional certificate program. This may give students the opportunity to build their professional portfolios while teaching sewing and alteration techniques for upholstery and window treatments. Sewing certificates may give students the knowledge necessary to help them enter design school. Earning a certificate can take anywhere from 1-2 years while students prepare to become sewing machine operators or apparel sample-makers. Other coursework it may cover:

  • Patternmaking
  • Computer-aided design for sewing
  • Assembly line machinery
  • Leather handbag and shoe repair

Career Options

People trained in sewing can work in a number of different industries. Generally, they create or repair things made of fabric or leather.

Tailor

Tailors design, create, change and fix clothes. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that sewing and tailoring jobs were expected to decrease 9% from 2014 to 2024. The BLS also stated that tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers earned a median salary of $25,830 per year as of May 2015.

Shoe Worker

Shoe workers create and repair shoes and related items, such as luggage and saddles. According to the BLS, job positions for these workers will decrease by 15% between 2014 and 2024. Shoe and leather workers and repairers made a median salary of $23,630 as of May 2015. Those working for sporting goods, hobby and musical instrument stores had the highest salaries.

Patternmaker

Patternmakers create patterns that clothing and other items can be created from. In addition, they may mark and cut fabric. The BLS predicts that job opportunities for fabric and apparel patternmakers will decrease by 26% between 2014 and 2024. The median wage for patternmakers was $43,900 as of May 2015. Those working in specialized design services generally earn more than patternmakers in other industries.

Fabric Mender

Fabric menders repair things made of fabric that are not clothes, such as curtains, bedding and outdoor structures. The BLS predicts that, between 2014 and 2024, positions for fabric menders will decrease by 13%. As of May 2015, fabric menders made a median salary of $24,490.

Many sewing professionals can learn their trade on the job or through an apprenticeship program, certificate program or courses at a vocational center, where they learn to make patterns for garments, repair shoes or mend fabric items like curtains. While entry into this career field involves relatively little training, job openings for patternmakers, shoe workers, tailors and fabric menders are expected to decline sharply in the coming years.

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