Be a Dressmaker: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a dressmaker. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in dressmaking.

Should I Become a Dressmaker?

Dressmakers, also known as custom sewers, are apparel workers who make or alter women's clothes. Dressmakers may be capable of making original designs or creating copies of fashions from photographs. Some dressmakers are self employed, while others work for clothing manufacturers and use pattern-making skills. Those who are self employed might spend considerable time locating new assignments and clients.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma; a certificate or associate's degree may be beneficial
Degree Fields Fashion design, textiles, sewing or a related field
Experience An apprenticeship can supplement or replace formal education and provide necessary training; some positions require 1-2 years of experience
Key Skills Attention to detail, customer service and time management skills; finger dexterity, fine motor skills, ability to operate and use sewing equipment; knowledge of design techniques, needlepoint, and the metric system
Salary (2014) $26,460 (median annual salary for all dressmakers, tailors, and sewers)

Sources: O*Net Online, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job postings (November 2012)

Step 1: Learn Fundamental Skills

Aspiring dressmakers must be able to operate a sewing machine, as well as sew by hand. Additionally, dressmakers must learn the proper use of a variety of sewing tools, including measuring tapes, cutting tools and sergers. Other skills include using patterns as a guide to cut and fit garments, lining, hemming and buttonholes. Sewing classes can cover these fundamentals and may be available in informal settings, such as community centers, or through local fabric and craft stores for a small fee. These individual classes can cover a wide range of subjects, from how to sew a little black dress to using floral print designs.

Success Tip:

  • Join a professional organization. Some professional organizations offer resources that can help aspiring dressmakers learn the skills they need to succeed in this career. For example, the American Sewing Guild offers classes, workshops and sewing events to its members.

Step 2: Earn a Certificate or Degree

Those who already have basic sewing skills can obtain a certificate as a seamstress by taking non-degree courses through a local community college. Programs can span about eight weeks, and students can learn advanced skills and concepts, including jean construction, dress design, contemporary tailoring and form/draping.

Those who wish to be a dressmaker or possibly work in other facets of the fashion world might should consider earning a 2-year Associate of Applied Science or a four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design. Skills taught in these programs include detailing, marketing, pattern making and computer-aided design (CAD).

Success Tip:

  • Participate in extracurricular activities. Fashion design degree programs often offer numerous opportunities for real-world experience in the fashion industry. Students might attend fashion shows, work on dress design projects for actual clients or study abroad in fashion-oriented cities like Paris.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Dressmakers may apply for work with clothing manufacturers, department stores or bridal boutiques. In some cases, dressmakers may be able to find apprenticeship opportunities working alongside experienced professionals to further hone their skills, although the BLS reported that such opportunities were rare.

Success Tip:

  • Continue your education. Though it is not required, dressmakers can benefit from learning new skills throughout their careers. For example, the Custom Tailors and Designers Association (CTDA) offers advanced courses in business and marketing.
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