Clothing Alteration Hand

The Job and What's Involved

Clothing alteration hands are responsible for repairing and altering garments and soft furnishings. They may use sewing machines or hand sewing techniques.

Typical projects include:

  • Fixing zips, holes or tears.
  • Taking in or letting out seams.
  • Shortening or lengthening hems.
  • Tailoring items for personal taste, size or fashion style.
  • Deciding what types of stitching suit different types of fabric.
  • Replacing decorative trimmings, such as beading or embroidery.

The items they work on can include high value, special occasion or sentimental pieces, such as bridal gowns or bridesmaid dresses.

A self-employed clothing alteration hand will usually meet with each client to discuss their requirements and take measurements. Those who are based in a shop, dry-cleaners or laundry may be given the work by a colleague who has noted the customer's requirements.

Alteration hands work with a wide variety of fabric and materials, which requires a good knowledge of different sewing techniques. Occasionally the work can involve unpicking seams and re-tailoring entire garments.

Alteration hands usually work around 40 hours a week. For many this will include Saturday shifts. Part-time work and flexible hours are common, especially for those working on a freelance basis.

Working environments vary. Those who are self-employed may be based at home and have a separate room or small studio for work. Alteration hands employed by a High Street store, dry-cleaners or laundry may be based in a small workroom attached to the shop. Facilities attached to a dry-cleaners or laundry can be hot and noisy.

Much of the work involves sitting for long periods of time at a sewing machine, carrying out close, fine work. A driving licence is useful for alteration hands that need to travel to shops or customer's homes.

Starting salaries for clothing alteration hands are usually around £11,700 a year or around £7 an hour. An experienced alteration hand, working for more than one outlet and paid by piecework, could potentially earn around £10 an hour.

Supervisors overseeing other alteration hands may earn £22,000 a year or more.

Alteration hands working on a piecework basis may earn more as they will be paid a percentage of the cost for each item. They also have to factor in costs of materials and other business overheads.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Alteration hands are employed by dry cleaners, laundries and a small number of clothing retailers. They can also work for private clients as well as bridal, special occasion wear and fabric retailers. Manufacturers and retailers offering made-to-measure soft furnishings, such as curtains and blinds, may also employ alteration hands on a permanent, casual or freelance basis. Highly skilled alteration hands could find work in a theatre wardrobe department or theatrical costume supplier. Many are self-employed and charge on a piecework basis.

Currently there are more vacancies than applicants in this type of employment and the amount of work being carried out by alteration hands has increased in the last five years.

Vacancies may be advertised in local newspapers, Jobcentre Plus offices and in specialist trade publications, such as Drapers, for both experienced and semi-experienced positions.

Education and Training

There are no formal academic requirements to become an alteration hand, although GCSE's in English, maths and textiles may be beneficial.

Apprenticeships are also available in manufacturing sewn products, apparel manufacturing technology, apparel and bespoke cutting and tailoring.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

It is also possible to start out working as an assistant to a dressmaker, tailor or sewing machinist in a clothing factory to gain experience and skills.

Larger companies, particularly department stores and retailers, will often prefer applicants to have a recognised qualification. There are a range of courses available that cover some of the skills needed for this job, such as:

- ABC Level 3 Certificate in apparel manufacturing technology
- ABC Level 3 Diploma in handcraft tailoring

The ABC Award, Certificate and Diploma in fashion and textiles, available at Levels 1-3 contain modules that are relevant to this type of work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Mastering the different techniques of sewing and garment construction comes with experience. Many alteration hands improve their skills by working alongside more experienced colleagues or by attending external sewing and tailoring courses.

Those working in this area may also work towards vocational qualifications, such as the NVQ Level 2 in manufacturing sewn products, which covers the practical processes of alteration as well as pressing and quality control.

A wide range of short courses, qualifications and workshops in tailoring and garment production are also available at the London College of Fashion (part of the University of the Arts London).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A clothing alteration hand should:

  • Have excellent hand and machine sewing skills.
  • Have good manual dexterity and hand-to-eye co-ordination.
  • Be knowledgeable about different fabrics and stitching techniques.
  • Have an understanding of garment construction.
  • Be creative, with an interest in textiles and fashion.
  • Have good communication and customer service skills.
  • Be patient, self-motivated and willing to do repetitive work.
  • Work well under pressure to meet deadlines.
  • Be able to work on their own initiative.
  • Be able to perform basic sewing machine maintenance.
  • Have good eyesight and normal colour vision for matching threads to fabrics.

Your Long Term Prospects


Opportunities for promotion in this area may be limited, although supervisory posts may be available in larger companies.

Candidates who gain the NVQ Level 2 in manufacturing sewn products have the opportunity to progress to NVQ Level 3 in apparel manufacturing technology or a related qualification.

Those with a broad set of skills may be able to move into a related area such as pattern cutting/grading, tailoring or with further study, design work. Many become self-employed and work on a freelance basis.

There may also be opportunities to teach for those with experience of the industry.

Get Further Information

The Guild of Launders and Dry Cleaners,
7 Churchill Court, 58 Station Road, North Harrow, Middlesex HA2 7SA
Tel: 0845 600 1838
Website: www.gcl.org.uk

London College of Fashion,
20 John Princes Street, London W1G 0BJ
Full-time courses and part-time degree enquiries Tel: 020 7514 7344.
Short course enquiries Tel: 020 75147566
Website: www.fashion.arts.ac.uk

Skillfast-UK, Richmond House,
Lawnswood Business Park, Leeds LS16 6RD
Tel: 0113 2399600
Website: www.skillfast-uk.org

The Textile Institute,
1st Floor, St James' Buildings, Oxford Street, Manchester M1 6FQ
Tel: 0161 2371188
Website: www.textileinstitute.org

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