Clothing Sewing Machinist

The Job and What's Involved

Clothing sewing machinists are responsible for stitching together pre-cut fabric pieces and producing finished garments (items of clothing). They may also add decorative trimmings, embroidery, buttons, zips or other fastenings.

They can produce a wide variety of garments from underwear to wedding dresses. The type of garments being produced will depend on the employer. Sewing machinists may need to change employer to gain experience of different product areas.

Depending on the type of employer, some machinists will work on one specific part of the garment manufacture, such as sewing side seams. Others will be required to complete a garment from start to finish.

Sewing machinists work on a range of sewing machines to complete different tasks, for example:

  • Lockstitch machines which can be used for a wide range of sewing operations.
  • Overlockers which finish raw edges and are often used to join seams on knitted garments.
  • Buttonholers for creating a neat buttonhole with finished edges.
  • Button sewing machines to sew on buttons or cover buttons with a specific fabric.
  • Blind hemming machines.
  • Studding machines.
  • Embroidery machines.

Many of these machines are computerised and automated. For example, collars and cuffs can be loaded into a machine and stitched automatically.

Machinists are also responsible for carrying out basic maintenance of their machines. This may include cleaning and oiling the machine and changing needles and threads.

Sewing machinists usually work in teams and will be monitored by a supervisor or team leader. It may also be necessary to communicate with people in other areas of production, such as designers and pattern cutters, to ensure the garment is produced to the correct standards and requirements.

Sewing machinists are usually factory based and work between 37 and 39 hours a week from Monday to Friday. Some employers work a shift system and paid overtime may be available.

Factory environments are generally well lit but may be noisy. Machinists spend most of the day sitting at a sewing machine and the work can be repetitive, especially for those who concentrate on one task each day. There is often pressure to meet deadlines and the pace is fast.

Sewing machinists usually start on around £11,000 a year.
Those with some experience can earn around £13,000 a year and very experienced machinists can earn around 16,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

It is estimated that there are around 43,000 people employed in sewn product operations in the UK (source: Skillfast-UK business survey 2008). Many employers are small companies with less then ten employees, but about one in five people in this sector work for large organisations with 200 or more employees.

Clothing factories are found all over the UK. Many companies have scaled down their UK operations and now manufacture their garments overseas. However, there are still good opportunities for skilled machinists in the industry. With this increased competition from overseas, many clothing companies are surviving due to manufacturing for niche markets.

There may be opportunities for skilled machinists to work on a freelance basis for different companies. These people usually work from home and the hours can be flexible to fit around other commitments.

Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers, Connexions centres and Jobcentre Plus offices.

Education and Training

There are no formal academic requirements for a career in this area. Employers look for candidates with some sewing experience and a willingness to learn. Some employers offer training in house or in their own training school.

It is also possible to work towards an Apprenticeship in apparel, which provides some of the skills needed for a career in this area. Employers offering Apprenticeships may ask for some GCSE's (A*-E).

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

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

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

Those with relevant experience and skills in sewing may be able to enter this type of work without formal training.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most employers offer on-the-job training under the supervision of a more experienced colleague. Some offer training at their own training school. These schemes enable the candidate to receive training on all the various sewing machines. When the training is complete the student can move into working alone in the factory.

Additional training is provided as required in the use of new machines or new processes. Multi-skilling is very important in the clothing industry, so clothing machinists are likely to be trained in a range of different skills.

Those already in the job may be able to work towards vocational qualifications, such as an NVQ Level 2 in manufacturing sewn products. This qualification covers cutting, sewing, sealing and pressing. Applicants who successfully complete this course can progress to a more advanced qualification, such as an NVQ Level 3 in apparel manufacturing technology.

The following qualifications are also aimed at people who are interested in a career in this area:

  • ABC Level 1 Certificate in sewing and textiles.
  • ABC Level 2 Certificate in sewing and textiles.
  • ABC Level 3 Award in sample production techniques: clothing.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A clothing sewing machinist should:

  • Be practical and good at working with their hands.
  • Be able to work quickly and methodically.
  • Be accurate as mistakes can be costly.
  • Be confident working with machinery and have excellent knowledge of the processes used.
  • Have an eye for detail, proportion and colour.
  • Be able to concentrate on close work for long periods of time.
  • Be able to work under pressure, sometimes to tight deadlines.
  • Be able to work as part of a team, and on their own.
  • Have knowledge of garment construction and how items drape, sit and hang when worn.
  • Have good eyesight and normal colour vision for matching threads to fabrics.

Your Long Term Prospects

There are opportunities for progression for sewing machinists, especially those with external qualifications and relevant experience.

Promotion is possible to more senior positions such as supervisor or team leader. The role may then include training new staff. This in turn could then lead on to a production management role. Alternatively, they could consider moving into a different area, such as pattern cutting or design.

It is also possible to become a sample machinist, working alongside designers to produce prototype garments (entire sample garments). These are shown to buyers before a design is chosen to go into production for a high street store.

Those with the required knowledge and experience may move into becoming self- employed, where they can earn a good income working in a freelance capacity for designers.

Get Further Information

ABC Awards, Robins Wood House,
1 Robins Wood Road, Aspley, Nottingham NG8 3NH
Tel: 0115 854 1616

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