The Job and What's Involved

Dressmakers make made-to-measure clothing such as dresses, skirts, trousers and blouses for their customers. They often run small independent businesses and specialise in a particular type of clothing like bridal wear.

As a dressmaker, your duties are likely to include:

  • Discussing the client's requirements.
  • Showing the client fabric samples and pattern books.
  • Giving advice on which combination of fabrics and patterns may give the best results.
  • Taking measurements.
  • Adapting an existing pattern, or producing a new pattern for the client.
  • Working out the cost of the work (taking into account the fabric, trimmings and time needed).
  • Using the pattern to cut out the fabric pieces.
  • Tacking the fabric pieces together for a fitting.
  • Fitting the garment and making adjustments to create a perfect fit.

You would sometimes make a sample – called a 'toile' – out of cheaper fabric to check the design before cutting an expensive fabric. You would use a machine for most of the sewing, but finish intricate work, such as beading or embroidery, by hand.

You could also offer an alteration and repair service. Heavier items such as coats and suits are normally made by tailors (see the separate Tailor job guide). You may be self-employed and complete your own accounts and other paperwork.

You would typically work between 37 and 40 hours a week, including Saturdays. As a self-employed dressmaker, you could choose your own hours, depending on the amount of work you have and the deadlines you need to meet.

You would normally be based in a workshop or from home. You may also spend some time visiting clients.

Starting salaries for dressmakers are between £12,000 and £13,500 a year. With experience and specialist skils, this may rise to between £17,000 and £20,000.

Self-employed dressmakers set their own rates.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

You could find work with small dressmaking or tailoring companies, clothing manufacturers, larger high street fashion chains and specialist fashion houses. You may also find occasional vacancies in costume production for theatre, TV and film.

Jobs may be advertised in the local and national press, through job centres and also on industry websites, such as Drapers.

Education and Training

You may increase your chances of gaining paid work by taking a course that covers the general skills needed for work as a dressmaker.

These include:

  • NCFE Certificates in Dressmaking, Fashion or Pattern Cutting.
  • City & Guilds Certificate and Diploma courses, levels 1 to 3, in Creative Techniques in Fashion.
  • ABC Awards, Certificates and Diplomas in Fashion and Textiles.
  • BTEC Certificates and Diplomas in Fashion and Clothing, or Apparel, Footwear or Leather Production (this includes credits in tailoring).

You will also find a range of short courses available in techniques relevant to dressmaking at colleges, adult education centres and with private providers. They may not lead to a qualification, but they will teach you some of the skills needed for this work.

You may be able to get into this job through an Apprenticeship scheme. The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers.

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.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Once you are working as a dressmaker you could continue developing your skills by taking qualifications on a part-time basis, such as a BTEC HNC, foundation degree or degree in a subject like fashion and textile design skills. Studying at this level could be particularly useful if you want to develop a career in designing and making garments.

As a self-employed dressmaker, you may find it helpful to take a course such as an ABC Level 4 Diploma in Business for Creative Practitioners.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A dressmaker needs:

  • An interest in textiles and fashion.
  • Excellent practical skills.
  • The ability to visualise designs and lay out pattern pieces.
  • An appreciation for detail.
  • The ability to deal tactfully with customers.
  • The ability to take accurate measurements and make calculations.
  • Good eyesight.
  • Normal colour vision for matching threads and fabrics.

Your Long Term Prospects

Opportunities to progress are limited unless you work for a design house or tailoring company.

With experience you could be promoted to a supervisory role, move into a related career (such as fashion or textile buying) or become self-employed.

Get Further Information

Skillset Careers
Tel: 08080 300 900 (England and Northern Ireland)
Tel: 0808 100 8094 (Scotland)
Tel: 08000 121 815 (Wales)

Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Website: www.skillset.org

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