Tailor/Dressmaker

The Job and What's Involved

Tailors and dressmakers make individual made-to-measure clothes. Items such as suits, coats and jackets are usually made by a tailor, whereas dressmakers make a range of clothing including ball gowns and bridal outfits.

Tailors and dressmakers will usually use both sewing machines and hand sewing techniques. They are often responsible for making up the whole garment from start to finish. Those involved in production tailoring work as part of a larger team and may specialise in one part of the making process, for example adding pleats or beading.

The work usually involves:

  • Meeting clients to discuss their requirements and to sketch ideas.
  • Assisting clients with style and fabric choice.
  • Taking measurements and creating patterns by modifying an existing pattern or developing a new design.
  • Working out how much fabric will be required and choosing trims.
  • Producing mock-up garments for fittings and making adjustments.
  • Cutting and stitching the garment.
  • Adding extra trimmings and fastenings.

Some tailors and dressmakers also make alterations and repairs.

Tailors and dressmakers usually work 37 to 39 hours a week, which may include Saturday and evening shifts. Those working on a self-employed basis or from home may have to work unpredictable hours to suit the needs of their client.

Tailors and dressmakers may be based in a workshop attached to a shop or a small factory, or work from home. The work involves sitting or standing for long periods of time. Bending and kneeling is required when measuring customers and fitting garments. The work may also involve lifting and carrying heavy bales of fabric or using heavy irons to press garments. A lot of close, fine work is involved in sewing and trimming garments.

The starting salary for this job may be between £11,000 and £13,000 a year. An experienced tailor or dressmaker can earn between £14,000 and £20,000 or more. Some senior tailors/dressmakers, and those who work on Savile Row may be able to earn £40,000 a year, or more.

Earnings for self-employed people depend on the number of clients they have and the sort of work they do. Overheads, such as the cost of premises and electricity, will affect profits.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

It is estimated that there are around 7,000 people employed in the tailoring and handcraft garment-making trades in the UK (source: Skillfast-UK business survey 2008). They may work for specialist retailers, garment designers or manufacturers. The majority of tailoring jobs are in London, although opportunities exist UK-wide.

The market for individually made clothes is shrinking owing to competition from overseas and the high cost of making individual garments.

Vacancies may be advertised in newspapers and in specialist publications like Drapers Record.

Education and Training

There are no formal entry requirements for a career in this area and many tailors and dressmakers enter straight from school, learning the necessary skills on the job. GCSE's (A*-E) in English, maths, textiles or art can also be useful.

For those wishing to train as a Savile Row tailor, the Bespoke Tailoring Apprenticeship Programme provides a possible training route. It is offered by Newham College in conjunction with Savile Row. Lasting up to four years, apprentices learn from master tailors, developing skills in hand and machine sewing, pattern cutting and garment construction.

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.

Other relevant qualifications include the BTEC National Awards, Certificates or Diplomas in textiles, art and design, or fashion, and the ABC Level 3 Diplomas in production tailoring or handcraft tailoring.

Those with relevant experience in pattern cutting or sewing may also be considered for a job in this area.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

A range of training programme's are available for people working in dressmaking/tailoring. They include:

  • ABC Level 1, 2 or 3 Award, Certificate or Diploma in fashion and textiles.
  • ABC Level 2 Certificate in international fashion studies.
  • ABC NVQ Level 3 in bespoke cutting and tailoring.
  • ABC NVQ Level 2 in manufacturing sewn products.

Those who gain the NVQ Level 2 in manufacturing sewn products have the opportunity to progress to the NVQ Level 3 in apparel manufacturing technology or a related qualification. This could provide a broader range of trade skills enabling people to diversify into other industry sectors.

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You may use life saving skills as part of your day-to-day work.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Tailors and dressmakers should have:

  • Excellent practical sewing and garment construction skills.
  • A working knowledge of design, pattern creation and pattern cutting.
  • An understanding of the properties of different fabrics and how they can be used.
  • The ability to work accurately and precisely to deadlines.
  • Creativity and the ability to visualise designs.
  • The ability to communicate effectively with others.
  • An understanding of customer needs.

Your Long Term Prospects

It may be possible for tailors and dressmakers in larger companies to be promoted to work on more complex garments or supervise the work of others. There may also be opportunities for those with the right skills and experience to move into pattern cutting, design or management.

Those with a good level of experience in tailoring or dressmaking could go on to teach others or become self-employed, working on a freelance basis.

Those working at the haute couture level of the market may also have the opportunity to work abroad, particularly in cities such as New York, Paris and Milan.

Get Further Information

ABC Awards, Robins Wood House,
1 Robins Wood Road, Aspley,
Nottingham NG8 3NH
Tel: 0115 854 1616
Website: www.abcawards.co.uk

Newham College,
East Ham Campus,
High Street South,
London E6 6ER
Tel: 020 8257 4000
Website: www.newham.ac.uk

The Textile Institute,
1st Floor, St James's Buildings,
Oxford Street, Manchester M1 6FQ
Tel: 0161 237 1188
Website: www.textileinstitute.org

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