Becoming an Embroiderer: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as an embroiderer? Get real job descriptions, career prospects, and salary information to see if becoming an embroiderer is right for you.
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An Embroiderer Career: Pros and Cons

Embroiderers do more than just work with a needle and thread, creating decorations on clothing and other types of apparel. Find out the pros and cons of becoming an embroiderer to help you decide if it's the right career path for you.

PROS of an Embroiderer Career
Varied daily activities*
Potential for freelance or self-employment***
Opportunities for artistic specialization****
Chances to advance in the field to appraiser, judge, or teacher ****

CONS of an Embroiderer Career
Declining job market (3% loss in the fashion design industry from 2012-2022)*
Low-paying (2015 median for majority of workers was about $13 per hour)**
May require long hours of standing to operate machinery*
Competitive job market due to limited jobs*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com, ***National Network of Embroidery Professionals, **** Embroiderers' Guild of America

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Embroidery designers usually work within the fashion industry. They may draw patterns by hand as well as use software to craft new designs, edit existing designs, and generate new embroidery fonts. Embroidery designers should be up-to-date on the latest trends in fashion and the newest embroidery software.

Other embroiderers operate and maintain embroidery machinery, performing tasks such as gathering orders, changing thread and needles on machines, and inspecting finished products. Embroidery machine operators should have full knowledge of how to repair minor problems, troubleshoot machinery, and maintain equipment. Embroiderers may operate small businesses, complete jobs on a freelance basis, or sell embroidered products at craft fairs.

Most employees in the textile industry work a standard 35-40 hour workweek. Jobs operating embroidery machines may require you to stand long hours on your feet, perform repetitive tasks, and do heavy lifting.

Skills

An eye for differentiating colors and combining hues in an appealing way is necessary. You can learn to create illusions in your work, like luminosity and iridescence. Understanding aspects of design, like space, proportion, and texture, is important for success. You may study cultural styles in embroidery to create replicas and continue traditions, or you can opt to focus on producing original designs.

Career Prospects and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), overall employment in the fashion design industry was projected to decrease by 3% from 2012-2022. This expected decline was largely due to the increasing use of international workers.

According to PayScale.com, as of July 2015, the majority of embroiderers earned total annual wages ranging from about $18,000 to $51,000, which equates to between $10 and $19 per hour.

What Do Employers Look For?

Educational requirements vary depending on the type of embroidery job you are looking for. For example, some jobs in embroidery design require advanced training or specific coursework to learn how to create designs, use embroidery software, and add lettering to existing designs. Professional embroidery organizations offer numerous courses, allowing you to develop particular talents. On the other hand, most jobs operating embroidery machines only require applicants to have a high school diploma or GED.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Although there are no formal education requirements, the BLS suggested that having vocational training and/or some hands-on experience can give you a better chance of getting a job. Employers often look for 'soft skills', such as good communication, multi-tasking, and problem-solving abilities. Additionally, the ability to program machines, load and hoop garments, and deliver results with consistent quality is crucial. The following is a snapshot of what some companies were looking for in February and March 2012:

  • A Florida-based shirt company wanted a part-time embroidery machine operator to read work orders, sort materials, hoop and load embroidery machines, and inspect finished products. Applicants also needed the ability to resolve any assembly problems and document all actions in production logs.
  • A textile company in South Carolina requested an embroiderer with one or more years of experience to load, program, hoop, and operate a multi-head embroidery machine. The company specified that applicants should have experience in all aspects of the process, including programming embroidery machines and trimming garments.
  • A spirit wear company in Georgia sought an embroiderer with at least two years of embroidery experience to operate embroidery machines, hoop garments, and maintain production schedules. The company wanted someone with multitasking abilities and good communication skills to work on the production floor.
  • An Indiana textile company requested an embroiderer with sewing machine and computer experience to work full time in a temp-to-hire position. Applicants needed a high school diploma or GED and at least one year of experience. Applicants with experience in embroidery, engraving, and industrial sewing machines were preferred.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Completing specialty courses can give you an edge. Education past on-the-job training can sharpen your skills and knowledge base and keep you abreast of the most recent techniques, trends, and technological advances. Opportunities for training and certification are available through the Embroiderers' Guild of America (EGA).

Diversify Your Talents

The EGA offers courses in its Master Craftsman programs. You might learn many different styles, including quilting, crewel embroidery, smocking, and counted-thread embroidery. You can practice working with silk or metal threads and adding fancy beadwork to your designs to enhance aesthetics. There are various patterns you can study, such as Assisi, Hardanger, Schwalm, Chikan, and Ayrshire embroidery; Elizabethan and Jacobean crewel design; Richelieu and Renaissance cut work; Florentine patterns; and Dorset feather stitching.

Develop Related Skills

Employers frequently prefer applicants who can demonstrate good interpersonal and communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and technical know-how. Many employers also tend to look for added skills, including the following:

  • Computer proficiency, particularly with Laser Cutter and other related embroidery programs
  • Safety management
  • Quality control
  • Silk-screening
  • Fast turnaround

Become Certified

The EGA also offers programs resulting in certification for needlework appraisers, judges, and teachers. Once you've gained some experience in the embroidery field, you can embark on the continuing education path to advance to one of these positions.

Aspiring appraisers can enroll in a program to learn about the historical and aesthetic values upon which to determine monetary value of embroidered work. Completing an apprenticeship, writing project, and exam are also required before earning the Certified Needlework Appraiser designation.

If you're more interested in evaluating the quality of embroidered projects, consider the Certified Needlework Judge or Master Needlework Judge programs. You'll learn industry standards regarding materials, colors, and patterns. Moreover, you'll learn to set up exhibits.

Teacher Certification and Certified Teacher Graduate are the two levels offered to those wishing to educate others in this craft. Through these programs, you'll learn to create embroidery lesson plans, teach students, and offer constructive criticism and creative encouragement.

Other Careers to Consider

Tailor or Dressmaker

If the steep decline in employment for embroiderers makes you nervous, but you enjoy working with people as well as fabric, perhaps a career as a tailor or dressmaker would be a good alternative. You may be responsible for designing, repairing, or altering various articles of clothing. The BLS reported that employment for these professionals was not projected to change much from 2008-2018, so although job prospects aren't exactly good, they're a bit better than those for embroiderers. As a tailor or dressmaker, you would have the opportunity to open your own business or work in a shop. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for tailors and dressmakers was approximately $27,000 as of 2010.

Fashion Designer

Fashion designers create the clothing and accessories that hit store shelves for consumer purchase. The design process begins with developing a design concept and ends with actually creating the garment, usually taking from 18-24 months total. According to the BLS, employers prefer designers with an associate's or bachelor's degree and advanced knowledge in fabrics, textiles, and fashion trends.

The BLS estimated 1% growth in employment of fashion designers from 2008-2018. Competition was predicted to be keen since many people are attracted to the glamor and creativity associated with the career. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for fashion designers was near $65,000 as of 2010, so if you're seeking a higher salary in a relevant field, this might be a good fit.

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Penn Foster Career School

  • Career Diploma: Dressmaking and Design

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