Becoming a Sewing Machine Operator: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a sewing machine operator? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if following this career path is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Sewing Machine Operator

If you enjoy sewing garments or other materials and using your hands, then you may wish to consider becoming a sewing machine operator. Read on to learn more about the positive and negative aspects of choosing this career.

Pros of Becoming a Sewing Machine Operator
Few educational requirements**
On-the-job training opportunities*
Use a combination of critical thinking skills and manual dexterity**
Comfortable indoor work environment**

Cons of Becoming a Sewing Machine Operator
Job growth is expected to decline**
Mean annual wages are about $24,000*
May have to work under strict deadlines**
Work may involve long hours of standing and repetitive motions**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Occupational Information Network

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Sewing machine operators use equipment such as double- and single-needle serging and flat-bed felling sewing machines in order to reinforce, join and decorate various materials and articles. Operators mount attachments to their sewing machines, such as needles, pattern plates or cutting blades and adjust their machines in accordance with specifications. They position items under the machine needle by using various guides such as marks, templates and clamps. They place spools of thread or other materials used for stitching on spindles and feed thread through machine components. Operators must make sure that patterns, dye lots and cloth pieces match and are in sequences prior to sewing them. After completing an item, sewers may have to inspect their own work in order to find any defects, damage or errors. Most sewing machine operators are employed in various manufacturing industries, such as apparel manufacturing and textile product mills.

Job Growth and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in May 2014 the mean hourly wage of sewing machine operators was $11.54, and the mean annual wage was $23,990 (www.bls.gov). The Occupational Information Network projected that between 2012 and 2022 job growth will decline at negative three percent or lower (www.onetonline.org).

Education and Training Requirements

There are no mandatory educational prerequisites to become a sewing machine operator, although some employers require a high school diploma or GED. Sewing machine operators typically learn their skills through on-the-job training opportunities, often under the guidance of more experienced workers. Sewing machine operators do, however, need various skills and talents including the following:

  • A familiarity with sewing equipment
  • Precision and an attention to detail
  • Manual dexterity
  • The ability to keep your arms and hands steady while working
  • Good vision and the ability to discriminate between colors and types of fabrics
  • Good coordination
  • The ability to assess your own performance in order to make corrections and improvements

Job Postings from Real Employers

A range of sewing machine operator jobs are available across the country. Employers are often willing to provide workers with all of the training they need in order to perform employment duties. Other employers require varying degrees of sewing experience. See the following examples of job postings from March 2012 to get a sense of what kinds of jobs are available and what real employers expect of job candidates:

  • A company in Oregon was seeking a sewing machine operator to sew tags on garments and do repair work. This job required candidates to have at least three months of production sewing experience, good manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination. This job had a starting pay rate of $10.00 an hour.
  • A company in Kansas was looking for a full-time heavy duty sewing machine operator. This job required candidates to have a high school education and some sewing experience. Candidates were also expected to be able to stand for eight hours and lift up to 30 pounds. This job paid $9.00 an hour.
  • A company in Michigan was looking for an industrial sewing machine operator for a full-time position. This job required a high school education. The company was willing to provide on-the-job training to candidates without sewing experience. This job also required candidates to work overtime hours and to be able to lift up to 25 pounds. The starting pay was $9.45 for first shift workers and $9.75 for second shift workers. After sixty days, this company was willing to increase hourly pay by 50 cents.
  • A company in Wisconsin was seeking a full-time sewing machine operator. This job had no educational requirements and the company was willing to hire workers with no job experience. This position had a base pay of $9.00 to $10.00 an hour.

How to Stand Out in the Field

You can stand out in this field through work experience and maintaining a good employment record. You may also acquire related skills that may allow you to do more specialized work for retailers, such as bridal companies and companies that specialize in tailoring and alterations. These skills may be developed through work or personal experience or through attending courses offered by community or technical colleges. Postsecondary education is rare among sewing machine operators. Having extra education may allow you to stand out among your competitors and land jobs that involve more responsibilities and higher levels of expertise.

Alternative Career Paths

Tailor, Dressmaker or Custom Sewer

If you are interested in working in the garment industry but want to earn higher wages and develop more specialized skills, then you may wish to consider a career as a tailor, a dressmaker or a custom sewer. These careers involve similar sets of skills and job duties: workers assess and fit garments on customers in order to determine the types of alterations needed, they sew and assemble garments using needles or sewing machines and lengthen or shorten parts of garments such as hemlines and sleeves. Most jobs in these areas require related job experience, training from a vocational school or an associate's degree. Some workers in these fields receive their training through apprenticeship programs. The BLS reported that in May 2011, the mean annual wages for tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers were $28,000 and mean hourly wages were about $14.00.

Interior Designer

If you are interested in working with various fabrics and designing accessories, but do not want to work in a manufacturing environment, then perhaps a career as an interior designer (also known as interior decorator) will suit you. Interior decorators design and select furnishings for homes and businesses, taking into account both aesthetic and functional properties of decorations, room arrangements and pieces of furniture. Interior decorators must consult with clients, offer cost estimates of materials and use computer-aided drafting (CAD) software programs in order to make design plans and create visual representations of interior spaces. Unlike sewing machine operators, interior decorators typically must hold at least an associate's degree, and most have bachelor's degrees. The BLS reported that the median annual wage for interior decorators in 2011 was approximately $48,000. Employment was projected to grow 19% between 2010 and 2020.

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