What Does a Sewing Machinist Do?

Susan Abe
Susan Abe
An industrial sewing machine may be used to sew heavy material.
An industrial sewing machine may be used to sew heavy material.

A sewing machinist, also known as a sewing machine operator, is responsible for sewing together pieces of cloth to make clothing or other items; edging cloth; attaching fabric accessories, such as buttons or zippers; or completing garment alterations using an industrial sewing machine. Depending upon her place of employment or specialization, a sewing machinist's work may include all the steps necessary to produce a garment or consist of repeatedly performing one or two steps in an assembly line's mass production process. While the primary responsibility of a sewing machinist is sewing, she may also be responsible for general maintenance of her assigned sewing machine such as oiling parts or sharpening needles. Other responsibilities include changing thread types and colors, bobbins or other machine attachments in order to complete work assignments.

Some dry cleaning shops and tailors employ sewing machinists.
Some dry cleaning shops and tailors employ sewing machinists.

The largest proportion of workers employed in the textile industry are sewing machinists. Most employees in this position work in a factory or industrial environment under conditions that vary according to the factory's size, age and philosophy of the owners. Training is usually conducted on the job, with a more experienced machinist showing a new employee how to perform the job, although some vocational schools teach students these skills and provide certifications. Employers prefer and often seek experienced sewing machinists but will consider newcomers to the occupation. Wages are lower than average and often based upon production.

In the U.S., the demand for sewing machinists has been in decline over the past several decades.
In the U.S., the demand for sewing machinists has been in decline over the past several decades.

A small number of sewing machinist positions are located in department stores, dry cleaning shops and tailoring businesses. Hemming and limited alterations are sometimes offered by department stores for new apparel purchases. Dry cleaning shops frequently offer hemming, alterations and repair services along with the usual cleaning work provided. Tailors, some dress shops, and high fashion houses are the only kinds of businesses where a sewing machinist might produce a garment from start to finish. These very limited employment openings are also the most highly compensated.

Sewing machinists may be expected to be able to attach zippers to clothing.
Sewing machinists may be expected to be able to attach zippers to clothing.

In the industrialized world, sewing machinist positions are declining due to industry outsourcing to less expensive labor forces in developing countries. The decrease in overall job openings in the US is expected to continue at a much faster rate than average when compared to other jobs. Most new openings will be the result of approaching retirement in the current workforce. The US states with the highest concentration of sewing machinist jobs include California and the southern states of Mississippi, North Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky. The highest paying jobs in the US for sewing machinists are found in Alaska, Nevada and Connecticut.

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    • An industrial sewing machine may be used to sew heavy material.
      An industrial sewing machine may be used to sew heavy material.
    • Some dry cleaning shops and tailors employ sewing machinists.
      Some dry cleaning shops and tailors employ sewing machinists.
    • In the U.S., the demand for sewing machinists has been in decline over the past several decades.
      In the U.S., the demand for sewing machinists has been in decline over the past several decades.
    • Sewing machinists may be expected to be able to attach zippers to clothing.
      Sewing machinists may be expected to be able to attach zippers to clothing.
    • A sewing machinist may be responsible for changing thread types and colors.
      A sewing machinist may be responsible for changing thread types and colors.