Clothing, draperies, linens, mattresses and upholstery, as well as carpets and rugs, are either constructed or decorated by sewing. While a small number of people perform these tasks themselves, most of this sewing is done in large production and manufacturing plants full of industrial and commercial sewing machines. The people who operate these machines are referred to as sewing machinists.
Proficiency in cutting materials according to patterns, and setting up and operating a sewing machine, is required for this job. There are many parts to a sewing machine, so skills are required to install bobbins, needles and guide plates to accommodate different fabric types and create assorted stitching patterns. A sewing machinist needs to be competent in fixing minor problems related to stitching and use mechanical abilities to adjust controls that regulate speed, thread tension and dimensions for pleats, tucks and gathers. Manual dexterity is needed to manipulate materials through the sewing process.
A sewing machinist’s job is to produce sewn, finished articles by following patterns and instructions that typically change with each project. He is expected to keep his inventory of materials and tools adequately supplied. If he notes imperfections in material or threads or discovers mistakes in patterns or instructions, he is expected to resolve these issues with his manager or supervisor. Maintaining records of finished products and defective materials is required for this job. Many sewing machinists are required to bundle or package finished products for inspection or shipping.
If a sewing machinist works for a large company, she may sit for long hours at a sewing machine that is part of a room or building that houses hundreds of sewing machines and machine operators. Smaller venues may have only a few machinists working in a more intimate atmosphere. Either environment is generally noisy and cluttered with pieces of fabric, thread and packing materials. A machinist is generally required to wear casual work clothes along with protective eye and ear equipment provided by her employer. Shift work is normally required and usually includes nights and weekends.
There are no educational requirements for this position, although good oral and written English communication skills are necessary to understand verbal directions and read instructions. Some companies provide on-the-job training. Sewing machinists frequently gain their skills on their own. Previous experience in sewing garment or nongarment items is preferred.
Salary and Advancement Opportunities
A sewing machinist’s advancement opportunities are generally limited to lead or instructor positions. Large manufacturing companies may provide career paths into quality control or management jobs. Based on information provided at payscale.com, in July 2010 a sewing machinist working in the United States earned an annual salary of between £12,946 and £20,493.