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If you’ve ever pictured yourself competing on Project Runway, attending New York Fashion Week, or simply creating your own bespoke clothing, you may be interested in learning about how to become a seamstress.
Like a tailor, seamstresses can repair and alter clothing, but like a fashion designer or dressmaker, seamstresses can also make custom clothes from start to finish. When it comes to sewing, a seamstress is the jack—or jill—of all trades. (And yes, men can also work in this field, but a male seamstress is referred to as a seamster.)
Interested in learning more about how to become a seamstress and what they do? Find out everything you need to know in this guide.
Traditionally, seamstresses sewed seams in clothing, typically in a factory setting. They were considered less skilled than dressmakers, who constructed custom clothing and dresses from scratch. However, today’s definition of a seamstress is broader: a woman whose occupation is sewing. By that description, a seamstress’ job can include a wide range of projects, from mending clothing (similar to a tailor) to creating entire ensembles from start to finish.
What Does a Seamstress Do?
What do seamstresses do? The role of a seamstress looks different from individual to individual. Seamstresses can work in a wide variety of settings, including factories, dry cleaners, department stores, and independently owned shops. Within those settings, seamstresses may perform the following duties:
- Measure customers to ensure proper fit
- Sew by hand and with a machine
- Repair garments, including hemming, lengthening, taking in and letting out seams, and mending
- Construct custom garments based on customers’ specifications
- Fit garments on customers to determine if and where additional alterations are needed
Seamstresses may also specialize in certain types of clothing that require additional skills. For example, a seamstress who works with formal and bridal gowns must know how to work with delicate materials such as lace and satin, as well as intricate details, such as rhinestones and beading.
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What Is the Difference Between a Seamstress and a Tailor?
A tailor typically alters or repairs clothing. This can include hemming pants, darning socks, or altering a shirt or jacket to make it fit better.
A seamstress’s job, on the other hand, can involve a broader range of projects. For example, a seamstress can essentially work as a tailor, repairing and altering clothes. Or, she may design and make custom clothing. In addition to constructing the garment, seamstresses may also add embellishment, like embroidery.
The Art of Creating Bespoke Clothing
Beyond altering standard-sized clothing to fit a customer’s measurements is the art of sewing custom clothing—also known as bespoke clothing. Bespoke clothing is clothing made from scratch to a customer’s exact specifications.
To start the process, a seamstress will take multiple measurements and put together an initial, unfinished garment, loosely (and temporarily) stitched together with basting thread. The seamstress does multiple fittings with this garment, making adjustments until it fits perfectly.
This level of sewing custom clothes can be applied to any type of garment, although it is most often associated with men’s attire, such as suits, sports jackets, and tuxedos.
Becoming a seamstress doesn’t require any formal education, although some college programs—for example, a degree in fashion design or fabric styling or a certificate program in pattern making—can be beneficial. Many seamstresses instead hone their craft by taking classes or pursuing real-world experience through an apprenticeship.
To make custom clothes, seamstresses need a wide range of skills. Beyond the basics of stitching by hand and sewing with a machine, aspiring seamstresses should consider taking classes in the following subjects:
- Sewing techniques
- Fabrics and materials
- Garment construction
Even with the most extensive education, seamstresses can benefit from real-world experience. That can look very different from person to person. For some, it might simply mean practicing on real clothing—such as creating and mending your own garments—as much as possible. For others, it could mean pursuing an apprenticeship with a professional seamstress or starting as an assistant or in an entry-level sewing job and working your way up. By immersing yourself in the world of a seamstress, you won’t only learn the ins and outs of sewing techniques, but you’ll also gain valuable experience in taking measurements, interacting with customers, and bringing clients’ visions and requests to life.
To find seamstress jobs, start by considering your ideal work environment. You may be able to find sewing jobs at:
- Department stores in alterations departments
- Clothing stores
- Dry cleaners
- Bridal or formalwear stores
While some of these employers hire full-time roles, others offer seamstress jobs on a freelance basis. And of course, some seamstresses create their own jobs by sewing custom clothing and building their brand.
Average Seamstress Salary
Across the U.S., the average seamstress salary is about $58,000 per year. However, salaries can vary widely depending on your type of employment. A large factory, for example, may pay an hourly wage on the lower end of the range, while operating your own bespoke clothing business may allow you to earn over six figures.
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Whether you’re altering bridal gowns or sewing custom clothes, working as a seamstress (or seamster) can be an effective creative outlet and fulfilling occupation. And with enough experience, who knows? You might find yourself at the next New York Fashion Week.
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