Tailors and Dressmakers


Exploring this Job

Take sewing classes at school. Also, check with the local park district or fabric and craft stores—they often offer lessons year-round. Find summer or part-time employment at a local tailor shop. This will give you valuable work experience. Contact schools regarding their programs in fashion design. If their course descriptions sound interesting, take a class or two. You can also create and sew your own designs or offer mending and alteration services to family and friends. Finally, visit department stores, clothing specialty stores, and tailor's shops to observe workers involved in this field.

The Job

Some tailors and dressmakers make garments from start to completion. In larger shops, however, each employee usually works on a specific task, such as measuring, patternmaking, cutting, fitting, or stitching. One worker, for example, may only sew in sleeves or pad lapels. Smaller shops may only measure and fit the garment, then send piecework to outside contractors. Some tailors and dressmakers specialize in one type of garment, such as suits or wedding gowns. Many also do alterations on factory-made clothing.

Tailors and dressmakers may run their own business, work in small shops, or work in the custom-tailoring section of large department stores. Some work out of their home. Retail clothing stores, specialty stores, bridal shops, and dry cleaners also employ tailors and dressmakers to do alterations.

Tailors and dressmakers first help customers choose the garment style and fabric, using their knowledge of the various types of fabrics. They take the customer's measurements, such as height, shoulder width, arm length, and waist, and they note any special figure problems. They may use ready-made paper patterns or make one of their own. The patterns are then placed on the fabric, and the fabric pieces are carefully cut. When the garment design is complex, or if there are special fitting problems, the tailor or dressmaker may cut the pattern from inexpensive muslin and fit it to the customer; any adjustments are then marked and transferred to the paper pattern before it is used to cut the actual garment fabric. The fabric is pieced together first and then sewn by hand or machine. After one or two fittings, which confirm that the garment fits the customer properly, the tailor or dressmaker finishes the garment with hems, buttons, trim, and a final pressing.

Some tailors or dressmakers specialize in a certain aspect of the garment-making process. Bushelers work in factories to repair flaws and correct imperfect sewing in finished garments. Shop tailors have a detailed knowledge of special tailoring tasks. They use shears or a knife to trim and shape the edges of garments before sewing, attach shoulder pads, and sew linings in coats. Skilled tailors put fine stitching on lapels and pockets, make buttonholes, and sew on trim.