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Sewing Machine Operators

California Occupational Guide Number 146
Interest Area 6

The number of jobs in the U.S. clothing industry has gone down because most 
of the clothes sold here are made in other countries.  In order to compete, 
U.S. clothing makers, especially in California, have cut costs to keep up 
with the demand for cheaper clothes.

U.S. manufacturers have lowered costs by using assembly plants in other 
countries.  This  lowers employer wage costs but reduces employment in this 
country.  With the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in place, 
more and more businesses will use foreign assembly plants.  As a result, job 
growth for Sewing Machine Operators will be limited.


SEWING MACHINE OPERATORS run high speed electric sewing machines to make 
clothing and other cloth pieces.  Operators use commercial machines that 
are heavier and run faster than machines used in the home.  Sewing Machine 
Operators are generally classified by the type of sewing machine they use, 
such as single needle, multineedle, double needle, overlock, or blind 
stitch, and by the type of work they do, such as collar stitcher, sleeve 
finisher, or pocket setter.  Most operators run a regular machine that sews 
pieces of cloth together in a seam.

Operators usually start on single needle machines that have one needle and 
make a stitch like those made by home machines.  Operators position pieces 
of cloth together and hold them so that when the needle connects the pieces 
the stitch made is straight and smooth.  They also can start and stop the 
machine smoothly when running it at high speeds.

Most Sewing Machine Operators work in the clothing industry.  They usually 
work on a part or section of clothing.  An operator who is good at simple 
sections may go on to harder jobs like setting collars and cuffs, which may 
need double needle machines.  Operators who know all the sections may work 
as "utility workers" and fill in wherever they may be needed.

Skilled operators can do most sewing jobs in the factory or shop and change 
over easily when production runs are changed to a new style or different 
clothes.  Most of their time is spent correctly matching the pieces of cloth 
before sewing them.  Operators have to work fast and carefully because they 
are paid the regular going rate for work done correctly.  They are paid 
minimum wage when fixing pieces that weren't done correctly.


While many shops are in old uncomfortable buildings, others are in modern 
buildings that have big workrooms, good ventilation and lighting, and air 
conditioning.  Most employees sit when they sew, but the work can be tiring 
depending on the weight of the fabric and depending on what they are 
making.  The work is done fast and many chores are boring.  Operators work 
alone, but very near fellow workers.  The material to be sewn is brought to 
them and put in baskets or separate piles so each piece can be reached while 
sitting at the machine.  This process makes for smooth and efficient 
operations.  Operators have to do some lifting.

The machines are worked by foot pedals and knee levers.  Certain kinds of 
foot and leg ailments are not a handicap for this work.  However, Sewing 
Machine Operators must have full and free use of their hands and arms, and 
they must be able to see well with or without glasses.  Many shops are not 
unionized, but some have contracts with the International Ladies Garment 
Workers of America or the Amalgamated Garment Workers of America.


The California Projections of Employment, published by the Labor Market 
Information Division of the Employment Development Department, estimates 
that the total number of Sewing Machine Operators (Garment) and Sewing 
Machine Operators (Non-Garment) in California will reach 97,290 by 2005, an 
increase in new jobs of 15,910 over the number there was in 1993.

There will also be an estimated 17,280 job openings due to people retiring 
or leaving the occupation.  Added to the 15,910 new jobs expected, this 
makes for an estimated total of 33,190 job opportunities through 2005.

(These figures do not include self-employment nor openings due to turnover.)

A growing population will demand more clothes, but foreign assembly plants 
will continue to keep employment down.  There also are new machines that 
cut down on the number of employees needed to get the work done.  Examples 
of labor saving equipment include sewing machines that can position needles 
and trim threads automatically and devices that automatically position 
fabric pieces under the needle and remove and stack completed pieces.


Inexperienced Sewing Machine Operators earn between minimum wage and $7.50 
per hour.  Those with at least one year of experience can make from the 
minimum to $8.00 hourly, and those with three years on the job earn up to 
$12.00 an hour.  Union wages are higher than nonunion.

Full-time work ranges from 35 to 40 hours per week. Benefits can include 
paid holidays, vacations, health and life insurance, and child care.


Education is not needed to be hired as a Sewing Machine Operator; neither is 
the ability to speak English.  Some employers prefer persons who have 
experience or training on power sewing machines.  Training is offered at 
many community adult schools, regional occupational centers, or trade 
schools.  Sewing Machine Operators are usually trained on the job under the 
supervision of a foreperson or an experienced worker.  A beginner may be 
assigned to work automatic machines to develop the right moves and timing.  
The length of time required to achieve a good speed and a decent quality of 
production depends on individual ability.


Operators who know all the sections and have mastered the skill of sewing 
the whole article of clothing may become sample makers, instructors, or 
forepersons.  These workers get an hourly or weekly salary that is a little 
above the earnings of piecework operators, but they are free from the 
pressures of piecework, and they usually have steady work during the slack 
seasons, as well as in busy times.


Job hunters should apply directly to employers, look at the classified ads 
of the newspaper, or register with Workforce Services Offices of the California 
Employment Development Department.


California Joint Board of Amalgamated Clothing 
  and Textile Workers Unions
2501 South Hill Street
Los Angeles, CA 90007

Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Unions
15 Union Square West
New York, NY 10019
(212) 242-0700

International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union 
400 W. 9th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015

American Apparel Manufacturers Association
2500 Wilson Blvd., Suite 301
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 524-1864


Upholsterers                              No.   36
Drapery Occupations                       No.   91
Fashion Designers                         No.  185


DOT (Dictionary of Occupational Titles, 4th ed., Rev.1 )
Sewing-Machine Operator                787.682-046

OES (Occupational Employment Statistics) System
Sewing Machine Operators (garment)          927170
Sewing Machine Operators (non-garment)      927210

Source:  State of California, Employment Development Department,
         Labor Market Information Division, Information Services Group,
         (916) 262-2162.

Note:  This is NOT a job opening.  The purpose of This California Occupational Guide is to provide you with useful information to help you make career decisions.   If you are searching for a job, go to:

California Occupational Guides

California Employment Development Department   >>   Labor Market Information   >>   More Occupational Guides