Sewing Machine Operator or Seamstress

Sewing machine operators use high-powered, heavy-duty industrial sewing machines to stitch together garments and other products of cloth, canvas, leather and non-woven fabrics.

Sewing machine operators start and operate or tend machines, such as single or double needle serging and flat-bed felling machines, to automatically join, reinforce or decorate material or articles. They select supplies such as fasteners and thread, according to the job requirements, position and mark patterns on materials to prepare for sewing, then cut the materials according to specifications, using blades, scissors or electric knives. They match cloth pieces in the correct sequences prior to sewing them, and verify that dye lots and patterns match. Edges of material are tacked together to align them and temporarily secure the parts for final assembly.

They place spools of thread cord or other materials on spindles, insert bobbins and thread ends through machine guides and components.  They turn knobs, screws and dials to adjust the settings of the machines, according to the garment styles and equipment performance. Items are positioned under the needles, using marks on the machines, clamps, templates or cloth as guides. Garments or garment parts are guided under the machine needles and pressure feet to sew parts together. Edges or lengths of items are folded or stretched while sewing, in order to facilitate forming specified sections.

They examine and measure the finished articles to verify that they conform to standards, using rulers, and cut excess material or thread from the finished products.  Buttons, hooks, zippers, fasteners or other accessories are attached to the fabric, using feeding hoppers or clamp holders.  Tape, trim, appliques or elastic are also attached to specified garments or garment parts, according to the item specifications.

While sewing, they need to monitor the machine operation to detect problems such as defective stitching, breaks in thread or machine malfunction.  They need to be able to perform equipment maintenance tasks such as replacing needles, sanding rough areas of needles, or cleaning and oiling the sewing machines.

They may construct the entire finished product or specialise in performing a single operation such as sewing seams, tacking, making buttonholes or stitching collars. They need to handle machines with care and report any defect to the sewing machine mechanic or the manager. They usually work in clothing factories on a production line.

With experience, sewing machine operators may progress from performing simple operations like stitching straight seams to more complex tasks like finishing sleeves. They may use elementary machines, multiple-needle machines with special attachments and work aids and other automatic equipment.

As the sewing machine operator progresses in the work, wages may increase accordingly. Bonus schemes often provide incentives to work as quickly as possible.

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

  • Grade 8 Certificate for in-service training
  • Grade 10 Certificate or higher qualification for training at a technical college or fashion house
  • preference is given to people with a National Senior Certificate

What to Study

Clothing Industry Training Board: Certificate of Competency: 8-week all-inclusive training course. The first part of the training concentrates on the basic machine work and for those who show proficiency, instruction on the specialist machines is given during the last part of the training, whilst others obtain additional skill in basic sewing.

Many factories have their own centres which offer training, where operators are taught how to perform each task with minimal finger, arm and body movement. Prospective sewing-machine operators have to pass an entrance test set by the Training Board.


  • garment manufacturing factories
  • curtain and drapery companies
  • accessory manufacturers
  • furniture manufacturers
  • self-employment, with enough experience, initiative and capital, can start own business

Further Information

Textile Federation
40 Seventh Avenue
Edenvale, 1609
Tel: (011) 454-2342

Getting Started

  • arrange to visit your nearest CITB regional office and speak to the principal of the training centre
  • sew for yourself or friends
  • arrange to speak to a seamstress / sewing machine operator and watch them at work

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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