Cutters lay out and cut fabric to make clothing and soft furnishings.
Cutters usually earn
$18-$26 per hour
Source: NZ Fashion Tech and Competenz, 2017.
Pay for cutters varies depending on experience and the type of work they do.
- Assistant cutters usually earn about $18 an hour.
- Cutters with two to five years of experience usually earn between $19 and $24 an hour.
- Cutters with managerial responsibilities can earn up to $26 an hour.
Some cutters are also paid performance bonuses.
Source: New Zealand Fashion Tech and Competenz, 2017.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Cutters may do some or all of the following:
- check pattern designs and instructions online
- lay out patterns on fabric
- interpret instructions from patternmakers, designers and markers
- cut fabric by hand with electric hand-held cutting machines
- supervise computerised cutting machines
- make detailed notes on how much much fabric is used
- check how much fabric is in storage
- advise technicians and managers on how much fabric to order
- bundle pieces of fabric together and store them in order of size and colour.
Skills and knowledge
Cutters need to have knowledge of:
- fabric types and garment construction
- sewing codes and symbols
- different cutting equipment and methods
- how to operate cutting machines
- basic computing skills to program cutting machines and check designs online.
- usually work regular business hours, but may sometimes work overtime
- work in factories and workrooms, though self-employed cutters may work from home
- work in conditions that may be dusty and noisy.
What's the job really like?
What does cutting actually involve?
"I lay out 60 to 100 sheets of fabric on the table then I put a large bit of paper on top that has all the pattern pieces marked out on it. Then I put some pins in to hold the paper down, and follow the marks with the cutter."
Is that as easy as it sounds?
"You can easily twist the fabric or mark it off-grain. Like if you are working with check material, you have to make sure the check is exactly square because if you do it wrong, the garment pieces might not match up.
"Also if you are cutting something like silk, it is very floaty and moves around, whereas something like cotton just sticks to itself and stays there – it’s like cutting paper.
"As you get more experience you start to understand cloth and how it works – it becomes automatic."
Any advice for aspiring cutters?
"Stay focused. If you are going to concentrate on cutting then you really have to know what you are doing, and you have to be quite dedicated."
Ava checks out a career in fashion with NZ Fashion Tech - 7:26 mins.
Ava: Hi, I’m Ava, I’m in Year 12 at St Mary's College and I’m interested in a career in fashion with New Zealand Fashion Tech.
Clinton: We are all surrounded by fashion. The creativity that surrounds the way we dress as an individual, culture or country, is what makes us unique.
Clinton: Ava is going to learn about a career in the fashion industry with New Zealand’s leading educator in fashion and sewn products, New Zealand Fashion Tech.
Clinton: She’s going to visit campuses in Wellington and Auckland, and then get a taste of work experience with two leading fashion brands.
Kevin: It’s a creative industry, but you’ve got to be really practical as well – it’s a good balance. It’s always changing, it’s always interesting. There’s nothing ever the same, it’s a vital industry and it’s actually, for all the look of it that it’s a glamorous industry, it’s pretty cut-throat and it’s a busy industry.
Clinton: Ava has headed first to the New Zealand Fashion Tech campus in Wellington. Tutor Verena Tilson-Scoble is on hand to show her round.
Verena: I’m Verena, nice to meet you.
Ava: Nice to meet you too.
Verena: Let’s get started!
Clinton: Both Auckland and Wellington offer three programmes – there’s garment technology, pattern design, and then an advanced diploma.
Ava: So what happens in this room here?
Verena: This is our garment technology class, and this is our first class that the students come to and they learn how to sew on the industrial machinery, so they learn to sew accurately and to time.
Ava: And roughly how long does it take to get the knack of, or pick up the industrial sewing machine?
Verena: Everybody is different! It depends on the person.
Clinton: All instruction is geared to what the fashion industry requires – a thorough knowledge of garment construction, and good basic sewing skills that can be confidently undertaken at speed.
Clinton: Here in Wellington Miriam Gibson is the garment technology course tutor.
Miriam: Keep it controlled on the straight part, don’t lose the plot on the straight part, hand in close to the back tack.
Clinton: First there’s a rundown on personal safety.
Miriam: So the first thing is you just need to tuck your necklace in, because we need to get rid of anything dangly.
Clinton: Long hair is a big no-no, and accurate operation of machine pedals is important, so flat shoes are a must too.
Clinton: First Ava’s introduced to an industrial sewing machine.
Miriam: So what happened is we ran out of bobbin thread – and as you can see my bobbin is empty, so I need to change that. So I’ve already wound our spare bobbin over here.
Miriam: On the course it’s very hands-on. Most people that come to us come because they love to make things, they’re very tactile, they love to do things, so we keep the class lessons, as we call them, to a minimum – mostly it’s all about learning by doing. It’s more of a workroom environment.
Clinton: Well, no problems for Ava here.
Miriam: There you go, you did really well!
Ava: Thank you!
Miriam: Some of the things that the students do, in the first part of the class we’re still getting to know each other, is they’ll do a weaving project where they’ll weave a basket and they’ll do a knitting project where they knit this teddy, so a lot of them haven’t done this before, and while they sort of think that it’s fun and its social and it’s creative, what the students are actually learning is how woven fabrics and knitted fabrics are constructed.
Clinton: Industrial machines run about five times faster than domestic machines, so there’s quite a learning curve here.
Miriam: That’s great, now just a little jiggle…jiggle jiggle…just to get you started. It doesn’t matter if you stop a little bit – you don’t want to start off with a surge.
Miriam: That’s really good…that’s good…can you feel that?
Miriam: Yeah, then we bring this hand down to here as you move, so it’s like a spider walking, it’s like – you know those little robots that you get, and their feet go creak, creak, creak, like that?
Miriam: It’s like that OK? That’s what you’re going to be like but it’s going to come towards you.
Ava: Righto! Alright!
Miriam: Speed is very important so we have to be constantly trying to strike that balance between quality and time.
Clinton: There is also an introduction to the spec sheet, the all-important document which records the information about a garment. Measurements, quantities, work minutes required, costs, all relevant facts required to produce a garment commercially.
Miriam: So what’s happening is all the students are working through their production workbook, which has all the exercise in it that you need to cover in CGT. They’re all at different stages, so you can see we’ve got Saskia over here working on her little mini T-shirts, and she’s going to be doing 40 of those, and we do 40 so you can have a lot of practice and get the repetition you really learn the exercise well.
Kevin: We teach our students communication, they work in teams, they learn to develop their own learning styles, recognise their learning styles and develop other learning styles. We teach them how to present ideas clearly and concisely across to other people as well as the technical skills so they’re sort of learning all aspects of their development and the most successful students come from the fact that we have an absolute maximum of students for each tutor in a class.
Miriam: OK, so once you’ve learnt all the basic operations, we put them together into garment construction. So once you’ve finished your overlocking, you’re going to make a T-shirt like this, you’ll learn how to put the rib on and finish that off. You’re going to make a shirt so each garment shows you how we can use different techniques.
Miriam: So this is the pattern-designing area, which is our second course and the students learn how to draft patterns, from the start, they also grade everything they make as well, as well as spec sheet and they get to sew everything as well.
Clinton: Doula Matheos is tutor for the Pattern Design Certificate course.
Doula: So the first job you’re going to do is to make a cover for your set-square.
Clinton: And Ava’s going to use a pattern that she’s drawn up to do that.
Clinton: The shape is accurately measured out and then drawn…
Clinton: …then this first draft is transferred to the much stronger pattern card using pinpricks as markers…
Clinton: …and the pattern sheet can then be drawn and cut.
Kevin: The second programme certificate of pattern design is teaching all the skills involved for making patterns for men’s, women’s and children’s patterning, because each of those have different rules, and then all of the design adaptations that are possible, so making a straight skirt into a flared one or a flounced one or gores or pleats or whatever.
Doula: OK, so now we’re going to chalk around and cut it out…
Doula: …but you’re not going to be using scissors today, you’re going to be using this thing here.
Clinton: Cutters like this are fast and powerful, they have to be used with steel mesh gloves.
Doula: Very nice…well done.
Ava: It’s quite fun!
Kevin: The exciting thing about the fashion industry is that there are different jobs that we’ve sort of managed to itemise at the moment. It’s such a diverse industry, because throughout all the glamour and the shoots and the styling and that sort of presentation, backed up with that is the fact that the deadline is next Friday and if this range isn’t prepared in time and gotten to the customer by next Friday, they’re going to cancel that order.
Verena: How’s it been going?
Ava: Really good! It’s been really interesting – I’ve learnt so much.
Verena: We’ve got more to show you up at our Auckland Campus.
There are no specific entry requirements to become a cutter. However, most employers prefer to hire people with qualifications.
You can become qualified by completing either of the following:
- A New Zealand Certificate in Fashion Technology (Level 3) through an apprenticeship with Competenz.
- A New Zealand Certificate in Fashion Technology (Level 3) or similar at a technical institute.
- Competenz website - information on fashion apprenticeships
- NZ Fashion Tech website - information on the Certificate in Fashion Technology
- Southern Institute of Technology website - information on the Certificate in Fashion Technology
A minimum of three years of secondary education is recommended. Useful subjects include design and visual communication (graphics), digital technologies, maths and processing technologies.
Additional requirements for specialist roles:
Becoming a sample cutter
To become a sample cutter you must complete the New Zealand Diploma in Fashion Technology (Level 5).
- Competenz website - information on fashion apprenticeships
- Eastern Institute of Technology website - information on the Diploma in Fashion Technology
- NZ Fashion Tech website - information on the Diploma in Fashion Technology
- Southern Institute of Technology website - information on the Diploma in Fashion Technology
Cutters need to be:
- quick and neat
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- able to follow instructions
- able to work well under pressure
- good at maths so they can measure and make calculations
- good problem-solvers.
You need to be patient because if you cut something out wrong then you might have 60 wrong garment pieces and a very annoyed designer. So you have to make sure that you lay out the fabric right and take your time with the cutting.
Useful experience for cutters includes:
- community or night courses in dressmaking
- dressmaking or tailoring
- work in a clothing factory or workroom.
Cutters need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses), normal colour vision, good hand-eye co-ordination and steady hands. Physical strength is an advantage for lifting heavy rolls of fabric.
Find out more about training
- 0800 526 1800 - email@example.com - www.competenz.org.nz
- Eastern Institute of Technology(EIT)
- 0800 22 55 348 - www.eit.ac.nz
- NZ FashionTech
- 0800 800 300 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.nzfashiontech.ac.nz
- Southern Institute of Technology(SIT)
- 0800 86 78 839 - email@example.com - www.sit.ac.nz
Check out related courses
What are the chances of getting a job?
Cutter job numbers falling
About 300 cutters work in New Zealand. However, this number has dropped by 50% since 2007, and this trend is expected to continue. This is due to:
- increasing use of computerised cutting machines
- New Zealand businesses using overseas cutters to save on costs.
Although the number of cutters is falling, not enough people are training in this area. This means that when cutters leave the industry, employers find it difficult to replace them.
Chances best for cutters with a variety of skills
As fashion businesses are now generally smaller, cutters who have a range of skills, such as in different types of fabric, marking and patternmaking, are more likely to be hired.
Most cutter jobs not advertised
If you are interested in getting work as a cutter, it's best to approach companies yourself, as over half of new positions in the industry are not advertised.
Types of employers varied
Cutters may work for:
- small fashion houses
- large clothing manufacturers
- fashion retailers
- soft-furnishing manufacturers
- tent and canvas manufacturers
- furniture and curtain shops
- tailors and dressmakers.
Many cutters are self-employed, contracting their services out to a range of clients.
- Edmunds, S, 'New Zealand Designers Carve Out Niche to Take on Fast Fashion', 16 April 2017, (www.stuff.co.nz).
- Marshall-Smith, V, academic director, NZ Institute of Fashion Technology Ltd, Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, November 2017.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Occupation Outlook – Tailors and Patternmakers', accessed October 2017, (www.mbie.govt.nz).
- New Zealand Apparel, 'Is NZ-Made Dead?', 2 August 2017, (www.apparelmagazine.co.nz).
- NZ Fashion Tech, 'Changing Times', accessed October 2017, (www.nzfashiontech.ac.nz).
- NZ Fashion Tech, 'Gaining Employment', accessed October 2017, (www.nzfashiontech.ac.nz).
- NZ Fashion Tech, 'Industry Opportunities', accessed October 2017, (www.nzfashiontech.ac.nz).
- Ryan, H, 'Fashion Industry's Moment to Shine', NZ Herald, 26 August 2017, (www.nzherald.co.nz).
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
With further training, cutters may progress to become cutting room managers, garment technicians, patternmakers or designers.
Cutters can specialise in a number of roles, including:
- Leather Pattern Cutter
- Leather pattern cutters cut leather to make into clothing.
- Sample Cutter
- Sample cutters cut fabric to be made into sample designs for designers and clients.
Cutters may also specialise in items such as:
- curtains and upholstery (coverings for vehicle seats and furniture such as sofas)
- canvas (tents, awnings).
Last updated 2 July 2019