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Sewing Machinist

Kaiwhakamahi Pūrere Tuitui

Alternative titles for this job

Sewing machinists stitch together clothing, canvas for tents and awnings, and soft furnishings.


Sewing machinists usually earn

$18-$25 per hour

Source: NZ Fashion Tech and Competenz, 2017.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a sewing machinist are good due to increased demand and a shortage of workers.


Pay for sewing machinists varies depending on experience and the type of work they do.

  • New sewing machinists usually earn $18 an hour.
  • Sewing machinists with two to five years of experience usually earn $18 to $20 an hour.
  • Sewing machinists with more than five years' experience, and sample machinists (those who mock up designs to show designers and clients) can earn up to $25 an hour.

Some sewing machinists are also paid performance bonuses.

Sources: 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

Sewing machinists may do some or all of the following:

  • set up their sewing machines and overlockers
  • work on part or all of a product
  • clean and maintain sewing machines
  • program stitch patterns into a sewing machine
  • operate thread-trimming and other non-sewing machines
  • repair or alter items and do some hand-sewing
  • discuss daily work requirements with supervisors.

Skills and knowledge

Sewing machinists need to have good sewing skills and knowledge of:

  • different sewing methods
  • needle sizes and machine-threading techniques
  • different types of sewing equipment and fabrics
  • basic computing skills to program stitch patterns into sewing machines
  • types of products they are sewing, and their construction
  • practical skills for cleaning and maintaining sewing machines.

Sewing machinists in small businesses may also need to have clothing marking and cutting skills.

Working conditions

Sewing machinists:

  • usually work regular business hours, but may sometimes work overtime
  • work in factories and workrooms
  • work in conditions that can be noisy.

What's the job really like?

Tana Lisale

Tana Lisale

Sewing Machinist

Tana Lisale says he hasn’t looked back since deciding to do a course in sewing and pattern making. He now works for a business that hires and sells formal wear. "I usually sew bridesmaids' dresses and ballgowns, and alterations as well."

Seeing the finished product is a motivator

Tana says an average day involves cutting out pattern pieces, pressing them, pinning them, then sewing them together to make finished garments. "What I like about here is that you work on the whole garment without passing it on to anyone. I enjoy making dresses and it's always different dresses. And I like seeing something looking really good on display in the shop and thinking 'That's something I made.' That's really cool."

Tana says he also has the opportunity to design pieces for the shop when they are not too busy. "If I have a design idea I can give it to my manager and see if I can make it."

Sewing an interest as well as a paid job

Not content with creating garments at work, Tana says he does a fair amount of sewing at home too. "It can be really hard if you are sewing all day and then you go home and sew some more."

But, says Tana, the hard work is worthwhile and will stand him in good stead where his future plans are concerned. "I'd like my own shop so I can start selling my own stuff – that's what I've always wanted."

Ava checks out a career in fashion with NZ Fashion Tech - 7:26 mins.

Clinton: Hi and welcome to Just the Job – the show which gives you a behind-the-scenes insight into a huge range of exciting career opportunities. This week, we’ve got a special programme looking at great training and career opportunities in the fashion industry.

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!

Ava: Alright.

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.

Ava: Awesome!

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?

Ava: Yeah.

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?

Ava: Yeah!

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.

Ava: Alright!

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.

Ava: Alright.

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.

Ava: Cool!

Entry requirements

There are no specific entry requirements to become a sewing machinist. However, most employers prefer to hire people with qualifications. 

You can become qualified by completing either of the following:

Secondary education

A minimum of three years of secondary education is recommended. Useful subjects include digital technologies, maths and processing technologies.

Personal requirements

Sewing machinists need to be:

  • patient and good problem solvers
  • able to concentrate for long periods
  • quick and neat
  • accurate, with an eye for detail
  • able to follow instructions
  • able to work well under pressure
  • reliable, careful and safety-conscious.

Useful experience

Useful experience for sewing machinists includes:

  • community or night courses in dressmaking
  • dressmaking or tailoring
  • work in a clothing factory or workroom.

Physical requirements

Sewing machinists need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses), normal colour vision, good hand-eye co-ordination and steady hands.

Find out more about training

0800 526 1800 - info@competenz.org.nz - www.competenz.org.nz
NZ FashionTech
0800 800 300 - enquiries@nzfashiontech.ac.nz - www.nzfashiontech.ac.nz
Toi Ohomai
0800 86 46 46 - info@toiohomai.ac.nz - www.toiohomai.ac.nz


Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Demand for sewing machinists expected to rise

About 3,000 sewing machinists work in New Zealand. According to Statistics New Zealand, the number of sewing machinist jobs is expected to rise between now and 2027.

This is due to growing demand for:

  • clothing that is environmentally friendly and made in New Zealand
  • soft-furnishing sewing skills.

However, insufficient numbers of students are studying the skills required to sew these products, and employers struggle to find sewing machinists with the right skills.

Chances best for qualified sewing machinists with a variety of skills

Employers prefer sewing machinists:

  • with a certificate
  • who can do a variety of tasks such as sew fabric for clothing and furniture, sew leather, and cut and mark fabric.

Most sewing machinist jobs not advertised

If you are interested in getting work as a sewing machinist, it's best to approach companies yourself, as over half of new positions in the industry are not advertised. 

Types of employers varied

Sewing machinists 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 sewing machinists 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, sewing machinists may progress to become clothing markers, cutters, garment technicians, patternmakers or designers.

Sewing machinists can specialise in a number of roles, including:

Pleaters sew pleats and folds into fabrics.
Sample Machinist
Sample machinists sew sample pieces of clothing to show designers, garment technicians and buyers.
Trimmers apply decorations to clothing or upholstery, such as piping, ribbon and beads.

Sewing machines may also specialise in items such as:

  • clothing
  • curtains and upholstery (coverings for vehicle seats and furniture such as sofas)
  • leather goods
  • canvas (tents, awnings).
Angela Flynn guiding black material with white spots through a sewing machine

Sewing machinists may make garments on industrial sewing machines

Last updated 31 July 2019