Career as a tailor

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Steven Smith is a tailor working in Savile Row, with a highly prestigious company making bespoke clothing for men, including royalty and celebrities. He became an apprentice as soon as he left school.

What is your role?

My job is to make made-to-measure jackets of the highest possible quality, using a combination of hand and machine sewing techniques. The jacket pieces are handed to me by the cutter, who meets the customer to take measurements and to discuss the choice of design, fabric and trims.

How do you start to make a jacket?

My first task is to work out from the pieces I am given the style of the jacket, be it single or double breasted, and the number of buttons and pocket designs. Using hand sewn tailor tacks, I mark the position of buttonholes, front edges and seams.

After this, I carefully cut out the canvas and other fabrics which form three layers inside the jacket. This essential preparation helps to give weight and shape. These layers are then loosely stitched into the front piece, known as the forepart. In a similar way, I stitch the other sections of the jacket together – first the back seam, followed by the shoulder, collar and sleeves. Darts are sewn by machine, giving additional shape.

How is the jacket finished?

After a further fitting with the customer, which may result in alterations, the jacket is sewn by machine, with the addition of the linings, breast and outside pockets. Each buttonhole is hand sewn, followed by the buttons. Throughout the process I use a steam iron to shape and press the fabric.

What hours do you work?

I work freelance and I'm paid for each completed garment. I can therefore choose my hours – I usually work from 8.45am until at least 6pm, including Saturdays. Each jacket takes between two and three days to complete.

What is your working environment like?

I work in a small workroom with another tailor, next to other workrooms with tailors and cutters. The atmosphere is friendly, with everyone working hard together to produce top quality menswear.

What personal qualities and skills do you need for a career as a tailor?

Patience is the most important quality, particularly when you are learning your craft. You also need to be practical, with an interest in sewing. I am paid for each jacket I complete, so the ability to work very accurately at speed is essential.

Why did you choose this career as a tailor?

My mother always made clothes and as a child I played with her sewing machine. When I left school, I worked as an apprentice cutter for two years and then became an apprentice tailor.

What training have you received?

My apprenticeship took five years to complete. Different companies also have their own way of tailoring and, if you move around, you will learn new skills. All of my training has been on the job, learning from an experienced person, perfecting and practising my own skills and gaining speed.

What are the main challenges as a tailor?

If you make a mistake you need to be very persistent to work out what is wrong and rectify the problem, perhaps by unpicking a seam. Very light or heavy materials can also be more difficult to sew. I ensure each jacket I make is better than the last.

What do you enjoy about your career as a tailor?

I love everything about this job – it's very satisfying to see a quality garment at the end of the process. I also enjoy making clothes for famous people.

Steven's route to his career as a tailor

  • Apprentice cutter.
  • Apprentice tailor.
  • Tailor – various companies.

Steven's tailor tips

  • Visit tailors to find out about the job.
  • Develop an interest in clothes and how they are made.
  • Experience of making your own clothes is an advantage.

Tailor related jobs

  • Clothing alteration hand
  • Clothing pattern cutter/grader
  • Clothing sewing machinist
  • Costume designer
  • Fashion/clothing designer
  • TV/film/theatre wardrobe assistant

Salary of a tailor

  • The starting salary for an apprentice tailor is around £9,000. An experienced tailor could expect to earn £23,000.
  • Highly skilled and experienced tailors can earn as much as £50,000. These earnings are often based on piece work.

Career as a tailor

  • Some people enter tailoring following a BTEC national certificate/diploma, a HND or degree course in fashion or clothing. However, it is still necessary to complete lengthy on-the-job training or an Apprenticeship, which usually takes over three years.
  • City & Guilds 7822 Level 2 Certificate in Design and Craft has a tailoring option.
  • The London College of Fashion offers relevant courses, such as the Certificate in Handcraft Tailoring and the Diploma in Production Tailoring.
  • Short courses in tailoring are often available, as well as City & Guilds sewing courses.
  • Skillfast-UK is developing an Apprenticeship in tailoring, and a group of tailors in Savile Row is organising accredited Apprenticeships.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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