Do you want to take a course specifically aimed at teaching professional-level dressmaking skills? Or do you want to perfect your sewing skills and make your hobby into a profession?
You will need to find a good tailoring or dressmaking school and sign up for a sewing course. There is a fair amount of choice out there - it all depends on where on you live, your age, your goals and your possibilities (both financially and time-wise).
Here are the different possibilities for learning how to sew on a professional level.
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College-Level Sewing Courses
BA in fashion design
Sewing and other crafts are not university courses - manual professions are not taught there. However, some universities offer BAs on fashion design; sewing skills and sewing pattern-making are usually part of the curriculum.
There are several options: fashion illustration, fashion marketing, fashion practice and promotion, fashion and textile design, footwear design, patternmaking, costume design… depending on how you want to specialise.
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Specialised fashion and textile arts colleges
There are also various colleges specialised in the textile arts, where you can take semester-length courses to perfect your sewing skills and learn to make sewing patterns and design suits, skirts and dresses.
- The London School of Fashion offers both courses toward a Masters and for undergraduates as well as short courses for people who simply want to perfect a specific skill or take beginner sewing lessons. It offers courses on tailoring, home sewing and garment making, leather sewing skills, bridal wear…
- University of the Arts London has undergraduate courses on bespoke tailoring, cordwaining (Fashion Bags and Accessories and Footwear as two distinct courses) and fashion design in various specialities (menswear, knitwear), costume design, as well as pattern cutting and embroidery.
- Leeds Arts University offers courses not only in fashion design, but in textile pattern design if you are interested in designing your own quilting fabrics and fat quarters…
- The Arts University Bournemouth teaches fashion and costume design.
- University for the Creative Arts give undergraduate and graduate courses. You can get a PhD in Fashion and Textiles, or why not go for a BA in Hand Embroidery for Fashion, Interior, and Textile Arts?
- Hereford College of Arts lets you do a BA in Textile Design.
- Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts have a BA in Fashion
- Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology lets you study Fashion and Textiles
- The Glasgow School of Art offers courses in fashion design and textile design.
Fashion Design and Sewing courses: entrance requirements and diplomas
You will find Bachelor (Hons) courses on fashion or costume design at many British universities. Most courses last 3-4 years full-time (4-5 years sandwich).
The entry requirements vary greatly. Some insist on A-levels (but even here the requirements vary from CCC to BBB); others use the UCAS tariff points, accepting other post-16 qualifications. Those offering courses with a foundation year usually accept applicants starting at around 64 points; otherwise the average is around 112-128 points (but again, it varies greatly and some universities accept starting 96 or even 80 points). You can find out more about the UCAS conversion system here, including a tariff points calculator.
Perhaps of interest is the University of Bedfordshire’s Fashion Design BA with professional practice year - a good way to get a foot into a firm and learn the day-to-day craft of fashion design and sewing.
The University of Wales Trinity St. David offers an integrated 4-year Master of Design, allowing you to skip a BA entirely.
Not all universities offer post-graduate courses, but there are a fair amount that will let you go on to a Master’s or even a PhD in Fashion Design.
Undergraduate courses cost somewhere between £10,000 and £16,000 a year, though again, some universities are cheaper than others. It’s worth comparing different universities to find the fashion design course that suits you best.
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Tailoring Apprenticeships and Pre-Apprenticeships
If your interest is in dressmaking and bespoke tailoring rather than design, you are better off looking for an apprenticeship.
Most require basic skills (L1 or L2 depending on the school or business offering the apprenticeship) in English and Maths (making and adjusting sewing patterns require basic maths skills) but not necessarily art levels or any previous sewing experience - most provide basic sewing lessons. Of course, if you can demonstrate that you know how to use a sewing machine and make bias tape or know basting and hemming, you will have a better chance when applying to lower-level apprenticeships.
There are two levels of apprenticeships:
- Intermediate (Level 2, equivalent to GCSE)
- Advanced (Level 3, equivalent to A-levels)
In some fields, you can go on to up to level 7, earning the equivalent of a Master’s degree in your field. The greatest advantage of an apprenticeship for learning how to sew professionally is the fact that it will cost you nothing - in fact, you will receive a small salary in return for your services to the firm, and there are various programmes to help apprentices with travel costs and room.
Apprenticeships in sewing careers include:
- Textile operative
- Sewing machinist
- Leather craftworker
- Footwear manufacturing operative
- Pattern cutter
- Handicraft tailor
Training Courses and Pre-Apprenticeships to Learn to Sew
You have a better chance of being taken for an apprenticeship if you have some of the necessary sewing skills. You can, of course, take sewing classes at various private institutions or take a private sewing teacher to teach you how to use the overlock presser foot on your sewing machine.
But there are also various preparatory sewing courses for young people who want to become a tailor or dressmaker.
Newham College London offers a pre-apprenticeship course for 16-18 year-olds and for adults in bespoke tailoring. Working with Savile Row tailors, you can continue on to a full apprenticeship with Newham College’s Intermediate and Advanced courses.
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If you continue with Newham College, you will be working with Savile Row Bespoke at the same time as you continue your lessons at the college.
You can also try the Textile Centre of Excellence for apprenticeship programmes.
If you prefer not to take part in a programme, you can contact individual tailors and dressmakers with open apprenticeships.
That well of information for anyone searching for a job, gov.uk offers an overview of what sewing skills you might learn on the way to becoming a bespoke tailor or cutter - from sewing machine maintenance to doing a French seam to piping to the right basting stitches.
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Sewing Internships to Find the Right Sewing Career for You
If you are uncertain if hemming pants, making sewing patterns, pinning and basting garments or matching fabrics is really the job for you, you can do an internship at a tailor’s or a fashion company. You will spend several weeks observing professionals and, ideally, learning a few sewing basics yourself. It’s the best way of finding out if becoming a dressmaker or home dec designer is really the right fit for you.
You can look for internships on general sites such as studentjob, or use one of the specialised portals such as Fashion United.
In addition, the Fold Line offers a list of companies regularly hiring or offering internships in the creative branch, including sites such as the Fashion and Textiles Museum in London or the online shop The Village Haberdashery.
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Online Sewing Courses
You might consider taking online sewing classes and getting a diploma through an Internet school. There are certainly online schools out there offering lessons in anything from simple sewing classes to online diplomas in Fashion Design or Dressmaking.
It’s a good idea to try and find a forum where you can ask people about their experiences with that particular online sewing academy. You will probably end up well able to handle machine quilting, sew cushions and fashion dresses and trousers, but if the school is not well-regarded and their diploma cannot get you a job in the UK, you might want to look at the options for a physical sewing school instead.
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