Sailmaker and Upholsterer

A sailmaker and upholsterer uses canvas and PVC sheets to make or repair a variety of articles like tool bags, blinds, camping beds, tents, army webbing, sails, tarpaulins, garden chairs and sun visors.

They cut canvas and PVC sheets according to the patterns and stack them, then the various pieces are stitched together by hand or machine. The necessary accessories are added, such as PVC windows, eyelets, ropes, zips, press studs and buckles for fastening. They may cut and stitch material lining or stiffening into certain articles. Sail makers and upholsterers also manufacture or repair large items such as tents, sails and tarpaulins. When articles are made with PVC sheeting only, modern apparatus is used to fuse the seams together.

Sail makers and upholsterers are required to work indoors in rooms and halls, which are well lit and ventilated, and equipped with the necessary machines and tools. Sail makers often have to work in teams and the workrooms are usually a hive of activity.

Personal Requirements

  • at least 16 years old
  • willing to undergo a selection test battery
  • willing to work hard
  • creative and enjoy making things
  • enjoy routine tasks
  • able to work in a team
  • good eye-hand coordination
  • manual dexterity to work with sewing machines
  • healthy and strong

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Grade 8 Certificate

What to Study

At sail factories, workers can receive in-service training.
S A Navy: A sail maker can do a learnership of 4 years in the S A Navy in Durban or Simonstown. The candidate need not pass a trade test.

Register with an employer. All costs of providing successful training are borne by the employer. Wage increases during the stages of learnership are dependent on the progress through the system as well as the entry level. Entry levels are more practical than academic.

The Furniture Industry Training Board (FITB) enables the industry to provide comprehensive training to all its employees:

Theoretical and practical training: Provided by professional trainers at one of the centres of the FITB.

Duration of course: 2 to 4 years depending on the progress of the candidate in the modular system.

Final examination: A compulsory trade test at the Centre of Trade Testing at Olifantsfontein as well as at accredited training centres.


  • canvas manufacturers
  • shipyards
  • SA Navy
  • SA Prisons Service

Further Information

Any of the above-mentioned, potential employers

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work in a clothing factory company
  • practise your sewing skills
  • arrange to speak to sail makers and ask permission to observe them at work
  • contact the Department of Labour about learnership possibilities in your area
  • speak to a manpower procurement officer of the SA Navy

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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