Thursday, April 19, 2012

Learning to Sew

This is a reposting of the day I was guest blogger on the American Sewing Guild web site, in March.

If you have a child or grandchild or know a child, maybe they want to learn to sew.  My grands have always played in my sewing room while I worked.  My kids did that too, although for many years they didn't have a choice because I sewed in the kitchen or a bedroom!  You might have small people underfoot while you're sewing too.

One of the first things I did when the kids wanted to sew too was to establish some basic rules.  Don't touch the scissors or the rotary cutters without permission, don't sit near the foot peddle, don't cut anything except your OWN stash, etc. (A cut a chunk out of her hair, so we now have a rule about who cuts hair too!) Once they understood the rules, they each got a plastic bin to keep full of their own treasures.

The most recent acquisitions

Two of my grands have their own stashes. I let them pick things from my scrap box, and have taken them shopping at the 'scrap sale' at a local quilt shop, where at the end of the year they sell their left-overs by the pound. They also have ribbon, trims, rick rack and buttons, and beads for bracelets and necklaces. They add small balls of leftover yarn, and I bought a stack of plastic canvas sheets for their use. This is theirs to use as they choose.  Of course they have design in their genes!   

E's Fabric Collage

A's quilt, designed by her but sewn by me!  Yes, I sewed everything just where she placed it!

At the age of four to five to six, I taught each one how to thread a big-eyed needle with some yarn and pull stitches through plastic canvas.  That got them used to using an instrument with a pointy end, and how to go in and out of a base material.  These gems are now wall decorations and coasters.

My oldest grand, E, progressed to hand sewing with regular fabric and thread at about the age of 8.  Once she asked me how I managed to do this without sticking my fingers.  I said "I still stick myself once in a while."  We both laughed about that.  (If you bleed on your work, your own spit will remove the blood!)

At some point E wanted to make a doll sized quilt.  She was able to reach the foot control of my sewing machine, but when the needle started to whirr she removed her hands and decided she wasn't quite ready for this!  We sat next to each other on one chair and she worked the foot while I guided the fabric.

Our next projects were all hand sewn.  But last year when I was sewing doll garments for nieces and cousins, E wanted to try the machine again.  So we had a lesson on where to hold your hands, she sewed on some scraps, and she sewed some lines of decorative stitches on the bottoms of the pants legs for some 18" doll outfits.  I then finished the pants.

Some suggestions for teaching, from E and me:
  • Wait until the child expresses interest and is not afraid of the machine.
  • Start simple, with a project they pick.  Or just let them play with stitches on the machine.
  • If they pick a project that looks kind of advanced, offer some interim choices or do practice pieces.
  • Slow the speed on your machine.
  • Tell them to watch the fabric and the foot, NOT the needle!
  • Boys can sew too.  Sewing machines are power tools... 
  • Finishing the edges is optional on some fabrics, and those make good first choices.
  • Let the kid choose his/her own fabrics.  Even if you don't think they go together, they will enjoy it more if it's their choice!
·        Give them some scraps to practice on.  E sewed on striped fabric to get used to following a line. 


Practice on scraps... us paper for stabilizer if you need it.
  • If they get bored, let them finish another day.  (Encourage them to finish though, because that's what gives the sense of accomplishment.)
  • It doesn't always have to be a project.  Sometimes we just like to play with the materials.
  • Do cool stuff.  Make things they will use, like pillow cases and iPod/iPhone bags, and tops they can wear.  Or sew dog or cat scarves and hats.
  • Relax the rules sometimes.  DON’T be surprised if they don’t want to hem knits or do French seams!!
  • It’s fun to embellish ready-to-wear garments. 
  • Listen to music while you’re sewing and sing along if you know the words.
  • Try all the fancy stitches!!
  • Have fun with it!

Kids love to sew in groups, just like adults do.  However, they need to be kept ‘engaged’.  Have enough machines so they can work in small groups.  They can watch each other and learn, but if they have to wait too long for a turn you can lose their interest.  We have sewed with Girl Scouts and 4H groups and church groups.  Two years ago the kids at our church sewed over 100 dresses for the Little Dresses for Africa project.  Girls as young as 6 tried their hand at some pillow case dresses. 

Next time E and I will talk about a second phase of sewing with kids – choosing a project.

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