Postings and ponderings of a quilting and knitting addict!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Teaching Children to Sew

I don't think I need to explain to those reading my quilting blog about how important it is that we teach the next generation/s to sew. Back in "my day" most moms sewed clothing because there were not many places to buy clothing in the small, rural area and most every girl took Home Economics in school, which consisted of 1 semester of sewing and 1 semester of cooking/home management. I did not particularly care for Home Ec. My Mom taught me to sew many years before I got the opportunity to take Home Ec. my freshman year in high school. I was bored with the simple sewing projects they had us do, so I chose other electives for the rest of my school years.

Today's kids just don't have that opportunity... many mom's don't sew (or even own a machine!) and Home Ec. is now a completely different course with very little hands-on sewing involved. So... we who DO sew must teach those who don't and the best time is when they are young!

I taught Kindergarten and 1st grade for 20 years, so I have some tips if you are interested in passing on your sewing knowledge to a young one.

The most important thing to consider is the attention span of the child... AGE is not the determining factor here, it is their ability to pay attention, follow directions and stay with the project long enough to complete it. That doesn't mean complete in one session, but for long enough at a time that at the end of each session they can see progress being made. What age is that? It might be as early as 7 or 8 if it is a very simple project. My grand-daughters are 9 and 10. They were able to stick with this project for several hours. I probably could have taught them several years ago but they really did not have an interest in it. It is not something we can force them into... they have to want to do it (sometimes with a little motivation from us) and it needs to be a fun activity because we want them to develop a love of sewing, like we have.

Choose a project that is age appropriate and INTEREST appropriate. If your child enjoys cooking then a very simple apron could be made. The pillowcases we made this weekend were simple, straight sewing with easy cutting (which I let them help cut using a rotary cutter and VERY CLOSE supervision... me holding the ruler in place. ). Small pillows from character prints would also be a good starting place. Keep it simple, especially for a younger child.

Start with a safety lesson. You don't want to scare the child, but you want to develop a respect for the machine. In plain language explain where you CAN and CAN NOT put your fingers. I demonstrated this and showed that I could place my fingers right in FRONT of the foot or to either SIDE of the foot, right against the edge of the foot. But do NOT put your fingers anywhere on TOP of the foot! Ditto on the rotary cutter... we want them to respect the cutter. Show how to open the blade, how to close it EVERY TIME they set it down, and monitor to make sure they do that. Demonstrate where their hands should and should not be placed while cutting.

Zarina asked about my starting them out sewing on the paper, and here was my thinking...
1. I did not have any fabric at hand that I wanted to use for practice sewing.

2. Paper has enough stiffness that it takes the difficulty of having to work with a squirmy fabric out of the equation... they just had to worry about keeping the firm edge of the paper next to the 1/4" sewing foot. It is harder to do this with fabric because of its flexibility.

3. I do not feel sewing on paper would in any way harm a sewing machine. I sew through MANY thicknesses of fabric from time to time. If the machine can handle this, it can surely handle the paper. Also, as quilters we might do PAPER piecing, which entails sewing through paper. It may dull the needle some, but we need to change those occasionally anyway.

4. The confidence they built by using the easy-to-handle paper transferred over when they worked on fabric. I think it really did help.

5. If you want to teach sewing straight lines and curvy lines you can just draw on the paper and then have them stitch on top of the drawn lines. However for this project they only needed to know how to make that 1/4" seam so that is what we did.

6. She also wondered about type of machine to be used. My suggestion is use what you have! I let them sew on my Brother machine, but had my Janome MC9000 been behaving right I was planning on setting up both machines so they could both sew at the same time. Now that would have REALLY kept me hopping! Both machines have the "needle down" feature which is really great to have when sewing with kids. Both machines also have the speed control. I set them at a medium low speed to start practice and them moved to a medium speed. Once they get used to sewing a line they really can get STRAIGHTER lines using the med. speed rather than a pokey speed.
REMEMBER: You do NOT want to have a child sew on a junky machine that YOU would not want to sew on. If it is frustrating for you, then it would be even more frustrating for them!!

I hope these tips maywill be helpful to you. Katelyn is already saying she is going to be a quilter because she sees how much joy I get from it. And that's the key to getting interest... let them see you really enjoying what you are doing.

Happy sewing to you and the young people in your life!



  1. Thanks for the excellent tips. I am going to teach quilting at my school again in the spring. The class is open to 2nd through 6th graders. Your tips will help me to refine my lessons.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on teaching children to sew. It is most helpful but unfortunately since I am a weekend mama, it will be difficult to gauge when they will be ready.

  3. Perfect answer to the questions you didn't know I was asking :-)
    Thanks so much!


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