Londa’s Hints for Teaching Kids To Sew
In hopes that sharing will help you teach youngsters how to sew, here are some techniques and experiences that I’ve found work for me, and the challenges I’ have experienced during the last 2 years here in my home Studio, and years ago at Summer Sewing Camps at my retail storefront.
1. START THEM EARLY!!! If you wait until they are teenagers, other ‘passions’ have ignited in their souls. I have experienced a big increase in students at my Studio since last Spring when I lowered my age to start from 10 to 6. That being said, I’ve ALSO found that I have been right all along – that kids really need to be in the 3rd grade – or about 9-10 years old before they can safely operate a machine without constant adult supervision. My class limit is 4 students, but even with that amount of attention, I’ve found I place ‘older’ girls next to younger girls and ask the older ones to be my ‘Teacher Helper’.
Before students are in the 3rd – 4th grade, I found that hand sewing – on felt, with perle cotton and an 18 chenille needle works great. I took some guidance from a book series by Winky Cherry that I sold and had students purchase back during my retail storefront days. These books can be found even now on Amazon. Just search for ‘Winky Cherry’. Here are her books that offer realistic hand sewing for younger students.
I found the doll idea (with quite a bit of work done ahead of time creating polar fleece hair as shown in the 2nd photo) was perfect for a 2 hour Birthday Party. Parties also make for great hands-on ‘advertising’ to new families for classes! The Birthday Girl just turned 7 – but I recommend turning 8 to be a better idea!
I’ve found that stitching on a line comes first – so I draw LOTS of stitching lines!!! Learning to guide fabric along an edge (even the presser foot), is a HUGE learning curve. This has been an interesting observation, but one that presents itself as true over and over. I LOVE Frixion markers for this purpose.
Most definitely, other than flannel PJ pants and ‘twirly skirts’ – see THIS BLOG POST, crafty-type, NON-garment sewing is best until the girls reach 5-6th grade or so. Even at that age, I’ve been surprised to find a huge hesitation for ‘fittings’ on the part of the girls. Even with a small in-studio dressing room, this has been a huge issue. When my older girls wanted to ‘fit’ their leggins over top of jeans…that truly hit home with me. At least they are modest and protective. When I allowed them to go to the hall bathroom to change – then it was OK. Being respectful of their modesty is prime though. Bottom-line on fashion – girls of all ages are spoiled with the comfort and ease of wearing knits. Knits aren’t the fabric for first-time sewers, so that alone puts garments into the intermediate/advanced category. Definitely, double knits are the ONLY ones to use – NOT single, jersey knits! Slick, furry, hairy fabrics are NO-NO’s!!! Flannel is good along with quilt type cotton fabric. Pillows, purses, potholders…all these have been winners.
Students LOVE LOVE LOVE zig zag and decorative stitches! Flip n’ Stitch Potholders, embellished with decorative stitches are one of the favorites for my beginners. Restrict choices to open, not filled in ‘satiny’ type decorative stitches.
A Hair Scrunchie is the first project, first class – and still thrills all the students! However, even this comes after stitching on lines on paper without thread. I always keep a clear box full of 4″ x 44″ strips for Hair Scrunchies that the girls can work on if they are waiting – or finish a project early. Make the strips narrower for bracelets instead of hair scrunchies. The EZ Turn Tool is invaluable for turning and feeding the 1/4″ elastic through the tube.
With the internet at your fingertips, there is no end to project ideas – and free, non-copyrighted directions. I’ve never completely used anyone’s original directions, and always completely test a project, re-writing directions for myself. I especially recommend Pinterest. I’ve just made my own Board public. Find it HERE.
MENDING, stitching on buttons, patches, etc. is an important part of learning.
My classes in November and December focus on making gifts for OTHERS as I feel that this is one of the most important things to teach students – the joy of giving gifts that they have invested time and care to create rather than just going and buying something. Parents seem VERY appreciative of this direction.
MATH is a natural for reinforcement learning in sewing. Yards-inches-feet-FRACTIONS! I am launching mhy ‘Scholastic Sewing Classes’ this fall where students do ALOT of math, following directions, etc…
Machines – if everyone could have the same machine, that would be IDEAL, and is definitely something I’m looking forward to in the future. Having had a machine dealership, I own a ‘collection’ of older machines, so for now, I have a mix of Brother, Elna, and Pfaff machines. The MAIN THING is that the teacher knows how to operate the machines!!!! I’ve decided it is the process and experience of learning to sew is the important thing – NOT learning how to operate a specific machine. I keep each girl on the same machine though, from class to class if at all possible. I find that after they watch me thread it over and over, soon they jump in and can do it themselves.
If a student wants to drag in her own machine, that is allowed, but only after a private 1-on-1 class so that I, too, know the machine, and have made sure it is operational.
Small Notions – I found out very early, years ago, that ‘ownership’ of small tools was a BIG thing for girls. Since things get grabbed and shared, I soon decided that ALL small notions/tools (like scissors, seam rippers, tape measure, pin magnets, pins, seam gauge, water wash-out markers), pin cushion with needles, safety pin) are MINE, therefore can be shared readily. Once they learn to love sewing, many receive a gift of their own sewing box, but bringing those has only caused HUGE problems, so I’ve delicately asked that they keep those boxes and items at home and use MINE at the classes. I can’t be responsible for ‘their’ stuff….
I have a basket at each station with each item in the basket labeled with the ‘number’ of the basket.
To Rotary Cut…or NOT
Yes – I teach SAFE rotary cutting skills. I rarely let any student rotary cut without my being RIGHT there. Again, age 9-10 is necessary to do this safely, and for them to have enough strength to make it actually cut. I ONLY use the Olfa brand where the blade is closed unless the handle is squeezed. I keep band-aids handy, and also have students’ parents sign a release form to protect myself and business. Also on that release form is permission (or not) to use pictures in social media (without name) and medical insurance, contact info – etc. I tell the girls I faint at the site of blood – that seems to scare them into safety.
I DO keep a Leftie Box for scissors and rotary cutters for left-handed students. I find this is very appreciated. It is sad to see how many left-handed kids have not had this need met and to see them try to struggle with right-handed tools.
Once students try cutting with a scissors they usually want to use a rotary cutter for cutting projects. I DO make them cut with scissors as well though – as I find this is a skill being skipped in schools – both public and homeschooled children.
Don’t try to teach kids unless you can muster an EXTREME AMOUNT of PATIENCE! Four students is my preferred maximum for machine sewing, but if several are more experienced, I accept up to 5 in a class. I can handle up to six for hand sewing. Even with those numbers, students need to learn to wait their turn – something I’m finding most find VERY hard – and especially the homeschooled children, who are used to the quicker personal attention of mom/teacher. Generally, however, I find that home-schooling families value sewing as part of life education.
My experience is that a ‘class’ lasting 4 weeks is perfect. Longer than that, and a student is bound to miss a class. Though most ‘national programs’ recommend 1-hour classes – that does NOT work for me. TWO HOURS seems perfect for the projects I do with my girls. Most of the ‘crafty’ projects can be completed in one of those 2-hour classes. Pride in accomplishment seems key to keeping the girls excited. Currently, I charge $12/hour – which seems to be affordable and even low in comparison to other class offerings for kids.
Make it FUN more than PERFECT! Perfection is not my goal – but rather that they learn to LOVE the process of sewing, the idea that they can make anything they can imagine – THAT is my goal. I teach them that if they can ‘imagine it’, they can learn to make it. AND, ANYTHING can be FIXED in sewing…ANYTHING!
Smiles, laughs, hugs and notes – make it all SEW MUCH FUN!!!
MONSTERS! My grandson – must have been about 8 – and I made this MONSTER pillow – and it is still in his room. Just google for ‘Monster Pillows’.
Comment below with YOUR experiences and questions. There is no better topic for discussion………
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