The Sewing Education of E!

by Ramona on March 9, 2012

Teaching another generation to sew is near and dear to the American Sewing Guild. Today we welcome the first of a series of guest posts from Sue Slottke, ASG member, and E’s grandma & sewing teacher. By the way, Sue served on the ASG Board of Directors in the recent past.  Enjoy her post. We’re utterly grateful to Sue for documenting her journey toward creating another sewing enthusiast (and future ASG member). Take it away, Sue………….

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!

Most recent acquisitions

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

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 the shop sells 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, but kids have lively imaginations and can come up with all sorts of ideas.

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.

E's Fabric Collage, glued on poster board, displayed in sewing room. Wall Art!

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!)

Also at 8, 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 her hands flew off the machine! She decided she wasn’t quite ready for her hands to be near the needle. We sat next to each other on one chair and she worked the foot while I guided the fabric.

Practising on scraps with a paper stabilizer

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.

Here is a list of suggestions for teaching, some from E and some from 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…

• 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!

• Finishing the edges is optional on some fabrics, and those make good choices for kids’ projects.

• Give them some scraps to practice on. E sewed on striped fabric to get used to following a line.

• 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 purses and tote bags. Or sew dog or cat scarves and hats.

• Practice restraint in the critique department. They’re just beginners! If it’s crooked, it’s OK!

• Relax the rules. Every seam does not have to measure exactly 5/8”.

• It’s fun to embellish ready-to-wear garments.

• Listen to music while you’re sewing and sing along if you know the words.

• Have fun with it! Try sewing all the fancy stitches and using pretty thread.

Fancy Stitches. Good job, E!

Kids like to sew in groups, just like adults do. However, they need to be kept ‘engaged’. They can watch each other and learn from that, but if they have to wait too long for a turn you can lose their interest. If you have a spare machine, set it up, get the kid comfortable with it, but stay close. E knows how to thread the machine but needs help with the needle, so we set up two machines back to back. I am always in the room when she’s sewing. So far we’ve had great success and the only ouchies have been mine!

This is an optional note for teaching children outside of your family: Teaching children outside of your family is a topic for another blog post. There are issues, such as insurance and other liabilities. ASG has guidelines for members on sewing with kids outside of your family. If you’re an ASG member, you can check with your local chapter’s Advisory Board.


Great job, E!  Readers, what are your experiences in teaching a child to sew? Go ahead, make a comment.

Samina,  Follow us on Twitter @SewingGuild

{ 1 comment }

Sue S March 10, 2012 at 2:39 am


-signed E

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