I have always loved the idea of teaching a child to sew. I was around 16 when I first started sewing and I always wished I had learned earlier. Since I didn’t have anyone to teach me I learned all the basics just by trial and error. I started off hand sewing which I truly believe helped set me up for success with the sewing machine when I was ready. My first project was making patchwork curtains for my room and sewed every square together by hand. It took weeks but I was so proud when they were done and I still have them stored away today. I put the skills I learned to hand sew and went for the sewing machine. I made a lot of pillows and easy projects to get used to the machine and see what it could do (and what I could do with it.) Once I became more comfortable I decided to take on bigger projects. I used a seam ripper and took my favorite tank top apart. Then I would sew it back together. I used a lot of my own clothes as patterns to make new items. When I became an aunt, I knew instantly I wanted to dress her up in my designs and eventually teach her this wonderful world of sewing when she was ready and if she was interested.
Sewing requires a ton of patience and as many of you with children know, that is not something a lot of kids have. It’s important they show interest and are not pushed into learning something they may not like. Something exciting to you may seem like a boring and exhausting project to some kids.
"Hand sewing is an important first step for any beginner."
I started introducing Taylor to sewing when she was about 3 years old. And by introduce, I mean let her watch me sew. When she was that little she would sit on my lap and just watch. I let her “help” by going through my fabric collection and helping me choose which colors and fabrics to use. Sometimes I let her hold the bottom of the fabric while I fed it through. She got to push the reverse button and watch the fabric switch direction. She was fascinated. She loved getting to see fabric we picked out together turn into something special. She loved getting to wear pretty dresses she knew I made just for her. It was such a fun experience and a great way for us to spend time together. When she was around 8 I decided it was time for her to try the real thing herself. Between ages 6-10 is usually a great time to get started but every child is different. If they ask and seem interested you could give it a try. It might be something they love for a few hours and then don’t mention again for weeks. You just let them decide when and how much they want to sew. As I mentioned sewing was always something she knew about and had watched as she grew up so I think that helped her become interested sooner.
Below are some of the tips I used to teach the kiddo in my life the amazing world of sewing.
- Start with hand sewing. Hand sewing is an important first step for any beginner. Everyone learning to sew should start with the basics. Explain how the stitches work and how the longer and farther apart the stitches are the looser the seam will be. Show them how to thread the needle and how to keep the thread secure. If the thread comes loose have them rethread it themselves. You can purchase needles with big eyes to make threading a little simpler. You can also start by using a marker or colored pencil and drawing different shapes on the fabric. Then have your child sew along the lines you’ve drawn. You can purchase remnants of fabric at any fabric store which will keep costs down but still give them a huge variety of fabric options to work with as they practice.
- Keep it simple! This is really the most important thing to remember when teaching a new sewing student. Understanding concepts rather than a huge list of rules will help keep your child interested and allow him or her to think outside the box and be creative on their own. Don’t dwell on needle sizes and stitch types, let them practice and learn as they go. Teaching in small doses is much more helpful than trying to explain everything from start to finish. This is especially important when you start kids on the sewing machine.
- Make them feel like they’re in charge. Let them choose the fabric and thread color they want, even if it doesn’t match. Ask them what their favorite shapes are and use those so they feel like they are creating something they chose especially for them. Once they can trace the lines and shapes with the needle and thread you can move on to cutting shapes out and having them sewing two squares of fabric together. Move on to easy projects that will motivate them to learn, like an accent pillow for their room. Getting to pick out the fabric and make something they will display and see every day will excite them and make them want to try more projects.
- Make the patterns thicker. If you use the thin tissue patterns from the fabric store kids can easily get frustrated when or if it tears. It can be hard for little hands to handle but there are ways to make it easier. You can make your own patterns on thicker cardstock or glue the patterns you buy to thicker paper. This will help make them more durable and then they can be reused many times due to its thickness.
- Safety First. Even simple things like threading the needle require a discussion on safety. The needle is sharp and they need to understand the importance of being careful. It’s always a good idea to show kids the sewing machine in stages when they are ready. Explain the presser foot and how the needle works. Show them how to position their hands to avoid injuries. Describe how the pedal works. Explain that faster isn’t always better and let them test out the different speeds. Always make sure they are aware of where their hands are and what they should be doing with them. As you explain all the different aspects of the sewing machine try to break down each part. For example, when threading the needle on the sewing machine your child should never have their foot on the pedal and should use the handwheel so they can slowly and precisely thread the machine.
These are just a few ways to get your little one up and running and hopefully before long, making creations of their own. Above all remember this is supposed to be fun! Let them be in the driver seat and decide where and how far they want to go. Good luck and happy sewing!